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July 15, 2013
Moments in Art
From Chopping Block to Evisceration
by Lawrence Jeppson

Evrard Jabach spawned a dynasty of adventurers in art. His genes and genius imprinted on at least seven generations, leaving footfalls on collectors and collections for more than 300 years.

The house of Jabach eventually lost that name and morphed into the Dynasty of Duveen. There are many tales, trials, and tribulations scattered everywhere along these centuries, leading eventually to some of the greatest art in American museums.

It was never easy.

After living in Antwerp, Jabach’s father acquired a noble piece of land in Cologne, where he became among the first to be seated in the Senate of Cologne. Until the birth of Eberhardt, all his children had been girls. The boy's advent brought family happiness bordering on hysteria.

Eberhardt lacked for nothing. His early planting in finance and affairs took root with the ease of a jungle. His taste for art was nurtured from birth. The four Dürers that graced the family chapel would have been enough to start his juices.

In big business and banking the French were in kindergarten compared to the postgraduates in London, Antwerp, and Amsterdam. Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu needed money-savvy manipulators in Paris — and their money. Eberhardt was in his thirties when Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin’s predecessor, induced him and other select foreigners to plow new furrows in Gaul.

At the age of 37 he obtained a letter of naturalization and francofied his name to Evrard. He found everything to his liking in Paris except its women, and the next year returned briefly to Cologne to marry the daughter of another négocient and senator. He had been married only a year when he began to gather the pearls of the collection of beheaded Charles I of England, as I recounted earlier this year in my column “Art on the Chopping Block”.

No bride's home ever received a comparable enrichment. When Charles LeBrun painted the Jarbachs a decade or so later, they had become a happy family of four opulently dressed children, with a dog, two ridiculous busts, one painting, a floor stand globe and yards of brocaded draperies.

Charles LeBrun, Jabach Family Portrait. Painting was in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, destroyed by incentiary bombing, WWII.

The enormous mansion Jabach built in Paris to house family and art would have done justice to the conspicuous consumption of our later Fricks, Vanderbilts, or Elizabeth Stuart Gardners. It was designed by one of the most famous architects of the hour and stayed in the family for a century, though it later housed a bourgeois theater and, ironically, an art auction house.

In October, 1665, Cardinal Mazarin brought Cavalier Bernini, who perfected St. Peters, to Paris to design a new Louvre. Jabach invited the architect to a solemn dinner. Also invited were financiers and painters Mignard and LeBrun, who, though sworn enemies, saw the wisdom of hiding the hatchet for one night.

After the group had inspected the paintings, Jabach began bringing out his incomparable portfolio of drawings and cartoons. A contemporary recounted:

There were some extraordinarily beautiful Raphaels, such as that of Attila. Bernini saw the Poussin cartoon of Amide Carrying Renaud, whose painting is in France, a quantity of Jules Romain, Titian, Paul Veronese, and other masters. Finally he rose brusquely and said that his eyes were worn out from seeing so many lovely things.

Assembling his collection had not been easy for the puffy-lipped Jabach. Among art lovers he was recognized as the most impassioned and the most knowledgeable, and the least hesitant. His seemingly inexhaustible resources were equally necessary, for dukes and ministers, less astute collectors, and even secondhand dealers competed in fits.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Portrait of Evrard Jabach, 1688

Speculation and cupidity were full blossomed. Names like Titian, da Vinci, Rubens had become almost generic terms attached to the work of many. In this milieu Jabach bought and sold, sometimes to make money on the transaction, sometimes to sweeten an unrelated business deal, sometimes to flatter a powerful hand.

For £3000 he sold to the Duc de Créque a Virgin painted for Marie de Medicis, and in another deal he took from Compte de Brienne another Virgin, this one a Veronese, and a Holy Familv by Titian. For unknown reasons he sold the latter without profit.

This same Brienne later said that a small Virgin by Annibal Carrache and a Portrait of Gaston de Foix by Giorgione that Jabach sold for £1500 each to the Duc de Liancourt were very exceptional copies fabricated by Sabastian Bourdon, an intimate of Jabach. "All the collectors except Passant and me," said Brienne, “were duped!"

Why? An outright fraud? A politically-motivated trick to make Liancourt a laughingstock? A ploy to undercut Liancourt's reputation as a connoisseur? History does not say, except to record that, “The poor Duc de Liancourt was upset by it all."

As customary among wealthy collectors of the tine, Jabach employed a workshop full of painters and engravers to provide him copies of masterpieces he could not acquire and to spread prints of what he did own. No sooner had his acquisitions from the London chopping block been unpacked than he set Louis Boulogne to work making duplicates that were so good the best experts in court debated their authenticity.

Jabach suddenly conceived an idea that was far advanced for the time: he would put painter LeBrun under contract, paying the artist 12 pistoles a day and leaving him free to paint whatever he wanted. LeBrun refused.

Nicolas de Largilliere, Charles LeBrun.

Prime Minister Mazarin passionately loved beautiful things, but he knew how to temper his taste with money, which had a marked place in all his secret machinations. He used intermediaries in his transactions to mask his hand. He sought only things of established reputation, and for this Jabach's services were advantageous. If he could get something cheaper by buying a whole collec­tion, he did; then the lesser things were promptly sent flying to a secret selloff.

Mazarin died on Mar. 9, 1661, shortly after a fire broke out in the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre while he was preparing a banquet for the king. Works by Bunel, Dubreul, and Porbus were destroyed along with the comestibles. Mazarin did not take his voluptuous paintings wherever, heaven or hell, it was he went — the collection went to King Louis XIV. In this single coup the royal collection started by François I, who had been patron to the aged da Vinci, was tripled.

Louis succeeded because he moved with royal speed. The Mazarin stash was taken immediately! What a theft: 670 pictures by masters of various schools, 241 portraits, 331 copies, 250 statues and busts of the Renaissance, 21 cabinets with great quantity of rock crystal and Venice glass, 211 tapestries mostly woven in gold and silver, 46 Persian rugs of huge dimension, 21 grand furniture suites, jewelry, and a library of 50,000 volumes.

The king, however, had not moved fast enough to prevent the cardinal’s heir, the Duke of Mazarin, from mutilating some of the most erotic pictures because he was offended by their nudity.

Colbert succeeded as Prime Minister of France.

Colbert, Mazarin’s protégé, had worked himself up from superintendent of royal building to prime minister on one premise: glorify France and Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Pierre Mignard, Portrait of Cardinal Mazarin.

In his grandiose plans he frequently turned to Jabach, his close friend, for counsel and financial assistance. Jabach became an "auxiliary to the minister."

In realms of art, Evrard's money went to revitalize the production of hand-woven tapestries, and he was named the director of the Manufacture d'Aubusson. In business he was one of nine men named as directors of a reorganized East India Company in 1664.

This was France's third attempt to cash in on the mercantilism that had made Spain and then England and The Netherlands wealthy. The Dutch enterprise boasted 150 ships of commerce, 50 warships, and 10,000 armed men; it brought back from the Spice Islands cargos worth £l0 to £12 million in annual profit, which sometimes reached 50% of invested capital. The French looked and licked their lips.

A group of French businessmen contracted to have a ship built in Holland. The Dutch accepted the order but angered the French with insuperable delays. When they finally took payment and let the boat depart, it sank.

The screaming French asked Colbert's help. Colbert turned to a more illustrious group of businessmen, "who could understand and intelligently support his politics," among them Jabach. The new directors were received by Louis at Fontainebleau.

The King, prompted by Colbert, issued a royal charter, and even pledged 20% of the proposed £15 million capital and sent official papers to 119 cities asking for financial support for the enterprise. Most of the cities looked back in suspicion, and all combined less than matched the king's personal pledge. The final capital came to only 56% of the goal and only half what had launched the Dutch.

War broke out with Holland. French efforts by Admiral La Haye to capture Ceylon were unsuccessful. The East India Company cost Jabach a heavy bundle. Though the enterprise ultimately bore some shriveled fruit, it did not give Jabach the return on capital when he needed it most. This and presumably other ventures, brought him in 1670 to the brink of ruin. He had a choice: bankruptcy or the total liquidation of his art collection!

Logically he should have siphoned off his masterpieces a few at a time to avoid flooding the market and to conceal that he was involved in a forced sale. But his creditors were closing in too fast and without pity. But who in the known world could absorb such a collection in a swallow? Only one person — King Louis.

By now LeBrun had become the head of Gobelins and the king’s chief of artistic enterprise. Upon LeBrun’s advice, Louis had acquired the best pictures belonging to the Duc de Richelieu and the portfolios of engravings (for which Jabach owned the original cartoons) amassed by Marolles. Previously the king had purchased paintings from Jabach, most notably Titian’s Entombment of Jesus.

Jabach decided on a clean sweep. He offered the king everything: paintings, drawings, bas-reliefs, busts, bronzes, furnitures, silver vessels, and diamonds — and named a price, £581,025!

Colbert shuddered.

But Louis wanted the best art collection in the world, and Jabach’s added to what he already owned would catapult him easily into first place.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, King Louis XIV in full regalia.

What would it cost? That almost unending mass of 120,000 prints acquired from Marolles had cost the crown only £30,000. Ah, but these were prints, not paintings or drawings.

Colbert understood.

There had to be a compromise, and he struck off the Jabach’s list the diamonds, furniture, busts, and such. The king would buy only the paintings and drawings: 101 paintings, virtually all masterpieces, and an incredible 5542 drawings.

Jabach recalculated his price for these: £450,000. Colbert instructed him to provide an itemized list and to deposit all the canvases and portfolios at the Hotel de Grammont. A shivering Jabach appeared before Colbert in the cold first days of Februaary, 1671. He had suffered two hemorrhages and could hardly stand. But it was his heart that bled while he watched his treasures carried one by one on to the icy street. A porter who lost his footing could split an old canvas in a twinkle.

Colbert summoned his own experts to make an evaluation. No records identify them. They had to choose between their admiration for the art and the strong will of Colbert, whose power over them was total.

“Jabach demands an exhorbitant price,” the appraisers dutifully informed Colbert. “The pieces are bad little biscuits.” (Two and a half centuries later Jabach’s descendant, Sir Joseph Duveen, would never cease to utter, “No price is ever too high.”)

Undoubtedly dictated by Colbert, the appraisers abruptly chunked another third off the price for the paintings, giving a total for everything of £280,839.

In an observer’s words, “The poor Jabach was a martyr.”

Jabach protested that his treasures “were too beautiful and too many; if they were less fine and fewer, they would still be worth more than that!” He got angrier. “I could easily put aside 800 of the drawings, one sustaining another, and they would bring me more than 100 écus each and are worth more than 300 the piece. Not only that, they will not go as drawings but as the best and most appetizing pictures in Europe when they are framed.”

Jabach could turn nowhere. The identity of the experts who had sold him down the river had been hidden from him. He could bring no pressures, no appeals. Even Colbert, deep in the perpetual role of pre-Pavlov psychologist and grand inquisitor, disappeared.

Jabach was left access only to Du Metz, the Controller General for the Crown Furniture. To plead to him was infuriating and debilitating. Du Metz had no power. It was as if Colbert, erstwhile friend, no longer wanted to buy.

Jabach’s creditors did not go into hiding.

After more than a month in torture Jabach wrote Colbert his final cry of agony. “Consider, in the name of God, that I find myself thrust between the hammer and the anvil, and that I have to deal with people from whom there is no quarter. I beg of you, once again from the bottom of my heart.”

From this terrain Colbert could conclude the battle quickly. He took one sniff of his bleeding adversary and sliced away £60,000 more from his experts’ already scandalously low price.

For King Louis XIV then, 101 paintings and 5542 drawings, 600 of these from the School of Raphael alone. And for Jabach, a bond drawn on the royal treasury for £220,000. “Colbert had dealt with Jabach ‘not as a Christian but as a Moor.’”

Later LeBrun was called to amalgam Jabach’s paintings with the royal collection, and he sorted and hung them in the old Louvre near the Galerie d’Apollon, where he thought they might be admired by the privileged public of Paris. The idea of a public collection was ephemeral, for Louis became so entranced with what he found that he packed everything off to his burgeoning apartments in Versailles. Eventually everything came back to the Louvre, and Jabach’s loss became the world’s gain.

Records were lost, and only 28 Louvre pieces can be traced definitively back to Jabach, and every one of these is a piece beyond eulogy. There is no reason to believe that the 73 others are in any way less meritorious.

The Royal Collection had contained no drawings. Through Jabach the Louvre found itself with an inventory of unparalleled importance. There were so many that only the best drew attention. For 200 years drawings carrying Jabach’s stamp kept popping out of forgotten drawers and corners of the museum.

Jabach’s art dealings were far from over. He still had two decades of life, home, contracts, mind, and tastes. After the brutal deal with Colbert, affairs got better. As soon as the bill of sale was signed, Colbert began to throw plums Jabach’s way. Revitalized, Jabach began to collect again. And, no doubt, to sell.

Part of the new collection was kept in Cologne, his hometown, where the crown couldn’t touch it. By the time he died, March 6, 1695, he owned 687 paintings, but except for another Giorgione, The Adventure of Saint Helene, which cost him £5,000, a fine Rubens, and a few other pieces by LeBrun, Snyders, Bourdon, Breughel, and Holbein, they were mediocre by comparison to what he had sacrificed.

After his death his family found 4000 drawings carefully organized in 31 portfolios, and although most were not so rare as before, 1200 of these were mounted in gilded mats. These trickled into public sales in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some items went to Austria via two nephews.

In 1721, a grandson, Gérard-Michel, discovered stacks of drawings from this second collection and sold them off to a collector named Zanetti, who happened to be going through Paris. I have no doubt that this Zanetti was father or grandfather to the Vittorio Zanetti who became the springboard for the fabled British art-merchant house Thomas Agnew and Son.

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