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Joseph Ducreux: The King Of The Meme

Updated: Apr 15

Joseph Ducreux, a painter hailing from Nancy, France, emerged onto the canvas of history during the waning years of the Ancien Régime. Born in 1735 into a milieu of minor aristocracy, Ducreux embarked upon his artistic journey amidst the tumultuous backdrop of pre-revolutionary France. His brushstrokes brushed against the contours of monarchy, as evidenced by his poignant depiction of Louis XVI in what would be the monarch's final portrait before the guillotine claimed his fate.

Portrait of Louis XVI (1754-1793), King of France Drawing with chalk and charcoal by Joseph Ducreux (1735-1802)

The winds of change swept Ducreux across the English Channel, where he sought refuge in London alongside numerous fellow aristocrats in the throes of the French Revolution. Yet, the allure of Paris proved irresistible, and Ducreux returned to his homeland in 1793, poised to navigate the tempestuous currents of revolution and reinvention.

In the twilight years of his life, Ducreux's artistic endeavours found solace under the tutelage of Jacques-Louis David, a luminary of the Parisian art scene and a confidant amidst the chaos of revolution. It was during this period that Ducreux's home blossomed into a sanctuary for creatives, a convivial salon where artists and musicians converged in a symphony of creativity and camaraderie.

Ducreux's oeuvre bore the hallmark of portraiture, with luminaries such as Choderlos de Laclos and Maria Theresa of Austria immortalised upon his canvases. Yet, it is his self-portraits that transcend the boundaries of time and convention, capturing the essence of the artist in a kaleidoscope of unconventional poses and expressions.

His self-portraits, characterised by exaggerated, mime-like postures, defy the norms of classical portraiture, offering glimpses into the depths of human emotion and expression. From the evocative "surprise in terror" to the enigmatic "silence", Ducreux's visage leaps from the canvas, captivating viewers with its theatricality and dynamism.

However, it is his unconventional "Self-portrait of the Artist in the Guise of a Mocker" that has garnered enduring fascination in the digital age. Since 2009, this anachronistic masterpiece has found new life as a meme, its archaic expression lending itself to whimsical reinterpretations and witty captions in the realm of social media.



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