Sunday 29 June 2014

Last portraits of Marie-Antoinette - Kucharski

Alexandre Kucharski, Marie-Antoinette, c.1792
Unfinished pastel portrait, 77cm x 60cm
Musée de l'Histoire de France, Versailles
It is to Alexander Kucharski, the second artist of Marie-Antoinette's final years, that we owe this famous and beautiful pastel portrait of the Queen, made the more poignant by its damaged and incomplete state. Intended as a gift for Madame de Tourzel, who pronounced it to be a "perfect likeness", the picture miraculously survived both the aftermath of the flight to Varennes and the Revolutionary assault of 10 August 1792; according to Olivier Blanc, Kucharski himself recouped it and sold it to Madame de Tourzel's son Charles in 1795.  The portrait is now at in the collections at Versailles. Madame de Tourzel wrote the following account on the back of the portrait:

The Queen had this portrait made for the Marquise de Tourzel, Governess of the Children of France: it was almost destroyed at the time of the journey to Varennes and was resumed in 1792.  On tenth August, it was taken from the apartment of Her Majesty and found two years later by the efforts of the marquis de Tourzel Grand prévôt de France.  A precious souvenir of the goodness of the Queen, of whom it gives a perfect likeness, though damaged by all it has suffered.  This portrait of the Queen received on 10th August two pike blows from the Revolutionaries. 

Notice for the 1792 portrait:
"Portrait en buste de la reine Marie-Antoinette" Musée de l'Histoire de France, Versailles

Photograph from the Bibl. Nat. collections
Kucharski's portrait on exhibition
at Versailles in 1927

Early career of Kucharski

Born in Warsaw in 1741, the son of a history painter and portraitist,  Alexander-Albert Kucharski had followed his father into the artistic profession and been sent to Paris to study by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, who awarded him a pension and placed him under the profection of his correspondent Madame Geoffrin.  Kucharski won several prizes at the Académie royale de peinture and from 1762 frequented the ateliers of Vien and Van Loo. Contrary to the wishes of his patron who wished him to specialise in history painting, he became a portraitist, thereby freeing himself to remain in Paris and seek work in aristocratic circles.  He joined the household of the prince de Condé at Chantilly and in 1776 was described as painter and drawing master to Louise Adélaïde, princesse de Bourbon-Condé. He was residing by this time in the rue de Grenelle in the fashionable Faubourg Saint-Germain. Though the princesse  he would have had ample opportunity  to meet the comtesse de Boufflers, the princesse de Polignac and other members of Marie-Antoinette's immediate entourage.  He was subsequently employed the prince de Carignan and his sister, the princesse de Lamballe.  Having produced portraits of Madame Élisabeth and the comte d'Artois, in 1789 he succeeded Elisabeth Vignée Le Brun as painter to the Queen herself. According to a note on the back of a portrait Kucharski painted the Marie-Antoinette for the first time in 1780. These first works were miniatures, probably not painted from life. 

Portrait of 1788
Kucharski, Portrait of 1788.  Reproduced in Blanc
and on internet sites.

Kucharski's first major commission is believed to have been this official portrait in which Marie-Antoinette appears in a white satin gown with a high belt, a cloak with fleurs-de-lys and wearing a diadem in her hair. The picture dates from 1787 or 1788 and was intended as a pendant to a portrait of Louis XVI.  It is documented as having belonged to the de Sabran family and in the early 20th century to the comtesse de Gondrecourt.  It was later part of the Collection Alain Bancel, sold at auction (as a work by Callet) in 2003, with an estimate of only 8-10,000 euros.
According to the Le forum de Marie-Antoinette it was bought by M. René Monboisse the owner of the Château du Cambon in the Auvergne. 

Photo from Jallut, Marie-Antoinette 
et ses peintres (1955)

Various versions and copies are recorded. "Le forum de Marie Antoinette" includes a plate from Marguerite Jallut's  Marie-Antoinette et ses peintres (1955) which looks like a different version, but I wonder if it is in fact the same picture, pre-restoration?

See: "Un portrait officiel de la reine, par Kucharsky" on Le forum de Marie Antoinette [discussion from December 2013)

Catalogue entry for the auction in 2003:

A second version (left) appears on several internet sites and is reproduced in B & W in Ian Dunlop's Marie-Antoinette (1993  fig.15). Possibly it is the 19th-century copy belonging to the Princessse de Polignac mentioned in Marguerite Jallut's study of Kucharski (p.256-7)

According to Olivier Blanc, a version from the same year shows the Queen in a turban, with a rounded neckline and medallion with interlaced M and A. This painting belonged to Louis XVIII and is apparently reproduced in Castellot Marie-Antoinette (1967, p.133). See. Blanc, p.169.

Pastel portrait of 1790.

Pastel portrait, 57cm x47cm, 1790
"Private collection"
This fine portrait in black dress and pearl necklace and hair band is thought to date from 1790, at which time the royal family were already confined to the Tuileries. It was given to Madame de Tourzel and is documented as "formerly in the collection of the Princesse de Sixe de Bourbon-Parme".  It is now in a private collection (unspecified). See: Blanc p.169

Oil on canvas 
22 x 16.8 cm
Blanc mentions a second version in oils, from the collection of Hector de Béarn, great-grandson of Madame de Tourzel, who was given the work by the  Duchess of Angoulême 

This portrait is currently in the private collection of comte Jean de Béarn. Here is a catalogue entry from University of Pennsylvania image collection:

The painting recently featured prominently in a "Story of Marie Antoinette" exhibition held in Fukuoka, Japan.  (According to Google translation the owner is given in Japanese as "Jean de Bearunu Earl"!)

Portrait with black feathered turban

 Watercolour sold by Christie's in Paris on 21st November 2007.
 Signed and dated to 1790.(98mm x80mm)
Photograph (20.5 x 15.5 cm) from Bibl.nationale: Recueil. Collection de Vinck. Un siècle d'histoire de France par l'estampe, 1770-1870]
Description:  Painting by Kucharsky. Belonged in 1906 to the marquis de Lubersac, in Paris

The picture above is documented only from an early 20th-century photograph in the Bibliothèque nationale.  Marguerite Jallut suggests that it is a copy after the unfinished portrait of 1791/2 (p.260-1); it certainly features the turban adorned with black feather present in outline in the Versailles pastel. Compare also the miniature above, recently sold by Christie's, which is unusual in being dated (to 1790) 

[to be continued]


Olivier Blanc, Portraits de femmes : Artistes et modèles à l'époque de Marie-Antoinette  
(2006), p.166-8.

"KUCHARSKI, Alexandre" in Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 [online edition. Updated 12 Feb 2014]

Marguerite Jallut, "Kucharski, dernier peintre de Marie-Antoinette", in Revue d'Histoire de la Philosophie et d'Histoire générale de la Civilisation, Lille, juillet-décembre 1939, p.251-271.

Postscript. 20/11/2016

 This picture was sold by Christie's in November 2015.   Lot 82 in the high-profile "Collection Marie-Antoinette" sale,it fetched  EUR 3,750.   It is evidently the portrait   reproduced in the Ian Dunlop biography (or a close copy)- it is painted on ivory and,  at 20.5 cms in high, is classed as a miniature.

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