Painter, history painter, court painter, draughtsman, engraver, copperplate engraver and commercial artist
At the age of eleven, the most gifted member of a Flemish artist family accompanied his father Noël to Rome, where the older Coypel took over the direction of the Académie de France as the successor to Ch. Errard. In addition to studying classic Roman painting, the highly successful pupil worked in the atelier of Gianlorenzo Bernini, among other places, and thereby experienced more directly than his fellow countrymen the influences of the Roman High Baroque. On his way back to Paris in 1675/76, he moreover came to know works by Correggio, Titian and Veronese in Parma and Venice. With these unusually varied experiences, he was well prepared for a successful artistic career in Paris. Influential patrons promoted him: he became court painter to the duke of Orleans and his son, the duke of Chartres. He became a member of the Academy in 1681, and in 1716 served as its rector, the Academy's highest honorary position. In the theoretical dispute between the 'Poussinists' and 'Rubenists', he clearly sided with the latter, a position he also defended in commentaries and treatises on painting. In 1699 the future regent, the duke of Chartres, prevented Coypel from emigrating to England, and a short time later awarded him what was probably the artist's most important commission, the painting of the Grande Galerie in the Palais Royal with scenes from Vergil's 'Aeneid'. The illusionistic effect of the ceiling paintings, unusual for the French tradition (since their destruction, they are now known only from engravings), contributed to Coypel's fame, so that the king chose him over La Fosse for the painting of the vaulting in the chapel at Versailles. In addition, Coypel held high offices: in 1710 he became director of the royal painting collections, in 1715 'Premier Peintre du Roi', and a year later he was even elevated into the nobility. Coypel is repeatedly named as the link between Le Brun and Watteau. These seemingly irreconcilable artistic positions can be identified especially clearly in his draughtsmanly oeuvre. His fondness for and employment of the 'trois-crayons' technique, borrowing from Flemish models, exhibit what was a modern flavour according to conventions of the time, one that suggests the new approach to and evaluation of drawing. Even so, in his handling of the medium and with respect to preparing for a composition, he remained wholly committed to the traditional style of Le Brun.