His career illuminates the questions of how to make a living from art in 18th-century France and, secondly, how to survive and prosper as a professional artist in the Revolutionary era.
Early life and career
|Self-portrait with Dominique Herment,|
Musee de l'Hotel Sandelin, Saint-Omer,
"Painted by Dominique Doncre, his pupil, in 1769"
|Monseigneur de Conzié,|
Diocese of Arras
By March 1772 he was firmly established enough in Arras to be made a bourgeois of the town and to join the local confraternity of Saint-Luc. He developed a clientele among the local noblesse de robe, particularly members of the Conseil of Arras. Various decorative commissions and portraits are recorded: numerous fashionable grisailles, a Christ on the cross for the cathedral in Arras, a portrait of the bishop, Monseigneur de Conzié.
|Joseph II , 1783|
In 1783 Doncre was invited by the Imperial Princess Marie-Christine, wife of Albert duc de Saxe-Teschen to restore the picture gallery of the château de Mariemont at Morlanwelz near Mons. It was at this time that he received a commission for a portrait of Joseph II, later presented to the town of Naumur to mark an imperial visit there during Joseph's six week tour of the Low Countries in 1781.
|Portrait du peintre et de sa femme Agnès-Rose |
Arras, Musée des Beaux-Arts
The Revolutionary Years
There is no real first hand evidence for Doncre's reaction to Revolutionary events. However, his biographer Le Gentil cites, with some justification, Sieyès's "J'ai vécu"; close as his relations were with the local nobility and haute bourgeoisie, Doncre's position no doubt suggested prudence.
|Judge Pierre-Louis-Joseph Lecocq and his family 1791|
.Musée de la Révolution, Vizille
During the Terror Doncre was credited with exercising a mitigating influence though his friendship with the numismatist Effroy, the commissioner for prisons in Arras and one of the few men with the strength of character to stand up to Joseph Le Bon. Artistically, however, Doncre firmly towed the line.
|Doncre, his wife and their friends Effroy, 1803|
Arras, Musée des Beaux-Art
Like David, he was involved in the confection of scenery and props for various Revolutionary and Napoleonic pageants ("travaux de circonstances") in Arras, including temples to "the Fatherland" and "the Law" and a pyramid erected to commemorate the defeat of the Chouans. At the height of the Terror, in January 1794, "Citizen Doncre" supplied portraits for a fête to celebrate the anniversary of Louis XVI's execution which included the ceremonial burning in effigy of the monarchs of the Coalition. It was his massive allegorical canvasses which transformed the Church of St-John-the-Baptist into a Temple of Reason - a letter exists from the artist to the district administrators, dating from Year IV, in which he seeks the payment outstanding for these works. We are told too of an enormous Goddess of Liberty, complete with trident, which once hung in the Arras town hall, modeled we are told on Doncre's (substantial) wife. He also painted Revolutionary genre paintings of more modest proportions, such as this set of patriotic singers:
|Patriotic singers ("la Marseillaise"). |
Inscribed on the back of the chair : "D.Doncre fecit 1794"
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
Under Napoleon we find Doncre still painting for the regime, this time celebrating the Peace of Amiens in 1802. After this he seems to have happily reverted by to his pre-Revolutionary mélange of historical and religious pictures, interspersed with portraits of society sitters.
|Arras, Musée des Beaux-Arts|
Dominique Doncre 1743-1820. Notice of an exhibition in 1989-90 in Hazebrouck and Arras.
Catalogue of works by Doncre in the museums of the Pas-de-Calais
C. Le Gentil,Dominique Doncre (1743-1820) 
Victor Advielle, Dominique Doncre 
Charles Oulmont. Notice concerning a drawing (la sanguine) by Dominique Doncre.
Bulletin de la Commission départementale des monuments historiques du Pas-de-Calais (Arras)1889-1981. 5th April 1906.http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5574999m/texteBrut
Notice of portrait of Joseph II by Doncre