Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Louis XVI - portrait busts

Here are a few notes on the known portrait busts of Louis XVI.  The list (as given in H. H.Arnason's study of Houdon) is as follows:
Pajou - first portrait in 1775
Boizot - 1777 and 1785
Houdon - c.1787
Deseine - 1790.

Louis by Pajou

Augustin Pajou (1730-1809) was sculptor of the official portrait bust of Louis XVI, commissioned shortly after his coronation, in December 1774.

Louis XVI by Pajou, marble, signed and dated 1779.  In King's Private Apartments, Palace of Versailles.,_appartements_du_Dauphin_et

According to James David Draper in the Metropolitan's 1997 Pajou exhibition catalogue, "although he was well paid for them, his busts of royalty form the weakest aspect of Pajou's portraiture".  His "big Salon for royal busts" was in 1767 when he exhibited busts of the late Dauphin (d.1765) together with his three sons, the future Louis XVI, the comte de Provence and the comte d'Artois.  Bachaumont reported that crowds rushed to see them, but Diderot dismissed the works as "duller, more ignoble, more foolish than I know how to tell you." In 1776 additional busts of the Dauphin were ordered; today only three unsigned "lackluster marbles" survive in the Versailles collections (Draper & Scherf, p.223).  There is no known example of the bust of the young Louis.

Louis in 1774, by Duplessis

Following the coronation, in a letter of 11th December 1774, the comte d'Angiviller, director-general of the Bâtiments du Roi, announced that the king's "flattering choice" for his official portraits had fallen upon Joseph Siffred Duplessis for the standing portrait and Pajou for the official bust.  The king was to pose for both simultaneously. 

 Despite criticism of Pajou's model, the bust met with official approval and a numerous copies were ordered for distribution, bearing the inscription "gift of the King".   A plaster model was exhibited in the Salon of 1775 and a terracotta in 1777. An updated marble version, identified as the bust destined for d'Angiviller himself, was exhibited in the Salon of 1779 (no.192).

In 1775 Pajou was named sculptor to the comte de Provence - a surviving signed bust of Provence in Bordeaux, commemorates his visit there with the comte d'Artois in 1777.  However, Pajou did not  receive subsequent commissions from the King himself, perhaps because his work failed to find favour with Marie-Antoinette. 

The early Revolution, and the establishment of the constitutional monarchy, brought with it  a final flurry of demand for royal busts as the municipalities and other institutions vied with each other to show their patriotic commitment.  Pajou was active in the reorganisation of the Académie de Peinture and donated to it a copy of the King's bust in December 1789.  We also learn from a letter of d'Angiviller, dated April 13th 1790, that Louis himself wanted another copy of Pajou's sculpture to donate to the municipality of Versailles.  Pajou had no example underway but  promised to "restore a plaster cast that can be used in its place, until the marble is finished". In May be began work on the finished bust (now in the Musée Lambinet). 

Pajou's bust, as the official image, seems to have been the most widely known and copied.  However, no original version from the master's hand survives.  The finest extant example, on show in the King's apartments in Versailles, is usually described as a "studio copy": it is signed and dated 1779.  The exact provenance is unknown. There are also unsigned busts in the Louvre and the Musée Lambinet, the latter identified as the gift of the King to the commune of Versailles in 1790.  In addition there is a signed and dated replica of the bust in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence - probably a gift to the grand duke of Tuscany.[I'm not sure whether this is the right statue... but if you fancy a 3D print of Louis, here is your opportunity!]


Notice for the Versailles bust: In King's private apartments

MR 2652, marble, inscribed on the back PAJOU/REGIS/SCULPTOR/MDCCLXXIX
H. 79.5cm ; W. 60cm; D. 39 cm

Notice for the Louvre bust on Joconde 

By Pajou at the Musée Lambinet:  "Bust given by King Louis XVI to the municipality of Versailles, 1790"  

James David Draper & Guilhem Scherf, Augustin Pajou:  royal sculptor 1730-1809  (Metropolitan Museum, 1997), chpt. on "Portraits" by Draper:  p.223.
This exhibition catalogue can be downloaded for free at: 

Louis by Houdon

Houdon's bust in the Antichambre de L'Oeil-de-Boeuf, Versailles

It seems that Houdon came late, and comparatively incidently, to royal portraiture. In 1778 members of the Stock Exchange - the Compagnie des agents de change  -  wrote to d'Angiviller to request marble for a bust of the King which they intended to commission from Houdon for the Paris Bourse.  Nothing seems to have happened for, in a letter dated 15 November 1784, Houdon reminded d'Angiviller of the audience he had requested with the King to make his preliminary study.  He had received a visit from Thierry, the King's personal valet, who had inquired after the bust.  Houdon had been forced to admit that, although he had been hired three years ago, he was still waiting for an opportunity to see the king. (ref. L. Réau, Houdon: sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1964, vol. I, p. 73). 

A completed marble bust was finally exhibited in the Salon of 1787, alongside Houdon's busts of Pierre André de Suífren and François-Claude-Amour, marquis de Bouillé. One critic noted: "Here is the king: his popularity and modesty are rendered through the affectation of mixing him in with the others and even of placing him at the far end, where he is apt to be jostled and knocked over by all the passersby" (Mémoires secrets, letter 3, on the Salon of 26 Aug. 1787).

The royal image, moreover, compared unfavourably to these, more intimate, portraits.  Houdon had had only a hurried sitting and was constrained by Courtly conventions of representation.  Claude Vandalle, in the catalogue of the 2003 Houdon exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington,  remarks that the sculptor made a valiant attempt to give a regal air to the ungainly young man.   Louis is portrayed half-length, his head slightly raised and turned to the right, wearing a wig with two long curls and a long queue tied in a ribbon at the nape of the neck.  He is in courtly attire, with his silk sash and order of the Golden Fleece, the whole enveloped in a vast  mantle.  But the splendidly rendered silk and Baroque draperies did not quite disguise the shortcomings of his subject.

See also the assessment of H. H.Arnason:
For the royal portrait Houdon returned to the Baroque image, with the king represented to the waist, swathed in a cloak encompassing much of the figure and base.  The sculpture is finished at the back with the perruque extended in a particularly long, beribboned queue. The artist has exercised his technical skill and ingenuity mainly on the carving of the dress and decorations.  The broad riband across the chest is a demonstration of virtuosity in its simulation of watered silk.  On top of all this, the head is something of an anti-climax.   Although lifted imperiously, the face is dull, uniform, and without character."
.Arnason, The sculptures of Houdon, 1975, p.79

In the Revolutionary era:
As noted, 1790 saw the last official commissions for busts of the King. Houdon competed successfully against Louis-Pierre Deseine and against Boizot, director of sculpture at the Sèvres factory,  in both Paris, Bordeaux and Strasbourg. In Paris the Hôtel de Ville already boasted Houdon's celebrated statue of Lafayette, installed in 1786. His Necker, preferred over a statue offered by Boizot, was voted on 30 July 1789 and probably installed early in January 1790.   On 22nd February 1790 Bailly announced that the King had ordered a marble bust from Houdon which he intended to present as a gift to the Commune; Bailly and 24 deputies were sent in person to offer their thanks for this image of the King "as father of his people". Houdon executed a replica of his 1787 bust - probably the one destroyed on 10 August, along with those of Bailly (by Deseine), Lafayette and Necker.  A second copy, completed for the commune of Strasbourg in 1791, has also been destroyed, this time in the fire at Strasbourg city hall in 1870.

The single surviving original copy of Houdon's Louis XVI is a marble in the Versailles collection, now exhibited in the Antichambre de l'Oeil-de-Boeuf  just off the Hall of  Mirrors (inv. MV 1834; MR 2185). The date 1790 is legible on the base, but the provenance of the statue is not really known.  In 1816 it was displayed at the Musée des monuments with a bust of Marie-Antoinette by Félix Lecomte;  according to Alexandre Lenoir, the two statues had belonged to the  late abbé Leblond who had secured them from the Revolutionary authorities in exchange for a group of maps and manuscripts.  The Houdon scholar Louis Réau, thought that this must be the original sculpture exhibited at the Salon of 1787, but  the dates don't really fit. It would  seem more natural to identify it with the bust from the Hôtel de Ville - perhaps, the effigy of the King, like that of Lafayette, had after all escaped destruction.  A second bust was put up for sale in 1827 by Balthasar Georges Sage, founder member of the Institut de France, but has since disappeared; the presumption is that this latter might be the original bust shown in the Salon of 1787.  


Notice for the Versailles bust:
Marble, H 98 cm; W 73 cm; D 43 cm.  Inscribed on base: HOUDON / f.1790  Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (inv. MV 1834; MR 2185)

H. H. Arnason, The sculptures of Houdon, 1975, p.79

Claude Vandalle, "Louis XVI, King of France" in Anne L.Poulet, Jean-Antoine Houdon: sculptor of the Enlightenment  [catalogue to accompany the 2003 Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles], No. 50. p.279-82
Free download:

Notes on a 19th-century plaster bust after Houdon, sold by Christies's in 2004.

Willibald Sauerländer, Essai sur les visages des bustes de Houdon (Maison des sciences de l'homme, 2005)

Louis by Louis-Simon Boizot

The son of a designer at the Gobelin factory, Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809) studied under Michel-Ange Slodtz, and in 1762 won the Prix de Rome. He was admitted to full membership of the Académie Royale in 1778 and named sculpteur du roi. He exhibited regularly at the annual Salons until 1800.  As director of the sculpture workshop at the Sèvres factory between 1773 and 1800,  he oversaw the production of more than 150 models, including the official busts of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. In 1774 Boizot began work on his royal portraits for the Coronation which were produced by Sèvres in the following year.

By Boizot, in the Petit-Trianon 

Boizot's full-sized marble portrait bust of Louis XVI, was commissioned by Marie-Antoinette for the Petit-Trianon, together with a bust of her brother Joseph II,  to commemorate the visit of the Emperor to France in April 1777. 

The work was exhibited alongside the official bust by Pajou in the Salon of 1777. Transferred to Saint-Cloud in 1827, it was restored to original location in antechamber of the Petit-Trianon in 1831. This sculpture, with its smiling Louis, is often contrasted with the more austere royal portraits of Pajou and Houdon - small wonder really, since it was intended for an informal, feminine setting and reflects the confident world of Sèvres china.  It is hard to say whether this happier, more relaxed Louis is truer to life. There is no direct record of the King ever having given a sitting to Boizot.  It is quite possible that the sculpture is simply derived from Pajou's bust - the drapery is very similar - and/or from painted images. 

A second bust by Boizot is also documented. In 1781 Vergennes commissioned a new statue to serve as pendant to the Marie-Antoinette which Boizot had already supplied to the Département des Affaires étrangères in Versailles. The bust was exhibited in the Salon of 1785. The effigy of the Queen is now in Louvre  - and is justly celebrated -  but that of the King has long been lost.  It is known today only through the engravings of Boizot's sister Marie Louise Adélaïde, and, above all, through the beautiful Sèvres models based on the design.  In July 1785 d'Angiviller commanded the Sèvres factory to "execute in hard-paste sculpture, the bust of the King by Mr Boizot".  Between 20th December 1785 and 31st December 1791, seventeen busts of the King and fifteen busts of the Queen are mentioned in the Sèvres register of sales.  Some were offered as diplomatic gifts, for example to Archduke Ferdinand of Austra, the duc of Saxe-Teschen and the ambassadors of Tipu Sultan.  In 1788 the King himself bought a pair - probably the busts inventoried in 1792 as being in the Cabinet de la Pendue in Versailles.  To judge from the surviving examples, this second image of the King was similar to the first in form and mood, but with a fatter more heavily jowled face.

Engravings of Louis XVI by Marie Louise Adélaïde Boizot, dated 1775 and 1781 [Bibl.Nat.]

Hard-paste biscuit porcelain bust; ordered for George IV; half-sized; based on a model of  1785. 
Pair of busts presented by Louis XVI to one of the ambassadors of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore, in 1788. V & A.

Intriguingly, in 2016 the head of the lost bust by Boizot has recently resurfaced. The piece was auctioned by Sotheby's in Paris in November 2016, with an estimate of 40-60,000€.  However, it did not appear in the subsequent list of successful sales and there is no trace on the internet of what has happened to it. 

Sotheby's,  Important European furniture, sculpture, works of art and paintings 16th-19th century, 28th November 2016, lot 275.  Marble head of Louis XVI, attributed to Simon-Louis Boizot.


Bust currently on display in the antechamber of the Petit-Trianon:.
MV 5789. Marble  H. 64,5 cm ; W. 51cm  ; D. 36.5 cm.  Signed and dated Boizot, 1777.
Cyrille Foissart: Notice of Sèvres busts of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, sold for 32,000 E by Tajan in 2013.

The main monograph on Boizot is the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Musée Lambinet in 2001:
 Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809). Sculpteur du Roi et directeur de l'atelier de sculpture à la Manufacture de Sèvres. Reviewed in Dix-huitième siècle, 2002:

Louis-Pierre Deseine

Plaster bust by Deseine,  H 70cm, signed and dated 1790. Musée Carnavalet

This splendid plaster bust, in the Musée Carnavalet, the sole surviving effigy of Louis XVI by Louis-Pierre Deseine (1749-1822), who is remembered today chiefly for his sculpture of the little dauphin, later Louis XVII, thought to be perhaps the only image taken from life.  The bust of the King is signed and dated on the base: "Fait d'après Nature en 1790 par de Seine sculp du Roi". 

Deseine's Louis has an unfortunate history.  On 26th January 1790 Bailly, as Mayor of Paris, reported  to the Assembly that M. Deseine had made the "civic and generous offer" to execute the bust of the King for the Hôtel de Ville.  The Assembly responded with gratitude and approved the proposal.  On 28th February, however, the Journal de Paris signalled the King's intention to present the bust by Houdon instead.

What had happened?  According to the Révolutions de Paris (n° 67 for October 1790, p.66-67), it was d'Angiviller who had been responsible. Louis had posed for Deseine, and Madame de Tourzel had introduced the sculptor into the presence of the dauphin. The two busts were finished and constituted perfect likenesses; but Angiviller and the princesse de Chimai had opposed their presentation on "the odious pretext that Houdon alone had the right to create sculptures of the king and his son".  In  letters of 31st August and 11th September 1790 to d'Angiviller, the sculptor mentions two other plaster copies of the King's bust, one which he had presented to the duc d'Villecaise, who had obtained the sitting with the Dauphin for him, and a second which  he had sent to the municipality of Bordeaux in August 1790.  The Carnavalet bust must therefore represent a third version.  It seems likely that a marble version was never made.

Deseine had intended to show his bust at the Salon of 1791 (n° 249 in the brochure, where it is specified that the sculpture belongs to the artist himself).  However. in that year, the Salon was reorganised by the Revolutionary government and Deseine, a staunch Royalist, refused to take part.  The statue - or a terracotta version? - was exhibited only in 1814. At Deseine's death, the bust  was still in his workshop;  it was inherited by his descendants, then  given to a Monsieur de Baudicour;  thence it passed to his daughter Madame Monnier and her family.  The Musée Carnavalet acquired the bust from Mme Monnier's granddaughter in 1978.  Deseine's biographer Georges Le Chatelier saw the bust in the early 1900s, when it was apparently bronzed:

Here is a photograph from this era:
L'Ami des Monuments et Arts parisiens, vol.20 (1907)


Notice for the bust:

Françoise Reynaud, "Un buste de Louis XVI par Louis-Pierre Deseine", Bulletin du Musée Carnavalet, vol.2, 1978

One of the few recent studies to comment on the Deseine image is Ronit Milano, The Portrait bust and French cultural politics in the eighteenth century (BRILL, 2015): 

Dr Milano first notes the ambiguity of Houdon's representation of the King, combining as it does pretensions to Baroque grandeur with the depiction of Louis's ordinary appearance and contemporary wig and coat. 

Like Houdon, Deseine created a hybrid portrait, albeit one conveying a different political message: Whereas Houdon's bust combined the old royal mythology and dynastic associations with a contemporary, simpler portrayal of the king, Deseine - sculpting Louis as a constitutional sovereign - refrained from emphasising the king's relation to the French absolute monarchy.  Instead, Deseine attempted to draw a balance between a majestic, respectful representation and a human image of the king. Louis XVI's simple and relatively soft appearance is combined with an elaborate yet contemporary costume and mantle, which were not uncommon in representations of more ordinary people....This hybrid combination, which calls to mind representations of men who were not members of the royal family, placed the king within French society and not outside of it or above it, like the divine entity portrayed by Houdon.  Deseine's portrait of the king thus corresponded to the gradual shift in the perception of royalty and of the nobility, whose members came to be seen as ordinary men chosen to manage the state for the benefit of the people...

Personally I am not sure (at least from the photographs) that Deseine has succeeded in creating a credible portrait; Louis has lost his spurious air of majesty, but only to be come a  caricature King, an image of ineffectual benevolence.

As these pictures show, the differences between the various busts are actually quite minor: disappointingly none of them give much sense of the man himself, who was much more intelligent and complex than these bland images suggest.

Louis XVI by Pajou, 1779

Louis XVI by Louis-Simon Boizot, 1777

Louis XVI by Houdon, 1787
Louis XVI by Deseine, 1790

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