Born into a family of painters and first trained by his father, Pierre-Paul Sevin became a distinguished painter, decorator, illustrator and scenic designer. Upon his father’s death, the young artist entered the Jesuit college in Lyon where he met Claude-François Ménestrier (1631-1705) and established with him a long-lasting friendship. At the recommendation of Ménestrier, and with the assistance of the Royal painter Charles Le Brun, Sevin was appointed pensionnier at the French Academy in Rome, recently established by King Louis XIV in 1666. During his stay in Rome, Sevin documented in drawings numerous events taking place in the city, for many of which he also contributed his own decorative designs. A group of over thirty drawings in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, for example, depicts banquets, carnivals, firework displays, and ephemeral decorations created in Rome between 1666 and 1669 (P. Bjurström, French Drawings. Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Stockholm, 1976, nos. 660-693, ill.). Other works by the artist attest that in Italy Sevin also travelled north, to the Veneto in particular. In Venice, he recorded important processions and festivities happening in the Lagoon in the first years of the 1670s (S. Damiron, ‘Dessins de Pierre-Paul Sevin de la Collection Chennevières’, in L’Art baroque à Lyon. Actes du Colloque, Lyon 27-29 Octobre 1972, Lyon, 1975, pp. 33-45). Upon his return to Paris, Sevin, together with Ménestrier, obtained numerous royal commissions, providing designs for ceremonial decorations for births, weddings, funerals, and princely entrances.
While Sevin’s work for permanent and ephemeral decorations has been the focus of a growing scholarly interest in recent years, the artist’s production of small versions of Paolo Veronese’s monumental paintings, such as the present gouache and The Feast in the house of Levi (see lot 43), have received less attention. Both works are signed and dated 1674, when Sevin was presumably already back in France. He must have based himself on highly detailed copies of Veronese’s originals, which at the time could be admired in their original locations in the refectories of the monasteries of San Giorgio and Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The paintings are now among the greatest treasures of, respectively, the Louvre (inv. 142; see fig. 1) and the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice (inv. 203; see T. Pignatti and F. Pedrocco, Veronese, Milan, 1995, I, nos. 149, 194, ill.). The present drawings feature together in the 1777 sale of the celebrated collection of the Prince de Conti. In the catalogue of the 1756 sale of the collection of Camille d’Hostun de la Baume, Duc de Tallard (1652-1728), a set of four similar gouaches by Sevin, dated 1676, are recorded (Paris, 22 March-13 May 1756, lot 297). Now lost, they are described as representing ‘Les quatre Cénacles, de Paul Véronese, peints en miniature’, and also reproduced works by the great Veronese painter, namely The Last Supper, The Supper at Emmaus, The Supper in the House of Simon, and The Supper of Saint Gregory the Great – works which in Sevin’s time could still be admired in Venice and Vicenza (see Pignatti and Pedrocco, op. cit., II, no. 377, ill., I, nos. 100, 101, 193, ill.). It seems fair to suppose Sevin’s interest in Veronese’s lavish and elegant scenes is related to his designs of banquets organized for the King and members of his court. A second version of The Wedding at Cana by Sevin was at the sale Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 13 June 1986, lot 72; see Priever, op. cit., p. 173, no. 8), and attest how the artist’s miniature reproductions of the great Venetian Renaissance masterpieces were probably favorite collector’s items in Louis XIV’s France. The gouaches are notable for their historic value, as they document the appearance of Veronese’s painting in the 17th Century, before it was taken from Italy to the Louvre, and partially altered in several subsequent restorations.
Fig. 1. Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana. Musée du Louvre, Paris.