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Jean Restout II, Master Craftsman

Jean II Restout - Pentecôte
Pentecost, 1732

Jean Restout II was born on March 26, 1692 in Rouen, France. He comes from a long line of painters and is distinguised from his father, Jean I Restout or Jean Restout the elder (1666-1702). Misattribution is common between them, even within wikipedia where both artists are sometimes shown as having painted the same work. Restout II studied with his uncle, the great Jean Jouvenet.

In Pentecost above, Restout II depicts the 50th day after Easter, (sometimes called "White Sunday") where the Holy Spirit appears before the Apostles and Christians during the Jewish holiday known as the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. Out of the various renditions of this holy event by other artists, Restout II's is the most impressive visually, both compositionally and in scale: the painting measures 4,65 m in height by 7,78 m in length! In the top center the Virgin Mary stands tall while balls of fire shoot out and touch the Apostles symbolizing the gift of tongues to help them evangelize the resurrection to the world. Restout II's narrative combines the strong use of hand gestures to describe the action with dynamic figure arrangement and body language. This was a key element from his time spent learning from Jouvenet.

Restout - Venus Presenting Arms to Aeneas
Venus Presenting Arms to Aeneas, ca.1700's

Restout II uses a striking palette here of warm greens and ochres while accenting his figures in red, blue and green. Look at the complex figure arrangement in the cherubs below and you quickly realize Restout II left nothing to chance. Restout II implies movement here. Note how they lean diagonally upward and the tension in their bodies writhing in opposite directions...vibrant drapery and superb anatomy while the cherub on the ground gazes up at them with doves in his hand, a transparent shadow falling down on him. Restout II's use of texture and color intertwined is visually beautiful. Here Venus offers her son Aeneas armour made by Vulcan to fight in battle which the cherubs are preparing for him...a simple theme that artists such as Poussin could not even do the same justice to as seen in this more awkward and stiff version here.

Restout - Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas
Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas, 1717

Here is the story that precedes the painting above, and in contrast Restout II seems more rushed here and not as much thought put into the composition. Note how there are unfinished elements in the painting, particularly in the background which is a swathe of burnt umber. Even the paint is scumbled quickly on the drapery with minimal blending. Aeneas sits off to the right half-naked, waiting for his new armour by Vulcan off to the left. Still, the grace is evident in Venus and her female companions arranged as muse-like goddesses—Restout II injects slight humour with the female next to Venus checking out Aeneas' muscles and he seems to be returning her glance. In spite of its unfinished state, the brushwork here is truly amazing to observe and reveals some insight into how he worked in dry brush. A larger version of this painting can be downloaded at LACMA's site here.

Jean II Restout - Ananias Restoring the Sight of St Paul - WGA19317
Ananias Restoring the Sight of St Paul, 1719

Ananias was a disciple of Jesus who had a vision from Christ to visit Paul in Damascus and restore his sight after being blinded by the light of Christ's presence. Paul kneels, with his armour before him, below the miracle of Ananias standing above him restoring his vision. The dove of the Holy Ghost, symbolizing purity and holiness, glows above the scene. The figure off to the right holds a jug of water for the imminent baptism of Paul. One can clearly see the influence of Rembrandt here, who had passed away almost 30 years before the birth of Restout II. Restout II's use of light is channeling the old Dutch Master yet the figures are decidedly French. Restout II uses body language to heighten the story..note how the figure beside Paul is also kneeling, moved by the miracle that has just occurred. And the use of hands in this painting clearly distinguishes each person's role in the scene and in the key figures, where Ananias suspends his hands to channel the miracle of Jesus while Paul clasps his hands together in prayer, humbly accepting the miracle he has just received.

Restout II is truly an under-appreciated Master who does not receive the credit he deserves for his hard work and ingenuity. Although he lived in an era of great artists, one can easily see from these few samples here alone that his genius lay in approaching common themes in fresh ways that lure the eyes and tantalize us without being stale or repetitive. Restout II is a painter of the highest order who needs to be reevaluated and recognized for the greatness he exudes with grace and poise, like a true craftsman.


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