Sunday, 25 February 2018

Antoine de Sérilly by Danloux




Henri-Pierre Danloux (1753-1809)  Portrait of Antoine de Sérilly (Private Collection)

In 1783, when Danloux returned from Rome to Lyon and Paris, the Mégret de Sérilly family became his most important patrons.  The artist is known to have spent the summer of 1784 in Passy and in 1787 married Antoinette de Saint-Redan, Sérilly's adoptive sister.  Since Danloux stayed in the household and married into the family, it may be assumed he painted them often. However, there are only a few portraits documented. 

This marvellous study of Antoine de Sérilly is the only one of Danloux's portraits reproduced in good quality on the internet. It was contributed to Wikipedia / Wikimedia in 2011 when the painting was included in the exhibition, Petits théâtres de l'intime,  held in the musée des Augustins in Toulouse (22nd October 2011 - 22nd January 2012). There is no further information available, other than that it belongs to "a private collection".

We can still enjoy the image.  It is probably about 1784, the sun is shining and the affable baron is sitting in his garden, resting his gouty leg on a stool.  [It ought to be possible to identify the location, if it is real, from that splendid Classical portico affair; perhaps it is the estate at Passy, or the adjacent domain of Thiel, (where the gardens had been replanted, though the house was neglected)].  M. de Sérilly is stout, relaxed and occupies his space confidently. His clothes are understated and casually worn, but you can see that the material is fine;  I love the way his waistcoat strains over that magnificent paunch and his stocking wrinkles uncooperatively at the ankle.  Notice too the book that he is holding; with its marbled endpaper but no binding, this is a real book, meant for reading. 


Oliver Meslay, former conservateur at Louvre and now director of the Clark Institute of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is an expert on Danloux, and is preparing a catalogue raisonnée.   He underlines the importance of the family in Danloux's career:
 Of all the families of Enlightened nobility at the end of the Ancien Régime, the Mégret d'Etigny / de Sérilly were at the centre of Danloux's social relations. Here, as elsewhere, a new spirit of change blew, and new intellectual movements found their echo.  In the generation of Danloux, Antoine Mégret de Sérilly, the Treasurer General of War, son of the intendent d'Etigny, was a central masculine figure.
Olivier Meslay, article in  Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'art français (2006)



There are two other known Danloux portraits:


The Baronne d'Etigny,  1783

Olivier Meslay comments:
 In 1783 [Danloux] represented   the widow of the intendant,  née Françoise Thomas de Pange.  The artist created a magnificent portrait, treating perfectly the fabrics, the play of light on polished wood, the details of the tapestry frame.  It is an intimate image of the wife of a great official of state.
Olivier Meslay, article in Bulletin de la Société archéologique du Gers, avril 2004, 




Three versions of this painting are known:  
  • the original, which is in private hands (150 cm x 100 cm, signed and dated 1783;  illustrated in the Burlington Magazine for 1909, above)
  •  a studio copy auctioned by Drouot in  2001 (116 cm x 88 cm) 
  •  a miniature on enamel by the Swiss artist Jacques Thouron  now in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. See:  http://www.sikart.ch/PdfRendererLexikon.aspx?id=4029495&pdf=1
 Hôtel Drouot, Sale of Thursday, 29th March 29,2001, Lot 101:
"Studio of Henri-Pierre Danloux", Portrait  of the Baronne d'Etigny née de Pange


Mégret de Sérilly family portrait


[Mégret de Sérilly] can be seen in the great portrait of the family, warmly embracing his wife, surrounded by his children and his adoptive sister, in the background a painting of his mother and a bust of his late father... 
Olivier Meslay, Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'art français (2006). 
Jacques Touron, after Danloux La famille Mégret de Sérilly (1787).  
Miniature on enamel.  Louvre.
Versions:
  • Oil "whereabouts unknown" (50 cm x 36 cm)
  • Oil, private collection (235 cm x 116 cm)
  • Miniature by Jacques Touron, in the Louvre
The oils are illustrated in "Danloux", Hubert Duchemin (auctioneers)           http://www.hubertduchemin.com/fichiers/Danloux.pdf


References

"Danloux", Hubert Duchemin (auctioneers)
http://www.hubertduchemin.com/fichiers/Danloux.pdf

Olivier Meslay, "La famille d'Etigny et le peintre Henri-Pierre Danloux", Bulletin de la Société archéologique du Gers, avril 2004, p. 459-465.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=y5c6AAAAMAAJ  [snippet view only]
_____,  "Henri-Pierre Danloux (1753-1809), sa carrière avant l'exil en Angleterre",  Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'art français (2006), p.209-244.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=_Z8OAQAAMAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s [snippet view]

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Bust of Madame de Sérilly by Houdon

Houdon's beautiful and poignant bust of the young Madame de Sérilly was probably completed in 1780 to celebrate her recent marriage.

 A version in plaster painted to resemble terracotta was shown in the Salon of 1781, followed in the Salon of 1783 by a marble, usually identified as the bust in the  the Wallace Collection, which is signed and dated HOUDON F.1782.

 H.H. Arnason, in his study of Houdon, has this appreciation:

"[The Madame de Sérilly is] another outstanding example of Houdon's ability to commemorate the exquisite ladies of eighteenth-century France.  Her face is one of great charm and mobility.  The large, hooded eyes look out with an expression of rapt, even sensuous attention.  The long, soft hair is modelled with particularly loving care;  the upper arms and shoulders are wrapped in a flowing cloak, which encompasses the figure, acts as a base and extends in finished detail across the back.  This is the consummate type of the late Baroque and rococo portrait of a noblewoman, presented with the decorative grace of an earlier time.  She is almost an anachronism among the soberly dressed gentlemen who accompany her in the Salon of 1781.  As she belongs to an age of elegance rapidly drawing to a close, so most of them seem to predict a more democratic, bourgeois, and perhaps less picturesque century."
Arnason, The sculptures of Houdon, 1975, p.58.


The relationship between different examples of the sculpture is a bit of mystery:

At the time when Arnason was writing (1975) two new marble busts had recently appeared on the art market in New York, both signed and dated 1780, in an almost identical style, although one, curiously, was stamped upside down.  They differed from the Wallace Collection in details of drapery and "required more research" ( note 151, p.113).  

One was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995.
http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/14496

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-antoine_houdon,_busto_di_anne-marie.louise_thomas_de_domangeville_de_s%C3%A9rilly,_contessa_di_pange,_1780,_02.jpg

The primacy between the two sculptures is now in some doubt:

See particularly the comments and photographs of Bath antiques dealer David Bridgewater:
"Bust of Madame de Sérilly",  English 18th Century Portrait Sculpture [blog] Post of 19.02.2018 
http://english18thcenturyportraitsculpture.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/bust-of-madame-de-serilly.html
Mr Bridgewater is of the opinion that the Wallace Collection bust is a studio copy and the Chicago bust, where the marble is whiter and less flawed, is the original. The London bust is also missing the bow on the front of Madame de Sérilly's dress. This view would obviously fit with the dates on the sculptures.  The Chicago bust is also considerably larger, 89 cm in height as opposed to 62 cm.  


The provenance for the Wallace Collection bust is given as: Auction at Theil (Yonne), c. 1864.  Duc de Morny; duc de Morny sale, May 1865, perhaps no. 445; Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford.
http://wallacelive.wallacecollection.org/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=64986&viewType=detailView

According to the  US. "French Sculpture Census" site, an "anonymous, untitled treatise in the curatorial file" traces the  provenance of the Chicago bust back to Mme de Sérilly herself: 
1794, Confiscated by the Revolutionary Tribunal [see anonymous, untitled treatise in curatorial file]
1796, Reclaimed by the sitter, la comtesse de Pange [see the same anonymous, untitled treatise]
Passy-sur-Yonne, by descent to the heirs of la comtesse de Pange [see the same anonymous, untitled treatise]
The bust was subsequently acquired by Nathaniel de Rothschild in 1899.
https://frenchsculpture.org/en/sculpture/4071-madame-de-serilly

The logical inference seems to be that the the Chicago bust was owned by the Sérillys, and  the Wallace Collection one made by Houdon to exhibit in the 1783 salon?


To complicate matters, a third example - presumably the other bust mentioned by Arnason -  was donated to the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1975.  It is described as signed and dated on the bottom of the base HOUDON F. 1780. Again this looks to be pure white and the size is given as 87.6 cm x 61 cm.  An expert from the Chicago Institute of Art specifies that the Minneapolis sculpture "appears to be a workshop example based on the Art Institute's bust", but does not say why;  no-one, I think, is terribly certain.

"Portrait of Madame de Sérilly, 1780",  Minneapolis Institute of Art.
https://collections.artsmia.org/art/2206/portrait-of-madame-de-serilly-jean-antoine-houdon
Entry on the French Sculpture Census
https://frenchsculpture.org/en/sculpture/9876-madame-de-serilly?rk=6224

Monday, 19 February 2018

A lost dream: Madame de Sérilly

                                

Society portraits from the 1780s, of that generation soon to be torn apart by Revolution, have a special poignancy.  Here, captured by Houdon, is Madame de Sérilly, aged seventeen or eighteen, beautiful, poised and forever unconscious of what was to come. In 1793 Mme de Sérilly was among those indicted with Madame Élisabeth, her life saved only because, thanks to the quick thinking of her cousin Mme de Montmorin, she had been able to declare herself pregnant.

Less than a year later Mme de Sérilly was famously to testify  at Fouquier-Tinville's trial.  The historian Henri Wollin remarked, that she appeared "like an apparition from another world, come to bear witness against the Public prosecutor."  Brandishing her own death certificate, she declared that she had been saved only because she had been declared pregnant;  "I saw my husband there," she announced, indicating the bench of the accused, "where today I can see his assassins and his  executioners".
Wallon, Histoire du Tribunal révolutionnaire de Paris, vol.III (1881) p.422
https://archive.org/stream/histoiredutribun03walluoft#page/424/mode/2up/search/Serilly
See: John Wilson Croker, Essays on the...French Revolution (1857) p.501:
"We know not that there is anything in the imaginary drama finer than the appearance of this widowed lady, still young, standing in that awful place, and exclaiming, with outstretched hand:J'ai vu LÀ mon mari - J'y vois aujourd'hui ses bourreaux. 

 Madame de Sérilly, née Anne-Marie Louise Thomas de Domangeville (born Paris, 24th August  1762) was the daughter of the general Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas Thomas, seigneur de Domangeville, baron de Mareuil. On 14th October 1779, whilst still at school in the fashionable convent of Panthemont in the rue de Bellechasse , she had married her cousin and guardian Antoine Jean François Mégret de Sérilly, baron de Theil, then thirty-three years old.   It was a highly advantageous match.

The Mégret de Sérilly family epitomised the new liberal aristocracy of finance and government office  in late 18th-century France  - a society fabulously wealthy, sustained by a complex of interrelated dynasties. Originally noblesse de robe from Saint-Quentin in the Aisne, the family was monied, influential and well-connected.  In 1719 the grandfather, François-Nicolas Mégret had acquired the estate of Passy in the Yonne and the seigneuries of Sérilly and d'Etigny in Bourgogne (traditionally the older son took the title "de Sérilly" and the younger "d'Etigny"). His son, Jean Nicolas Mégret, seigneur de Sérilly, became avocat royal,  then in 1750 intendant of Alsace;  his wife was the oldest daughter of Guillaume-François Joly de Fleury, procureur général of the Parlement of Paris. A sister married Jean Pâris de Montmartel, youngest of the four Pâris brothers.  

Subsequently the inheritance passed to Antoine Mégret d'Etigny, the "intendant" who, with monies from his father-in-law Jean-Baptiste Thomas de Pange, was able to buy the offices of conseiller au Parlement and and maître des requêtes, and subsequently became intendant of Auch and Pau,earning for himself a reputation as an enlightened administrator. In 1767, the inheritance passed to Antoine,who from 1772 enjoyed the important and lucrative office of Treasurer General at the War Office, at first concurrently with his maternal uncle, then in his own right.


The hôtel Mégret de Serilly, now 106 rue Vieille du Temple
The family's Parisian residence, the beautiful 17th-century hôtel Mégret de Sérilly, in the rue Vieille du Temple, had been acquired by Jean-Baptiste Thomas de Pange in 1765. By the late 18th-century the Marais was no longer the most fashionable district of Paris but Sérilly, who purchased the property in his own name in 1775, had the interior remodelled by Jean-Simeon Rousseau de la Rottière in the height of modern taste.  By a strange quirk of fate, the little boudoir designed for Madame by the Rousseau brothers, survives intact in the collections of the V. & A. (see below).  With its intimate scale and seductive cream and gold decor, it epitomised the new aesthetic of informality and conviviality.  "Life at the mansion in the early 1780s", writes Olivier Blanc, "was a dazzling, never-ending round of revelry, accompanied by illuminated displays amidst the flowers blooming in the magnificent, newly-replanted gardens."  During the summer months, the couple moved to the Mégret de Sérilly family seat at Passy, a château lavishly renovated and redecorated by Brongniart and Chevotet at enormous cost. (Blanc, Mansions of Paris, 1998) 

The memoirs of  Dufort de Cheverny paints this portrait of Sérilly and his social circle in Paris at this time:

 [M. de Sérilly was] virtuous, likeable, sensitive and endowed with all the qualities of a gentleman; munificent, magnificent,  well versed in every respect and brought up in a state of luxury bordering on the prodigal.  He had married mademoiselle de Domangeville, his cousin, and he lived in a superb house, in the rue Vieille-du-Temple, opposite Les Égouts, with his mother, the most respected of women, the sister of M. Thomas de Pange, and with his brother Mégret d'Étigny,  an esteemed officer in the Guards.  It was not a house which was open to everyone.  I was introduced by his colleague Boullongne and the company suited me in every respect....
Mémoires du comte Dufort de Cheverny, vol. 1 (1886), p.386
https://archive.org/stream/mmoiressurlesrgn01dufo#page/386/mode/2up

 I lived in intimacy with Sérilly and his family.  I had dinner with them at least once a week.  This society was composed only of relations and a few chosen friends, and I was flattered to be among them.   It was the most respectable house that I have known. The baron de Viomesnil, the comte de Bercheny, their nephew;  M. de Turmilly, colonel; Boullongne..a few famous artists comprised the whole company.  This household, relaxed and modest beyond equal, had an air of happiness due to the sincerity and loyalty which existed there.
Vol. 2 (1886), p.24
https://archive.org/stream/mmoiressurlesrgn02dufo#page/24/mode/2up

The château de Passy-Véron today (from Wikipedia)



The Mégret de Sérilly were in fact very much part of Paris's new cultural elite. High society played court to Madame's beauty, with her luminous grey eyes and lustrous chestnut hair. The playwright Le Moyne dedicated a tragedy to her. Another cousin, was Marie-François-Denis Thomas, the comte de Pange (the "Chevalier de Pange"), the friend of  André Chenier and Madame de Staël -  a connection which placed her in the centre of liberal aristocratic circles. Chenier was presented to her at one of the glittering gathering hosted at the château de Voisins in Louveciennes by Mme de Pourrat, who in 1796 was to be instrumental in securing her release from prison.



The couple patronised the artist Danloux, who married Antoine's adoptive sister, and painted intimate family portraits of the household, one of which is known through a copy in miniature in the Louvre.  Madame, is posed affectionately on her husband's knee; with them are their three children - Armand, Aline playing happily and the newborn Amédée asleep in her cradle.

Jacques Touron, after Danloux La famille Mégret de Sérilly (1787).  
Miniature on enamel.  Louvre.
                                                     
Even before the Revolution, this glittering and privileged dream had starting to unravel.  In 1787 Mégret de Sérilly,  "adored by his clerks" fell victim to the financial uncertainties of the last years of the Ancien regime.  In June 1787 his office was suppressed, ostensibly as a measure of royal economy. A series of disastrous speculations - notably in the royal arms manufacture at Tulle which involved his friend Boullongue -  forced  him to the brink of  liquidation and bankruptcy.  He was forced to sell the house in the rue du Temple, although a second property at 119 rue des Capucines was made over to him by his mother. In the 1790s he rented a house in the rue de Grenelle where he continued to entertain a small number of guests.  However, the family increasingly resided on the country estate at Passy, where Antoine embraced the role of enlightened cultivateur.


[In the Spring of 1791] My friend Sérilly rented a house near Les Invalides [in the rue de Grenelle]. His business affairs were over; his wife, using all the resources nature had given her, had saved a part of his fortune.  He still had his beautiful estate at Passy, near Sens, and almost 80,000 livres in rentes. He lived well, but very privately, keeping only his most intimate friends:  Boullongne, the president de Salaberry, the baron de Vioménil and d'Etigny his brother.  We dined together every Wednesday when I was in Paris;  it was a touchstone for me.  There we talked openly and we lamented the misfortunes of the State.
Mémoires du comte Dufort de Cheverny, vol. 2 (1886), p.107
https://archive.org/stream/mmoiressurlesrgn02dufo#page/107/mode/2up


As was the case with so many members of the liberal aristocracy, the Revolution cut across the allegiances of family and friends.  With the fall of the monarchy it became increasingly difficult to stand aloof from political events. On 10th August the baron Viomesnil,Sérilly's intimate and a  career soldier, was one of the defenders of the Tuileries.  Dufort de Cheverny tells how the wounded Viomesnil first sought sanctuary at the Venetian embassy then in Sérilly's house in the rue de Grenelle. He managed to pass through the patrols hidden in an empty coach.  Sérilly had him placed in his own bed, whilst he himself posed as a valet.  
There was an unexpected domiciliary visit and M. de Sérilly was asked for. The men were led into the apartment where Viomesnil was in bed, surrounded by pillows and covered with nightcaps.  He ordered his supposed valet-de- chambre and all his people to open up, excusing himself from getting up since for two months he had been subject to a violent attack of gout
Viomesnil feared to compromise his friends further and had himself hidden in a winecellar, where he died three days latter (Mémoires, p.125-6)  According to Bardoux, who has a slightly different version, it was  Mégret d'Étigny, the former guardsman, who was denounced for sheltering Viomesnil to the Representative Maure in the department of the Yonne. (Études.... (1884), p.227)


In September 1792, still hoping to weather the storm,  the Mégret de Sérilly family moved permanently to Passy, On September 18th Sérilly enrolled himself in National Guard and took the civic oath to maintain the Constitution or die in its defence; he busied himself with the affairs of the local commune.  In the winter they were joined in their refuge by the widow of the comte Montmorin (to whom Sérilly had sold the adjoining manor of Thiel), her two married daughters and her young son Calixte.

It was Madame de Sérilly herself who was the first to be troubled by the Revolutionary authorities.  In 5th April 1793, was arrested by the Committee of General Security under suspicion of complicity with her brother Jean-Baptiste Thomas de Domangeville, who had emigrated.  She was taken to Sens, then to Paris for interrogation, but was eventually released. 

The family was not to be left in peace for long.  There were further investigations into the Viomesnil affair and Sérilly's business agent and former valet L'Hoste was arrested in the rue des Capuchines on suspicion of arranging currency export.On 13th February 1794 supper at Passy interrupted by the arrival of three heavily armed police agents who apprehended M. de Sérilly. Madame followed her husband to Paris where she was detained in her turn and sent to the Conciergerie.  Other members of their entourage - Mégret d'Etigny, Mme de Montmorin and Calixte de Montmorin - were also rapidly rounded up and, with the sole exception of Madame, were sent to the guillotine on 10th May. Her brother was executed on 24 May, and André Chenier just before Thermidor, on 25 July 1794.


At the Hospice de L'Evêché, Madame de Sérilly survived the Terror,  possibly thanks to the humanity of a doctor Bayard. It is not certain whether her pregnancy was feigned; probably not, for Dufort de Cheverny, who met her in 1797 mentioned the existence of five children.  On her release, she was able to regain possession of the estate at Passy,  but financial insecurity and misfortune continued to dog her.  In January 1796 she married her cousin François de Pange, only to see him die of tuberculosis a few months later.   Dufort de Cheverny encountered her in Paris in April 1797, living in a dingy appartment in the in the rue Chabanais with her children.  He relates that, despite all her troubles, she seemed to him "every bit as beautiful as when I'd seen her last".  She began to rebuild her social circle and in September 1798 married for third time to  Anne-Pierre,  Marquis de Montesquiou Fezensac, a distinguished and kindly  man in his fifties.  No doubt she had hopes of happiness but it was not to be.  In the December Montesquiou contracted and died horribly of the "black smallpox".  Madame de Sérilly lingered quarantined in their new Parisian apartment, 752 rue Brest, for a few months, then succombed herself.  She died on 17th April 1799, aged just thirty-six.



References


"Anne-Louise de Domangeville"  Article on Wikipedia

Agénor Bardoux, Études sur la fin du XVIIIe siècle : la comtesse de Beaumont, Pauline de Montmorin (1884), p.232
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6501572x/f232.item.

Félix Chandenier, "Madame de Sérilly: échappée de l'échafaud sous la Terreur", Bulletin de la Société archéologique de Sens, 1891 p.132-61
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k298599t/f135.image

Denise Ozanam, Claude Baudard de Saint-James (1969) [extracts on GoogleBooks]
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PhVQWLWig4IC&pg=PA8#v=onepage&q&f=false
(This study of Mégret de Sérilly's counterpart in the Navy has many details of his family background and career)

There is a biography of Madame de Sérilly in English:  Joan Evans, The pursuit of happiness: the story of Madame de Sérilly 1762-1799 (1946), but it is rare and unavailable on the internet.


The Sérilly Cabinet in the Victoria and Albert Museum 



V & A Collections, The Sérilly Cabinet , 1778.
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O111424/panelled-room-rousseau-de-la/
The tiny boudoir was situated between the house and the garden. The decoration represents the four seasons and the cycle of life. 

The piece has recently been dismantled and reinstalled in the V & A's new European galleries:  for further details and a ground plan, see the post of 27.07.2015 on the V & A. blog.
http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/creating-new-europe-1600-1800-galleries/installing-the-period-rooms

Here are some nice pictures of the hôtel Sérilly today - now divided into private apartments - on the "Paris Promeneurs" website.
http://www.paris-promeneurs.com/Patrimoine-ancien/L-hotel-Megret-de-Serilly

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The story of Pauvre Jacques




Pauvre Jacques, quand j'étais près de toi,
Je ne sentais pas ma misère;
Mais à présent que tu vis loin de moi,
Je manque de tout sur la terre.

Quand tu venais partager mes travaux,
Je trouvais ma tâche légère;
T'en souvient-il?  Tous les jours étaient beaux.
Qui me rendra ce temps prospère?

Quand le soleil brille sur nos guérets,
Je ne puis souffrir sa lumière,
Et quand je suis à l'ombre des forêts,
J'accuse la nature entière.


Poor Jacques, when I was near you / I did not feel my troubles / 
But now that you live far from me / I lack everything on this earth.  
When you shared my work / I found my tasks easy / 
Do you remember how fine the days were? / Who can give me back that happy time?
 When the sun shines on our fields / I cannot stand its light.  
And when I am in the shade of the forest / I blame the whole of nature.

Music on YouTube
https://youtu.be/5t3S-9TYgdo

This sentimental air was probably composed by the marquise de Travanet, former lady-in-waiting to Madame Élisabeth, on the occasion of marriage of Jacques Bosson, the Swiss dairy manager at Montreuil to his sweetheart Marie-Françoise Magnin.  Madame Élisabeth had learned that "poor Jacques" was miserable at having to leave his betrothed behind in La Gruyère and arranged for the girl to join him as a dairymaid on the estate. The wedding took place with great ceremony in the parish church of Saint-Symphorien in Versailles on 26 May 1789, just a few days after the opening of the Estates-General. The song was extremely popular throughout the Revolutionary years and was frequently adapted; the royalist Complainte de Louis XVI, set to the tune, is said to have run to 100,000 copies.


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

From the Expo Madame Élisabeth


Here are some highlights from the 2013 Madame Élisabeth exhibition at Montreuil, mostly from the "visite virtuelle" which is still available on the internet. 

The exhibition was two years in the making.  In all 135 objects were gathered together, both from major museums and from private collections.  Here is what the curator, Juliette Trey, had to say:


Before working on the exhibition, my opinion was distorted by the clichés surrounding Madame Élisabeth, who is often summarised as pious and serious.  I discovered someone amusing, with a rich and complex character.  She had a solid sense of humour and could laugh at herself, notably her legendary plumpness.   She was very generous and always thought of others before herself.  Even in difficult moments, she knew how to keep her distance and treat matters with reticence and good humour. I find her unconditional fidelity towards those she loved, thoroughly admirable.

The exhibition took two years to prepare.  Almost all the major museums lend exhibits.  It was difficult to assemble personal objects because the contents of Montreuil were totally dispersed at the time of the Revolution.  The great generosity of Madame Elizabeth helped us,  as she had given many presents to her friends notably her ladies-in-waiting.  I researched their descendents, and was met with enthusiasm for my project; objects had been carefully conserved in many families.
Versailles in my pocket, post of  29.04.2013
http://www.versaillesinmypocket.com/article-madame-elisabeth-se-raconte-en-sa-demeure-117430719.html

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Madame Élisabeth - images of a princess



Portrait of 1787 by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Ironically, the bid to secure Madame Élisabeth's beatification has cut across the efforts of historians in recent years to create a more three-dimensional and human view of the princess. 

In 2013 restoration work was finally completed on   Madame Élisabeth's former residence at Montreuil, acquired by Conseil Général of the Department of Yvelines in 1984. The occasion was marked by a major exhibition curated by Juliette Trey,  which brought together portraits and personal artefacts relating to life at Montreuil in the pre-Revolutionary years;  the accompanying catalogue offered a series of themed reappraisals  by leading historians.

 2010 and 2013  saw two major new biographies, by Jean Viguerie and Anne Bernet, both of which  offered new insights based largely on Élisabeth's own voice in her letters.  Anne Bernet is a Catholic writer, close to legitimist circles, but she sought explicitly to rescue Madame Élisabeth from her colourless, pious image.  In 2014 she popularised her findings on Franck Ferrand's, Au cœur de l’histoire ;  Élisabeth  was, she says, "a young woman who was decisive and intelligent, with a strong character, clear thinking with a sure political sense".


Here are some of the main points to arise from this new work:


Education 


Elisabeth was intelligent and well-educated.
  • Madame de Marsan, who was charge of the education of the two princesses Madame Clothilde and Madame Élisabeth, to the age of fourteen, did not subscribe to the fashionable view that girls should not be taught "serious" subjects; rather she harped back to the more austere tradition of the Dames de Saint-Cyr who sought to form good Christians who were also cultivated women.  She engaged the services as sous-governantes, of Mlle d'Aumale and Mme de Mackau, both former pupils of the convent. The princesses learned maths, science, history and languages.  Their reading included not only Montaigne, Descartes and Corneille, but also  English writers such as Bacon, Pope and John Locke. The marquise de La Ferté-Imbault, daughter of madame Geoffrin, supplied a basic grounding in philosophy, mainly Plutarch, Seneca and Cicero, who were looked upon as moral exemplars.
  • Anne Bernet's first major revelation, is the degree to which Elisabeth continued her intellectual pursuits; she was "remarkably intelligent, scientique to a high level".  She studied mathematics to the age of eighteen or nineteen,  first under Guillaume Leblond, then Antoine-René Maudit of the Collège de France, one of the foremost mathematicians in France. Among her possessions were beautifully crafted mathematical instruments.  In 1791 she offered a set of her own calculations to François Callet, of the Collège de Vannes, to add to his published set of logarithm tables. See Callet's letter: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MCAo2FA8E4UC&vq=Callet&pg=PA96
  • The 2013 exhibition contained a number of books from Madame Élisabeth's library at Montreuil, bound and stamped with her arms. Only a few volumes now survive, but there is an inventory made in October 1792:  See:  Life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France, 1901, Appendix 1 The library contained 2075 volumes;  a remarkable collection for that period, with a wide outlook in history, memoirs, biography, and essays on the political condition of France.   Of history, there were 406 volumes, among them Hume's England,  Robertson's Scotland,  Gibbon's Roman Empire, histories of all the countries of Europe,  of Constantinople,  Japan, the Ottoman Empire,  Arabia, Siam, etc.   Of memoirs and biography, 203 volumes.  These were chiefly French,  beginning with Villehardouin and coming down to Mme. de Staal-Delaunay and the Letters of Mme. de Pompadour. There were many classics, chiefly translated;   the Bible in 31 volumes;  all the great poems (among them "Le Paradis Perdu") and the chief French dramatists;  also 42 volumes of Fairy tales;  the Arabian Kights, Robinson Crusoe, and a small, a very small sprinkling of novels.  https://archive.org/stream/lifelettersofma00li#page/310/mode/2up


Religious convictions


The new appraisals do not contradict the view of Madame Élisabeth as deeply religious, but they see her beliefs as compatible with scientific interests and a life in the world. (Even Jean de Viguerie, who emphasises Elisabeth's piety, admits that she was no ascetic - as she admitted she "liked to eat"; however, he emphasises that she exercised self-restraint, and would criticise herself for being "too distracted".)  Her religious views were profoundly conservative.  From an early age she absorbed the conventional piety of the Court and, with it, a deep sense of  the religious duty of the Crown.  Her confessor until March 1791 was the former Jesuit the abbé Madier.  Elisabeth was deeply attached to the Jesuit-sponsored devotion to the Sacred Heart, which had found favour with Marie Lszcsynska, and later became so heavily identified with the Counter-Revolution.  
See: Raymond Jonas, France and the cult of the Sacred Heart (2000), p.94
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=IAB8eKhKs-wC&pg=PA95&lpg=PA95#v=onepage&q&f=false

Ex-voto sent to to Chartres Cathedral by Elisabeth in 1790, consisting of two hearts cast as one.  
The piece opens to reveal manuscript dedications to 
"The King and the Royal Family" and "The Church of France"

Monday, 12 February 2018

The last days of Madame Élisabeth



As the hagiographies begin to appear on the internet, I wondered how much it is actually possible to discover about the death of Madame Élisabeth.  I have set myself the task of finding some basic sources and weighing up the evidence.  There is not much in English;  but where possible I have used from Katherine Prescott Wormeley 's translations in The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France, 1901
https://archive.org/details/lifelettersofma00li



ARREST  

On the evening of 20 floréal Year II, 9th May 1794, in weather which was overcast and raining, Madame Élisabeth was taken on foot across the garden and courtyard of the Temple, placed in a hackney-coach and driven to the Conciergerie.  She arrived just after eight o'clock and at ten o'clock, underwent a preliminary interrogation in the Salle de Conseil before the judge Gabriel Deliège in the presence of Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor. An indictment was drawn up and Elisabeth returned to her prison cell for the night.


Madame Élisabeth is informed of her arrest by the Commissioners of the Commune. Print c.1795. Bibl.Nat.
http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb402482484


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