|Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller Queen Marie-Antoinette of France and two of her children walking in the Park of Trianon, 1785. Height: 2,760 mm (108.66 in). Width: 1,940 mm (76.38 in).Nationalmuseum Stockholm|
This portrait, painted by the Swedish artist Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller in 1785, was generally ill-received by contemporary critics and, to judge by Marie-Antoinette's monstrous headgear, was a bit of a turkey in more ways than one! If it was a flop, it was certainly a big one - at 9 feet by 6 feet plus, with lifesize figures, this is a substantial canvas. Thanks to the Google "Cultural Institute" site you can now visit it in situ in the Swedish Nationalmuseum - just click on the little yellow man to be deposited at Marie-Antoinette's feet!
In the 1780s the Queen was in desperate need of a new more appealing image to counter the rising tide of popular hostility. Various artists were tried, among them, besides Vigée-Lebrun, a number of Swedes resident in France: Alexander and Joseph-Marie Roslin, the miniaturist Adolphe Hall and Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller. The son of a wealthy apothecary, Wertmüller (1751-1811) had first come to Paris in 1772 to study under his second cousin Roslin and later with the the famous landscape artist Joseph-Marie Vien. In 1775, he journeyed to Rome where Vien had been made director of the French Academy.
Wertmüller.did not meet with instant success. On his return to Paris in Spring 1781, he at first found it difficult to obtain work as a portraitist and instead earned his keep as a copyist at Roslin’s studio. Here he was discovered by the Swedish Ambassador Gustaf Filip Creutz, who secured him several important commissions. In 1784, through Creutz's influence, he was appointed First Painter apparent ("en survivance" ) to King Gustavus III of Sweden and gained admittance to the French Royal Academy of Painting. It was in 1784 too that Gustavus visited Versailles and as a gift to mark the occasion the direction of the Bâtiments du Roi invited Wertmüller to paint a portrait of the Queen with her children, for which he was to receive a gratification of 14,000 livres. Marie-Antoinette posed with good grace and the work was finished in time to be exhibited in the Salon of 1785. Thus Wertmüller:
I travelled […]to Versailles and from there to Petit Trianon, where she spent her summers. That is where I painted portraits of her and the Princess, who was six years old at the time. The Queen welcomed me with the greatest of kindness and distinction and gave the order that I should paint His Highness The Dauphin at La Muette while I was here” [..] “I then headed back to Paris and painted a large canvas of natural size and the full length of the person[s]” [Quoted on the Nationalmuseum notice at the link above]King Gustav III had intended this to be Wertmüller’s ticket to a successful career in Paris, but jealousies abounded. When the picture appeared in the salon of August 1785, it was was attacked by the critics. While a few admired the portrayal of a more maternal and complaisant Queen - no doubt the effect intended - the majority felt the pose lacked in dignity. The garden setting, far from reassuring, recalled the intrigues of the newly erupted Diamond Necklace scandal. Marie-Antoinette herself was also unimpressed. According to the Mémoires secrets pour servir à l’histoire de la République des lettres, she did not even recognise herself. She was reported to have exclaimed, “C’est moi, là?” Payment was delayed. The artist fell into a deep depression, but recovered enough to make some necessary changes - adjusting the angle of the Queen's head and blending the Temple of Love discreetly into the background - before the portrait was dispatched to Sweden the following year.
|Maybe bulging eyes are hereditary? |
Madame Royale by Wertmüller,
painted in 1786
Olivier Blanc, Portraits des femmes : artistes et modèles à l'époque de Marie-Antoinette (2006), p.146-8.
Portrait of Marie-Antoinette and her children, by Wertmuller Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Paintings of Wertmüller in Louis XVI et Marie-Antoinette à Compiègne (RMN, 2006), catalogue of an exhibition held at the Château de Compiègne 25 Oct 2006 - 29 Jan 2007. Posted on La folie XVIIIe forum.
"La reine et ses enfants à Trianon, par Wertmüller" on Le forum de Marie-Antoinette
More reproductions, and details from Marguerite Jallut, Marie-Antoinette et ses peintres (1955)