Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Royal bodyguard on 6th October - the two who died

Of the two guardsmen killed on 6th October 1789 Jean-François PAGÈS des UTTES ("DESHUTTES") is little more than a name. The genealogical website "Geneanet" gives his date of birth as 1753 and tells us he was one of four brothers who served in the guards. He was seigneur of Neyrestang, a small fief in the parish of Jussieu, near Aurillac in the Auvergne. This may possibly have been his ancestral home.


François ROUPH de VARICOURT, born at Gex in 1760, is much better known, largely because, by coincidence, he was the brother of  Reine-Philiberte Rouph de Varicourt, marquise de Villette (1757-1822), Voltaire's "Belle-et-Bonne". The Varicourts had a strong family tradition of service in the guards: two of the marquise's brothers joined the gardes-du-corps de Beauveau - Claude Gabriel on 28 June 1778 and François on 28 March 1779.  The marquis de Villette, disciple of Voltaire, supported the Revolution and  was elected to the Convention in 1792 but opposed the execution of Louis XVI.   Reine-Philiberte herself was imprisoned for several months during the Terror, suspected of trying to communicate with Marie-Antoinette.

The Villette estate at Pont-Sainte-Maxence was later extensively renovated by the marquise's brother Claude Gabriel. He, or possibly her son Charles-Voltaire, constructed the Orangery - today  a smart restaurant - which still bears a memorial to their brother/uncle François "Sauvez la Reine!" Varicourt.


Notice for the Rouph de Varicourt family on Wikipedia: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famille_Rouph_de_Varicourt

Entry on "geneanet"

Reine-Philiberte Rouph de Varicourt Marquise de Villette,surnommee "Belle et Bonne" par Voltaire (1757-1822).  Brochure prepared by Rene Blanchon (Ville de .Pont-Sainte-Maxence. 20 pgs.) pdf.

Friday 25 April 2014

The Royal bodyguard on 6th October (cont.)

Here are some translations of eye-witness accounts by three of the gardes-du-corps who were prominently involved in the events of 6th October. The first two are depositions made to the inquiry held at the Châtelet, by Miomandre and Du Repaire.  The third is a letter from Delisle, the guard near the chapel, who subsequently accompanied the royal family on their slow journey to Paris.

Criminal investigation carried out at the Châtelet concerning the events of 6 October 1789, printed by order of the National Assembly 1790:

Deposition of François-Aimé de Miomandre de Sainte-Marie, aged 33 years, guarde-du-corps du roi, from Château-Neuf in Limousin, lodging in Paris, hôtel du Croissant....

Anonymous garde-du-corps
Portrait sold recently at Sotherby's
...On the 6th of the said month of October, at about six o'clock in the morning, he was on the balcony of the King's Hall, when he saw a large crowd armed with pikes, sticks and other weapons, enter by the Cours des prince and make its way towards the vaulted gallery which led to the chapel.  A member of the National Guard (small, with coal-stained hands, black sunken eyes, sparse hair, aged about thirty), together with an infantryman, placed themselves at the head of this troop and advanced to the King's staircase.  He and his comrades went to the staircase to meet them.  He went down four steps saying to these people, "My friends, you love your King, and yet you come and disturb him in his palace".  They did reply but tried to get hold of him by his cross-belt and hair; but one of his comrades seized him by the coat and helped him back up the stairs.  One of the men seized his musket but, having shaken it violently, returned it to him.

He and his comrades fell back into their Hall; at the same instant the crowd forced the doors and compelled them to leave.  Finding himself opposite the windows of the Great Hall, he saw the sentry from the Queen's chamber taken and dragged out onto the staircase.  Seeing the danger which faced the Queen, he flew to her chamber.  When he entered, he observed the Sieur du Repaire, his comrade, lying on his back, with a man holding a pike to his stomach.  He managed to pull the man off.  Du Repaire did not let go of the pike but carried it with him, as he heard the words that these wretches were saying against his Queen: "We want to cut off her head, cut out her heart, fry her liver and it won't stop there!"  He rushed to the Queen's chamber, opened the door and cried out to a woman that he saw at the far side of the room, "Madame save the Queen; they want to kill her; I am alone against two thousand tigers; my comrades have been forced to leave their Hall".  

Then he shut the door and, after a few minutes of fighting, a man tried to strike him a blow with a pike which he had the good fortune to parry. The man then took hold of the pike by its head and struck him with the butt and he was felled to the ground. Then he heard the National Guardsman previously mentioned say, "Standback"  and, measuring the butt of his musket against his head, he struck him with all his force so that the trigger penetrated his skull.  Seeing him bathed in blood, the man left him for dead.

Summoning all his strength, he saw that there were only four people at the door of the Great Hall, got up, picked up his hat and ran as fast as he could to rejoin his comrades.  He crossed the King's Hall, the Guard Room and the Oeil-de-Boeuf, where he met the sieur du Repaire. 

Both realising that they were useless to their comrades, they crossed the gallery to the door of the King's apartments where they found a Swiss guard who lent him a woollen bonnet and a grey coat and kept his uniform. Together with the Sieur du Repaire, he was led by another Swiss guard who opened the doors, out via the theatre to a courtyard below the chapel.  Here in a kitchen they found two women who helped them; he was weak and the women and Du Repaire gave him water and vinegar to drink, which revived him.  He asked for a sedan chair to be carried in to the royal infirmary, but one of the Swiss guards made him see the danger he ran in going outside;  signalled by a cook that it was not safe to go back, he took a archway and found an open cellar, where he rested on the steps  until he was found by a kitchen help.  He was (eventually) taken to a darkened room, bandaged up by the surgeon of the prince de Poix and transferred at nine o'clock in the evening, under the name of André, to the royal infirmary  in a coat of the prince's livery.   When he was knocked down, his watch had been stolen.


Thursday 24 April 2014

The Royal bodyguard on 6th October

The October Days. in which the women of Paris marched on Versailles, and forced Louis XVI and the royal family, henceforth virtual prisoners, to return to Paris, is one of the best known turning points of the Revolution.  In the standard tours of Versailles, you can see the incongruously ornate and luxurious surroundings in which the drama of the early hour of 6th October played itself out; the Queen's staircase by which the angry crowd entered, the little door which Marie-Antoinette used to make her hurried escape, the Queen's guardroom where the royal bodyguard made their stand....  

Well-known too are the prints of the Revolutionary crowd on its return to Paris, triumphantly bearing the heads of two butchered guardsmen on  pikes.  However, these individuals, the soldiers who so willingly laid down their lives to protect their monarchs, are often neglected, especially in modern accounts.

In 2005 a book on Les gardes du corps de Louis XVI (2005)  was published with biographical notices for the whole of the corps. This is not available on the internet, but  there is a summary list published on  the French genealogical website, Mémodoc.  In this post, I have tried to marry up an account of what happened on 6th October, taken mainly from the 19th-century study by. J. A. Le Roi, with this list of names.

The violence begins

In the small hours of the 6th an uneasy hush finally settled over Versailles.  The Revolutionary crowd which had invaded the assembly was temporarily appeased and the mass of National Guard, which accompanied them seemed for the moment obedient to the restraining voice of Lafayette.  The palace itself was guarded on the outside by members of the former gardes françaises, now incorporated into the National Guard.  The gardes-du-corps at their post within the palace knew themselves to be hopelessly outnumbered.   Their commander the  Marquis d’Aguesseau, had a force of only 80 to 100 men at his disposal. 

At about half-past five in the morning a large number of women, who had spent the night in the adjacent barracks of the gardes françaises., began to gather in the place d'Armes in front of the palace.  In the 18th century there was a second set of gates into the inner part of the courtyard, the cour des Ministres, but this was guarded only by two National Guardsmen who let the women through.  They then gained entry into the cours des Princes (where the gate had been left open for the gardes françaises.) and through into the gardens.  The crowd congregated under the windows of the Queen's apartments.  It was at this point that Marie-Antoinette inquired what the noise was and was told by Madame Thibault that it was only some women looking for a place to sleep.

The palace of Versailles, c.1774
Meanwhile large numbers of men, armed with pikes, sabres and pistols invaded the cours des Ministres, crying vengeance against the gardes-du-corps and the Queen. d'Aguesseau had restricted himself to stationing two men at each gate. Strict instructions were issued in the name of the King not to fire on the crowd at any cost. “Sir", Bertrand de Moleville, has one guardsman say, "assure our unfortunate Master that his orders shall be obeyed, but we shall be murdered”(p.110).  The officer in charge of the guard-house was convinced that his men had escaped death only because the rain had soaked the priming of the Revolutionaries' guns.  

The early morning of 6 October, at Versailles
from Haycraft, In search of the French Revolution (1989) p. 73

The angry crowd began to surge forward, perhaps spurred on by the shooting of one of their number. The guards in the passage des Colonnades which gave entry to the cour des Princes were unable to withstand the onslaught and were pushed back.  One of them, De Lisle (1), was seized and would certainly have been killed if he had not been protected by a National Guardsman.  A section of invaders now moved off towards the archway to the theatre, where the sentry at the door of Mesdames' apartments had the presence of mind to rush to the King's apartments to raise the alarm. The other, larger column attacked the two guards who had just taken up their stations at the gates to the cour Royal.  In an instant Deshuttes (2) was overwhelmed by blows, wounded with pikes and sabres and dragged into the cour des Ministres.  Here he was set upon by the terrible Jourdan  "Coupe-Tête", a monster with a huge beard, who placed a foot on his chest and cut off his head with an axe. [He really existed - see Wikipedia] The head was placed  there-and-then on a pike and paraded through the town, whilst the body was thrown in some straw near the barracks of the gardes françaises.  Deshuttes'  terrified colleague Moreau (3), managed to tear free from  his assaillants and narrowly escaped a similar fate.

The battle on the staircase 

The first group of invaders had now turned back on itself and entered the staircase, which led from the courtyard to the Queen’s apartments,  where a group of guards had already gathered on the landing. One of them, Miomandre de Sainte-Marie (4), came down three or four steps: "My friends, he declared, you love your good king, yet come to disturb him in his palace. Surrender your arms!"  Without replying the leaders threw themselves on him, grabbing him by the cross-belt and hair, while one of their number took his musket. He was quickly dragged to safety by his comrades.  Realising that they could not resist such a large crowd, the guards now barricaded themselves in the grande salle ("salle du Sacre").  The attackers threw themselves at the door and managed to break through a panel, but the guards positioned a heavy cabinet to stop the hole.  Eventually, however, the door of the adjoining Queen's guardroom was breached, the crowd rushed in and fell upon the defenders.  Several managed to escape and join their comrades in the King's guardroom but one of them, Varicourt (5) was hit from behind, wounded and dragged down the stairs into the cour des Ministres. He was still alive and trying to reason with his assassins when the terrible Jourdan came up once more, and hacked off his head to serve as a second trophy.

Queen's guardroom today,
with its  restored 17th-century decoration

Further Revolutionaries now arrived via the Salle des cent-suisses, crossing the grande salle into the  Queen's guardroom where they joined those who had already entered by the staircase. A number of the guardsmen were able to fall back and barricade themselves in the salon de l'Oeil-de-Boeuf, but the remainder in the grande salle and Queen's guardsroom were left exposed. 

 As the crowd entered the guardroom, Du Repaire (6), heard the cries against the Queen and stationed himself at the entry to her apartments.  He was set upon, seized by the cross-belt, thrown to the floor and pulled to the door amid threats to cut his throat. A man tried to plung a pike into his chest, but Du Repaire wrested it from him, and parrying the further blows, managed to retreat to  the King's guardroom  where he too was hauled to safety.  At the last moment a shot, probably intended for Du Repaire, hit one of his assallants.

Jean-François Janinet (engraver): 
Events of the 6th October 1789.
"Massacre of a  garde-du-corps at the door of
 the Queen's Apartment, by a brigand"
Miomandre, who saw Du Repaire overwhelmed, rushed to take his place. At the threshold  to the Queen's antechamber he cried out to Madame Thibault  to "save the Queen".  Even as she hastened to lock the communicating door, he was set upon in his turn. One assaillant attacked him with a pike; he was able to parry, but the man then took the pike by its head and knocked him to the ground with the shaft. A passing infantryman hit him with the butt-end of his gun, laying open his skull and leaving him for dead.  Despite the severity of his injuries he too struggled to the King's guardroom and thence rejoined Du Repaire in the salon de l'Oeil-de-Boeuf.  De Virieu (7) and four other guards entered the first of the Queen's two antechambers and  persuaded Madame Aughié through the keyhole to unlock the door to the inner room.  As they entered the Queen made her successful escape through the passage to the King's apartments.

In the Oeil-de-Boeuf  the guardsmen, barricaded behind piles of furniture,  resolved  to make a final stand in defence of the royal family.  In order to parley with members of the invading soldiery,  M. de Chevannes(8)  had opened the door and offered himself as the first sacrifice. Fortunately he was met by loyal members of the National Guard and at this point the bodyguard were relieved.

Although the guards who defended the entrance to the Queen's apartments bore the brunt of the attack, others were also exposed to danger. Gratery (9) , saved by former gardes françaises from being hanged or shot, escaped as far as the hôtel of the gardes-du-corps, rue Royale, then took refuge among sympathisers in the town.  Raymond (10) on duty at the theatre was likewise  beaten, disarmed and stripped to his shirt.  Bertrand de Moleville notes that Madame Élisabeth herself saved the guard outside her door whilst Madame Adelaide and Madame Victoire  had refused one altogether.


As news of the massacres at the Château spread, the crowd, driven from the palace, dispersed through the town. Men dressed in rags and armed with pikes, guns, staffs and all sort of tools, pillaged the guard's hôtel and the nearby hôtel de Charrost. Some guards, who were still in the hôtel,  tried vainly to rejoin their comrades - Lukerque (11), was attacked in the rue de l'Orangerie, two others, Vaquier-Demotte (12)  and d'Aubiac (13) got as far as the avenue de Sceaux. .All evaded their aggressors thanks only to the intervention of the National Guard.  By the time the batallion who had been quartered at the hôtel were ready to leave, there were just sixteen guards left to join them.  These got separated and several had already been struck by pikes by the time Lafayette himself appeared to the rescue.

The royal family leave Versailles for Paris (print)

Meanwhile Durepaire and  Miomandre, realising they were useless to their comrades, had escaped through the connection door to the galerie des Glaces, where a Swiss guard lent Miomandre a bonnet and grey coat.  They were taken to the kitchens, where Durepaire too was given a disguise of some servant's clothes. He eventually found his way to Saint-Cloud whilst Miomandre took refuge in a cellar to be finally rescued and taken to the infirmary in the town. The doctor, M. Voisin, had to smuggle out of the palace the marquis de Savonnières (14), an officer who had been shot in the shoulder in an incident on the 5th and was to subsequently die of his wound;  as Madame Campan testified, when an armed crowd arrived at the infirmary it was only the presence of mind of Voisin and Sister Favier which saved the guards within, allowing them time to take refuge in the nearby convent of the Ursulines or hide in the hospital's salle des pauvres.  

A considerable number of the Body Guards, who were wounded on the 6th of October, betook themselves to the infirmary at Versailles. The brigands wanted to make their way into the infirmary in order to massacre them. M. Voisin, head surgeon of that infirmary, ran to the entrance hall, invited the assailants to refresh themselves, ordered wine to be brought, and found means to direct the Sister Superior to remove the Guards into a ward appropriated to the poor, and dress them in the caps and greatcoats furnished by the institution. The good sisters executed this order so promptly that the Guards were removed, dressed as paupers, and their beds made, while the assassins were drinking. They searched all the wards, and fancied they saw no persons there but the sick poor; thus the Guards were saved.
(Memoirs of Madame Campan, vol. III)

The King left for Paris at noon. The heads of the unfortunate Deshuttes and Varicourt on two pikes led the procession.  Following them were forty to fifty gardes-du-corps on foot and unarmed, escorted by a body of men armed with sabres and pikes. After that came two guards, wearing high boots, with neck wounds, blood-stained shirts and torn garments, each held by two men in the national uniform with drawn swords in their hands. Further back came a group of guards mounted on horses, some riding pillion and others in the saddle with a member of the National Guard riding behind them.There is a story, quite probably apocryphal, that a hairdresser on the pont de Sèvres was forced to attend to the hair of the decapitated heads, rendering him so distressed that he subsequently committed suicide.

The bodies of the two dead guard were at first left exposed to the curiosity of hostile onlookers, who uncovered them from the straw,  kicked them and took scraps of their uniforms as souvenirs. In Paris the municipality in due course issued orders for the heads to be recovered and those who carried them to be punished,  but no documentary evidence as to what happened survives. On the evening of the 6th the curé of the church of  Notre Dame in Versailles inscribed on the Parish Memorial the names of the two guards, together with that of Jérôme-Honoré L'Héritier compagnon ébéniste, the insurgent who was killed. 


J. A. Le Roi, Récit des journées des 5 et 6 octobre 1789 à Versailles (1867)

Bertrand de Moleville,  Annals of the French Revolution, Vol.II (1800)

Mémodoc [French genealogical website]
Table of names of the gardes-du-corps in the reign of Louis XVI,  taken from Gilbert Bodinier, Les gardes du corps de Louis XVI (2005)

List of names
(1)   Lisle (Charles-Louis de) 
(2)   Pagès Des Uttes (Jacques-François)
(3)   Moreau de La Bélive (Antoine-Barthélémy) 
(4)   Miomandre (François-Anne)? Elsewhere François-Aimé Miomandre de Sainte-Marie
(5)   Rouph de Varicourt (François)
(6)   Tardivet Du Repaire (Guillaume-François)
(7)   ? No match
(8)   Robert de Chevannes (Charles-François) 
(9)   Renaudin de Gratery (Louis) or  (Jean-César).
(10) Raymond (Antoine-Philippe de) or (Jean-Henry-Étienne de)
(11) Lefebvre de Lukerque (Alexandre-Éloi-Jean)
(12) ? No match
(13) ? Perhaps Du Faur de Saubiac (Jean-Anne)
(14)  Savonnières (Timoléon-Magdelon-François, marquis de)

Madame du Barry apparently gave refuge at Louveciennes to two wounded guards, an act of kindness which did much to reconcile Marie-Antoinette to her.  There is a note from the former favourite to the Queen, " Madame, these wounded young men have only one regret, that they did not die with their comrades for princess as perfect, and as worthy of their homage as is assuredly Your Majesty".  Stanley Loomis gives their names as  Barghon-Monteuil and Lubersac but I can't trace these from the above listing. 

13//07/14. Note on the incident of the hairdressers.
See Caroline Weber, Queen of fashion: what Marie-Antoinette wore to the Revolution (2006) p.216-7:
" It was only when the cortège arrived in the town of Sèvres that the rioters hit upon the punishment most befitting the Queen’s history of offensive conduct.  While the cavalcade stopped to regroup, a handful of its more thuggish denizens reportedly slipped away and went in search of a coiffeur.  Finding a few, a page from the royal household recorded, they “placed a knife to [the hairdressers’] throats and constrained them to frizzle and powder” the hair on the severed heads of the two murdered royal guards.  The ruffians then set the heads, intricately coiffed and abundantly powdered, back on their pikes and returned to the royal carriage.  As they procession resumed, the pike bearers waved their gruesome trophies right beside Marie Antoientte’s window, to make sure she could see to what good use her beloved hair powder had been put.”
Caroline Weber cites separate accounts by the comte d'Hézècques, Madame de Campan and the Marquis de Molleville, so maybe the story was true. However the details do not quite agree - did the incident take place on the pont de Sèvres, in the town of Sèvres or, alternatively, in Sens?

Friday 18 April 2014

Wertmüller in America

Wertmüller self-portrait
Nationalmuseum Stockholm
What was a world there must have seemed between the Court of Versailles and the streets of 18th-century Philadelphia!  Having worked for a while in Bordeaux, Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller fled the Revolution and in May 1794 arrived in the United States, complete with his paintings, among them his mythological masterpiece, Danaë and the Shower of Gold - beautiful, very nude and not at all to Quaker taste.  In following year Wertmüller unveiled to mixed reviews his portrait of George Washington, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In 1802 he married Elisabeth Henderson, grandaughter of Gustaf Hesselius, the foremost painter of the Swedish colony in Delaware, but his portrait-painting business never entirely flourished and the couple finally bought a farm a few miles downriver from Philadelphia where they spent the last years of their life. A year after his death, the contents of his studio were sold in Philadelphia on May 18, 1812, the earliest recorded catalogued public sale of works of art in America. 

Thursday 17 April 2014

More Wertmüller portraits

Oil portraits of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, signed with initials
 and dated 'A.W./1793.' and 'A:W./1787.' respectively.
Both 16.2 cm x 13.3 cm

Here are a pair of small portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI by Wertmüller which were sold at Christies, New York, in January 1995. This post is really just to marry up the auction notice with images of the two paintings which can be found  - and downloaded in high quality versions  - on the "Corbis" website.  The auction estimate was $50,000-$70,000, but they made only $29,000; not much really considering this was an artist once officially commissioned to paint the French queen!

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Meetings: Madame du Barry and J.-P. Brissot (1778)

The Revolution often lent a retrospective significance to trivial events. One such was the chance encounter which took place between the former royal mistress Madame du Barry and the then unknown Jean-Paul Brissot on the stairs to the Voltaire's apartment in Paris shortly before his death 1778.  It would appear that Madame du Barry's spontaneous kindness on this occasion won her an unlikely admirer in the future Girondin leader...

Madame du Barry 

Madame du Barry's cordial relations with Voltaire illustrate well Robert Darnton's idea of a "patrician Enlightenment"  accepted by the ruling elite in the latter part of the century. At Madame Denis's insistence, the Comtesse had even requested  to Louis XV unsuccessfully that Voltaire be allowed to return to France. 

Madame du Barry
Portrait by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, dated 1781
 Rothschild collection.
In 1773 she coquettishly asked the Court banker, Laborde, to deliver kisses to Voltaire on both cheeks on her behalf.  She received a letter and two poems in reply; Voltaire claimed obsequiously that he had kissed her portrait:  it was for mortals to adore her image, the original being made for the gods.  These game gallantries from "the old hermit" travelled across Europe and were even appreciated by the misogynistic Frederick of Prussia.  Louis, for all his disapproval of Voltaire, was delighted at this tribute to his beloved mistress.  

In the Spring of  in 1778, the whole of Paris was outside Voltaire's door but few were admitted to see the ailing old man. On February 20th, the day he celebrated his birthday, he was startled shortly after lunch, to learn that Madame du Barry was on his doorstep  At first he refused to see her, as he was not properly dressed, but she persisted and in due course he assented to a brief interview.

Jean-Paul Brissot

Pastel portrait of Brissot -
frontispiece to the Mémoires 
Outside Voltaire's door too, clutching the preface to his Théorie des lois criminelles, was Brissot, then an unknown lawyer.  He had already lost courage on the threshold the day before and now he hesitated again.  Here is the incident as related in his Memoirs:

I had almost reached the antechamber where there seemed to be less commotion than on the previous afternoon when I heard a noise and the door opened. Assailed by my foolish timidity I hurriedly ran downstairs but, ashamed of myself, I retraced my steps. A woman, whom the master of the house [presumably the marquis de Vilette]  had just shown out, was at the foot of the stairs. She was beautiful and had a kind face. I did not hesitate to address her and inquired if she thought it was possible for me to be introduced to Monsieur de Voltaire, telling her frankly of the purpose of my visit. Monsieur Voltaire has received scarcely anyone today, she answered kindly. However it is a favour which I have just obtained myself, Monsieur, and I have no doubt that you will obtain it also.  Through my embarrassed air she seemed to guess at my shyness for now she returned to the master of the house who not yet closed the door upon her and I was admitted. She answered my deep salutations with a warm smile full of kindness which seemed to recommend me. . .

I must reveal the identity of this amiable woman that I met at Voltaire's door: it was Madame du Barry. Recalling her smile, so full of warmth and kindness, I become more indulgent towards the former favourite; though I leave to others the task of excusing the weakness and infamy of Louis XV.

Following an interview with Villette, Brissot renounced his plan to meet Voltaire in person, though he subsequently receives a flattering letter from him.

Later, in the Revolutionary years, Brissot was to find himself in conversation with Mirabeau and Laclos  on the subject of royal mistresses and spoke up in Madame du Barry's defence:  

I laughingly besought some indulgence for the Du Barry, who, though also vile, was to my mind a hundred times less odious than her rivals. After all, she had no more in common with them than an influence which she did not despotically abuse, and morals which I scarcely thought culpable." "You are right,' said Mirabeau ; . . . ' she never issued lettres de cachets against those who slandered her virtue.  She was certainly no vestal, but 'the Fault lies with the gods who made her so fair'." 

Mirabeau agreed with Brissot that "the dishonour of this woman was due to her birth and upbringing and to those who debased her".

 In 1790 Mirabeau (and possibly Laclos) published a curiously generous portrait of Madame du Barry as "Elmire" in a satirical collection called La galerie des États-généraux: 

" Nature had endowed Elmire with more various grace than is often united in a single person. . . . The eye, charmed by the expression of her face, found the same attraction in her graceful bearing, her perfect figure, her rounded arms, her beautiful hands. . . . Elmire crossed a gulf when she left her humble roof for the palace of a king, but she filled her new position without effort. . . . [She] was not puffed up with pride, nor did she humble those whom she might have disowned. . . . Elmire, wiser than her predecessor, took no notice of the scandalous biographies and the fictitious or falsified letters, which were so assidu- ously circulated. Malice deceived itself, for Elmire did not lose the heart of her lover or the affection of her friends. . . . Elmire will have no cause to fear the judgment of posterity.” 


Taken from:
Stanley Loomis, Madame du Barry (1959) p.196-9.

The original sources can be found on the internet:

 J.-P. Brissot, Mémoires (1754-93), p.145-9.

"Elmire" in La galerie des États-généraux et des dames françoises, Volumes 1-3 (1789-90) by Mirabeau etc. Volume 3, p.197. 

Saturday 12 April 2014

Fragonard at Louveciennes

Why Fragonard's glorious Progress of love was removed from the walls of the Louveciennes pavilion and paintings by Vien substituted is one of the great unresolved mysteries of art history.  Unfortunately there is almost no documentary evidence and the matter remains a matter of speculation.....

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Neoclassical dreams: Madame du Barry's pavilion at Louveciennes

Long neglected or in private hands, Madame du Barry's famous pavilion at Louveciennes is now at last restored and open to the public. This little white jewel of a building has had an adventurous past - the perfume magnate François Coty, owner in the early 1930s, even had it completely dismantled and rebuilt several metres further back to avoid subsidence.  In 1991 it was acquired by Franck and Julienne Dumeste who began an ambitious programme of restoration, successfully recreating much of the interior decor, though not all the once-spendid ornamentation and furnishings, sold off in 1795 and scattered or lost.  In 2006 the Fondation Julienne Dumeste opened its doors as a venue for cultural and educational events.  You can now hold your wedding reception there, or just enjoy "la visite" on Sunday afternoons; definitely one for the "to see" list!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Wertmuller's Marie Antoinette in hunting costume

After the critical failure of his portrait of Marie-Antoinette and her children, Wertmüller went two years without a major commission and was "plunged into a deep depression". However, in 1788 he created a new portrait depicting the Queen in hunting dress with an unusual Creole style hat.  The image was repainted on a number of occasions, as private gifts.  The sources available on the internet imply that Wertmüller acted on his own initiative, perhaps to redeem his earlier failure.  However, Wertmüller was  close to Madame Campan so the idea could well have originated in Marie-Antoinette's close circle.  The copy which once belonged to Madame Campan's family is described by Lenotre as painted "at the request of the Empress of Austria" - though that doesn't quite tie up as Marie-Theresa died in 1780.  Apparently Wertmüller did not request another sitting from Marie-Antoinette but just used his existing 1785 portrait and studies.

Portrait in Versailles

Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, in hunting costume,  1788
Collections of the Château de Versailles.  65cm x 53 cm

This is the iconic image. According to the notice on the Joconde database the portrait is signed and dated: A.Wertmüller. S. / à Paris 1788. However, the picture is something of a mystery.  It was acquired the Château de Versailles only in 1963 and is listed as having been part of the collection of Charles Besnier and that of the marquis d'Argence, sold by public auction in 1963.

Entry on Joconde:

Olivier Blanc has the portrait painted in 1785 and adds that it formerly belonged to the collection of the duchesse d'Angoulême.  Whether the new dating is a simple mistake or a revision based on documentary evidence is not clear.  (There is quite a lot of confusion on the internet where this painting, or copies of it, are often ascribed to Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.)

Olivier Blanc, Portraits des femmes :  artistes et modèles à l'époque de Marie-Antoinette (2006), p.146-48.

It would be nice to have a clearer idea of provenance.  However, the general presumption is that this comparatively large, high-quality portrait is the "original".

Saturday 5 April 2014

Marie-Antoinette by Wertmüller

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!

Definitely a disconcerting experience!  There is an almost equally large copy in Versailles, painted in 1868 by Eugène Battaille and once belonging to the Empress Eugenie.

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