Monday 27 January 2014

The Revolution condemns Man's Best Friend........

Yes, the Revolutionary Tribunal really did order the execution of a dog!

Here is the story as told by Hector Fleischmann in his splendid Behind the scenes in the Terror, and this time it is clear Fleischmann had full documentary evidence for his tale.  Even I feel a bit sorry for this particular mutt!

18c French study of a spaniel, Ashmoleon Museum
(formerly attributed to Watteau


Sunday 26 January 2014

Robespierre's speech to the king.

In 1775 the schoolboy Robespierre was chosen from among five hundred pupils at the Collège Louis-le-Grand to deliver compliments in Latin to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette who stopped briefly as their coach crossed Paris following their coronation in Reims. It rained and the royal couple did not deign to descend from their carriage. This is the stuff of myth: the future regicide slighted by his future victim, nursing his inferiority complexes and unaware of the Revolutionary events to come.

Here is the episode as depicted in the film The French Revolution (1989) directed by Richard T. Heffron: . 

Tuesday 21 January 2014

McPhee on Robespierre

I didn't much want to read another biography of Robespierre. I didn't think it could add much to Ruth Scurr's chatty Fatal purity or Hilary Mantel's sympathetic imaginary reconstruction in A Place of Greater Safety

However, I was given Peter McPhee's book for Christmas, just started reading and have changed my mind.  This is a brilliant book! 

Here are some of the reasons why.

1. McPhee self-consciously avoids a teleological approach: "Write of the past as though it was the present rather than read history backwards". (How would this biography read if we didn't know...?) 

Monday 20 January 2014

An early portrait of Robespierre?

I was really pleased when I recently found an e-version of  Hippolyte Buffenoir's Les portraits de Robespierre (Paris, 1910)  (buried in  Mathiez's Annales Révolutionnaires  for 1908 where it must have been originally published (vol.1, p.244-)

Since I now have access to this key source, I return to portraits of Robespierre.

Musée Carnavalet
Anonymous portrait, presumed to be Augustin Robespierre (1763-94)
67cm x 52 cm

A first oil painting of Robespierre? 

This portrait, now in the Musée Carnavalet, was identified throughout the 19th century as the earliest known depiction of Maximilien Robespierre.

Hippolyte Buffenoir has this notice:
"Robespierre is depicted half-length, turned towards the left, but almost facing the onlooker. He is wearing a very dark bluish coat with big buttons, a white cravat with a knot of falling lace, and a yellow waistcoat in which his left hand is hidden".
"The portrait was painted and signed by Boilly at Arras in 1783. It was kept in the Robespierre family for a long time but bought several years ago, in the sale of the Dancoisne collection in Arras, for the Musée Carnavalet where remains today." (p.247-51).

The picture was first reproduced as the frontispiece to J.-A. Paris,La jeunesse de Robespierre et la convocation des Etats-géneraux en Artois (Arras, 1870). According to M. Paris the portrait was signed by Boilly, painted about 1783 and given by Maximilien to one of his relatives in the nearby town of Meurchin.  It was photographed by permission of a M. D.... who had acquired it directly from the family and could guarantee its authenticity. 

Further corroboration was provided in a notice by Victor Advielle written in 1884, immediately following the sale of the work to the Carnavalet. Advielle reproduces the sale notice. He points out that Robespierre did indeed live in Arras in 1783 and had just become a member of the Rosati, a local literary society. He also identifies M. D.... as Auguste Demory, a well-known figure in the local art world.

"I can affirm, by the most secure of traditions, that there has never been known in Arras any other picture of Robespierre besides that of which we speak. It is therefore the only one which could have been made before the Revolution. In about 1850, as a pupil of the School of Design in Arras, my teacher M. Auguste Demory, to whom the portrait belonged, offered to sell it to me for 50 francs. He presented it to me as a work of Bailly [Boilly] and as representing Maximilien de Robespierre; he had acquired it, he told me, from a family in the rue de Beaudimores (whose name I know), related to the family of Robespierre. The museum in Arras, to whom M. Demory had offered the picture, had refused the acquisition for political reasons. I was young then and not yet a collector, but a short time later M. Demory sold the picture to the amateur who has just now sold it, and who kept it for more than 30 years.....The honorable character of M. Demory is for me the guarantee of these attributions....Those who know him know that he would be incapable of making a false attribution in order to sell a picture...."

Robespierre by Boilly
Musée des beaux arts de Lille
Is it really by Boilly?

The dates fit.  In 1780-85 Boilly was Arras, working under the patronage of the bishop, Monseigneur de Conzié, and there were other portraits by him in Arras dating from this time. However, it doesn't feel accomplished enough to be by his hand, even at this period, and especially given his beautiful later portrait of Robespierre now in Lille.

There is clearly some question mark over the signature "Boilly" on the picture. M. Advielle thought the work had no identifying marks, and the Carnavalet say it is a "signature apocryphe".

Is it Augustin Robespierre?

The Carnavalet now identifies the sitter as Augustin Robespierre and this identification has become almost universal on the internet, but I can't find any documentary evidence to support it. The conclusion is plausible. But maybe it is just wishful thinking on the part of viewers who can't find any echo of Maximilien in this mediocre painting.


Musée Carnavalet notice

J.-A. Paris, La jeunesse de Robespierre et la convocation des Etats-géneraux en Artois (Arras, 1870)  (p.cxiv: Appendix )

Hippolyte Buffenoir, Les portraits de Robespierre (Paris, 1908), p.247-8.

Victor Advielle, "Les portraits de Robespierre & de Lebon au Musée Carnavalet", La Revolution francaise, revue historique, vol.6 1884, p.823-4

David P. Jordan, The Revolutionary career of Maximilien Robespierre (1985) reproduces the portrait; he isn't convinced it is Robespierre either, p.253

Friday 17 January 2014

The portable guillotine of Lyon

Back to death and gore....
 Until recently the last guillotine in Paris could be found on view in an unlikely location - a jazz club/bar called Le Caveau des Oubliettes (“the dungeon cellar”) at 52, rue Galande in the Latin Quarter. Downstairs, where the guillotine was housed, the bar is formed from the remains of a cell from the Petit-Châtelet, the medieval fort protecting the Île de la Cité from the south.  

There are loads of internet posts reporting the existence of the guillotine but its provenance is much less well-known. Sandrine Voillet's BBC TV programme, Paris: an insider's view (2007) solves some of the mystery, identifying it as a "portable guillotine" from Lyon.  In her programme the proprietor confirms that the guillotined was bought in Lyon in 1920 and dates from 1793. It was used by the Republican Army against the Royalists; it packs up to be carried and it weights 37lbs.

Sandrine Voillet  with the guillotine in situ in the Caveau des oubliettes

Perhaps the bar has fallen on hard times for the guillotine was sold at auction on 15 June 2011. The notice identifies it only as one of several "1792 model" guillotines which travelled with Carnot's Armées de la revolution and says simply that it was bought by the great grandfather of the present owner in the Lyon region.

The sale was worthwhile - this macabre relic fetched 195,000 Euros!.

The guillotine assembled for sale

The execution of Jacques Chalier: 

Although there is no real evidence that the same machine was involved, I would like to end this post with the sorry story of the first guillotining in Lyon:

By summer 1793 use of the guillotine had been threatened in Lyon in for some time.  It was a particularly theatrical proposal of the local Jacobin leader Joseph Chalier - who rivalled Marat in his bloodcurdling oratory - that a guillotine should be erected on the narrow Morand bridge over the Rhone, so that heads would fall into the river on one side, and bodies on the other. His intention, he announced to an enthusiastic crowd, was "to purge the town of aristocratic vermin by cutting off fifty heads."

A guillotine was duly dispatched from Paris in a box and set up in the place des Terreaux, behind the Town Hall, with a ring of soldiers to guard it. It was supposed to warn those who conspired against the "patriots" of the fate they might expect. Ironically, following the taking of the Town Hall by federalist forces on 28-29 May, it was Chalier himself who was to be its first victim. The execution took place on 16 July.  It was a memorable fiasco.

Here is  the occasion as recounted by John Haycraft, In search of the French Revolution (1989), p.196:

"The official executioner in Lyons was called Ripet, and he came from a family which had held the post as a hereditary fief for generations.  He was a jocular individual who had a teasing relationship with his assistant, Bernard, whom he called "Mon commis" (My errand boy), whilst Bernard called him "Mon Bourgeois".  Despite Chalier's threats, the guillotine had never been used before, and Ripet and Bernard were uncertain how to use it.  Furthermore, the crowd who came to witness the elimination of the man who had kept them sleepless at night swarmed over the platform of this unfamiliar instrument to examine it, and unbalanced it.

In the late afternoon, Chalier, surrounded by troops, walked from the Prison de Roanne, which was where the Palais de Justice now is.  With watery eyes fixed on the sky, seeing the reincarnation of a martyr who had denounced "heretics" too fiercely, he mounted the scaffold.  Ripet and Bernard seized him, bound him to the plank, tilted him down, placed the top of the "window" over his neck, and released the blade.

However, the guillotine wouldn't work.  The blade stopped half-way.  Ripet and Bernard tried again with the same result.  The third time, the knife grazed Chalier's neck, and the fourth, cut it in half.  Ripet had to detach the head with his knife and , as Chalier was bald, held it up by an ear, while the crowd shouted abuse at such incompetence." (p.196)

Other references
"Executed today": Joseph Chalier

Notices of the sale of the Lyon guillotine in 2011.
For the spec of the 1792 guillotines, see "History" on the Bois de justice (blog)  
There are surviving examples in  museums in Venlo (Netherlands), Liège, Bruges and Luxembourg.

Monday 13 January 2014

Sociability and la toilette

Family in an interior about 1750. Etienne Jeaurat.
J. Paul Getty Museum
The well-to-do lady's "toilette" attended by friends, family members, servants and tradesmen is a strong theme in French art and well-attested in reality. No doubt took its cue, however distant,  from the royal levee, and reflected the leisure and ease of a nobility who could confidently expose their private routines to their associates and inferiors.  The aristocratic bedchamber or dressing room could function as semi-public space - see above (and the illustration on the Choiseul snuffbox) .  Earlier habits were easily assimilated later Enlightenment values of domestic intimacy, informality and emotionally charged friendships.  

In art, the toilette as a theme in genre painting was popularised  in the first half of the century by Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752) and  Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743).

Nicolas Lancret, "Lady at her toilette". Sold at Christie's New York in 2006

 Here is Lancret's "Lady at her toilette", identified, almost certainly erroneously, as the society hostess Madame Geoffrin.  The probability is that the piece was intended to represent "Morning" in a conventionalised set of "Times of the Day", similar to the set by Lancret in the National Gallery.

"The Four Times of Day: Morning", Nicolas Lancret, 1739
National Gallery London
This is the corresponding "Morning" scene from the National Gallery. A young woman seated at her toilette pours tea for the visiting abbé, her gown parted to reveal an enticing naked breast. It is hard to decide how risqué this is intended to be; the bare breast is a standard feature of "toilets of Venus" and Lancret was fond of satirising mythological scenes.  Presumably the picture is intended to be amusing rather than censorious.  Exhibited in the Salon of 1739.

Jean-François de Troy, A lady showing a bracelet miniature
to her suitor (c.1734).
 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

This is the most reproduced of the toilette scenes by Jean-François de Troy: a woman standing half-undressed in her boudoir: as her maid helps her dress, she leans over to show a miniature to the gentleman sitting nearby. Although there is an implied intimacy between the two, the composition is again not sexually charged.  In fact Monsieur seems remarkably unfazed by the sight of those blue silk stays.

Jean-François de Troy, "La toilette pour le bal", 1735.
J. Paul Getty Museum, with its companion "Retour du bal" 

De Troy's most highly regarded pictures were a pair of portraits, again themed on the passage of time, "before" and "after" the ball, which were commissioned by Louis XV's finance minister Germain-Louis de Chauvelin and exhibited in the Salon of 1739.  Again the presence of the opposite sex in the lady's dressing room, albeit suitably agog with admiration, is comfortably accepted.  The emphasis is on the close conspiratorial nature of the group; we are invited to speculate not so much on illicit intimacies as on the pleasurable gallanteries of the ball, to which we, as mere spectators, have not been privy.

The moralists' view -
a bourgeoise gets ready for church
:Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin
 Morning toilette c1741.
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
The sociability of the toilette was never, of course, without its critics; it smacked of social pretension, wilful idleness and conspicuous consumption, to say nothing of the moral ambiguity of appearing in careless deshabille.

From the mid-century criticism gained momentum; as one feels did conscious exploitation of supposed aristocratic insouciance among a widening social spectrum of women themselves.   It seems that the rite of the toilette hardened into a definite two stage process, carefully stage managed, to hide the unsightly dressing and powdering of hair and application of cosmetics. Only the final touches were open to public view.

To male eyes there were clear overtones of flirtation.  A mid-century writer describing the daily life of a woman de bon ton explains that she arises only very late in the morning and then spends the rest of the day at her toilette whilst receiving visitors;  such a lady, he adds, will be scantily clad, "in a state of undress that is more than ordinarily seductive".  (Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert, L'Ami des Femmes (1758), quoted in Posner p.136).  Madame d'Epinay remarked that a lady en négligé will be "less beautiful" than when finely dressed, "but more dangerous....less elegant, but more appealing".  Mercier writing in the 1780s, comments squarely , "the second toilette is nothing but a game invented by coquetry"

François Boucher, The Milliner, 1746
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
François Boucher, Woman fastening her garter
(La toilette),

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
The move towards titillation is evident in the toilet genre scenes of Boucher.  The male admirer disappears entirely from the picture - it is now the spectator who plays the role of voyeur at an exclusively feminine rite.  When the gentleman reappears, as in productions by Boucher's son-in-law Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, the subtext is evident. La Toilette (1765) shows a young woman being laced into her stays by a maid.  A gentleman visitor sits in front of her, his sword pointing at her outstretched leg.  The symbolism is clear and the expressions say it all!

A Woman at Her Toilette, After Pierre-Antoine Baudouin.
Etching and engraving by Nicolas Ponce 1771


Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, "Dressing to impress: the morning toilette and the fabrication of femininity"
in Paris: life & luxury in the 18th century by Charissa Bremer-David et al. Getty Museum 2011 [Extracts on Google books]

Donald Posner, "The 'Duchesse de Velours' and her daughter: a masterpiece by Nattier and its historical context", Metropolitan Museum Journal (1996), 131-142.

"At the Vanity" - Madame Isis' Toilette blog

"Lady at her toilette" - Jane Austen's world [blog]

Here is the very informative notice on Lancret's Toilette de Madame Geoffrin  which accompanied the painting's sale at Christie's New York in 2006
(The picture was resold at Sotheby's in Paris  in 2010, with the identification of Mme Geoffrin reinstated..)

Description: A lady at her toilette
oil on canvas
29 7/8 x 22 7/8 in. (76 x 58 cm.) 

A Lady at her toilette is one of Lancret's most successful forays into a genre more closely associated with Jean-François de Troy and later François Boucher, the tableau de mode or fashionable scene from daily life. Lancret's painting meticulously chronicles the morning routine of a wealthy lady of fashion: in a sumptuously appointed Louis XIV-style bedroom, a pretty young matron sits at her dressing table, gazing into a red lacquer mirror, as she applies a mouche to complete the elaborately powdered and rouged maquillage that her maid would have just completed. Indeed, the lengthy ritual is not yet done - she still wears the white peignoir, or powdering mantle, around her shoulders that protects her clothing from falling powder, and her afternoon dress sits on the frame on which it is stored awaiting the return of her maid who will fasten her into it. The servant has presumably shown discretion by stepping away to allow the visiting abbé to share with her lady in confidence the contents of the letter he reads.

Although the painting has traditionally been identified as a depiction of the celebrated patroness of the arts, Marie-Thérèse Rodet, Madame Geoffrin (1699-1777), this is unlikely to be the case. Mme. Geoffrin is not known to have had any association with Lancret and her career as a supporter of the arts was confined to her long widowhood. By her own acknowledgment, she began to collect art only in 1750 - nearly a decade after Lancret's death - and her commissions went to younger generations of French painters, notably Boucher, Hubert Robert, Joseph Vernet and Vien. Furthermore, the pretty, pert model in Lancret's painting bears little resemblance to the known appearance of the sharp-witted but plain, long-faced salonnière. (For her portrait, see C.B. Bailey, Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris, New Haven & London, 2002, p. 63, fig. 52.)

In subject and style, Lancret's painting is similar to a small copper panel that is one of a series of four allegories of the Times of Day, now in the National Gallery, London. (See M. Tavener Holmes, Nicolas Lancret 1690-1743, New York, 1991, cat. no. 20, pp. 90-3, pl. 20a.) The scene representing Morning is, essentially, a more risqué version of the present painting: in it, a pretty young woman seated at her toilette pours tea for the visiting abbé, who stares in amazement at her breast which has been exposed - inadvertently? - by the opening of her peignoir; observing this comic moment, her maid smiles slyly. In both paintings, Lancret has lavished attention on accurately reproducing the picturesque details of the protagonists' costumes in addition to the furnishings, interiors and accoutrements of fashionable life in contemporary Paris. Following the lead of Jean-François de Troy, who painted similar subjects in 1734 (Rothschild collections, Pregny; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City), it was Lancret who had, by the late 1730s (the period from which both the London and Segoura paintings appear to date), established the fashionable toilette as a legitimate subject for popular genre painting, though it was Boucher who most frequently exploits the theme in genre scenes and portraits throughout the 1740s and 50s.

Although nothing is known of its earliest history, it seems likely that A Lady at her toilette was intended to be understood as an emblem of Morning and, like the copper in London, might have been intended to serve as one in a set of four Times of Day. Since the late seventeenth century, a toilette scene had become the standard representation of Morning in genre depictions of the Times of Day, generally with a depiction of a luncheon for Midday; game playing or sewing indicating Afternoon; and attending or returning from a ball serving to signify Evening. Indeed, in 1746 Boucher created his celebrated toilette scene, The Milliner (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), to represent Morning in a proposed suite of four Times of Day for the Crown Princess Luisa Ulrika of Sweden. Although the prominently placed Boulle wall clock in Lancret's picture is nearly striking noon, it clearly indicates that the scene is still set in the morning hours.

The present painting was originally shaped and was no doubt made as a decoration that was inserted into the boiserie paneling of an unidentified lady's boudoir. The corners were made up at a later date to regularize the format

Provenance: Baronne de Creutzer, Paris, 1877.
with Wildenstein, Paris, 1924

Exhibited: Paris, Château de Bagatelle, La Folie d'Artois, June 1988

Wednesday 8 January 2014

The Duchess of Velvet

Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame Marsollier and her daughter, 1749
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Still on the theme of "la toilette", among the most regarded works by Jean-Marc Nattier, is this splendid double portrait, exhibited in the Salon of 1750, of Madame Marsollier, wife of a fabulously wealthy Parisian silk merchant, with her only daughter Marie-Thérèse, later marquise de Chamilly.  Despite her fine taste, Madame's social pretensions caused her to be dubbed the "Duchess of Velvet".

Portrait of a woman by
Nicolas de Largillière, 1696
Portraits of women at their toilette, engaged in the rituals of beautification, had long been popular in France, with varying degrees of allusion to the toilet of Venus as a convenient pretext to depict aristocratic ladies in alluring deshabille. In this strand of 17th and early 18th-century thought a certain boldness in the display of physical charms could be construed as a mark of sophistication, whilst a casual state of dress denoted a confident natural superiority. 

 Nattier was a particular master of the mythological and allegorical portrait piece, so Madame Marsollier must have deliberately opted for realism; certainly she might have chosen to have herself depicted as Flora or Venus, or Diana with nymph. That the fashion for such conceits was rapidly waning owed something to Nattier himself who in the 1748 Salon exhibited, to acclaim, his remarkably unceremonious portrait of Queen Marie Leszcynska, wearing everyday clothes and reading her Bible. However, there is just enough hint of Venus or Astrea about Madame's pose to underline her famous beauty. 

Of note too is the openly affectionate and intimate relationship depicted between mother and daughter - novel for the time though prefigured in Nattier's much earlier 1733 double portrait of Madame Crozat de Thiers and her daughter. Mlle Marsollier, an only child, was course a particularly cossetted little girl.

The message to be gleaned above all from the painting is one of richness and luxuriant ease, signalled by both the surroundings and details of dress.  Thus David Posner:  "Madame Marsollier is a statuesque figure in her undress: a revealing chemise and blue and white draperies clasped with a jewelled belt.  He hands and those of her daughter hold the two figures together, while their glances draw them apart.  The gilded mirror, ewer, and boxes are expensive objects of high quality and elegant design.  The marble arches in the background suggest a palatial interior, while the abundant velvet drapery tied with gold tassels endow the composition with dignity and gravitas."

Who was Madame Marsollier?

Born Catherine Leleu, Madame was the daughter of an attorney in the Royal Household and apparently felt she had married beneath her. She disliked being reminded of the source of her husband's riches. Here, noting her premature death in 1756, is the duc de Luynes: 

Memoirs of the duc de Luynes:
"A few days ago a Madame Marsollier died in Paris.  She was the daughter of M. de Leu, procurator for the domains and woods of the King; she was very well known for her beauty. Her husband was a wholesale dealer in silks who afterwards bought a position as secretary of the King.  Madame Marsollier is survived only by one daughter, who will be very rich. One of the conditions of Madame Marsollier's marriage was that she would never have to enter her husband's shop; she even avoided the rue Saint-Honoré so she wouldn't have to see the shop;  that didn't prevent people from calling her the duchess of Velvet".

The Marsolliers - a commercial dynasty
Until recently the duc de Luynes's bon mot was just about all the accessible information regarding the Marsollier family and the "Duchess of Velvet".  Now, the careful research of Matthieu Marraud has restored to us something of the world of this close-knit and powerful dynasty of merchants. The ethos which bound them together and committing them to business was at odds with Madame's aspirations and reflects the subtlety of the social relations and tensions of the time.  Madame's husband, René Marsollier (1702-63) was the third of that name to deal in the sale of imported silks from an establishment in the rue de la Lingerie, premises which, though substantial, backed onto the Cimetière des Innocents in the heart of the cramped medieval streets of Paris's commercial district.  It is clear that the shop itself, its name and sign ("le panonceau") were key components in the identity of the business; indeed it was an acknowledged requirement that, however wealthy they might be, members of the family actively engaged in the trade would live on the on the premises.

On the death of René II in 1731, our René had inherited, at the age of 29, what was already an extensive silk trade directed towards aristocratic clientele and the royal household itself. Significantly, one of his first acts was the purchase of the charge of secrétaire du roi - an ennobling office de robe - not for himself but for his younger brother.  This provided his sibling with a secure income whilst avoiding having to partition the family business.  It is to be observed that securing dynastic continuity in this way mudded the social significance of ennoblement:  "This practice brought into the second ordre some people who did not respond to the appeal of elite distinctions.  Their daily deeds did not ratify the hierarchical predominance of one profession above another" (Marraud, 2009, p.217)

René III was not, however, immune from social aspirations - that much is clear from his choice of marriage partner from outside the confines of closely interrelated Parisian merchant dynasties.  At his marriage in 1736 he renounced joint ownership of goods with his new wife not, as the duc de Luynes suggests, to spare her the sight of the shop, but to forestall any future claims on the business by her relatives.  In the same year he entered into a long-running association with a maternal uncle Augustin Nau who moved into the rue des Lingeries with his wife.  It was not until 1745 that René secured his own ennoblement as secrétaire du roi and moved out to a smart hôtel in the rue Coquillière - much grander but still within the same parish of Saint-Eustache. He still owned the majority of the assets and a controlling interest. Now at last presumably his wife could give full expression to her aspirations in suitably luxurious surroundings.

On his death in 1763, René III left an "incroyable patrimoine" in excess of 1500 000 livres, a third of which was tied up in the business.  This marked the end of the family's active involvement;  the Naus were obliged to buy out his daughter who had again married outside the merchant clans, to Lorimier de Chamilly, intendant général des écuries du roi.  They continued to trade from the rue de la Lingerie.  Indeed in 1788 the duc de Montmorency was still buying silk costumes for his son's marriage at an establishment which called itself "Nau et Marsollier" -  representing a continuity in trade of over a century.

A note on the provenance of the painting

The provenance notes in the Metropolitan Museum catalogue show clearly the descent of the painting in the family of the marquise de Chamilly. The identity of the sitters is further corroborated by an annotated drawing of the painting in the Schlossmuseum Weimar.  It is quite a surprise, therefore, to find it reproduced in a 1903 Christie's London sale catalogue, under the name of "Comtesse de Neubourg and her daughter". It is possible the painting could have made its way into a British collection in this period but who is the comtesse de Neubourg The Met. has Neubourg as a title belonging to the Marsollier family but there is no sign of it at all in the documents and genealogies in Matthieu Morraud's researches.  If it is simply a case of mistaken identity, there is no obvious alternative candidate.

Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame Marsollier and her daughter, 1757.
 Black chalk, stump heightened with white chalk on brown paper, 428x324 mm.
Schlossmuseum, Weimar.
Inscribed " j. m. Nattier.px. Madame Marsollier et Mlle Sa fille et delineavit 1757".

Entry in the Metropolitan Museum catalogue:

Catalogue of the sale of Reginald Vaile at Christie's London in 1903: No 46:  "A portrait of the comtesse de Neubourg and her daughter".  Illustrated and without doubt the same painting.

Donald Posner, "The 'Duchesse de Velours' and her daughter: a masterpiece by Nattier and its historical context", Metropolitan Museum Journal (1996), 131-142.

The relevant pages of works by Matthieu Marraud can be viewed as extracts on Google Books: 

_____, De la ville à  l'Etat (2009) p.161-172 

_____, "Nobility as social dialogue: the Parisian example 1650-1750" in Contested spaces of nobility in early modern Europe, ed. Matthew P. Romaniello (2011), p.217.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Toilette articles

Watteau, Toilet articles chez Gersaint......(1720)

An 18th-century lady might a spent several hours a day in dressing, surrounded by servants and lackeys, or maybe even an audience of carefully chosen visitors.  Such a pivotal activity required its splendid accoutrements in fine materials - lace, porcelain lacquer silver and tortoiseshell - the pinnacle of feminine conspicuous consumption.

Tables and table cloths 

Lace toile, plus silver and crystal 
toilet set with ewer. 
Detail from a painting by
Francois de Troy
In the earlier part of the century, the toilet table itself was of little interest since it was the cloth which covered it, the petite toile, which was all important.  As the century progressed plain linen gave way to white taffeta and embroidered muslin, whilst the most extravagant cloths of all were trimmed entirely with lace.  Almost always, a short flounce would border the top of the table, with a longer flounce or flounces falling to the ground beneath.  In an age when lace was handmade, such a profusion was an unequivocal statement of wealth and luxury.  

Paintings and inventories also record all sorts of additional swathing in richly coloured velvet, taffeta or satin - the rich vibrant coloured textiles hung at the back of mirrors being known simply as la toilette. The table cloth itself, however, was almost invariably white.

 In the second half of the century the vogue for extravagant textile coverings was overtaken by the appearance of purpose-built tables de toilette, which concealed both the mirror and toilet articles behind a decorative façade of gliding and marquetry.  The paraphernalia of cosmetics and equipment, and often pens and writing materials, could now be handily accommodated in a plethora of hinged compartments and drawers. These coiffeuses, with their elaborate decoration and curvy legs, still turn up quite regularly at auction houses:

Vanity sets 

By  the 1760s, cosmetics were growing in popularity so much that vanity table sets began to be heavily advertised, and dressing rooms were built facing north for the best light.
A service de toilette could comprise more than two-dozen pieces, though the mirror was always the main item;  at the time of her death in 1748 Madame de Pompadour owned a vanity set consisting of “two quarrés; two powder boxes; two others for patches; another en peloton, another for roots, of rosewood; a mirror twenty inches high and eighteen wide, matching wood in its frame; two paste pots; two others for pomade; a little cup a saucer of Sèvres porcelain; a goblet and two little bottles of Bohemian glass; a bell of silvered brass" (!).

Although painted or varnished wood was the most common material, an elite owned heavy metal sets of gold, silver and vermeil.  French silver sets are rare - only five examples are known to survive intact; many, like that belonging to Madame de Pompadour, were patriotically melted down to help finance the Seven Years' War.  Lacquer and porcelain  came into vogue in the 1750s - the Wallace collection has a fine green Sèvres service which may have belonged to la Pompadour herself. Lacquered wood in a Japanese style was popularised by Guillaume and Etienne-Simon Martin ("vernis Martin"). 

Sèvres toilet set, Wallace Collection.

This splendid surviving nineteen-piece silver service from the Detroit Institute of Arts
 dates from the 1730s and includes a mirror weighing over twenty-four pounds.

Fine Chinese laquer toilet set - detail from an early 18th century
 portrait by Drouais

Items which might be included in a service de toilette

1.   Boxes for hair powder. Hair powder was bought scented and possibly coloured by the perfumer; small quantities could then be mixed with inexpensive, unscented starch.  Toilette sets usually included a pair of powder containers, suggesting the possibility of varying or mixing scents and shades.  White went out of fashion by the 1770s but coloured powders continued to be worn.  Boxes had airtight seals to keep the powder dry and free from mites. They had to be big enough to contain large quantities of powder required.

2.   Hair powder puffs. Hair powder was applied using a large powder puff (houppe); Puffs of swansdown began to appear in perfumers' inventories from the beginning of the century; by the second half of the century cheaper versions were also available, made of wool, yarn and cats hair.

Pewter hair powder box with puff
Detail from Boucher, Lady applying a beauty patch

3.  Small rectangular whisk (vergette) to dust excessive powder from clothing.

4.  Powder bellows (soufflet en poudre) replaced the puff in the second half of the century. These were more economical but less precise, necessitating the use of masks and cones to protect the face.

5. Ewers for water or toilet waters

6. Boxes for "mouches" 

Gold patch box with brush, c.1730. Images @ Etsy
Gold and enamel example from the 1780s
 which sold for £10,575 in 2002
7. Assorted boxes for soap, sponges, combs, pins, jewellery. These were often called quarrés or carrés de toilette, since they were characteristically square or rectangular.

Casket about 1680-90. Wood, veneered with rosewood, brass, pewter,  
mother-of-pearl and painted horn.
 J.Paul Getty Museum.

Detail of a similar box from Nattier's portrait 
of Madame Marsollier and her daughter, 1749

8. Root boxes (boîtes à racines) for aromatic roots and herbs used to freshen breath and clean the teeth.

6. Pin boxes and pin cushions 


This is mostly taken from:  Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, "Dressing to impress: the morning toilette and the fabrication of femininity"
in Paris: life & luxury in the 18th century by Charissa Bremer-David et al. Getty Museum 2011 (Extracts on Google books)

See also: "At the Vanity" - Madame Isis' Toilette blog

Exhibitions and collections 

"Paris, life & luxury" - Exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, April 26-August 7 2011

18th-century toilet articles from the collection of Lyons perfumer Léon Givaudan.  Shown to coincide with an exhibition on "Lyon au 18e" at the Musée Gadagne in 2013.

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