Hyacinthe Rigaud (French, 1659—1743) rose from modest origins in southern France to become the premier portrait painter for the royal court of French king Louis XIV, the “Sun King” and builder of the Palace at Versailles.
Rigaud was the son of a tailor and local painter, and at the age of 14, headed north to apprentice with a variety of master painters. He moved to Paris in 1681 to study at the Royal Academy, and opened his own portrait studio. In 1682 he won the Prix de Rome, an award of 3 years’ sponsorship for study in Rome, but turned it down, prompted by his desire to establish himself as the leading portraitist in Paris. His efforts were rewarded when his portrait of the king’s brother gained the attention of the royal court.
In 1733 Rigaud became director of the Royal Academy. By this time he was so wealthy that he could choose to work only on subjects that interested him. He ran a large, well-organized studio with a staff of specialists and minor painters who collaborated on costume details, landscape background, flowers, battle scenes, etc., freeing Rigaud to concentrate on only the face and hands of the sitter. His portraits set the standard for formal state portraits for decades of European rulers.