© Martin Eidelberg

Created October 2022


Perhaps the most important turning point in Pierre Antoine Quillard’s career was his decision to leave his native France and travel to Portugal. This occurred in 1726 when the young painter was about twenty-five years old (this assumes, as I have postulated elsewhere, that he was born about 1701).

As a teenager, around 1715, Quillard had studied with Antoine Watteau but he must have left his master after a few years. Nonetheless, his stay with the celebrated artist fixed his style and the direction of his art. Quillard’s subsequent training and whereabouts remain unclear. In fact, we have no information about him until 1723 when he was a student at the Académie royale de peinture et du sculpture, although we do not know who his master was. At the Academy, Quillard tried for the Prix de Rome in 1723 but received only second place, losing to François Boucher. He tried again the following year and again took only second prize, this time losing to Carle van Loo. Quillard could not have realized it at the time, but he had been pitted against artists who soon were to become France’s most important painters. Indeed, they helped determine the course of French art in the mid-eighteenth century.

Quillard’s fortunes changed dramatically about 1726 when a Swiss naturalist, Charles Fréderic de Merveilleux (d. 1749), invited him to travel to Portugal. The Swiss doctor had been commissioned by King John V of Portugal to prepare a publication on that country’s botany, and he needed an artist to provide the illustrations. Merveilleux had already traveled to Portugal and Spain a few years earlier, in 1723-24, exploring the terrain with success. One can well understand why Quillard would have accepted the offer to follow the naturalist south. He had no immediate prospects in Paris, and he may have hoped that Merveilleux would open doors to Portuguese patrons. King John V was accounted the wealthiest man in Europe, thanks to a papal decision that awarded Portugal a substantial territory in South America, one that included a staggering abundance of gold and emeralds. Moreover, the king used this wealth to great advantage, establishing academies of history, science, and art. He sought to make Lisbon one of Europe’s leading cultural centers and already was employing French artists and craftsmen. The prospect of entering the orbit of a generous maecenas must have been alluring to the young artist.

Our knowledge of Quillard’s journey to Portugal has wholly depended on a passage in a brief biography of the artist in the 1753 edition of Pellegrino Antonio Orlandi’s Abecedario pittorico. No vita of Quillard had appeared in any of the earlier editions of Orlandi’s book, not even in the 1731 and 1733 posthumous editions (Orlandi died in 1727). This biography did not surface until Pietro Guarienti’s edition of 1753. Naturally the question arises as to how Guarienti, an Italian painter, restorer, and art historian obtained information about Quillard, who otherwise was an obscure painter living in far-off Lisbon. The answer is quite simple: from 1733 (the year of Quillard’s death) until 1736, Guarienti had lived and worked in Lisbon.1 Thus he could have obtained his information from Quillard himself or from someone in the artist’s immediate circle.

The pertinent passage in Guarienti’s text reads:

. . . there was a certain Swiss physician from Neufchâtel named Merveilleux, who wanting to travel to Lisbon because he was charged with several projects, with the goal of writing the Natural History of Portugal, was able to persuade Quiglard [sic]  to accompany him to draw the plants, trees, roots etc.2

Scholars studying Quillard’s career have repeated Guarienti’s information but have left it there since nothing further, or so it seemed, was known about the artist’s association with Merveilleux.

1. Title page of Charles Fréderic de Mervellieux, Mémoires instructifs pour un voyageur dans les divers états de l’Europe (Amsterdam: 1738).


It seems to have escaped everyone’s attention that Merveilleux wrote an account of his travels to the Iberian peninsula. His experiences in Spain and Portugal formed the first two of four volumes that appeared in Amsterdam in 1738 under the title Mémoires instructifs pour un voyageur dans les divers états de l’Europe, a disappointingly generic title for a book that focused on travels through England, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Germany. A German-language edition with a comparable title appeared in the same year.3

Curiously, the name of the author was withheld in both editions. In the introduction to the Amsterdam edition, the publisher claimed that the manuscript had been found without any name attached. He proposed that its anonymous state might have been the result of a misadventure that had befallen the traveler, or that the manuscript had been stolen by a dishonest servant. The publisher expressed the hope that someone might be able to recognize the author given the high-placed people with whom he had associated. Whether any of this is true is a matter of conjecture. Was it a ploy by Merveilleux, wanting to hide behind anonymity to avoid complaints from the people that he discussed? It should be remembered that when the books were published in 1738, Merveilleux was still alive; he did not die until 1749. Was he truly unaware of the French and German publications, or had he himself covertly arranged for them? If they had been  printed without his knowledge or permission, what would he have thought once he came upon them? Some evidence suggests that his authorship was known to cognoscenti in the late eighteenth century and certainly by the first years of the nineteenth century.4

Most germane for this study, the book’s references to Quillard have not been considered by modern scholars. In fact, in his account of his travels across Iberia, Merveilleux never mentions Quillard by name but he does acknowledge that a young artist was in his company: “I had with me a young painter and another young man who was very fond of me; I preferred these two confidants to servants who often gossip too much.”5 Merveilleux makes no mention of where or how he came across the artist. Presumably it was in Paris, but this is never stated.

One of the duties assigned to Merveilleux’s two male companions while they traveled was to serve as security guards since the roads were plagued by menacing bandits. Armed with a good rifle, these two young men travelled alternatively on foot alongside or behind the carriage.6 As an additional precaution, Merveilleux had bandaged his arm and hidden gold pistoles under the cloth.

Quillard barely appears in Merveilleux’s account. The author does not describe the young artist’s appearance nor does he record any conversations that he had with him, but he does describe some of Quillard’s amorous adventures. If nothing else, they establish that the artist was heterosexual. One of these flirtations occurred near Saragossa, and is narrated by Merveilleux:

The young painter who accompanied me took such a shine to the hotel owners’ young girl, and she made such a strong impression on his spirit that he captured  her likeness with his pencil without her being aware of it. This drawing having been presented to the lovely girl, she cried out, saying that it was her portrait. On hearing the noise, her mother ran out and was followed by a part of the town who came to see the miracle. Several inhabitants claimed to have seen the young painter several times before in this place, not believing that it was possible to make such a work so rapidly as was being said.7

On another occasion at an inn,  Quillard was attracted to a pretty gypsy girl and drew her portrait.8 She in turn danced especially for him; whether there was more than dancing is left unsaid.

Quillard is also implicated in a third amorous venture.9 He and Merveilleux were walking in the streets of Talavera de la Reina when they met a priest. After speaking about the town’s beautiful women, the priest took them to a woman with two daughters, but when they were asked for money the two men left, not without criticizing the country’s clergy. Such suggestive encounters are not uncommon in the travel literature of the period.

Of Quillard’s ability as an artist, Merveilleux reported that he was “a good draftsman with exquisite taste,” and he recounted episodes involving Quillard’s talents, especially his ability to work quickly.10  On one occasion they stayed at an inn near Brihuega. The room had recently been whitewashed and they were warned to respect its pristine state or they would be fined. The hostess wished them good night with the hope that the Virgin of Montserrat would guard them. When their departure was delayed the next morning, Merveilleux asked Quillard to paint an image of that Virgin above the fireplace. Merveilleux remarked that the painter succeeded with great perfection. On seeing the image, the innkeeper cried out in alarm, thinking its appearance was a miracle, and her cries brought out all the townspeople. She blessed Merveilleux and Quillard, saying they were saints, and they went on their way without having to pay for their accommodations.11

It would have been only natural for the young Quillard to have drawn some of the more interesting buildings and monuments that they saw en route. Merveilleux himself wrote only briefly about the notable sights and thus it is not surprising that he paid little attention to Quillard’s activity in this sphere. An exception is his discussion of their stop at the Escorial. Although Merveilleux did not describe the art that they saw there, he did note that the monks were impressed by Quillard’s facility in sketching some of the prettiest paintings.12

A fascinating aspect of Merveilleux’s narrative is how well connected he was with the members of Portugal’s aristocracy. The naturalist met the dukes of Cadaval, the counts of Ericeira, the count d’Azuma, the marquis d’Alegrete–in short, the families who would become Quillard’s patrons. Merveilleux may thus have been a key to Quillard’s leater success there.

As valuable and occasionally insightful as Merveilleux’s anecdotes about Quillard may be, these were not the main objectives of his book. Such travel accounts were an established genre, and, in fact, Merveilleux himself traveled with one: Les Delices de l’Espagne et du Portugal. Although he thought its information was not always reliable, he occasionally referred  the reader to it.13 Merveilleux’s text is not a particularly more useful travel guide, but it does provide information about roads and accommodations. Most surprising of all, despite the fact that it was written by a naturalist, he focuses on personalities and customs, and except for his time at Cintra does not describe in any detail the flora and fauna that he encountered on the way.

As the travelogue was not published until 1738, after Quillard’s rise to prominence and some five years after the artist’s death, one can only wonder what the naturalist might have thought. Would he have chosen different anecdotes about his young assitant? Of course, it is  remarkable that we have Merveilleux’s text at all. It offers a first-hand record of the artist—an artist who suffers greatly from having had no contemporary biographers and whose oeuvre was largely lost in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.




1 On Guarienti’s presence in Lisbon, see Daniella Viggiani, “La Collection de peintures de Diogo de Nápoles Noronha e Veiga,” Portuguese Studies Review, 22 (January 2014), 161-77.  I am grateful to Alastair Laing for pointing me to this valuable reference.

2 Abecedario pittorico der M. R. P. Pellegrino Antonio Orlandi, Bolognese  . . .  corretto e notabilmente di nuove notizie accrecsciuto da Pietro Guarienti (Venice: 1753),  415: “. . . vi su un certo Medico Svizzero da Neuchastel vommato Merveilleux, il quale volendo passare in Lisbonain caricato di diversi progetti sotto il pretesto di scrivere l’Istoria Naturale di Portogallo , ebbela possanza di persuadere Quiglard ad accompagnario per disegnare le piante, alberi, radici ec.”  

3 Lehr-reiche Nachrichten für einen Reisenden in verschiedene Europäische Staaten (Berlin: Rüdiger, 1739).

4 For example, Merveilleux’s authorship is recorded in Gilles Boucher de la Richarderie, Bibliothèque universelle des voyages, 6 vols. (Paris: 1808), 1: 7.

5 Merveilleux, Mémoires instructifs, 2: 5-6: “J’avois avec moi un jeune Peintre & un autre jeune homme qui m’etoit fort affectionné; je préferois ces deux personnes de confiance à des Domestiques qui causent souvent d’embarrras.

6 Ibid., 2: 6: “Ces deux jeunes alloient alternativement à pied ou derrière ma Chaise avec un bon fusil.”

7 Ibid., 18: “Le jeune Peintre qui m’accompagnoit prit tant de goût pour la Fille de l’Hôte, & elle fit une si forte impression sur son esprit, qu’il la tira très ressemblante avec son crayon, sans qu’elle s’apperçût. Ce dessein ayant été présenté à cette aimable Fille, elle fit un grand cri en disant que c’étoit son portrait. La Mère accourot au bruit & elle fut bientôt suivie d’un partie du Bourg qui vint pour voir cet Miracle. Plusieurs habitans prétendoient avoir vû plusieurs fois le jeune peintre dans ce Lieu, ne croyant pas qu’il fût possible de faire un pareil Ouvrage aussi vite qu’on le disait.” 

8 Merveilleux, Mémoires instructifs, 43.

9 Ibid., 121-22.

10 Ibid., 29: “il étoit bon Dessinateur & de grand goût.”

11 Ibid., 28: “nous la remerciâmes, en lui promettant que nous prierons de bon Coeur Nôtre-Dame de Monserrat d’avoir soin de nous & de sa maison. J’ajoutai que je j’esperois d’obtenir d’autant plus facilement cette grace, que j’étois très devot à la Sainte Madona, & que je la voyois souvent en songe. . . Il me vint en pensée de pindre une NôtreDame de Monsterrat sur la cheminée de ma Chambre, persuade que la Hôtesse ne me feroit pas payer une Pistole, si elle s’en apercevoit. Nous avions dessein de partir à deux heures de matin, mais le Voiturier s’étant aperçú il nous avertit qu’il n’étoit pas possible de partir avant six heures. Alors je priai le jeune Peintre de faire de son mieux pour peindre à la hate une Nôtre-Dame de Monsterrat sur la cheminée. Il y réussit en perfection, car il étoit bon Dessinateur & de grand goût. Il ne se servit cependant que d’un seul charbon, dont il manoeuvra si proprement, que je ne puis m’empêcher d’admirer son Ouvrage.”

12 Merveilleux, 116-17: “Les Moines furent aussi enchantés de la facilité avec laquelle mon jeune Peintre croquoit des desseins des plus belles Piéces de l’Escurial.”

13 Merveilleux, Mémoires instructifs, 1: 37. For some of his references to the earlier publication, see Mémoires instructifs, 2: 58, 63, 95, 103, etc. Les Delices de l’Espagne et du Portugal, issued in 1707, was a four-volume series supposedly written by Juan Alvarez de Colmenar, possibly a pseudonym for a Frenchman living in the Netherlands.