We don’t know a lot about Joseph Ducreux, but he sure looks like he had sense of humor. A portrait artist in during the reign of Louis XVI of France, Ducreux survives the French revolution, and worked along side of painters like Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and Jacques-Louis David.
Ducreux was born in Nancy, France. His father was a painter, and he would continue the family trade. Ducreux learned pastel from Maurice Quentin de La Tour, and painted his first portraits of Marie Antoinette at age 34. After the turmoil of the French revolution, Ducreux’s friendship with David helped him re-establish his portrait practice, and he would stay in Paris and raise a son and a daughter to be painters.
But it’s not his life that makes Ducreux memorable — it’s his faces. Wry grins and comical expressions leap from the canvas. David didn’t paint faces like this. Ducreux’s portraits, especially his self portraits, bring an immediacy and humor to the laborious process of oil painting. Historians attribute these bold expressions to Ducreux’s interest in Physiognomy, the belief that people can be judged by their appearance. But Ducreux’s portraits capture a specific moment and a single expression, a far cry from the ‘ugly people are criminals’ diagrams of the medieval pseudoscience.
Sassy portraits won Ducreux a second life. In November of 2009, a snarky internet-dweller captioned Ducreux’s fourth-wall breaking self-portrait with archaically rewritten rap lyrics, and the 18th century painter found new life as an internet meme. Notorious B.I.G’s 1995 Get Money made the simple, dramatic statement, “fuck bitches, get money” — which when applied to Ducreux’s Self-portrait of the artist in the guise of a mockingbird became: “Disregard Females, Acquire Currency.”
If you haven’t seen this image macro, there are more than 1000 variations at Know Your Meme. To our mind, there are few better ways to honor the work of an unusual artist than to make them go viral.
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Reed Enger, "Joseph Ducreux, Renaissance painter wins the internet," in Obelisk Art History, Published April 10, 2016; last modified May 19, 2021, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/joseph-ducreux/.