Paris: Chez l'Auteur, et chez Megré; à Versailles chez Blaizot, 1765. Item #04689
With Twenty-Three Very Fine Hand Colored Engraved Plates Depicting French & Italian Actors
An Exceptionally Fine Example in its Original French Red Morocco binding
WHIRSKER, artist. [FESCH, Jean Louis]. Le Métamorphoses de Melpomene et de Thalie, ou Caracteres Dramatiques des Comedies Francois et Italienne. Dessiné d'après nature par Whirsker. Paris: Chez l'Auteur, et chez Megré; à Versailles chez Blaizot, [ca. 1765].
First edition. Small quarto (7 1/2 x 5 3/8 inches; 191 x 137 mm.). Hand colored engraved pictorial title, Engraved 'List Des Caracteres' and twenty-three very fine hand colored engraved plates.
Contemporary French red morocco, covers triple-ruled in gilt, spine with five raised bands decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt, board edges ruled in gilt, decorative gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers. A remarkably fine example in a very fine mid-to-late eighteenth century binding.
Scarce with OCLC locating just four colored copies in libraries and institutions worldwide: Bibliotheque d'Art et d'Archeologie (France); Inst. Nat. d'Histoire de l'Art (France); Bibliotheek Arnhem (Netherlands); Bibliotheque Geneve (Switzerland). OCLC also locates four uncolored copies: Harvard Univ, Houghton Library (MA, USA); Toronto Public Library (ON, CA); Bibliotheque National de France (France); National Library of Sweden (Sweden).
We know of only one other colored copy at auction (incomplete lacking plate #12 - later half morocco, rubbed) Sotheby's NY, Feb 2, 1985 - lot #150.
Jean-Louis Fesch (1739-1778) was a Swiss painter, draftsman, portraitist, caricaturist and miniaturist born in Basel in 1739, who died in Paris in 1778 at the age of 39. His partner Whirsker, with whom he worked for many years, continued his work.
Jean-Louis Fesch, also known as Jean-Louis Faesch or Johann Ludwig Wernhard Faesch , was born in Basel in 1739 into a patrician family of the city, which gave many jurists. So naturally he turns to law school, gets a doctorate and then becomes a jurisconsult . Having always had a taste and inclination for the arts, and particularly for drawing and painting, he decided to completely change his life, break with his environment and embark on a career as a painter. In the 1760s , he chose to move to Paris and practice his art as a portraitist, caricaturist, and miniaturist, called at the time under the name of " painter six francs ". Passionate about the theater , he particularly liked to draw the actors in representation, subject of which he had made a specialty. He notably represented the famous French tragedian Le Kain of the Comédie-Française as well as the Italian comedian Carlo Antonio Bertinazzi (known as Carlin) who performed at the Théâtre-Italien . His collection of grimaces and attitudes of the famous English actor David Garrick was a great success all over Europe . He made more than a hundred. He also executed Voltaire's portrait, of which he left several drawings. He is the author of several books that were very much in demand. In his drawings, the representation of the costumes, most often with vibrant colors, is very faithful to reality and underlines the meticulous look and care taken by the artist to the details. The lively and piquant character of his work is a faithful testimony of the theatrical art of the eighteenth century. His partner Whirsker, with whom he worked for many years, continued his work. Jean-Louis Fesch died in Paris on May 20 , 1778 at the age of 39. The departments of the Performing Arts and Prints of the National Library of France , the library-museum of the Paris Opera and the Comédie-Française retain a number of his drawings. The library of the French Comedy has in its collections a collection of about one hundred and thirty drawings by Fesch and Whirsker.
The Metamorphoses of Melpomene and Thalia, or Dramatic Characters of the French and Italian Comedies by Jean-Louis Fesch and Whirsker, is set behind the scenes of Parisian and Italian theaters. The twenty-three fine hand-colored miniatures were designed by Jean-Louis Fesch and Whirsker. Each includes the full-length portrait of an actor or actress represented in one of his or her main roles. Figured in profile or three-quarters, the actors wear the stage costume characteristic of the character they embody. To facilitate the identification, the name of the character is affixed under the actor in his role, sometimes completed with the title of the piece. This type of portrayal of actors in their role was very popular in the nineteenth century. The technique of the miniature was ideal to represent in detail the faces and costumes of the actors. The delicacy of the line allowed the execution of portraits of small dimensions. Dated according to the dates of Fesch and Whirsker's activity (between 1770 and the death of Fesch in 1778), these finely executed miniatures attest to this use. The features of the faces are delicately drawn and the clothes meticulously described. Bright colors are applied with precision. They make the visual richness of certain costumes perceptible. This characteristic of the theater costumes responded to the codes of the theater and the game in force. It was a matter of quickly identifying a character by a type costume that was a reflection of the status and / or ethics of the character. In fact, the rather small chronological slice makes it possible to identify the actors interpreting the roles. Thanks to the mentions of the name of the character, it is possible to determine from the repertory thus constituted that these belonged either to the Comédie-Française, to the Italian Comedy, or to the Comic Opera. The French actors are represented by Bellecour as Le Marquis to Monsieur Le Kain as Ninias and Madamoiselle Duménil as Semirais. The Italian actors are represented by Madame Favart as La Vielle to Mrs. Trial et Clerval as Bertrand et Monteauciel.