Joseph Aved once modelled for a fellow-painter as an alchemist at work. This was highly appropriate, given Aved’s reputation for producing astonishingly illusionistic effects with paint. Just as the alchemist turns non-precious metals into gold, Aved turned oil paint into dazzling replications of reality.
We can see this in Aved’s beautiful painting of Madame Crozat, one of the finest paintings in the collection of the Musée Fabre. The remarkable rendering of the brocade and lace of her gown produces an effect that is both highly mimetic and spectacular. In this way, Aved’s painting went to the heart of contemporary debates concerning the moral propriety of illusionism, of producing illusionistic effects that confused distinctions between the real and the fictitious, and of looking and truth. To the most enlightened critics of the day illusionism, such as that produced by Aved, was acceptable as long as it was in the name of moral edification rather than distraction. The image of Madame Crozat, the widow of one of France’s richest bankers, is certainly edifying. In spite of her wealth, she is caught working on her tapestry – humble, sober and industrious.