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Alphonse Legros (1837-1911)

Alphonse Legros signed and dated 1905

Lithograph, printed in red ink | 38.0 x 26.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 657906

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  • A self-portrait lithograph of Alphonse Legros; bust length, turned in profile to the right. Inscribed on the plate, top left: A.L; signed in pencil, top right: A. Legros / 1905; inscribed below, pencil: 646 A. Legros.

    Alphonse Legros made a number of self-portrait prints during the course of his career and kept a formal count of them: this was the ‘10th Plate’. Four of these date from 1905, all based on the same profile, with flowing hair and beard and a prominent nose; three turn the profile slightly away from the viewer (profil perdu), but here Legros shows himself in strict profile. The printing of this lithograph in red ink replicates the look of a red chalk drawing: the image is uncannily similar to that of Melzi’s portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (RCIN 912726), which had been reproduced several times by 1905, most recently by Édouard Rouvèyre in 1901, and Legros presumably knew such a reproduction. A year later he may even have had first-hand access to the drawing itself, for in 1906 his protégé and friend William Strang (RCIN 662338) was engaged by the Royal Librarian, John Fortescue, to begin work on a series of portraits of members of the Order of Merit; it is possible that Legros (whom Fortescue greatly admired) visited Windsor with Strang, but no such visit is documented.

    Legros was born in Dijon and, after an erratic education, established himself as a painter and etcher in Paris around 1860, strongly inspired by the realism of Courbet and the rigour of the old masters. With Whistler and Fantin-Latour, he formed the ‘Société de Trois’; it was Whistler who first encouraged Legros to visit London, where he settled in 1863. He was taken under the wings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Frederic Watts and soon found success in England – he was appointed Professor of Fine Art at the Slade School in 1876, despite speaking little English to the end of his life. Legros was fascinated by old master drawings and prominent in the metalpoint revival of the late nineteenth century; as a founder member of both the Society of Painter-Etchers and the Society of Medallists, he played a decisive role in the promotion of both practices in England.

    Text adapted from Portrait of the Artist, London, 2016


    Purchased for the Royal Library in 1905

  • Medium and techniques

    Lithograph, printed in red ink


    38.0 x 26.2 cm (sheet of paper)

  • Category
    Object type(s)
  • Alternative title(s)

    A self-portrait