Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Gaoler of Olmütz

Gaoler of the prison at Olmütz, dated Maubourg, 1831.
Black crayon and chalk, 19,8 x 14,2 cm

This little picture was among the items sold by Christie's in 2010 and returned to its former home at La Grange. Between 1795 and 1798 Lafayette's wife and his two daughters Anastasie and Virginie were allowed to share his captivity in the fortress of Olmütz in Austria.  A label on the back confirms that the picture was drawn "from life"  by Anastasie de Lafayette, later comtesse de Latour Maubourg.
There is a nice write up of the picture in Cloquet's  Recollections of the private life of General Lafayette (1835):

[Cloquet refers to a letter from General Latour Maubourg who was imprisoned with the Lafayette family]

You must also recollect Sir that in the same letter Latour Maubourg speaks of a certain corporal decorated with the title of prevot and no less timorous than covetous. It has occurred to me that you will not be sorry to make a more ample acquaintance with this individual for the melancholy part which he has played in the history of the victims of Olmutz has transformed him from an obscure individual into an historical personage. The whole of Mademoiselle Anastasia Lafayette's time was not employed in attending to her poor mother or in making clothes or shoes and stockings for her father.  In concert with her younger sister she endeavoured to afford her parents every amusement that could relieve the sorrows of their situation.  One day she sketched a portrait of the corporal on her nail in order that in case of a surprise the drawing might not be seized and to prevent the original himself from perceiving the sketch for you may well imagine that the old fellow was not of a disposition to sit for his picture at full length.  Mademoiselle Lafayette transferred her sketch to a sheet of paper and afterwards when she quitted the prison made a copy of it which is at present at Lagrange near the door of her father's apartment.  The following is a description of the old corporal.  He is represented in the act of opening the door of the prison which is towards the corridor and which is secured above and below with cross bars provided with padlocks His half bald head is uncovered,  his few remaining hairs are collected into a little queue which is ludicrously turned aside over his shoulder and he advances with the stealthy pace of a timid individual who lends an attentive ear to some fancied noise.  In one hand he holds a bunch of large keys one of which he directs mechanically towards the lock in the other is one of those beaked lamps which are much used in Germany and its dim light is reflected on his visage.  A stick which serves for self defence or the chastisement of offenders is attached to his wrist by a leathern strap his little three cornered hat is squeezed flat under his arm his sabre is fastened to his side by a girdle his waistcoat breeches wide boots and in fact the whole of his attire shew that he is in undress and his knees seem to bend not so much under the weight of years as under the influence of cowardice.  But enough of this poor devil who like his general has long since departed this life......(p.88-9)

...and also reproduced in the splendidly named American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge ( vol.3, 1837) id=98pCAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA356&lpg=PA356#v=onepage&q&f=false

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