Jacques-Emile Blanche 1861-1942
Born in Paris, Blanche was the son of an eminent pathologist. He trained under Henri Gervex and was closely associated with Manet and Degas. From the early 1880s Blanche had been a frequent visitor to London, where he spent a formative period working closely with Whistler and Sickert, and exhibiting with the New English Art Club from 1887. During the 1890s he became a successful portrait painter of fashionable society, exhibiting with the Société Nationals and winning a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. Blanche first met Wilde in Paris in 1883, while Wilde was trying to gain a footing in the French capital, after his tour of America. He became one of the first admirers of Wilde in the Parisian artistic circle and produced a painting of a young woman reading Wilde's Poems (location unknown). Blanche was an important Parisian contact for Wilde, through whom he met Marcel Proust in 1891. Wilde and Blanche shared many friends, including Beardsley, Conder, Sickert and Rothenstein.
A regular visitor to Dieppe where his family had a villa, Blanche entertained and painted many of his friends. Beardsley sat as a dandy on the occasion of his stay in Dieppe with Conder, Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson and Leonard Smithers during the summer of 1895. Two years later in Dieppe, Blanche had chance meetings with Wilde, who had recently been released from prison, but, like Beardsley, Conder and Sickert, lie rather ignored Wilde out of embarrassment.
The sitter, better known as Roy Kennard, was the son of Mrs Carew, a great friend of Wilde's, who instigated the commission of the Wilde memorial by Jacob Epstein with her donation to Robert Ross in 1909, Roy Kennard, renowned for his good looks in the fashionable societies of Paris and London, is captured here as a young dandy, who would exemplify the image of the English aristocracy His elegance, luxurious taste and good breed are eloquently depicted in Blanche's 'English-style' free, fluid brushwork, influenced by Gainsborough. However, his mother strongly disapproved of this portrait, and it was not exhibited between 1908 and 1924. When it was shown in an exhibition at Jean Charpentier's galley in Paris in 1924, it was conditioned that the sitter’s name should not appear in the catalogue.
Charpentier, therefore, simply invented the title 'The Portrait of Dorian Gray' for the exhibition, without thinking how curiously the image of Wilde's hero would correspond to that evoked by this portrait.