This finely executed double portrait represents the French architect Jean-François Heurtier (1739-1822) and his wife Marie-Victorie, as identified on the tag attached on the original nineteenth-century frame, made by a Paris framemaker located on the Rue de l’Échelle. Heurtier had a distinguished career: after his studes, which brought him to Rome, he worked for the royal family and became inspecteur général des bâtiments. Among his most prestigious commissions is the Montansier theater in Versailles and the ‘Salle Favart’ in Paris, later the Opéra Comique, which was destroyed by fire in 1887.
The artist was the daughter of the watchmaker François Meyer, and married in 1786 the French painter and Academician Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1754-1829), a fellow student of Jacques-Louis David at the French Academy in Rome and a successful painter himself. Much less is known, however, about the artistic output of his wife Sophie. Only one other work, a painted self-portrait in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico (C. Sells, ‘A Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Regnault’, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, 1975, pp. 19-21), has so far been given to her. The painting is signed in a way very similar to that seen on the present sheet: ‘f.me Regnault / ft. 1791’.
If Sophie Regnault’s activities as a painter are little-known, her role in her husband’s studio is better documented. Jean-Baptiste Regnault ran an art school for upper-class female artists at the Louvre (M. Fields Denton, ‘A women’s place: the gendering of genres in Post-Revolutionary French painting’, Art History, XXI, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 219-246). Yet it was his wife Sophie in charge of supervising the artists, as attested by the vivid Souvenirs of Albertine Clément (1778–1855), publishd in 1832. Clément provides details about the functioning of the studio, writing for instance how the women divided their time between painting and fashion. She also recalls how Madame Regnault was always present, and treated the students as if they were her daughters.