Monday 30 November 2015

Houdon's Lafayette

One of the lasting ways in which America has shown its love for Lafayette is by leaving us his image in marble, created by one of the greatest portrait sculptors of all time, Houdon.

As early as December 1781 the Assembly of Virginia had voted to commission a bust of Lafayette in Paris to be presented to him personally. Lafayette was sent a copy of the resolution and no doubt the idea appealed instantly to the vanity of the man. However, the project lay forgotten until September 1783 when Lafayette himself felt obliged to mention it in a letter to Washington. 

Washington duly sprang into action. On 5th April 1784, Governor Harrison, with the approval of the Council,  instructed Thomas Barclay, the American Consul at Nantes, to oversee to the commission. However the Assembly went back on its plan to present the statue to Lafayette personally, deciding instead to give it to the city of Paris, to be displayed "in some public place"; a second bust was commissioned for the Capitol at Richmond as the companion to a the projected statue of Washington.

Jefferson determined that Houdon should sculpt both the Washington and the Lafayette; Barclay was of the same opinion: "it is better that the same person compleat both the Busts; the more so as he is at the top of his profession".  The cost of each was to be 3000 livres. Houdon took a life mask of Lafayette and made his preliminary model - now at Cornell -  before sailing for Philadelphia in 1785 for his sittings with Washington. The first marble bust was completed in early 1786 and was installed, with much ceremony, in the great hall of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris. The second, in Richmond, was completed shortly afterwards. The Paris statue was damaged by order of the Commune on 10 August, as were busts of Louis XVI, Necker and Bailly; it is usually presumed to be the Lafayette salvaged by Houdon and mentioned in his posthumous studio sale: "Marble, voted in 1791 by the Commune of Paris, suffered in 1792 a mutilation which was repaired" - sold for 50 francs.

Sunday 29 November 2015

The Gaoler of Olmütz

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

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

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Memories of Lafayette: collections in America

How Lafayette loved his American friends, and how they have loved him in return!  Here are some notes and links for the major American Lafayette collections. Without exception they are beautifully curated, most with extensive online descriptions and facsimiles.  Lafayette himself, lover of symbolic gesture and collector of memorabilia, would have appreciated it all....

Monday 23 November 2015

Memories of Lafayette: the Château de Chavaniac-Lafayette

In contrast to La Grange, the Château de Chavaniac in the Auvergne, Lafayette's birthplace museum, has been open to the public for many years. Although Lafayette never lived there for any length of time as an adult, he visited periodically -  in 1770, 1783 and 1786; then in 1789 and on his return to France in 1800, before taking up residence definitively at La Grange. The medieval manor house had been completely rebuilt in 1701 following a fire and was enlarged in the first half of the 18th century.  In 1791 Lafayette himself had the building modernised by the architect Ambroise Laurent Vaudoyer assisted by the painter Albert Ancica. The work concentrated on the grand salon "des philosophes", which was conceived as a shrine to the Enlightenment, and the boudoir of Madame Lafayette, both situated on the first floor.  In a spirit of naive optimism, Lafayette had a stone from the Bastille, adorned with a Phrygian cap of liberty, replace the Lafayette coat-of-arms over the main door.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Memories of Lafayette: the Château of La Grange-Bléneau

Château de La Grange-Bléneau

La Grange-Bléneau is the foremost site in France with Lafayette associations.

The 14th century manor in the municipality of Courpalay, in the department of Seine-et-Marne  belonged in the 18th century to the d'Aguesseau family. Lafayette's wife Adrienne de Noailles  reclaimed the property from the estate of her mother Henriette d'Aguesseau towards the end of the Revolution and gave it to Lafayette, who lived there from 1802 until his death in 1834.  Lafayette added a park by Hubert Robert. The château was lived in, virtually untouched, throughout the 19th century by the family of Lafayette's grandson Jules de Lasteyrie.  In 1935 it was purchased by the comte René de Chambrun (1906-2002),himself  a direct descendant of Lafayette's daughter Virginie Lafayette de Lasteyrie.  Chambrun was a successful international lawyer and longtime president of the crystal and glass firm Baccarat.  His mother was Ohio-born Shakespeare scholar Clara Longworth. Chambrun, however, had more politically suspect connections. In 1935 he married Josée Marie Laval (1911-1992) daughter of Pierre Laval, and it was Laval who provided the money to purchase the château. In the post-War period Chambrun defended his father-in-law vigorously and was himself was tried for treason but acquitted. (Chambrun's nephew Nicolas Longworth had the dubious distinction of being both Pétain's godson and Theodore Roosevelt's son-in-law.)

Lafayette’s Bedroom in Château de La Grange. Colour Lithograph
 by Joseph Langlumé [between 1830 and 1840]

 In 1956 Chambrun and his wife found huge cache of Lafayette's long-lost letters, documents and books in fourteen walled-up attic rooms at La Grange: 

Friday 20 November 2015

Lafayette's five-million dollar medal

On 11th December 2007 Sotheby's in New York sold a Society of the Cincinnati medal which had  belonged to Washington and later to Lafayette  for 5 millions dollars ($5,305,000 - I counted the noughts carefully!).  The numismatist Greg Reynolds declared himself "flabbergasted" at the anticipated sale price -  an American medal or "order" had never before made as much as $500 000 at auction.

The Society of the Cincinnati was created in April 1783 by  American officers who had fought in the War of Independence; in May an invitation was extended to French officers who had participated;  the French ordre de Cincinnatus had Louis XVI among its members. By early 1785 there were two thousand members. (As a hereditary order, in 2005 it still had  "some 3,700 members", descendants of commissioned officers of the Continental Army or Navy and their French counterparts  who had served in the Revolutionary War.),Washington was president of the Society until his death in 1799.

Monday 16 November 2015

Houdon: " Seated Voltaire" at Les Délices

Here are some pictures of Houdon's Seated Voltaire, the beautiful centrepiece of the Musée Voltaire at Les Délices in Geneva, which I was lucky enough to visit last Easter.  This version is among the finest examples of Houdon's famous statue, and is particularly unusual in that it is made of terracotta.

The statue was acquired for the museum by Theodore Besterman in 1957.It is signed and dated "Houdon. Fecit. 1781". It is thought to have belonged to Beaumarchais, and to have once stood in the antechamber of the salon in the magnificent Hôtel Beaumarchais, boulevard Saint-Antoine - where Beaumarchais also had an extensive garden with a pavilion dedicated to Voltaire.
See:  Galignani's Paris guide: or, Stranger's companion through the French metropolis (1822), p.221

The Hôtel remained in the Beaumarchais family until 1818 when the property was bought by the municipality of Paris and demolished to make way for the Saint-Martin canal.  According to Besterman the statue itself was subsequently recorded in the possession of a demolition contractor called Fossard.  It was then owned by an antiquarian from Asnières who sold it to on to one doctor Ledoux-Lombard.  Later it was accepted by a  furniture storage business (garde-meuble) in payment of an outstanding debt. There is no clear dating for any of this (at least in the summary information available online). The piece was finally auctioned by Drouot in 1953  and again in 1957 when Besterman persuaded the muncipality of Geneva to finance its acquisition for the Institut et  Musée  Voltaire.

The provenance is not absolutely watertight.  The identification with Beaumarchais's Voltaire has been challenged by Guilhem Scherf,  curator for the Department of Sculptures in the Louvre and an expert on terracottas, who points out that the inventory taken at Beaumarchais's death described his statue as  "plâtre bronzé".  The staff at Les Délices  argue that painted terracotta is easily mistaken for plaster - indeed the statue was identified as plaster by Drouot in 1953.  In 2004  the remains of bronze colour could be seen on the front, the rest  of the statue being tinted ocre. You can see this clearly in older photos on the internet (see left) . I think it has now been completely cleaned - since it is a uniform, almost marble, white.

The only other major example of Houdon's Voltaire assis in terracotta belongs to the Musée Fabre in Montpellier.  This is almost certainly the statue described in the catalogue for the sale of Houdon's studio in October 8, 1795 (no.88).  It was acquired by the antique dealer Abraham Fontanel and in 1803 installed with great ceremony in his private museum in Montpellier.  During restoration work it was found to have been fired in several separate pieces; the chair is of plaster and the whole assembled on a base of planks supported by a wooden frame.  This differs from the present statue which, as Besterman emphasised, is all of a piece.  The legs of the chair are infilled (with a representation of a pile of books) to give strength, a solution echoed by the sculptor James Pradier whose  bronze statue of Rousseau in Geneva was inaugurated in 1835.


Video from the Bibliothèque de Genève, published  23 Jan 2015 (Youtube) 

Caroline Guignard and François Jacob "Clin d'oeil: à propos du Voltaire assis de Houdon" La Gazette des Délices 2(Summer 2004)

James David Draper and Guilhem Scherf,  Playing With Fire: European Terracottas, 1740-1840, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003 [exhibition catalogue], no. 110 Montpellier statue.

Balcar, Nathalie, “Le Voltaire assis de Houdon: étude et restaurationTechnè: la science au service de l'histoire de l'art et des civilisations  21 (2005)

I recently came across these photographs in the Frick Photoarchive which show a very similar terracotta Voltaire signed and dated "Houdon. Fecit. 1781". 

The provenance notes are as follows:

(f) Senator Roy de Loulay, Castle of Mornay (Deux Sèvres); 
(f) not sold in 1895 with contents of the Castle, but purchased later in Paris, from the previous owner's son; 
(f) by 1932, for sale in New York at the Ferargil Galleries; 
(f) by 1937, owned by Souffice, dealer, Galerie Voltaire, Paris. 
Present location unknown.
Without dates for Besterman's provenance, it is hard to be certain, but I think in all probability this is the same statue.


Sunday 15 November 2015

Museum of the Préfecture de Police

The Musée de la Préfecture de Police in Paris can be visited for free and has some interesting 18th-century material.  The museum was originally set up in 1909 by the préfet Louis Lépine (1846-1933), using exhibits collected for the Exposition Universelle of 1900.  You have to be brave,  not just because of the nature of the collections, but because the museum is situated in an actual working police station, the l’hôtel de police of the 5th arrondissement, 4, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. Visitors have to negotiate the front desk of the Prefecture and make their way to the third floor.  There are about 2,000 exhibits in a small space.  The museum has  recently been reorganised in a thematic way, but  it is still a bit Ripley – ancient shop dummies wearing police uniforms,  doors off old prisons, wax heads of serial killers.  However, it also contains a well-presented selection of documents from the archives of the  Préfecture, which are otherwise closed to the general public.   

Sadly, the holdings of the archives for the 18th century are limited, since much of the material was destroyed at the time of the Commune in 1871.  Among the items which remain are a series of registers for the old prisons of Paris dating back to the 16th century, plus various lettres-de-cachet and detention orders. The Préfecture also inherited the dossiers of the many committees and commission charged with public order between 1789 and 1800. Again only a small percentage remain, but these include registers of  trials and arrests from the height of the Terror.  There is no online catalogue.

The archive has recently moved to new premises in the Pré Saint-Gervais and now boasts 9 kilometres of shelving.  Plans are afoot for the museum to follow there in the near future.

This year the archives and museum were "guest of honour" at the annual International Rare Book, Autograph, Print & Drawing Fair which took place at the Grand Palais on 24th-25th April. The catalogue of the exhibition is available on the website and provides some useful supplementary information.

Here are a few highlights relevant to the 18th century:

Early history of the Parisian police

Here is Louis XIV's edict establishing the office of Lieutenant of Police, registered by the Parlement of Paris on 15 March 1667.  
The objectives of the post were summarised as cleanliness, clarity, security ("netteté, clarté, sûreté") The first Lieutenant General of Police was Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, who held the post for thirty years, and did much to organise the policing of Paris on a professional basis. 

The Treatise on policing was written by Nicolas Delamare, a commissioner of the Châtelet court; the four volumes were originally published between 1705 and 1738. The Treatise lists the many competences of the 18th-century police:  religion, security, public morality, sciences and liberal arts, health, trade, food supply, manufacture, transport, labourers and domestic servants, the poor.

Other exhibits in the museum reflect this  diverse role.  La Reynie's 17th-century successors devoted themselves to improving security in the streets of the capital by attacking centres of crime (destruction of the Cours des Miracles in 1668).  In the 18th century, more prosaically, the Lieutenant Hérault addressed traffic congestion, requiring the registration of public carriages and, in 1725 and 1739 prohibiting double parking. He also instituted road signs  and the numbering of houses. His successor, Gabriel de Sartine established public gas lighting in the streets of Paris.

Prison registers

The prisons of Paris were a major responsibility of the Ancien régime police and the archives of the  Préfecture include an extensive series of prison registers ("Registres d’écrou") Famous entries on show include that for Damiens, who was transferred from Versailles to the Conciergerie on night of 17th to 18th January 1757. I have searched the internet in vain for a picture, but here, as a consolation prize, is the entry in the registry of the Conciergerie for an earlier, more successful regicide,  François Ravaillac, assassin of Henri IV (27 décembre 1594).

Here is a register relating to those held in the "Diamond Necklace Affair" in 1786.

Lettres-de-cachet and police orders.

There are several examples on show, of which the most iconic is surely this Order of 1717 signed by the marquis d'Argenson, authorising the detention of Voltaire in the Bastille on suspicion of writing obscene satirical verses against the Regent and his daughter.  (Voltaire was incarcerated from 17th May 1717 to 14 April 1718)

"Epée de justice" (sword of execution) (17th or 18th century)

 Documents from the Revolutionary period 

During the Revolution the policing of Paris was transferred to the municipality and completely reorganised, with the creation of forty-eight police commissioners and a force of officers of the peace.  The  Préfecture de Police was subsequently set up by Napoleon in 1800.    The archive iincludes orders for the arrest of numerous famous figures:  Beaumarchais, Lavoisier, Charlotte Corday, Madame Roland.  There are also Revolutionary engravings, medals, and an ivory whistle and baton carried by an
officier de paix in 1792. 

Here is the prison register entry for Charlotte Corday (13 July 1793) : 

This is the order for the arrest of Jacques-Louis David, who was imprisoned from 2 August to 28 December 1794 :

Here is the decree of  ordering the appearance of Louis XVI before the National Convention on 11th December 1792, at the commencement of his trial:

The archive contains a number of documents relating to the imprisonment of the Royal family in the Temple. Among the most moving is this original statement, dated 13 June 1818, by  Philippe-Jean Pelletain, the surgeon who carried out the autopsy on Louis XVII.  Pelletain describes how he secretly removed the boy's heart and smuggled it out of the Temple.

But, you ask, do they have a guillotine? Of course they do!. There is a third-size replica and the blade from an actual guillotine. However, although the label would have us believe that this blade dates from the Revolutionary era, Bruno Fuligni (2015) identifies it as a "modèle Berger" from the 1870s.


Préfecture de Police website:

Marie-José Selaudoux  "Le musée de la Préfecture de Police" La critique parisienne, 68 (2012)
 Guillaume Sinoquet, "Le musée de la préfecture de Police de Paris" Criminocorpus post of 18 December 2014 

Bruno Fuligni Musée secret de la police [book] (2015)

Corinne Sorin,"Paris: Musée de la police" Blog de Corinne Sorin, post of 4 October 2011

Sunday 8 November 2015

"Le bon David" meets 15 atheists.

During his period in Paris as secretary to the English ambassador Lord Hertford  between 1763 and 1766  David Hume was lauded by fashionable Parisian society.  This famous anecdote, told in a letter of Diderot's, relates to his first appearance as a guest of the baron d'Holbach:.

Diderot to Sophie Volland 6 October 1765:
The first time that M. Hume found himself at the table of the baron [D'Holbach], he was seated beside him. I don't know for what purpose the English philosopher took it into his head to remark to the Baron that he did not believe in atheists, that he had never seen any. The Baron said to him: "Count how many we are here." We are eighteen. The Baron added: "It isn't too bad a showing to be able to point out to you fifteen at once: the three others haven't made up their minds"

Thursday 5 November 2015

Sir William Quiller Orchardson's Voltaire

This striking painting from the National Gallery of Scotland by Sir William Quiller Orchardson dates from 1883 and captures a dramatic moment in Voltaire's quarrel with the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot.

 It was early in 1726.  Voltaire had already narrowly escaped the chevalier's cane at the Comédie-Française  thanks only to an opportune swoon by Adrienne Lecouvreur. A few days later  Rohan-Chabot sent his adversary a spurious invitation to dinner from the duc de Sully, who graciously received his unexpected guest. During dinner Voltaire was summoned to the entrance by a footman and set upon by three or four of Rohan-Chabot's lackeys armed with cudgels whilst the chevalier himself looked on from a safe distance. In the picture a ruffled and furious Voltaire storms back upstairs to protest to the duc de Sully and demand that he calls the police.  Sully refuses to take action; he acknowledges that the attack has been "violent and uncivil" but implicitly closes ranks with his fellow-aristocrat against his troublesome - and uninvited - guest.

There is no detailed description to help visual the event, so the likely accuracy of the depiction is hard to gauge.  The interior of the splendid early 17th-century Hôtel de Sully in the Marais is atmospherically evoked.  René Pomeau tells us that "le dîner" was a mid-day meal so we should imagine it to be afternoon rather than evening. I have no idea whether it was likely to have been an all-male event.  I suspect the rather uniform long dark wigs are wrong, since lighter colours were fashionable by the 1720s (see Watteau's young man in the Enseigne de Gersaint) and smaller wigs were beginning to be worn.

National Galleries of Scotland notice

The painting was acquired by the National Gallery of Scotland in 1925.  It is recorded before this date as belonging to the Kunsthalle in Hamburg. Some of the depictions on the internet are of an oil sketch; the figures in the sketch are relatively larger and the man nearest the duke has his chin resting on his hands.  An oil panel depicting Voltaire was sold by Christie's in 2005.

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