Bertrand Andrieu or the Skater

Artist(s) : DELAFONTAINE Pierre-Maximilien
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Bertrand Andrieu or the Skater

Among the countless works exhibited at the Salon of 1798 hung a surprising work by a still little-known artist named Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine.[1] Pierre-Maximilien was born in 1774 into a family of bronzesmiths and could easily have taken the same professional path as his father. However, he preferred to pursue a career as a painter. Using the family network, he managed to get accepted in the studio of Jacques-Louis David and became one of his pupils: he was to remain both faithful to his master and grateful for the opportunity to work with him.[2] At the end of the Directory period, an aesthetic revolution was underway as people became attracted to the idea of sensitivity. After years of terror and fear, the public was yearning for a renewal of themes and styles. It was in this effervescent and creative context that Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine undertook in 1798, and for the first time, to exhibit his works at the Salon.

The painting was numbered 107 in the Salon booklet and entitled “A Portrait of a Man Skating”.[3] Meticulous research carried out in 1898 by Alexis Evrard de Fayolle, a numismatist and collector from Bordeaux, revealed the skater to be the medal engraver Bertrand Andrieu.[4] The writer of the entry in the booklet could have noted the originality of the theme and the posture of the figure. All he wrote however was the banal remark: “the work is charming”. Albeit laconic, the comment proves that the painting did not go unnoticed. Indeed, how could one not be irresistibly attracted by the red colour of the waistcoat or the beauty of Andrieu’s face? As for other paintings of skaters which could have influenced the artist, in 1790, the Scottish painter Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) had painted the Reverend Robert Walker skating fast on a frozen Duddingston Loch.[5] While Raeburn depicted Walker in this way so as to create an effect of movement, or even speed, Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine preferred to show Bertrand Andrieu face on, with his right arm raised, the pose more athletic. We know from stories handed down by the artist’s descendants that in winter Delafontaine liked to practice the art of ice skating as relaxation after a long day’s work. This winter physical activity, which was very popular at the time, was already considered a real sport. Indeed, this would appear to be what inspired Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine.

Why did Delafontaine choose to paint this medal engraver? In 1776, a general reform and overhaul of the guilds led to the grouping of certain trades. The engravers and gilders as well as the founders were to form a single corporation. In 1787, Jean-Baptiste Maximilien Delafontaine, the painter’s father, became its leader or syndic.[6] This is how Bertrand Andrieu, the medal engraver, ended up working with the Delafontaine family, the bronzesmiths, patinating and gilding some of their medals.

Who was this medal engraver?[7] Bertrand Andrieu was born in Bordeaux, in the Chartrons, parish of Saint-Rémy, on 4 November 1761.[8] His father, Pierre Andrieu, was a cooper and vinegar merchant.[9] Beloved by his parents, he had a happy childhood and was brought up with a respect for work. Very early on, young Bertrand became interested in art. His father, eager to develop this interest, placed him in an apprenticeship with the engraver of coats of arms, André Lavau.[10] Starting at the age of 15, the teenager stayed there for eight years. His master, who practiced fine stone engraving, also taught him the delicate art of steel engraving. By the time Andrieu had completed his apprenticeship, he was a skilled draughtsman and artisan of direct engraving. At the age of 25, in 1786, he left Bordeaux for Paris and entered the workshop of the coin engraver Nicolas-Marie Gatteaux. Perfectly conscious of his own abilities and potential, he worked steadily and continued to perfect his skills under his new master.

The French Revolution provided fertile soil in which his art and his fame could flourish. His medal of the storming of the Bastille was a great success. It was engraved in the last months of 1789, quickly forged by the engraver Moisson, and produced in 800 copies by Palloy. Its dynamic composition, like a photographic snapshot, radically altered the genre of the official medal. In 1790, Bertrand Andrieu embarked on another more ambitious project: engraving the commemorative medal of the Fête de la Fédération. The distribution of this medal ensured the artist’s professional and financial future.

In 1798, the date of Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine’s painting, Bertrand Andrieu was 37 years old and an established artist who, unlike some of his colleagues, made a good living from his art. With the coming of the Consulate, he became one of the most prominent engravers of his generation. He was a regular visitor to the workshops of the Monnaie des Médailles in the Palais du Louvre [which became the “Musée Napoléon” in 1803] and eventually attracted the attention of its new director, Dominique-Vivant Denon, appointed in 1803.[11] Andrieu’s personality, style and perfect technical mastery appealed to Denon, whose job it was to orchestrate the First Consul’s communication and propaganda. Denon was well aware of the history of the Grand Siècle and that Louis XIV had ordered the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres to enhance his glory by making an Histoire métallique [metallic history] of his reign. And so, convinced of the political significance and artistic value of the medal, he painstakingly and determinedly undertook to create an Histoire métallique (metallic history) entirely dedicated to the glory and reputation of Napoleon I. In this context, Bertrand Andrieu became one of the key players in the vast undertaking by becoming the Emperor’s official portraitist on his medals.


Béatrice Coullaré, November 2021 (PhD in art history, responsible for the collections and conservation of the Musée de la Monnaie de Paris), English translation by Peter Hicks.

[1] From “Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine, pupil of David”, typescript dedicated in “homage to the Musée de la Monnaie”, cote P0000001, Service des archives économiques et financières (SAEF). See also Udolpho Van de Sandt, “Les Salons parisiens sous la Révolution” dans Les images de la Révolution française, collectif, Paris, 1988.

[2] Despite Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine’s attachment to his master’s aesthetic principles his paintings were not included in the major retrospective exhibition held at the Petit Palais in 1913 entitled David et ses élèves.

[3] Explication des ouvrages de peinture et dessin, sculpture, architecture et gravure exposés au Museum central des arts d’après l’arrêté du ministre de l’Intérieur […], Paris, An VI de la République.

[4] This painting is part of the exhibition Pour le meilleur et pour l’Empire – Sur les pas de Napoléon Ier à la Monnaie de Paris [In the footsteps of Napoleon I at the Monnaie de Paris], 17 September, 2021 – 6 March, 2022, and appears in the catalogue published by the Monnaie de Paris, Silvana Editoriale, p.32. A. Evrard de Fayolle wrote a study of the painting (existing in manuscript), entitled Recherches sur Bertrand Andrieu de Bordeaux. Graveur en médaille, sa vie son œuvre […] which he presented to the Bordeaux Académie nationale des Belles Lettres, Sciences et Arts, in 1898. The two-volume manuscript, shelfmark MS-4-274 / Y460000274-1&2 is held at the SAEF (the archives of the French Ministry for the Economy). The study was published in three articles in 1900, 1901 and 1902 in the Gazette numismatique française before appearing as a monograph published by La Veuve Raymond Serrure in 1902. The author was an keen collector of medals and tokens relating to the city of Bordeaux. He wrote his study using documents at the French National Archives, the archives of the Administration des Monnaies et Médailles, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the library of Bordeaux and the papers of the Johanet family, great-grandchildren of Bertrand Andrieu.

[5] The painting hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland.

[6] The French Revolution abolished trade guilds, allowing any citizen able to practice the craft of his choice to do so on purchase of a patent.

[7] The painting was given to the Musée de la Monnaie in May 1897 by Bertrand Andrieu’s great-grand-children, Mmes Chappotteau-Dewulf, Aubrun-Dewulf and M. Louis Chappotteau.

[8] Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’école française depuis l’origine des arts du dessin jusqu’à nos jours, tome I, 1882, p.17-18.

[9] He married Françoise Dubourdieu in 1755.

[10] In the Almanach des artistes de 1776, page 160, Abbé Lebrun wrote of Lavau: “He draws very well, his figures are delicately embodied” […] “He trains his pupils with a truly paternal care”. André Lavau was born in Bordeaux in 1722 and died there on 28 February 1808 at the age of 86. During his lifetime, he witnessed the success of his pupil, Bertrand Andrieu.

[11] Napoleon Bonaparte appointed Dominique-Vivant Denon as director general of the museums on 19 November 1802 and as director of the Monnaie des Médailles on 23 September 1803. Denon remained loyal to Napoleon until the fall of the Empire. Under Louis XVIII, he was replaced as head of the museums, by the Count of Forbin and as head of the Royal Medal Mint by Jean-Pierre-Casimir Marcassus, Baron de Puymaurin.

Date :
Technique :
oil on canvas
Dimensions :
H = 2.35 m, L = 1.50 m
Place held :
Monnaie de Paris, Historical Collection, inv. PEINT 000010.
Photo credit :
Monnaie de Paris / Jean-Jacques Castaing
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