Monday, 27 January 2020

More notable wigwearers

Here are a few more anecdotes concerning notable 18th-century wig-wearers. The following is translated / summarised from my latest favourite source of trivia, Sébastien Feuillet de Conches's Causeries d’un curieux.  Feuillet de Conches (1798-1887) was a diplomat, writer and formidable collector of all sorts of "stuff": paintings, books and curiosities of all kinds. 

Voltaire's wig

p.250: Two men, Bachaumont and Voltaire, persisted under Louis XV,  even, in the case of Voltaire, under Louis XVI, in wearing wigs from the bygone era of Louis XIV - the perruque classique à cinq écheveaux or even the cinq lauriers, invented by Nevers (1). Voltaire arrived in Paris to stay with the marquis de Villette on the last day of January 1778 but he only undertook his first full "toilette" at the end of March.
"He had a red coat trimmed with ermine ; a great wig à la Louis XIV, black, without powder, his lean face  so buried in it that one saw only his two eyes sparkling like coals.  His head was surmounted by a red cap in the shape of a crown, which seemed to be merely balanced there." [Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, 28th March 1778.]

An hour after his arrival two months previously he had gone "jauntily and on foot" , to pay a visit to the comte d'Argental on the quai d'Orsay. He was so oddly dressed -  wrapped in a vast pelisse, his head in a woollen wig surmounted by a red fur-trimmed bonnet - that little children had taken him for a carnival character ("chienlit") and followed him shouting and taunting. [Mémoires secrets, 2nd February 1778].

(1) According to Grimm, the duc de Nevers invented a style of long wig, which was imitated  only by Bachaumont and Voltaire: "of the three wearers, only the last now persists.".
Correspondance litt., Vol. VII, June  1771 

[Voltaire's old-fashioned wigs were much remarked upon by visitors to Ferney:  The Duchess of Northumberland described his "small well-combed dark grizzle tie-wig without powder". Boswell at Christmas 1764 found him in "a slate-blue fine frieze greatcoat nightgown and a three-knotted wig"] 

The wigs of Rousseau and Maupertius

p.250  Rousseau adopted a little perruque à trois marteaux

p.251:  At his reception to the Académie française  Maupertius famously sported a short round wig composed of red hair with powdered yellow curls.  See Collini, Mon séjour aupres de Voltaire (1807) p.36.

The wigs of M. de Sartine

Sartine by  Joseph Boz, 1787
Musée Lambinet
p.253-4: It was hairdresser Le Gros (author of L'Art de la coiffure) who had the honour of working for the lieutenant general of police M. de Sartine, Secretary of State for the Navy at the start of the reign of Louis XVI. As far as fashions in hair were concerned, Sartine was the most coquettish man of the day and prided himself on having the best styled head in France.  He had a wig for the morning, a wig for the council chamber, a wig for the evening.  He even had a wig for good luck (a bonne fortune) with five little floating curls. Three wigmaker "valets de chambre" each had their department under the direction of Le Gros, who  alone enjoyed the privilege of dressing the hair of such a difficult and discerning master.  His hair was curled in the morning; his hair was curled in the evening.  If some accident disarranged the economy of his head during the day, the iron was in the fire (possibly literally?).  It was said that, when he was lieutenant of police, and had a criminal to interrogate, he would don a terrible wig with five serpent's tails which made him look like the three judges of Hell.  They nicknamed this instrument of anticipated torture la Sartine  or l'Inexorable.

[See also, the comments in Métra's Anecdotes secrètes: 
M. de Sartine has an incredible weakness of fine, well-curled and powdered wigs.  His collection of wigs - in-folio, in quarto, in-duodecimo, large and small format, some more square than others - amounts to sixty or eighty of the finest examples and the best makers. (Anecdotes secrètes, 30 October 1779)

Notice for the portrait of Sartine: ]

Diderot on the President de Brosses

p.254: Diderot could not get over the immense wigs which weighed down the magistrates of the Parlement of Paris and the provincial parlements. His correspondant Charles de Brosses made fun of the Doge of Genoa and his senators hidden under their vast perruques quarrées.  However, when he became president of the Parlement of Dijon, he too found himself obliged to don a heavy wig. Diderot found it impossible to take him seriously in this absurd costume: 

 The President de Brosses, who enjoys my respect in his ordinary clothes, makes me die of laughter in his habit de palais.  How can one look at him, without the corners of one's mouth turning up? His jolly little head, with it ironic and satiric expression, is lost in an immense forest of hair which overwhelms him;  and this forest descends left and right to take possession of three-quarters of the rest of his small figure. (Comment in the Salon of 1765).


Félix-Sébastien Feuillet de Conches, Causeries d’un curieux vol.2 (1862), p.250-54.

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