Henri Gascar was a French artist who became one of the defining portraitists of the royal court of Charles II. Portraiture was an extremely important component of court life in Europe intended to display power and wealth. For England and Charles II, it was crucial, as the monarchy was still regaining its footing following its restoration. England had previously been controlled by the Republic under Oliver Cromwell.
Charles and his courtiers needed to be displayed as superior, elegant and illustrious. Gascar was just the man for the job. During his career in England, he painted a myriad of members of the court. His best work is said to be a portrait of James II, then Duke of York. However, it seems his most important patron was Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. It was she who invited him to England and gave him the much-needed contacts at court.
Gascar was able to bring a distinctly French touch to his paintings. Whilst the portraits of his fellow court painters such as Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) portrayed a more subtle wealth, Gascar brings a vitality of life and colour reminiscent of the baroque style in France and the court of Louis XIV.
Indeed, it seems Gascar’s struggles with capturing the human form were made up for in his decoration and detail. This added a lightness and frivolity much needed in an England shaking off strict Protestantism.
Furthermore, this connection to other European courts and focus on power would have been a helpful aid for Charles II in establishing himself on the European stage. In becoming king of a country both fashionable and strong.
It is also worth mentioning that Gascar was also influential in England for developing the use of mezzotint in printing. Developed earlier in the century in Amsterdam, mezzotint was a clearer and more skilled means of reproducing paintings for a mass audience. Although it is unknown whether Gascar created the mezzotints himself or they were executed by someone else, his works were the first to be consistently reproduced and printed.
Despite his years in England being only few in number, Gascar’s influence was tremendous, and his work was disseminated widely.
A number of his works are now held in the British Museum and The National Portrait Gallery.
Born in Paris.
Studied in Rome, potentially with Pierre Mignard.
Arrived in England.
Returned to Paris and was received at the Royal Academy.
Travelled to Rome.
Died in Rome.