Hyacinthe Rigaud was an award winning painter during the reign of King Louis XIV and beyond. He painted many portraits of people of different ranks in society and because of him we know what these people looked like. His style is noted for impressive poses and grand presentations.
The birth name of Rigaud was Jacint Rigau-Ros i Serra which he changed to Hyacinthe Rigaud. He was born in Perpignan and baptized on July 20. 1659. His father was of Catalan descent and was a tailor and painter. Rigaud was descended from a line of artists who were painters and gilders. Rigaud was trained as a tailor in his father’s workshop and studied painting with Antoine Ranc in Montpelier from 1671 until he moved to Lyon in 1675. While doing his training, he became familiar with other international artists such as Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Titian whose works he greatly admired and collected.
Little is known of Rigaud’s time in Lyon due to lack of documentation. He did paint portraits of people of Lyon such as the King’s provincial governor and a banker of Swiss origins from Lyon. He eventually moved to Paris in 1681 where he trained under Charles Le Brun. He was awarded the “prix de Rome” in 1682, a scholarship for promising students of painting. The prize was monetary but also included a three year trip to Rome to study painting, paid for by the King of France. Le Brun discouraged Rigaud from taking the trip. He remained in France where he had already cultivated a clientele.
Rigaud came to the notice of King Louis XIV and the court when he painted a portrait of Monsieur, the King’s brother in 1688 and Philippe d’Orleans, the King’s uncle in 1689. Louis commissioned Rigaud to paint his portrait in armor and this was delivered in 1694. But Rigaud’s portrait of Louis in his coronation robes from 1701 completed his rise to celebrity. Rigaud would repeat his success with a coronation portrait of King Louis XV in 1730. He was also appointed to the Académie Royale of painting and sculpture in 1700 where he taught and rose to the top of its administration until he retired from the position in 1735.
In 1698, Rigaud was commissioned to paint a portrait of the family of John Judge and he met Judge’s wife Élisabeth de Gouy. It appears that Judge died in 1706. Rigaud married Élisabeth on May 17, 1710. They lived in a large apartment on rue Louis-le-Grand and they had no children. Rigaud nursed Élisabeth through a long illness and she died at age seventy-five on March 15, 1743. Rigaud himself was already suffering from illness and got increasingly worse after her death. He died on December 27, 1743 at the age of eighty four.
Rigaud produced nearly four hundred paintings. Apart from the Court, his subjects included all the high society of his time, his friends and family, ambassadors, bourgeois, financiers, aristocrats, religious figures and many important figures of the art world such as painters, sculptors, architects and poets. In addition to his portraits he painted some religious paintings. Because his portraits capture the exact likenesses along with the subject’s costumes, his paintings are considered accurate records of contemporary fashion. He was the most important portrait painter during the reign of King Louis XIV.