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Rosalba’s portrait of John Law

No one who reads this blog needs to be told who Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757) or John Law (1671–1729) were, nor why their encounter in Paris in 1720, during the Régence, was of such significance – and why the lost portrait she made of him (J.21.0632  in the online Dictionary of pastellists, in this article) is mentioned in so many publications that I cannot possibly list them all.[1] Of course none of these discussions is of much help in locating the work beyond the idea, almost universally repeated, that Horace Walpole once owned it (the version he owned is J.21.06341 in the Dictionary). And the iconography of Law is so confused that it too provides little assistance.

Walpole’s version

As we shall see, the date of his acquisition is important – the reference in the first (1774) edition of his A description of the villa of Mr Horace Walpole (p. 66) providing a terminus ante quem:

John Law, inventor of the Missisipi-scheme [sic], and prime minister to the regent Philip duke of Orleans: one of the best of Rosalba’s works.

There are several further references in his correspondence: he mentions it in a letter of 7 November 1782 to the Scottish antiquary, the Earl of Buchan:[2]

If your Lordship should print any account of John Law the Missisippian, <and> wish to give a print of him, I have a portrait of him by Rosalba, the best I ever saw by her hand, and which must be extremely like, as it is the very image of this daughter Lady Wallingford now living. As the picture is in crayons and even let into the wainscot of my gallery, it cannot be taken down; the artist must therefore make the drawing from where it is.

He repeated this again in another letter to the earl, 12 May 1783, adding–

–an excellent head of [John Law] in crayons by Rosalba, the best of her portraits. It is certainly very like, for, were the flowing wig converted into a female head-dress, it would be the exact resemblance of Lady Wallingford, his daughter, whom I see frequently at the Duchess of Montrose’s, and who has by no means a look of the age to which she is arrived. Law was a very extraordinary man, but not at all an estimable one.

Buchan it seems was intending to write a biography of Law, no doubt as a famous Scot, but in the end produced only a short letter in The Bee in 1791, consisting just of Walpole’s anecdotes. As the correspondence indicates, it was contemplated that a print be taken from Walpole’s portrait, a project abandoned because the pastel could not be taken down – Walpole had fitted it into the wooden panelling, some 2½ to 3 metres high, was conscious of the risks of moving pastels, and had placed his famous Roman eagle in the same niche, preventing anyone placing a ladder there to get a closer view. This emerges again from a letter he wrote on 14 November 1792 to Richard Gough (1735–1809), another antiquary, who was presumably contemplating a different Law biography:

I have a portrait of Law, and should not object to letting a copy of it be taken, but I doubt that could not be done, being in crayons, by Rosalba, under a glass; and any shaking being very prejudicial to crayons, I fixed the picture in one of the niches of my gallery under a network of carving, whence it cannot possibly be removed without pulling the niche to pieces. The picture too being placed over the famous statue of the eagle, there is no getting near to it, I certainly could not venture to let a ladder be set against the statue. Indeed, as there are extant at least three prints of Law, there does not seem to be another wanting.

I am sorry, Sir, I cannot give you a more satisfactory answer about Lady Wallingford. I have met her at two or three places, but I did not visit her, nor have the least knowledge of her husband’s family, nor to whom she left anything she had; nor can I direct you at all where to inquire. I did not even know that there is an Earl of Banbury living.

Although there is a tiny glimpse of the pastel in the niche in the gallery of which an engraving was included in the second, 1784, edition, the image is completely indecipherable. We have a little more luck with the original watercolour of the Gallery at Strawberry Hill, made in 1781 by Thomas Sandby, Paul Sandby & Edward Edwards (V&A, inv. D.1837-1904).

Here is the detail visible in the niche to left of the chimney, straightened with Photoshop:

Although neither Walpole’s Description nor the 1842 sale catalogue provides dimensions for the pastel, and while it might seem impossible reliably to estimate the dimensions from this image, in fact the Roman eagle comes to our aid: its height is 77.5 cm, and being immediately underneath the pastel, we can estimate with some precision that the sight size of the portrait was 66 cm high (by perhaps 54 cm width, with less assurance). This is notably larger than most of the bust-length pastels Rosalba made in Paris at this time – they are typically 56×45 cm. This will certainly be a clue in identifying Walpole’s pastel should it resurface: it remained at Strawberry Hill until the 1842 sale, when it was sold[3] for 18 gns to “Brown, Esq., Pall Mall”, possibly General Sir John Brown, KCH; but all trace is then lost. It will presumably have been reframed in 1842 when removed from the wall.

The image alone does suffice to eliminate a number of wildly speculative suggestions from among Rosalba’s œuvre as candidates for the lost portrait (among them the pastel of Poleni which I discussed here). (It is curious that no one has proposed the Dresden pastel P84, my J.21.2189, which matches the composition most closely, although as we shall see it too is wrong.)


Inevitably researchers will turn to any information on Law’s appearance to conduct this search. They might start with the much earlier description circulated in the London Gazette (7 January 1694) when he was a fugitive after killing a man in a duel:

very tall, black, lean man, well shaped, about six foot high, large pock holes in his face, big high nosed.

The description was dismissed as useless by biographers (who improbably alleged[4] that he arranged for a false description to aid his escape), but the nose at least is supported by the iconography.

To which we must now turn, although again with limited confidence. A good summary (although with an important omission) is in Ingamells (Later Stuart portraits…), p. 144, accompanying the best known portrait, attributed to Alexis-Simon Belle (NPG 191), “identified as Law at least since the end of the eighteenth century, and the elegant costume suggests it was painted in France”. It graces the cover of one of the better biographies[5] (Montgomery Hyde’s), but that offers little extra assurance of the identification.

Ingamells then lists the enamel by Charles Boit in the Royal Collection, with conventional rose-bud mouth, straight nose and brown eyes which do not seem convincing.

Of it Graham Reynolds remarks (Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century miniatures…, no. 398)[6] that “the traditional identification as Law appears justified by comparison with the engraving by Peter Schenk, 1720.”

Schenk’s engraving, although well known, is of limited iconographic value: in black and white, and unlikely to have been taken from life. It was published in Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid in Amsterdam in 1720, and is one of numerous prints circulating at the time of the fame, then notoriety of the System. We can safely ignore many of these engravings. I have not yet tracked down the miniature[7] of John Law, in red coat and blue velvet waistcoat embroidered with gold. Another miniature by Coater at Knowsley listed by Ingamells is not of Law.[8] Ingamells lists too a painting attributed to Herman van der Mijn;[9] the label identifies the sitter and artist, but as the latter is given as Rigaud the name of the sitter should be treated with equal caution.

An oil by William Verelst[10] in an American museum shows a quite different face and cannot be right.

Possibly of more interest is the widely reproduced later (1843) painting by Casimir-Victor-Alexandre de Balthasar (MV 4372) which apparently (Ingamells) was copied from a portrait still in the sitter’s family in 1843, although the source he cites (Constans 1995) merely states that it was a copy of an anonymous painting (unlocated). Without the original it is difficult to assess how much licence was taken.

A greater loss is the Rigaud painting of c.1719–20 (James-Sarasin no. 1343), perhaps unfinished, and now known only from the engraving by Georg Friedrich Schmidt (1738).

Finally, a discovery which is omitted from all modern discussions but which is crucial for this essay, a print apparently made by Quenedey in Paris, commissioned for John Philip Wood’s biography of Law in The antient and modern state of the parish of Cramond, Edinburgh, 1794, reproduced (opposite page 163) with permission of the then owner, Jean Law de Lauriston (1719–1797), after “an original portrait of his uncle, reckoned an exact likeness, in his possession”:

A second engraving copying this was made by Edward Mitchell for Wood’s 1824 life of Law (presumably because Quenedey’s engraving would not last through another print run). Both are fairly wretched as works of art, but the function of portrait engravings is often documentary rather than aesthetic.

We can confirm Wood’s assertion that the pastel belonged to Law neveu as it appears in his estate inventory[11] conducted in Paris in 1802, several years after his death.

It is referred to in the usual formula (“pour mémoire”) applied to family portraits that were not valued. The wording implies that the pastel was in a gilt frame. What is also bizarre is that all three family portraits were kept together “dans un petit cabinet”, the only other item in which was an oak chest. This suggests that the financier was not regarded as a national hero during Napoleon’s reign, and had to be hidden away.

I’m not sure that much consistency emerges from these various images, apart (at least among the serious contenders) from a peculiarly aquiline nose, a cleft chin and a protruding lower lip. The shape and density (even if colour is not revealed) of the eyebrows (often a reliable feature in portraiture) are particularly variable. There certainly isn’t enough to identify Law from a portrait of an unknown sitter without documentation. But in the case of the new discovery below the exact match with the Quenedey engraving provides the assurance we need for a portrait that would otherwise have to be rejected as dissimilar to the Rigaud and Belle.

Law family tree

Incidentally, to follow this and the later discussion, you may want to have a short pedigree of the Law family: see here for a fuller version, but the key players are:

John Law of Lauriston (1671–1729), financier {Carriera} ∞ c.1701 Katherine Knollys (c.1669–1747) {Carriera}, dau. of the 3rd “Earl of Banbury”

⇒John Law (1706–1734), soldier in the Austrian dragoons {Carriera}

⇒Mary Katherine (1711–1790) {Carriera} ∞ her cousin, William Knollys, Viscount Wallingford (1694–1740sp), MP, son of the 4th “Earl of Banbury”

William Law (1675–1752), of the Compagnie des Indes ∞ 1716 Rebecca Dewes ( –1729)

⇒John Law de Lauriston (1719–1797), chevalier de Saint-Louis 1780, brigadier d’infanterie, commandant des troupes françaises dans l’Inde, gouverneur de Pondichéry 1764–77

⇒Jacques-François, chevalier de Law, comte de Tancarville (1724–1785)

Rosalba’s account

What then of the circumstances of the commission? All sources agree that Law was a very busy man in 1720, even more so than Rosalba’s other clients. But of course he was not just any other client. Rosalba Carriera was accompanied during her visit to Paris by her mother, two sisters, and brother-in-law, the painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675–1741). And it was the latter who lost most from the encounter: Crozat, at whose invitation Rosalba’s visit had taken place, encouraged Pellegrini to undertake the decoration of the immense ceiling of the Hôtel de Nevers which was to be the assembly room for the banque du Mississippi – some 350 m2, more than half the size of Würzburg. Pellegrini’s allegorical fresco, commissioned for 10,000 ducats, was destroyed two years after its completion – perhaps as much because of French artists jealous of the Venetian’s success as of the creditors eager to erase all trace of the system.[12]

It is however worth picking out the entries in Rosalba’s journal that mention Law and his family. These from my translation (you can find my transcription of the Italian in my edition):

APRIL 1720

The portrait of … of Law’s son;[13]

JUNE 1720

11., Tuesday. Started the portrait of Law’s daughter.[14]

  1. I asked the little Miss Law to change a bill for me.


  1. I went to Versailles, and Mme Law sent me the frames.
  2. I was visited by the wife[15] of M. Law the younger….


  1. Went to M. Law and left the portraits there.

22., Sunday.[16] Went with Bononcini to M. Law.

23., Monday. … I started [the portrait] of Law.

  1. At a concert given by M. Crozat, I saw the Regent, Law, and others.


First November. A bad day. I saw M. Law at the Bank, and talked to him.

  1. At Mme Du Revest’s I retouched the portrait of M. Law’s son. At the moment he left his house, the gun of one of his guards went off by accident, and wounded a child in the thigh. A Frenchman, who knew me in Venice, came to the Bank to ask me for some miniatures.
  2. I arranged to … finish [the portrait] of M. Law.
  3. Went to lunch at Mme Law’s, and finished her husband’s portrait. Went to the Comédie, and refused to make copies of the portraits of this family.
  4. Devaluation of the coinage.


  1. Law’s daughter came, and I gave her her own portrait.
  2. Went to … and to Mme Law. Agreed to go to the Gobelins on the 12th.
  3. Saw Mlle Law, whose father was disgraced the same day.
  4. I went in vain to Mme Law, who had gone to the Opéra; whence I went to the Comédie with Mme Boit and my sisters.

15., Sunday. I went to Mme Law, whose husband had left the same day. She gave me 20 louis.

  1. … I returned the wig and cravat of M. Law.
  2. I wrote to M. Law’s daughter. I received twenty louis of 45 livres each.


  1. I got ten louis of 45 livres for the portrait of M. Law, which remain in the hands of my brother-in-law with 62 Spanish écus he holds on my account.

Several important things emerge from a close reading of these entries. First the relationship with the family was deeper than just that of portraitist; second that the sittings were few; third that they ended so abruptly that Rosalba had to borrow the wig and cravat to complete the work without the sitter. Indeed all this was happening as the System was crashing: Law was bankrupt, and had resigned in disgrace on 9 (not 11) December, proceeding a few days later to exile at his estate near Paris, Guermantes,[17] before leaving France for good. We don’t know if the payments she received were the full amount due (Rigaud had been paid in shares in the compagnie des Indes, but they were by then worthless), but she was astute enough to resolve in November “not to make copies of the portraits of this family” (“rifiutato di far duplicati li ritratti di detta famiglia”). It would seem then that the four Law portraits she made were unique. She might already have made replicas, and may even have kept sketches from which she subsequently worked up versions (and logically we cannot totally exclude the possibility that Law himself, who would die in Venice, sat to her again) – but we simply don’t know.


How then do we place the versions the Rosalba portrait?

The literature assumes that Walpole’s was the only version. But it is surely too big to be the portrait of “Mr John Law, from Life”, measuring a mere 24×19 cm, which Consul Joseph Smith, (inv. 1762, no. 19) sold to George III, but of which there is no later trace (where did Smith acquire it if not in Venice? But that could have been from artist or sitter). We don’t know if Smith’s description was accurate or if so how it fits into the narrative above.

Further, as we have seen, Walpole had his version by 1774, while the portrait Quenedey copied was with the nephew Jean Law from before 1794 and remained in Paris at least until his 1802 inventory. For the same reason, Walpole’s cannot be the portrait sold by the Law family at Christie’s in 1782. So despite his letter to Lord Buchan revealing that he knew Lady Wallingford (which must be tempered by his admission to Gough that he didn’t know her well), there is nothing to suggest that he acquired his pastel from the family. We should also perhaps interpret without today’s punctiliousness Walpole’s assertion that the picture was Rosalba’s finest: it is not entirely impossible that he would have thus referred to a copy he commissioned of a picture he thought her finest.

To understand the various routes in which Law’s pictures travelled after his death, turn to JoLynn Edwards’s 2001 study. Unfortunately, despite intensive research, the answers are far from clear. The pictures Law had with him at his death[18] were sent to Holland by boat but were damaged by water and had to be returned to Venice to be restored. It appears for example that the two groups of pictures sold as from Law at Christie’s in 1765 and 1782 (the latter including Rosalba pastels of Law and his son, the former, Lot 47, “a highly finished portrait of the celebrated Monsieur Laws, one of the best of the charming artist”, sold for 8½ gns to Wilde) may have been sold either by Law’s daughter Lady Wallingford, or perhaps on her behalf by George Middleton, a London banker, who had written to Law in 1728 explaining the difficulty of selling the pictures of mediocre quality Law had sent him.

1782 sale

We cannot exclude the possibility that the pastel purchased by “Wilde” was resold to the nephew, although this seems improbable. Lot 48, of the son, was purchased by Walton, a dealer who bought extensively from this and other sales at the time; but Wilde bought only Lot 47. His identity is uncertain; but the name next appears in London sale records as purchaser in 1799, when it is given as De Wilde – almost certainly the portraitist Samuel De Wilde (1751–1832).

Added complications arise from Law’s will, later replaced by a lifetime donation just before his death to his “wife”, Katherine Knollys, to whom he was never in fact married. His brother William was also overlooked as he was a Protestant, so the direct heirs of his estate were his two nephews Jean Law de Lauriston (1719–1797), noted above, and Jacques-François, chevalier de Law, comte de Tancarville (1724–1785).

A pastel which had belonged to the horticulturist Ellen Ann Willmott appeared on the London market about ten years ago (right: now J.21.06343 in the online Dictionary). It was shown to me as of an unknown sitter with an attribution to Lundberg; I thought it much closer to Rosalba in composition, but the technique was not hers (Dr Sani agreed).[19] And although the composition resembled the Sandby detail (and promisingly it had a modern frame), it was a little too small, and the eyes appeared to look in a different direction; we concluded that there was not enough to make the connection securely. This was of course before the discovery of the Quenedey print.

All of this was overturned when a private collector recently showed me an image of what is quite clearly a Rosalba pastel (now J.21.06325):

Of dimensions (60×45 cm) far closer to Rosalba’s normal size than Walpole’s niche, its French frame bears a later label “Rosalba/Pt de John Law” suggesting that it spent part of its life in France. Moreover the Willmott pastel is plainly copied from it. Further a comparison of both with the Quenedey engraving reveals one important difference: the left edge of the jabot where the lace bulges out allows see-through in the new pastel not present in the Willmott picture, but captured in the Quenedey print. For those reasons I concluded that this may well be the pastel Jean Law owned in 1794. This is endorsed by a provenance which shows that the pastel has remained among the descendants of Jean Law de Lauriston.


So what do we conclude having finally discovered this elusive image? Perhaps the most surprising thing is how restrained it is. Compare for example the fanciful Schenk portrait, which has been described in a recent article[20] as–

he stands in courtly dress in front of a well-manicured, formal French lawn. His dignified attire matches that of the orderly garden; his clothes are festooned with gold brocade while the garden is adorned with stately fountains, acanthian-scrolled parterres, and topiary trees. Both environment and man are contemporarily modish, consistent with the imagery of current fashion plates which showed courtiers, resplendent in silk and lace, posing in Le Nôtre-styled lawns &c.

Secondly, even by Rosalba’s standards, the tonality is subdued, in line with the costume. Law had no chivalric order – no Saint-Esprit, no Garter: and one wonders if he made a virtue of this by dressing in the plainest manner possible, as in later years Franklin did. Did he feel that such austerity would inspire confidence in his investors, perhaps by demonstrating that he had no need of ostentation to flaunt his wealth? Or was he simply too busy to involve himself in the selection of elaborate costume, perhaps fearing it would merely extend the length of the sittings?

Walpole’s pastel is still missing – almost certainly larger than the Willmott copy, but still presumably in saleable condition after being ripped from the walls of his gallery: but perhaps Sir John Brown found it had suffered more than he realised at the sale; it may be lost forever. That of course seems to have been the fate of the other three Rosalba portraits of Law’s family.

Finally the iconography can be greatly slimmed down. He was quite clearly blond and blue-eyed, not black as in the Gazette description. The Belle portrait remains credible, particularly if made six or seven years before the Rosalba; the engraving of the Rigaud has never been in doubt; and of the other prints, only the Quenedey is close to the real face of this fascinating character.


[1] You can even find it in an article by Trollope’s sister-in-law. We can rely on Arsène Houssaye to produce extravagant versions, such as his “Figures de la Régence”, Revue du xixe siècle, vii, 1.xii.1867, pp. 327ff, which begins promisingly: “A Venise, j’ai découvert un portrait de Jean Law, un pastel de cette Rosalba…” but fails to deliver. Remember that to search French sources, you need to know that his name was pronounced Lass (as in l’As), and Voltaire spells it thus.

[2] The W. S. Lewis edition of Walpole’s correspondence is now available online; the relevant letters are in volume 15, pp. 167, 180f, 192 and volume 42, pp. 386f.

[3] The price of 15 gns appears in the secondary literature, but 18 gns is clearly marked in the annotated sale catalogue; 15 gns is the price of the next lot (Rosalba’s portrait of Lord Hertford); the Liotard of Lord Holland reached on 4 ½ gns. But the Reynolds of Lord Waldegrave sold for 70 gns. Such were the tastes of the time.

[4] See, for example, Notes & queries, 2.iv.1864, p. 284f here.

[5] For the general reader; economists will want to consult the various writings of Antoin Murphy (e.g. this).

[6] The following entry (no. 399), for Boit’s enamel of the young Louis XV, suggests that Lundberg may have been the source when in fact the enamel copies Rosalba’s pastel (J.21.0697).

[7] On ivory, 7.5×5 cm (Phillips; 10 June 1865. Henry George Bohn, cat. 1884, no. 386; London, Christie’s, 19 March 1885).

[8] I am most grateful to Stephen Lloyd for providing me with an image; Ingamells evidently hadn’t seen one.

[9] Three-quarter length, standing, in a brown coat with a richly decorated blue silk waistcoat, right hand on hip; Woolton House sale, 6–7 October 1993, Lot 584.

[10] Albrecht Kemper Museum; sd 1727; sold Christie’s 16.xii.1966, Lot 291, ex Sir H. Steward but justly disregarded by Ingamells.

[11] MC/ET/LXVIII/699, conducted 5 July 1802.

[12] Pierre Rosenberg, De Raphaël à la Révolution, 2005, pp. 14, 121ff.

[13] John Law Jr (1706–1734), son of the celebrated financier John Law of Lauriston (1671–1729). He became a soldier in the Austrian dragoons.

[14] Mary Katherine Law (1711–1790), later Lady Wallingford. The suggestion that this is the girl with a monkey in the Louvre J.21.0575 is widely found in the literature, but without foundation (she was in fact the future marquise d’Havrincourt, née Antoinette-Barbonne-Thérèse Languet de Gergy (1717–1780)).

[15] Rebecca Dewes ( –1729), wife of John Law’s younger brother, William Law (1675–1752).

[16] The numbering follows Vianelli and Sensier. Sani follows the manuscript and has 23 September a Sunday, which it was not. All sources synchronise again on 1 October, a Tuesday.

[17] I don’t think this is what Proust meant by du côté de chez Guermantes.

[18] There were 488 pictures listed in the inventory (a transcription is in the Getty Provenance Index); only two pastels, both heads of saints by Guido Reni, were included.

[19] I should note that Silvia Davoli spotted in a later sale as resembling the Sandby image.

[20] Camille Mathieu, “An effortless empire: John Law and the Imagery of French Louisiana, 1683–1735,” Journal18, Issue 10, 1720, 2020,

An exhibition too far? Ask not what America will do for you…

Museums and galleries today face colossal problems of how to raise the funds to survive. The ticketed loan exhibition has for many years been seen as the panacea, but the pandemic has put an end to that, for the time being at least. It is perhaps worth remembering that these exhibitions have always been fraught with difficulties, and there is nothing new in the tension between conservation and revenue generation. As I have frequently discussed, the particular risks of transporting pastels to temporary exhibitions have been known for centuries and create real difficulties for those who look after them.

Nothing better illustrates this than the precious collection of La Tour pastels which the artist’s brother bequeathed to the École de dessin in Saint-Quentin. The history of their removal during two world wars is recounted in a number of sources, and you can also find a summary of their loans to temporary exhibitions in §v.1 of my Prolegomena. During the course of my work on La Tour I have been going through the minutes of the meetings of the committee of the Ecole de dessin where (among many other things) these loan requests are documented. I am most grateful to Hervé Cabezas (who has published several accounts of the migration of the collection cited in the Prolegomena) for helping me do so. Much of the numerous volumes of “délibérations” is rather dry and tedious (except for specialists), but occasionally a spot of drama emerges, and the episode below is an excellent example recorded in the language of the time. Minutes of today’s trustee meetings tend to be drafted with the Freedom of Information Act in mind, so all the interesting bits are omitted.

By way of context (this episode is set in 1927), the musée Antoine-Lécuyer had been destroyed during World War I, and funds were desperately needed to rebuild it – construction of the present building started the year after this episode, but this is how the building then looked:


However (one has to be careful how one puts this) the pastels the Germans had seized had remained safe, and been repatriated. They had been temporarily exhibited in the Louvre, and a number were lent to the great pastel exhibition in Paris in 1927. This gave (some of the committee) more confidence to consider the bigger adventure which is the subject of the minutes that follow. (Within a few years of the episode below the committee resolved never again to expose their pastels to the risks of transport. This position was maintained – “une règle infrangible qui n’est susceptible d’aucune exception” – despite pressure on one occasion even from Léon Blum, président du Conseil …but that is another story.)

The members of the committee were mostly local industrialists and benefactors. The president, Maurice Mathieu (1880–1968), was a civil servant who showed a great interest in the École during his term of office at Saint-Quentin.

Édouard_Vuillard,_David_David-Weill,_1925David David-Weill (1871–1952), the banker, major collector and philanthropist, was a donor to the Louvre and The Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as being founder of the Société des Amis du musée Antoine-Lécuyer at Saint-Quentin. He had spent the first 12 years of his life in the USA  (above is his portrait by Edouard Vuillard, 1925).


“M. Brecke” was Joseph Breck (1885–1933), an energetic curator of decorative arts at the Met who died too young (he was not in fact the museum’s director): above, photographed c.1917.

Jean Guiffrey (1870–1952), son of the art historian Jules Guiffrey, was conservateur at the département des peintures at the Louvre. He seems by the time of this episode (having already organised numerous loan exhibitions) to have forgotten what he wrote in 1908 in a review (in the Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft) of the previous great exhibition, of “Cent pastels” (to which Saint-Quentin did not send any – the lenders were almost all in Paris):

La fragilité extrême de ces délicates peintures, que le moindre heurt peut endommager, pouvait justement faire hésiter les possesseurs de ces chefs d’œuvre à les confier à des étrangers, si zélés et si soigneux qu’ils puissent être: il fallut toute la bonne grâce persuasive et l’ingénieuse charité d’une grande dame [the marquis de Ganay, who headed the organising committee in 1908], aidée d’un petit nombre d’amateurs très délicats, pour vaincre ces hésitations et réussir au mieux cette difficile entreprise.

Guiffrey’s confidence in the safety of the Compagnie générale transatlantique’s ships seems curiously narrow (dozens of major maritime losses occurred in peacetime from poor weather, collisions and other causes, involving ships of every flag). Between the dates of the two committee meetings, the Italian SS Principessa Mafalda sank (as a result of mechanical failure) with the loss of 314 people and a large cargo.

The texts below are complete, and I have retained the original spelling. In 1927 there were 25 francs to the US dollar, and 5 US dollars to the pound sterling; to adjust for inflation multiply by at least 50.

Read to the end.


Séance extraordinaire du 17 octobre 1927

Le Bureau d’Administration de l’Ecole De La Tour s’est réuni en séance extraordinaire le lundi 17 oct. 1927 à 14h¼  sous la présidence de M. Mathieu, Sous-Préfet.

Etaient présents : M.M. Braun, Dutilleul, Flinois, Greisch, Hachet, Mailliet, Petit, Tricoteaux, Trocmé.

Excusés : M.M. Honoré, Jourdain et Blondel.

M. le Président expose que, dans le but de procurer à la Société des Amis du Musée De La Tour et par conséquent à l’Ecole des ressources supplémentaires, il a songé à faire appel aux mécènes américains, mais qu’avant de mettre son projet à l’exécution il s’est inquiété auprès de personnalités compétentes de savoir si sa tentative aurait quelque chance de succès. Devant les réponses peu satisfaisantes qui lui ont été faites, il a dû chercher autre chose. Après échange de vues, M. David Weill lui a ménagé une entrevue avec M. Brecke, Directeur du « Metropolitan Museum de New-York, » de passage à Paris.

Au cours de la conversation, dit-il, en parlant des pastels de De La Tour M. Brecke me demanda pourquoi je ne chercherais pas un homme compétent, ami des Arts, qui se chargerait d’attirer l’attention du public sur le Musée de St. Quentin et son Ecole de dessin pat une réclame appropriée. Pourquoi, par exemple, ne pas envisager à New-York une exposition du genre de celle qui a été récemment faite à la Salle Charpentier ? Sa réussite amènerait des concours précieux et des ressources abondantes. Je lui exposai, ajoute M. le Sous-Préfet, les risques d’une semblable opération : la fragilité des pastels, leur détérioration possible par suite de mauvais emballage, la perte totale en cas de naufrage ou d’incendie, les risques de vol ou de substitution. En tout cas, ajoutai-je, je n’envisagerai rien dans ce sens, sans m’entourer des avis des membres du Conseil d’Administration de la Société des Amis De La Tour qui comprend les conservateurs des Musées Nationaux et des amateurs d’art, et sans l’assentiment des Membres du Bureau d’Administration de l’Ecole De La Tour.

Le Conseil d’Administration fut réuni la semaine dernière. Un certain nombre de membres émirent des doutes tant sur la possibilité de donner suite au projet que sur les résultats probables.

M. Guiffrey, Conservateur des peintures du Musée du Louvre, déclara tout d’abord ne pas être aussi pessimiste que ses collègues. Je ne crois pas, dit-il, au danger d’altération des pastels. Ils ont couru pendant la guerre, et même auparavant lorsqu’ils se trouvaient dans les cartons des élèves, bien d’autres risques. Ils ont depuis longtemps perdre leur fleur. Avec un double emballage spécial il ne peut rien leur arriver de fâcheur. En ce qui concerne les dangers de naufrage, il n’y en a pas eu à la Cie transatlantique depuis 50 ans. Ce serait bien le diable si le bateau transportant les pastels venait à couler. Reste la question de vol ou de substitution. Un mandataire spécial pourrait les accompagner et ne pas les perdre de vue. Rien à craindre de ce chef. J’estime donc, ajoutait M. Guiffrey, les risques réduits à leur plus simple expression. J’irai même plus loin : Pour ma part, je ne verrais aucun inconvénient à ce que l’exposition fût faite dans les principales villes des Etats-Unis : Chicago, Boston, etc…. C’est 2 millions de francs peut-être que vous en rapporteriez. »

A la suite de cette déclaration faite par un homme aussi qualifié que M. Guiffrey dont la compétence est indiscutable en cette matière, l’assemblée donna un avis favorable à l’exposition des pastels à New-York.

M. le Président déclare ensuite avoir examiné avec ces Messieurs, la question des ressources que pourrait procurer une exposition des pastels où le public serait admis moyennant un droit d’entrée. Les prix d’entrée dans les Musées, en Amérique, étant extrêmement réduits (25 cents habituellement), quel que soit le nombre des visiteurs, il ne faut pas compter sur des résultats bien brillants.

Mais une autre combinaison, plus avantageuse, est possible : procéder par souscription. Un comité d’amateurs d’art (tels que M.M. Rockfeller, Morgan, Blumenthal, etc.) que le Directeur du Metropolitan Museum constituerait, solliciterait les mécènes américains, et lorsqu’on saurait que c’est pour le Musée de St Quentin détruit pendant la guerre, les dons ne manqueraient pas d’affluer. A cet effet, M. Brecke croit pouvoir affirmer (il donnera une réponse définitive dans quelques jours, après son retour à New-York) que le Comité constitué garantirait une somme minimum de 25.000 dollars. Si on en déduit les frais d’emballage, de transport, d’assurances (pour une somme de 60.000.000) de déplacement et de séjour de la personne chargée de la surveillance des pastels, on arrive à 150.000 f. En mettant les choses au maximum, soit 225.000 f, le bénéfice à retirer serait d’environ 400.000f. Ce qui n’est pas à dédaigner quand on songe aux dépenses à envisager pour réinstaller définivement [sic] les pastels.

M. le Président ouvre la discussion et sollicite l’opinion du Bureau.

M. Greisch déclare ne pouvoir assumer la responsabilité d’une semblable opération, la somme payée pour les assurances en cas de perte (60.000.000f) si énorme soit-elle, ne pouvant compenser la perte irréparable que causerait, non seulement à l’Ecole, mais à la Nation, la disparition de ce trésor incomparable. Les précautions les plus minutieuses ne mettront pas à l’abri d’un tel danger. Il ajoute que le Bureau n’est que le dépositaire des pastels et qu’il n’a pas le droit de les exposer à un tel risque, si minime fût-il.

M. le Président réplique que les pastels courent les même dangers au Louvre, qu’ils en ont couru de semblables lors de leur transport à la Salle Charpentier et que personne n’a protesté. Il ajoute : Nous avons le droit, aux termes du testament du Chevalier De La Tour, de les vendre ; nous avons donc à fortiori le droit de les exposer.

M. Trocmé s’associe aux observations présentées par M. Greisch. Il lui apparait qu’il vaudrait mieux inciter les Américains à venir visiter les pastels chez nous que de les leur porter ; il ajoute qu’avant la guerre, le Bureau s’est toujours refusé à envoyer les pastels à Paris.

M. Braun fait remarquer qu’autres temps autres mœurs ; la guerre a modifié bien des choses, les pastels ont été à Maubeuge, à Paris ; il ne voit donc aucun inconvénient à ce qu’ils aillent à New-York, si les résultats en valent la peine et toutes garanties prises.

M. Hachet demande si on ne pourrait aliéner certains pastels pour se procurer les ressources dont on a besoin, le testament du Chevalier De La Tour envisageant la vente pour les besoins de l’Ecole.

M. le Président se déclare opposé à toute aliénation ; mieux vaut, dit-il, en acheter d’autres par la suite qu’en vendre un seul.

M. Trocmé propose d’élever le prix des entrées au Louvre et de le mettre à 20 francs.

M. le Président exprime la crainte que ce relèvement n’éloigne les visiteurs.

M. Petit accepte la proposition, dans l’espoir que cette exposition exciterait les riches Américains à ouvrir leur bourse et appellerait l’attention sur St Quentin. Ce serait une propagande française admirable et fructueuse à la fois.

M. le Président déclare que si le Comité ne garantit pas au minimum 25.000 dolars [sic] en banque, soit 625.000 francs au cours actuel du change, il serait d’avis de ne pas poursuivre cette idée, le jeu n’en valant pas la chandelle. Il revient sur la question des risques. Le seul, d’après lui, c’est le naufrage, risque qui n’est pas considérable, si l’on considère les précautions prises.

M. Dutilleul approuve, parce que la recette lui apparait comme certaine et intéressante.

M. le Président met sa proposition aux voix :

M. Greisch maintient son point de vue.

M.M. Trocmé et Hachet s’associent à ses conclusions.

M. Flinois, hésitant, finit par se rallier à la proposition de rejet.

M. le Président, M.M. Braun, Dutilleul, Mailliet, Petit and Tricoteaux sont d’avis d’accepter les offres faites, sous réserve que toutes les précautions nécessaires seront prises et que la somme de 25.000 dollars sera garantie.

La proposition est ainsi adoptée par 6 voix contre 4.

M. le Maire annonce la nomination de M. Guiffrey au grade d’officier de la Légion d’Honneur. Il propose au Bureau de lui adresser ses félicitations.

La motion est adoptée a l’unanimité.

M. le Président est chargé de faire le nécessaire.

La séance est levée à 16 heures.

Le Secrétaire,             Le Président

/s/                                /s/


Copie d’une lettre de protestation contre la séance du 17 oct :

St Quentin, le 19 octobre 1927

A Monsieur le Président

du Bureau de l’Ecole De La Tour.

Monsieur le Président,

Les Soussignés, Membres du Bureau de l’Ecole De La Tour, se voient, à leur grand regret, dans l’obligation de protester contre la décision prise dans la Séance du 17 octobre 1927.

Ils estiment en effet que le texte de la convocation ne permettrait nullement aux Administrateurs de se rendre compte de l’objet de la réunion et de son extraordinaire importance, tandis qu’il aurait dû au contraire les mettre à même de réfléchir à l’avance à la question qui leur serait posée et permettre à ceux qui ne pourraient assister à la Séance de formuler par écrit leur avis. Dans les conditions où elle a été préparée et prise, la décision du 17 Octobre 1927 leur apparaît comme irrégulière et frappée de nullité ; ils font toutes réserves à cet égard.

Ils ne veulent donc pas entrer pour le moment dans la discussion des détails de l’opération projetée. Mais ils doivent dès maintenant déclarer qu’en ce qui les concerne et sans que d’ailleurs leur opinion puisse être à aucun titre considérée comme un blâme à l’égard de ceux de leurs collègues qui ne pensent pas comme eux, ils estiment que le Bureau de l’Ecole, gardien des Pastels De La Tour dont aucun dédommagement pécuniaire ne pourrait compenser la détérioration ou la perte, ne saurait sans outrepasser ses droits et méconnaître ses devoirs, autoriser l’exportation au-delà des mers d’une partie du Trésor artistique dont il a la garde.

Ils vous demandent, Monsieur le Président, de vouloir bien faire insérer leur protestation à la suite du procès-verbal de la Séance du 17 octobre et vous prient de croire à l’assurance de leur considération la plus distinguée.

Signé : J. Blondet, René Jourdain, P. Barbare, Fréderic Hugues , Honoré


Réponse de M. le Sous-Préfet, Président.

Sous-Préfecture de St Quentin.    21 octobre 1929


J’ai l’honneur de vous accuser réception de votre lettre du 19 courant, par laquelle vous élevez une protestation contre la décision prise par le Conseil d’Administration de l’Ecole de dessin De La Tour, dans sa séance du 17 octobre courant.

Il ne m’est pas possible d’accepter que la réunion en question soit qualifiée d’irrégulière, et d’illégale la décision qui a été prise à la majorité des voix des membres présents.

En effet, les convocations pour « cette réunion indiquée comme « exceptionnelle » ont été adressées dans les délais normaux, et si l’ordre du jour ne portait que la mention « Communication de M. le Directeur du Metropolitan Museum de New-York », c’est qu’il n’est pas coutume de faire un long exposé écrit du sujet à traiter pour permettre aux membres du Conseil d’Administration de « réfléchir à l’avance à la question qui leur serait posée. »

Par ailleurs, l’importance de l’objet à l’ordre du jour paraissait suffisamment établie par la nécessité de convoquer « exceptionnellement » le Conseil d’Administration pour cet unique objet.

Je regrette donc vivement que, comme nos autres collègues, vous n’ayez pas cru devoir assister à la séance au cours de laquelle les avantages de l’opération ont fait, ainsi que les inconvénients qu’elle pouvait présenter, l’objet de longs débats.

Par ailleurs, en raison du parfait accord qui a toujours existé entre les membres du Conseil d’Administration et de la courtoisie qui n’a jamais cessé de régner dans les rapports de ses membres entre eux, il n’apparaît pas qu’il fût nécessaire d’invoquer l’irrégularité de la réunion et l’illégalité de la décision prise pour obtenir que l’affaire subît un nouvel examen. Aussi, ne vous dissimulerai-je pas qu’il m’eût été plus agréable de recevoir vos amicales critiques que votre lettre officielle de protestation.

Quoi qu’il en soit, celle-ci sera inscrite in-extenso, à la suite du procès-verbal de la séance du 17, ainsi que vous en manifestez le désir.

J’ajoute que, considérant comme possible que des protestations s’élevassent, je n’ai pris jusqu’à ce jour aucun engagement envers M. le Directeur du Metropolitan Museum. La question reste donc entière et sera discutée à nouveau à la prochaine réunion qui aura lieu vraisemblablement le jeudi 3 novembre et à laquelle je vous serais reconnaissant de vouloir bien cette fois assister.

Une convocation ultérieure sera adressée aux membres du Conseil d’Administration.

Veuillez agréer, Messieurs, l’expression de ma considération distinguée.

Le Sous-Préfet,

Président du Conseil d’Administration

de l’Ecole de dessin De La Tour,

Signé: M. Mathieu.

Séance du 3 novembre 1927

Le Bureau d’Administration de l’Ecole De La Tour s’est réuni au siège habituel de ses déliberations le jeudi 3 nov. 1927 à 14h½ sous la présidence de M. Maurice Mathieu, Sous-Préfet.

Etaient présents : M.M. Barbare, Blondet, Braun, Bucquet, Dutilleul, Flinois, Greisch, Hachet, Honoré, Hugues, Jourdain, Lhomme, Petit, Tricoteaux et Trocmé.

M. le Président donne la parole à M. Flinois, secrétaire perpétuel pour la lecture du procès-verbal de la séance extraordinaire du 17 octobre dernier qui est adopté sans observation.

M. le Président déclare ensuite qu’après la réunion du 17 octobre, une lettre de protestation déposée par M.M. Barbare, Blondet, Honoré, Hugues et Jourdain lui est parvenue concernant ladite réunion. Il en donne lecture ainsi que de la réponse qu’il y a faite et demande que toutes deux soient transcrites au registre des délibérations à la suite du procès-verbal de la séance du 17 oct. Il en est ainsi décidé. M. le Président ajoute que le Bureau étant au complet, il lui serait agréable d’avoir son opinion pour le cas où une exposition des pastels dans une autre ville serait à envisager.

Il fait observer que le testament du Chevalier De La Tour autorise le Bureau à vendre les pastels sous certaines conditions, que pour les vendre, il faut les exposer et par conséquent les faire sortir. Il ajoute que cependant le testament contient une restriction en ce qui concerne le prêt des tableaux en ville qu’il ne permet pas. Ceci posé, il ajoute : « Il résulte de cela que le Bureau a incontestablement le droit d’expatrier momentariément les pastels si l’intérêt de l’Ecole est en jeu. Mais a-t-il le droit de les exposer aux risques inhérents à un voyage au-dela des mers ? Le récent naufrage du Mafalda m’embarrasse beaucoup pour répondre. D’autre part, 25.000 dollars, si tentants soient-ils, sont-ils suffisants pour justifier un tel risque ? Nous avons tous le même désir : conserver le trésor dont nous avons la garde et aussi faire entrer dans la Caisse de la Société les sommes dont elle a tant besoin pour achever son œuvre de reconstitution. Comment concilier tout cela ? Je pourrais m’en tenir aux décisions récemment prises et passer outre à la protestation ; le quorum était atteint puisque, par 6 voix contre 4, l’envoi des pastels à New-York avait été décidé ; mais je préfère reprendre la question pour ne pas être accusé de l’avoir tranchée à la légère.

Avons-nous le droit moral de courir le risque ? Je ne vous cacherai pas qu’à la rénuion du Conseil d’Administration de la Societé des Amis du Musée De La Tour, qui a eu lieu au Louvre, sur 15 membres, 10 au moins étaient tout d’abord opposants à l’exposition à New-York. Ce n’est qu’après avoir entendu M. Guiffrey, qu’il a changé d’avis. J’ai voulu prendre d’autres conseils, celui de M. de Camondo entr’autres qui nous a déclaré que 25.000 dollars, c’était insuffisant, qu’il en faudrait au moins 100.000 !

Quoi qu’il en soit, la question qui se posait il y a 15 jours ne se pose plus aujourd’jui, car j’ai reçu de New-York une communication m’informant qu’il est impossible de former un comité qui puisse garantir la somme convenue.

En conséquence, je considère l’incident comme clos. Mais si le Conseil d’Administration veut profiter de ce qu’il est au complet pour examiner la question, je suis prêt à ouvrir la discussion.


Frago Fragen: fraglos or farrago?

[See 29 July 2020 and 6 January 2021 postscripts at end of this piece.]

Vincent Noce’s article in today’s Gazette Drouot concerns the vexed question of a group of drawings which relate to a multivolume Histoire de la maison de Bourbon published (the relevant volumes, 2 and 3, in 1776 and 1782) by the prince de Condé’s librarian, Joseph-Louis Ripault-Desormeaux, recently acquired by the Louvre, 14 of which are attributed to Fragonard. I’m going to assume that you have read his article as well as the scholarly analysis published in the Revue de l’art last October by Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey. You can also consult the entries in the Dictionary of pastellists for Fragonard and for Lemonnier (not that they will tell you much: I’ve listed them in short form, without J numbers or attribution status codes). Here is a link to the Louvre press release. And it may be handy to have a link to the engravings as published, here. But if you want to know what the row is about, here is an accepted pastel by Fragonard (private collection):

Fragonard Enfant

And here is one of the drawings attributed to Fragonard in the Louvre’s acquisition:


Can they really be by the same hand?

Spoiler alert: I don’t know. As you can see from the Dictionary entries, I haven’t reached a view. That is because I have been unable to examine them in person, and because all but two of the photographs supplied by the Louvre are completely inadequate for any reliable assessment to be made; those in the Revue de l’art are also of low resolution.

What is clear is that the gap between the accepted Fragonard (which may not be to everyone’s taste, but that is another matter entirely) and some at least of these drawings is big enough for there to need to be a compelling and consistent narrative to explain their creation. Xavier Salmon, quoted in Noce’s article, promises an “exposition dossier” next year: if it is to succeed it must I think provide coherent answers to the questions that arise.

One group or two?

The first question is whether the four sheets attributed to Lemonnier have the same full provenance as the 14 “Fragonards”. If so, why did Dupuy-Vachey not mention them – or was she not shown them? If they are in identical “chemises”, taken from the same album, executed on the same paper and in the same technique, doesn’t that point to their being by the same hand? And since the “Lemonniers” relate to prints expressly after Lemonnier that would be awkward for the attribution of the other 14. So the 14-Fragonard theory requires a material difference between these 4. As Noce’s article makes clear, opinion is divided as to the degree of stylistic homogeneity within the 14. Note also that only five of these are “anchored” to prints “after” Fragonard.

I assume Salmon’s reference to the acquisition of “dix-neuf feuilles” in his written response to Noce’s question is a simple mistake. Only 18 are disclosed in the press release.

Material: pastel or chalk?

This might seem a technical question of limited interest, but grisaille pastel is an unusual medium in France at the time: for different artists to adopt it must be improbable, so this goes again to the question of independently created original works by different artists or a homogeneous set of riccordi made by a single hand. One should note that while it is common for engravers to make chalk drawings from paintings from which to prepare their plates for engraving, the chalk used is usually harder (pierre noire or sanguine) so as to provide the necessary precision.

It’s probably worth spelling out the technical distinction here (see my Prolegomena, §iv.4.1.1), particularly since it is virtually impossible to tell with the naked eye whether you have black pastel (ground pigment such as ivory black – pure carbon, filler and binder); a naturally occurring mineral; or an artificially reconstituted soft black chalk (usually containing schist): all three can be soft, friable and leave deposits on touching paper. Spectroscopy can determine the make-up, and crucially the homogeneity of the material used in the 18 sheets.

The analysis of the paper which Salmon refers to will also be relevant, particularly as one sheet apparently bears a 1776 watermark. As one of the engravings (that by Gaucher) is actually dated 1774, if the drawing for that is on the same paper, it cannot be preparatory, even though engraving and drawing are reversed – so why should it be assumed the others are? (The watermark also undermines Dupuy-Vachey’s chronology of 1768–70 for all 14 drawings. In any case even by 1768 Fragonard was a 36-year-old history painter, so any awkwardness in some of the drawings cannot be explained by youth.)


The fundamental problem I have had since the publication last year is that the 14 drawings looked from the reproductions dry, boring and of limited quality. In contrast the only one for which an oil version is known, the comte d’Enghien in Grasse (collection Costa), is so obviously “right”:

Fragonard Francois de Bourbon duc dEnghien hst

So how does one explain the relationship? The press release argues firmly that the oil was not used for the engraving: “cette œuvre peinte offre des variantes avec la gravure…et ne peut donc en être le modèle. Le dessin ne présent en revanche aucune variante.” That seems a strange claim, even allowing for the poor reproduction which may conceal the presence of some details in the drawing, but for example the number of pearls in the hat-band is the same in the oil and print (which I’ve reversed for the purposes of this comparison of details: left to right, drawing/oil/print), and different in the drawing:

Francois de Bourbon 3 versions tete

This analysis however doesn’t solve the problem, as it excluded a simple narrative in which the “pastels” were intermediate engraver’s drawings from Fragonard oil originals.


I should perhaps clarify the slightly cryptic statement in Noce’s article about the provenance. As will be clear the 18 sheets do not cover even all the images published by Desormeaux: the frontispiece by Boucher is missing, as are the drawings related to the engravings after Vincent. So when Dupuy-Vachey suggested (p. 72, n.47: tentatively, while the Louvre seems to have adopted without question) that the 14 sheets corresponded with (“rapprocher”) Lot 4 of the Anisson-Duperron sale in 1795 (“Neuf portraits d’hommes & femmes, dessinés aux crayons noir & blanc, par Fragonard & Vincent”), I wasn’t completely convinced by the arithmetic (although Lot 2, which included “64 dessins à plume, lavés à l’encre et au bistre, par Fragonard et Vincent” might – who knows – have provided some of the missing originals in a medium more often used by Fragonard). Just after Dupuy-Vachey’s article was published, I decided to look harder, and I discovered (in December) what is now accepted by Dupuy-Vachey and the Louvre as a critical additional provenance: the album with all 14 sheets, possibly the four Lemonniers as well, and several more, were in the Lamy sale in 1808, as Lot 5225: 25 drawings by Boucher and Fragonard, of which 21 by Fragonard. Even if all the Lemonniers were misattributed to Fragonard, there are still some missing; Boucher is thought just to have produced the frontispiece early in the series. (Lot 5224 does not seem to match Lot 2 in the 1795 sale.) By the time of the Bignon sale in 1848, only 19 Fragonards remained (given erroneously to his son).

My view is that the Lamy sale is an alternative, not an additional, provenance to Anisson-Duperron, and that it is most likely that Lamy acquired the drawings directly from the draughtsman or -men, increasing the likelihood that these were riccordi for a personal collection.

Pierre-Michel Lamy (1752-p.1829), libraire, 21 quai des Augustins, was active as a publisher of genealogical works such as La Chesnaye des Bois. He took over the Prault publishing business based at that address, and it is perhaps more than a coincidence that living in that building was also the artist Jean-Marie Ribou, until his rather hasty marriage in October 1777 (just a few weeks before his daughter was born: his wealthy wife “non commune en biens” subsequently lived apart). Although Ribou was the son of an actor, his grandfather, uncles etc. were all Parisian booksellers. Ribou you will recall is responsible for the Chantilly series of small oil portraits of the members of the house of Bourbon (some using the same images as the present group) which were long assumed also to be by Fragonard until documentation identified the virtually unknown peintre du prince de Condé, notably a letter from Desormeaux to d’Angiviller (quoted, with the detailed background, in the 1958 Seligman article). This explains the prince de Condé’s project and his selection of Ribou. As it happens, his version of the comte d’Enghien follows the drawing, not the oil or print, at least for the pearls in the hat-band.


Of course I’m not proposing Ribou as the artist of the Louvre sheets (I know no example of a pastel by him, and the oils seem too “flou” to support the attribution); nevertheless the proximity of the circumstances suggests that a deeper look into this than a mere footnote may be worthwhile.

Stylistic analysis

As I’ve said above I cannot reach a firm view about this series without at the least seeing far better images of 12 of the “Fragonards” and all four “Lemonniers”. What I can say is that the images of the comte d’Enghien and Louis Ier, prince de Conde sufficed to show that the drawings were of far higher quality than the small reproductions had suggested: there was more freedom and vigour in the use of the chalk and bold highlights which may after all be “right”.

There were also some idiosyncracies which I think may provide clues as to attribution, particularly if the Louvre exhibition can show us similar examples. Among these I would note the treatment of the mouths: not only are the outer forms of the lips compressed into a bizarre zig-zag shape, but even the horizontal line of the lips joining shows the same distortion, a feature which I think is extremely uncommon. Does it appear in any other Fragonard portraits? Is it present in the Lemonniers (I can’t see from the minute thumbnails, but it may be). Perhaps this is no more than an idea Fragonard may have developed of a genetic Bourbon malformation.

There also seem to be oddities in the placement of the catchlights in the eyes, contradicting the apparent sources of light. As to why some of the drawings are really very dull, perhaps this is down to the lack of interest Fragonard might have had in the project. Unlike his brilliant fantasy figures in oil, here he had to please a prince with delusions of historical accuracy and a dry librarian.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps, even if all 14 sheets are pastels by Fragonard, they are just not right for the Louvre. Perhaps the test should be to imagine how they would fare had they been included in Xavier Salmon’s 2018 exhibition of the Louvre’s pastels, drawn from the greatest collection in the world – but from which Fragonard was absent. Where would they have ranked? Is it the place art history now generally assigns to him, or not really what he deserves?

As the artist’s grandson put it, Gens, honorez Fragonard!

Postscript (29 July 2020)

I am pleased to say that a series of high resolution images have just been made available on the website of Jean-Luc Baroni & Marty de Cambiaire, from this page. They are accompanied by an excellent write-up by Laurie Marty de Cambiaire, here, which answers some (if not all) of the questions raised above. It is now clear that the four Lemonnier sheets are by a different hand, and essentially irrelevant to the attribution of the 14 sheets given to Fragonard. This latter group does indeed demonstrate a very wide range of achievement, both among those which were engraved and those not (several – e.g. saint Louis; Blanche – are so feeble and so unlike the known Fragonard œuvre that it is difficult to accept them). Nevertheless all appear to be by one hand. Some (e.g. Beaujeu; Bayard) of them demonstrate a bold and free handling of which no one but Fragonard could be suspected. To take just one passage, who but Fragonard could have depicted the flesh of old age as, in Shakespearean terms, melted, thawed and resolved:


If the technique itself has no direct parallels in Fragonard’s work, isn’t Beaujeu sufficiently close to what he might be expected to have done that, together with the inescapable logic of the letters on the engravings, the attribution should  be accepted, and I think applied to the whole group?

This is Frago en Protée.

Postscript (6 January 2021)

A different view is taken by Jean-Pierre Cuzin (“De Fragonard à Vincent, une postface”, Revue de l’art, 209, 2020/3), who argues that five of the drawings (those specifically linked to engravings after Fragonard) are non-autograph copies after Fragonard, and the remaining drawings Dupuy-Vachey attributed to him are by François-André Vincent. This of course is a different attack than the argument that others have voiced, that the drawings are simply not very good; Cuzin is a powerful advocate for Vincent’s talents.

However the medium is at least as unexpected in Vincent as it is in Fragonard, and an argument that depends on Vincent’s style as it most closely approaches Fragonard’s (and appears only in oils and wash drawings by Vincent) is unlikely to convince sceptics. This approach it seems to me is particularly tricky as the division Cuzin makes into 5 weak copies after Fragonard projects (of which the Grasse oil is the only autograph version to have survived) and 9 ones worthy of Vincent’s hand lumps into the latter group two of the weakest drawings in the group, the hopelessly inept figs. 9 and 10a in Dupuy-Vachey’s numbers. To me they are far weaker than any in the 5 Fragonard “copies”. (The condition of those five may have suffered in being used for engraving.)

Of course such judgements are subjective. Cuzin (who avoids directly addressing contributions to the debate since Dupuy-Vachey’s article) raises the question of the 1774/1776 discrepancy (as have I), taking the view that the drawings must have been made simultaneously because of their uniformity of style – so that the one relating to a 1774 engraving must postdate it. But I don’t see this as conclusive; people can draw in the same style 2 years later.

The invocation of lot 4 in the 1795 sale (as evidence that these drawings were then thought to be by Vincent and Fragonard) is also inconclusive, since (as I argued) the Lamy record which I discovered (and is now generally accepted as the provenance of the Louvre drawings) probably doesn’t match lot 4, not least because there were only 9 portraits in that lot.

There remain however further awkward points.

Cuzin doesn’t really explain why all 14 drawings are using the same type of pastel (or artificial crayon, if it is that: Cuzin repeats my doubts but doesn’t say what the discussion is about, i.e. the rareness of this material and the improbability of different draughtsmen adopting it). He doesn’t explain why there is no other example of Vincent, a prolific draughtsman, using this type of medium. Fragonard used pastel quite often, just not grisaille.

The Costa oil is the only possible model copied in fig. 20, and indeed it is better than the pastel. But that was arguably because Fragonard was more inspired by the freedom of oil. The visual analysis certainly doesn’t prove that the pastel was a stepping stone to the engraving, so why were the others made?

We can I think agree, after an extensive examination of all the drawings and prints, that logic alone won’t solve this problem.

Ultimately it comes down to subjective connoisseurship. All Cuzin’s parallels are in oil, and I don’t find them conclusive. There’s no example I know where he uses chalk to achieve fluidity. On the contrary, the reason I changed my mind about this group was when I saw a good photo of Beaujeu, fig. 15, and realised how close the treatment was to Fragonard’s pastel of Sophie (see comparison above).

La Tour’s abbé Deschamps

La Tour Deschamps Louvre RF29765

Catalogues raisonnés are in effect narratives, telling a story of how a work of art was created, more or less convincingly. They may on occasion offer alternative endings, but for the most part the convention requires the narrative to proceed in a simple historical progression (at least for each work: I have written before about whether the collection of such narratives for each picture may, in the case of a portraitist, not be more conveniently ordered differently, since no one expects readers to read the whole book at once). The result then offers the solution to a puzzle which is often more compellingly told as the historical events were unearthed in the present day rather than as they unfolded at the time. So without more apology let me give you an alternative account of the catalogue entry you will find for the fine portrait by La Tour now in the Louvre (above; J.46.162 in the numbering system used in my catalogue) of the abbé Claude-Charles Deschamps (?1699–1779), bachelier de Sorbonne, prêtre, chanoine et regnaire de l’église cathédrale de Laon.

La Tour Deschamps David Weill BW97 f80You’ll find virtually nothing about him in the La Tour literature published before 1922/23, when suddenly an unknown “pastel par Maurice Quentin de La Tour” (left; J.46.1622) appeared. The only prior mention is in La Tour’s 1768 will (published by Maurice Tourneux in 1904) of “mon cousin Deschamps, chanoine à Laon”. There is no mention of Deschamps, for example, in any contemporary or subsequent biography of La Tour. By 1923, La Tour had become one of the great names in the saleroom, the dramatic prices achieved at the Doucet sale in 1912 having rehabilitated him to the top table. Even immediately after the war his value was huge: Wildenstein sold the président de Rieux in 1919 for 1.2 million francs (perhaps £3 million in today’s money, although the purchaser became bankrupt before payment was made).

The sale itself (Paris, Drouot, Baudoin, 16 March 1923, Lot 86 bis) was a little unusual: it was a single lot with its own catalogue (copies are very scarce, and not available online at the time of writing, but I’ve obtained a photocopy), presented by Baudoin and Martini, at the end of another sale.[1] The vendor (of this lot alone) was disclosed as “Mme veuve R…, de Douai”, and the catalogue contained some interesting details. The work was presented as “Portrait de Monseigneur Claude-Charles DESCHAMPS, Chanoine de Laon, cousin germain de M. Q. de La Tour”: we discuss the wording further below, but it derives from a handwritten label on the back, which read “Mr Deschamps, chanoine de Laon, cousin germain de Mr Delatour, le Peintre” and which has subsequently been lost.[2] The catalogue then offered some biographical details, provided by Lucien Broche, conservateur des Archives du département de l’Aisne:

Messire Claude-Charles Deschamps testa le 20 août 1779 et mourut peu après dans sa maison claustrale de l’ancienne rue des Prêtres, à Laon rue Sainte-Geneviève, … Le mobilier du défunt fut vendu, du 27 au 31 janvier et du 1er au 7 février, par le Greffier en chef du Chapitre de la cathédrale.

The reproduction in the catalogue is unusual in revealing that this loose sheet had been mounted in the manner of a drawing rather than a pastel, in a style that looks as though it had recently been done:

Pages from Mme R Douai Par16.iii.1923

The 1923 catalogue also mentions that the pastel had been shown in the Louvre from August to October the previous year, included in the exhibition of La Tour pastels from Saint-Quentin repatriated from Maubeuge where they had been taken by the Germans and awaiting the reopening of the musée Antoine-Lécuyer.[3] Uncatalogued, the exhibition included only two other La Tour pastels not from Saint-Quentin: two masterpieces belonging to the Galerie Cailleux, then also on the art market.

The pastel, estimated at 12,000 francs, sold for 13,500 to the dealer Jules Féral, and soon after was acquired by the legendary collector and philanthropist David David-Weill. (At his sale in 1959, it was bought for a mere £900 by Harry G. Sperling, president of the New York dealers F. Kleinberger & Co. Five years later it was bought by Dorothy Braude Edinburg, a collector of prints, drawings and ceramics. The daughter of Harry and Bessie Braude and wife of Joseph Edinburg, an executive at the hardware firm in Boston of which her father had been president, she donated more than 1500 works to The Art Institute of Chicago, including this, in 1998.)

By 1926 the palaeographer and archivist Charles Samaran (presumably following a request to research Deschamps, perhaps from David-Weill – that isn’t clear) made some enquiries of Lucien Broche (unpublished correspondence, bibliothèque de l’Institut de France), but Broche, after checking with Charles Sorin, the archivist at Laon, was unable to locate Deschamps’s will or the other Deschamps documents from the bailliage de Vermandois which had been lost during the German occupation. (We shall see below why this doesn’t greatly matter.)

Despite sending a dozen works from his own collection to the famous 1927 exhibition of Pastels français du XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (of the organising committee of which he was chairman), David-Weill did not lend this pastel. Instead a second version (the one now in the Louvre) had mysteriously appeared. It belonged to the artist (and son of a piano maker), Bernard Wolff (1860–1949), whose sister later bequeathed it to the Louvre. According to information provided by Élie Fleury to the authors of the 1927 catalogue, this pastel had been found at a “château du Boulonnais” by “un commissaire-priseur de Douai”; the date on which Wolff had acquired it was not given, but the pastel seems never to have passed through public sale.

Paul Jamot published both versions in a review of the exhibition in the Bulletin de l’art ancien et moderne in 1927:

Pages from Jamot 1927 La_Revue_de_l'art_ancien

By then the David-Weill version had been reframed, more convincingly. Jamot struggled to explain the relationship between the two portraits: it was clear that they were the same image, and that the smaller sheet couldn’t really be regarded as a préparation for the Wolff pastel. Although La Tour often made different versions using varied techniques, these usually followed the trajectory from préparation to finished work. Jamot, comparing the two versions with the other La Tours in the exhibition, saw the Louvre version as the outlier, failing to note how much later it was in the artist’s œuvre. Modern photographs of the detail of the face make the differences even clearer:

La Tour Deschamps comparison

The evident difference in handling Jamot suggested might be explained by wear in the David-Weill version: but this isn’t particularly evident (although of course extensive later restoration might be an explanation). Suzanne Folds McCullough, as recently as 2006, sought instead to resolve the puzzle by dating the Chicago sheet to 1779 – ignoring the fact that if anything, the abbé looks younger in that version, and the 1768 of the Louvre version is practically at the end of La Tour’s activity. The particular difficulty is that there is no coherent narrative in which La Tour would do two such different, finished portraits at the same time: and yet the fall of light, shadows etc. show these to be versions of a single image.

But the real point was that while the Louvre pastel is a work of extraordinary boldness and virtuosity, the David-Weill sheet is relatively lifeless and passive. In my view this is because it may be a copy; it attracted attention in 1923 because the original was unknown (and because La Tour is such a formidable artist that a good copy of his work, made by someone evidently familiar with his earlier technique, can fetch a powerful punch, even if it is knocked out by confrontation with the original), and, once accepted and acquired by an illustrious collector, no one had (or has had until now) the courage to draw the obvious conclusion.

Ultimately this is a question of connoisseurship.[4] Many will not accept my personal opinion, which dissents from the views of other writers (up to and including the 2018 Louvre pastel catalogue, where the Chicago sheet was reproduced as by La Tour without qualification). And I can see that there are arguments in its favour – the strongest being that it is not an accurate copy of the Louvre pastel. But I wonder whether the Chicago version would have had unanimous support had it emerged after the Louvre version was known. Readers of this blog are of course invited to offer their own views which I will receive with interest.

There are two objective facts that may help my view gain wider acceptance.

Firstly, no one seems to have noticed the extraordinary coincidence of the two versions both passing through Douai, when there is no obvious connection between the sitter and his family and that town during the sitter’s lifetime or immediately following period. Had the two versions always been together in the same family, I think we would have been told. But the Louvre sheet came from a chateau in Le Boulonnais, quite far away from Douai where the commissaire priseur who handled it lived, and where the Chicago sheet originated with the untraceable “Mme veuve R…, de Douai”.

The second point is that the inscription on the David-Weill version (which was said to be in a contemporary hand) identifies the sitter as La Tour’s “cousin germain” (first cousin). This has subsequently infiltrated the literature, and is repeated in all sources including Salmon’s 2018 Louvre catalogue. But it isn’t true. As I demonstrated in 2016, Deschamps was in fact La Tour’s second cousin: he was the son of Denis Deschamps, maître écrivain à Laon, and Anne-Françoise Caton. The connection to La Tour was through Caton’s mother, Marguerite Garbe, whose sister Marie married the pastellist’s grandfather Jean de La Tour in 1669 (you can enlarge images on this blog by clicking on them):


La Tour himself described him only as “mon cousin”, in the 1768 will, a term he uses in the broad sense. So the writer of that inscription made a guess that at the very least puts him at some remove from the immediate family. The suspicion arises (which, now it has vanished, may be unverifiable) that the inscription is a much later addition (reinforced by the phrase “Delatour, le Peintre”).

And so even the question of the date of the Chicago sheet seems to me open. It may be that scientific studies of the paper and materials might yield an answer, although (even if my suspicions are well founded) a copy of this quality is likely to have been made with carefully chosen media. (Pigment analysis in pastels is much less advanced than in oil painting, and most materials used in the early twentieth century were also in use in the eighteenth.)

Turning now to the beautiful work in the Louvre (at the top of this post), there is no question about its authenticity (pace Jamot). It has been the subject of conservation in 2004 and 2013 (by Valérie Luquet, Marianne Bervas and Sophie Chavanne) and a detailed technical report was compiled in 2014 by Pascal Labreuche, noting among many other things the relatively modest materials used, and even the small droplets of fixative which are still evident on the surface.

As I have discussed in previous blogs and in my catalogue entry, the discussion in the Louvre 2018 exhibition catalogue where it was most recently shown failed to take note of my 2016 genealogy (or of the other new points in this post). It also offered no provenance for the Louvre pastel before the acquisition by the commissaire priseur de Douai as reported by Fleury beyond the assertion that it had been the “propriété du modèle”. That was presumably inferred from the inscription on the back, to which we return below, but it may well be that the search for provenance (to resolve the claims of the two versions) was what motivated the 1926 enquiries by Charles Samaran mentioned above.

It is also worth noting that La Tour preserved his contacts with members of his extended family throughout his life. When the artist’s much-loved brother Charles died (3 July 1766), La Tour was out of the country (in Holland), and Deschamps signed the burial entry at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. He was, as noted above, mentioned in the artist’s 1768 will, the same year in which the portrait was executed.

Also mentioned in La Tour’s 1768 will was Deschamps’s sister Marie-Jeanne, Mme Mauclerc, and (like the abbé’s will which Samaran sought without success), her inventaire is actually at the Minutier central in Paris.[5] Mme Mauclerc died in her brother’s house, rue des Prêtres (now Saint-Geneviève), Laon on 22 September 1774 (attended by the abbé, but not by her husband). I have transcribed the inventaire in my chronological table of documents, at 10 January 1775, and it reveals among other family portraits in oil, “un autre petit tableau de forme quarré peint en pastel sous verre le quel représente led. S. abbé deschamps” – surely the Louvre pastel which she had evidently been given during her brother’s lifetime:

Mauclerc inv

Her effects were divided among her siblings. (Here is a link to the Deschamps genealogy.) Deschamps himself died in the same house in Laon, 18 December 1779. In his own will (which I did manage to locate, in the Minutier central in Paris, with certified copies of other documents from Laon), he left everything to his niece Charlotte, Mme Dorison (another La Tour sitter, J.46.1631).

Returning to the rather faded inscription on the back of the Louvre pastel, there are several more puzzles to be solved:

La Tour Deschamps Louvre RF29765 v3

which we transcribe as:

Claudius Carolus Deschamps Presbyter/Sacræ facultatis parisiensis baccalarius theologus/ecclesiæ laudanensis canonicus <mot rayé ou illisible> regnarius/anno ætatis 69/1768/DD Quentin de La Tour, regius pictor academicus, fecit

Whose writing is it? What does it say (in particular what is his age)? What has been erased and why? These difficulties are compounded by the fact that writing with a quill pen on untreated wood with prominent ring patterns is quite tricky: ink runs, and the pen is redirected by the unevennesses. The writing is certainly not La Tour’s own hand. But we do have a number of samples of the abbé’s own writing, as he was curate at Saint-Médard, Agnicourt from 1729 to 1744, and the entries in the parish register are in his hand. I think the fit is good enough to say that the inscription is his with reasonable confidence.

What does it mean? DD is easy enough, Dono Dedit (gave as a present) etc. “Ecclesiae lauanensis canonicus”: chanoine de l’église de Laon. But “regnarius” is a sufficiently unusual term that Jean-François Méjanès transcribed it as “regularis”. In fact “regnarius”, or in French “regnaire” or “renaire” (you won’t find either word in the Dictionnaire de l’Académie francaise), is a specific dignitary at the chapter at Laon, a kind of master of ceremonies (before whom a sort of sceptre was carried in solemn processions), and we know from various documents that Deschamps was Regnarius at Laon by 1774.[6] What I have been unable to establish is precisely when he was elevated to this rank, or whether prior to this he was the “sous regnaire”. There is thus a simple explanation that the erasure is of the word “sous” and occurred on his promotion to the higher position.

Trickier is the question of the dates. 1768 is I think unambiguous, but I’m not so sure that the age preceding this is definitely 69. Nevertheless the entire literature has inferred that the abbé was born in 1699 (simply by subtracting 69 from 1768). The phrase “anno ætatis” is much abused in portraiture, by artists and art historians alike who forget it means “in the [69th] year of his age”, i.e. he was 68 at the time, and so logically (depending on what day in 1768 the portrait was made) could have been born anywhere between 2 January 1699 and 31 December 1700. But is that final digit 9 at all? As you can see from some examples in the abbé’s hand from the Agnicourt parish register, it’s not impossible that he wrote 5, consistent with a birth in 1703/04 (left to right: Louvre inscription; 1735; 29e).

Deschamps digits 69 1735 29

The reason the question has attracted my attention is that his parents, Denis Deschamps and Anne-François Caton, were married in Laon on 19 February 1703:

DeschampsD Marg Caton LaonSRPlace19ii1703

There is no indication that his father had been married before 1703 (although registers are missing for Vailly-sur-Aisne where the Deschamps family originated), and numerous documents explicitly describe Claude-Charles as the “frère germain” of the daughters of Denis and Anne-François Caton (including Noëlle, Mme Augustin Masse and Marie-Jeanne, Mme Pierre-Marie Mauclerc, mother of Mme Dorison); he is also described as a cousin germain in the registre de tutelles for Henry-Pierre Messager, son of Anne-Françoise Caton’s sister. The division of property recited in the inventaire of his sister Mme Mauclerc (1775) makes it quite clear that the abbé was her full brother, while Mme Berthelot (a half-sister by a later mariage of Denis Deschamps) is distinguished as a “sœur consanguine”.

Thus, if the inscription on the Louvre pastel is correctly “ætatis 69”, the abbé was born illegitimately to Denis and Anne-Françoise before their marriage (when Denis remarried in 1739, another child was born less than two months later; but four years before marriage is improbable, particularly since Denis Deschamps and Anne-Françoise lived in different towns before their marriage). If incorrect, his birth was unrecorded (improbable: the record of Anne-Françoise’s annual births at Saint-Cyr, Laon is continuous to the end of 1705). (Incidentally the problem isn’t solved by assuming the abbé had forgotten his own age.)

But there is an alternative, if surprising, explanation: here is the entry for the first child, baptised Claude-Charlotte on 17 November 1703:

Claude Charlotte Deschamps 1703 Laon St Jean

I have found no entry for the death of this girl or any other record of her existence. Is it perhaps possible that the future abbé Claude-Charles was misidentified as a girl at birth? The child was baptised the day of its birth, somewhat hastily (baptisms were most often the day after birth unless the infant looked as though they might not survive until then). Seven out of eight of his siblings were girls. Mistakes of gender at birth were not such an unusual occurrence; in 1731 one of the twin children of Jean-Antoine Philippe, another La Tour subject, was wrongly registered. That would be consistent with a reading of “ætatis 65”.

Whatever the abbé’s age, we can but agree with Jean-François Méjanès who commented of this, the latest of the Louvre’s La Tours, that the restrained palette of the pastel strokes “accentue néanmoins l’intensité expressive du visage sur lequel s’est concentré l’artiste”; the “grande attention” and “profonde humanité” that emerge justify more than any of the other works shown in the La Tour exhibition of 2004 the title of “voleur d’âmes”. Those who visited the Louvre’s pastel exhibition in 2018 will have been able to form their own view (although not perhaps as closely as they might like, as this small jewel was skyed in the hang I have discussed elsewhere).


[1] That of Paul-Émile Rémy-Martin, the second of four sales of the collections that the cognac merchant’s father, Paul-Émile-Rémy Martin (yes the hyphens are in the correct places), had assembled at the château de Lignières.

[2] I am most grateful to the Art Institute of Chicago for confirming this to me, and the absence of any image of the lost label.

[3] See Fleury 1922b; Cabezas 2009a; Prolegomena, §xii.6.

[4] Those of you familiar with the system in the Dictionary will see (from the absence of the Greek letter σ) that I have not inspected the Chicago sheet in person. While I would prefer to do so, the factors I have taken into account in reaching my view are unlikely to be altered by examination de visu.

[5] AN mc lxv/386, 10.i.1775

[6] This is in the power of attorney he granted on 22 October 1774 attached to his sister’s posthumous inventory. In the Bulletin de la Société académique de Laon, 1913, André L’Éleu published a commentary on Fromage de Longueville’s unpublished Entretiens (1765), which contains encrypted satirical portraits of his contemporaries including one “Erophile, chanoine regnaire”, whom L’Éleu identified as Deschamps, but I suspect anachronistically. I have been unable to find detailed records for the chapitre de Laon before 1768.

La Tour’s copyists (2): Anne Féret, Mme Nivelon (1711–1786)

Anne-Baptiste_Nivelon,_Louis_de_France,_dauphin_(1764)The Dictionary of pastellists has limited room for the biographies of copyists who worked in other media. In an earlier post, I explored one of the miniaturists who copied La Tour, and who had escaped attention through obscurity. The same cannot be said of the oil painter “Anne Baptiste Nivelon”: if you search online you’ll immediately find dozens of references to this artist who made excellent oil copies after portraits by La Tour, Van Loo and others. (As they are not in pastel there’s no entry for her in the Dictionary of pastellists.) You’ll also find that nothing is known of her biography, other than that she worked for the Menus plaisirs and was favoured by the dauphine. Thus there are several references to her copies in the 2004 La Tour exhibition catalogue, notably the portrait en pied of the dauphin (above) with its pendant of the dauphine, executed in 1764 for Christophe de Beaumont, archevêque de Paris, and now in Versailles (MV 3793; MV 3797), both after pastels by La Tour. Laurent Hugues discussed her work at length in De soie et de poudre, 2004. There are also large oils of the duc de Belle-Isle (again after La Tour), and a Louis XV after Louis-Michel Van Loo.

That information is readily available and I need not repeat it: but published sources do not disclose her dates, quoting instead floruit 1754-71. All this is summarised in Xavier Salmon’s catalogue of a portrait exhibition at the musée Lambinet (Cent portraits pour un siècle, 2019). For an exhaustive genealogical analysis of the family, including this apparent impasse, I can refer you to this recent document which concluded (in the version online at the time I am writing) that “sa biographie reste étrangement mystérieuse.” Art history has got no further until now.

The pendants of the dauphin and dauphine are signed “Fait par Anne Baptiste Nivelon [l’an] 1764” though it is difficult to make this out in the reproduction. Some further light on these is shed by a curious and slightly puzzling document which was published in 1930, but seems to have been largely overlooked since (you can find it in my Chronological table of documents relating to La Tour, at 1 July 1761). It’s a note from Louis-Marie-Augustin, duc d’Aumont (1709–1782), premier gentilhomme de la Chambre du roi, directing Jean-Jacques Papillon de Fontpertuis (1715–1774), intendant of the Menus plaisirs to have Mlle Nivelon make copies of the La Tour pastels of the dauphin and dauphine.

Mr le duc d’Aumont prie Monsieur de Fontpertuys de faire faire les portraits de Mgr le Dauphin et de Me la Dauphine par la demoiselle Nivelon; elle demeure à Versailles, rue de Satory. Mr de Fontpertuys aura la bonté de faire demander au nommé Latour, concierge de l’Hôtel de Nesles les portraits originaux de M. le Dauphin et de Madame la Dauphine. Ce sont les plus ressemblants qui aient été faits, ils sont en pastel. Il faut les ménager dans le transport.

Ce 1er juillet                         Le duc d’Aumont

La demoiselle Nivelon annonce les portraits finis le 22 décembre

Among other things it tells us that the versions in Versailles made in 1764 were not the first copies Mme Nivelon made. (It also reminds us that the hazards of moving pastels were well understood even then.) But although we know that dukes at this time were apt to call any bourgeoise “Mademoiselle” whether married or not, it adds little to help identify Mme Nivelon beyond the address, rue de Satory, which was already known from Germain Bapst’s Inventaire de Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, dauphine de France, 1883.

I ought perhaps to write this blog as a detective story, planting clues along the way for you to work out, but some of you just want to know the answer. Suffice it to say that, after working through the parish records at Versailles (Saint-Louis), I concluded that the only likely candidate for Mme Nivelon was an Anne Féret who, on 16 January 1741 at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois in Paris, married François Nivelon (1692–1770). The marriage contract, signed two days before (AN MC/ET/VII/263), tells us more:

Contrat de mariage entre François Nivelon, valet de chambre de la maréchale d’Estrées, demeurant à l’hôtel de ladite dame, rue de l’Université, fils majeur de défunts Jean-François Nivelon, peintre du roi, et de Marie-Anne Regnault, et Anne Feret, majeure, demeurant rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre, fille de feu Jean-Baptiste Feret, peintre ordinaire du roi en son académie, et de Marie-Anne Thibert, dressé en présence du comte de Gramont, de la maréchale d’Estrées, de la comtesse de Mailly et de la comtesse de Vintimille qui ont signé.

The contract was under the communauté des biens regime, and the dowry a modest 500 livres. We can amplify François Nivelon’s parentage: his father was also known just as François Nivelon (1663–1733), peintre du roi, born and died in Fontainbleau, and is the painter mentioned in the genealogy above at 1.19. But his second wife’s name was Regnault, not Arnault, and their eldest son François (born in Fontainebleau on 17 August 1692) did in fact survive, to become valet de chambre to the recently widowed maréchale d’Estrées, née Lucie-Félicité de Noailles (1683–1745) and later to her brother, Adrien-Maurice, maréchal-duc de Noailles (1678–1766).

Pursuing further records, notably the marriage in Versailles on 25 April 1765 of their daughter Félicité-Marie-Anne (baptised at Saint-Sulpice on 15 April 1745, so just 20 years old, no doubt a god-daughter of Mme d’Estrées) to Michel Laseigne, a géographe des Bâtiments du roi (aged 44½), the ceremony presided over by Pierre Astoin, chapelain to the queen and the dauphine:


François Nivelon’s death, again in Versailles (paroisse Saint-Louis ), occurred on 17 June 1770, and he was buried the next day; the witnesses included again abbé Astoin:

Nivelon_Francois deces

Nivelon’s death in 1770 explains why the copyist is referred to as la veuve Nivelon in January 1771 when she delivered a copy of Madame Louise en carmélite (MV 6613).

Anne’s own burial entry, still in Versailles, in 1786, again attended not only by her son-in-law, but by Toussaint-François Remond, chef de bureau des Bâtiments du roi (the most senior officer under Montucla, the commis):

NivelonAnne VersaillesStLouis1786

The age of 74 on 16 February 1786 implies a year of birth of most probably 1711 or (much less likely – a one in eight chance) 1712.

Now Anne Féret’s connections with the Bâtiments du roi and relations with painters are all very suggestive (as is the fact that she was widowed between 1764 and 1771), but two obstacles remain to complete proof that she herself was “Anne Baptiste Nivelon”: why would she add a forename that does not appear in any document? And is there any evidence that she wielded a brush?

The answer to both questions emerged from researching her father, Jean-Baptiste Féret, a competent landscape and history painter at the Académie royale (even if the name is today little known: Pierre Rosenberg called him “ce paysagiste méconnu” in his brief entry in the 2005 exhibition catalogue Poussin, Watteau, Chardin, David…): he was agréé 26 February 1707 and reçu 26 October 1709. According to Jal’s biographical dictionary (p. 573), Féret used the soubriquet “Baptiste” on its own, and it seems highly plausible that she added the name (which would have been known in the circles that employed her) in tribute to her father. Féret was born in Evreux c.1665, and on 23 April 1708, in Paris, Saint-Merry, he married a Marie-Anne Thibert. (The witnesses included Louis Galloche. She also came from a family of painters, including her brother Louis-Jacques Thibert, who married the daughter of a Daniel Thierry, maître peintre.) When he died in Paris, 12 February 1739, leaving the then unmarried Anne Féret and her brother, the seals were applied and an inventory taken (AN Y11669). And among the pictures listed were “huit esquisses ébauchées dans leurs cadres de bois, ouvrages de lad. demoiselle Ferret.” There was also a portrait of her father whose authorship is ambiguous. But I think there is no longer any ambiguity about one of La Tour’s best copyists.

Marcel Roethlisberger (1929–2020)

Liotard Studientag_180116_014I’m not sure how many of you have noticed that it’s some ten months since I last posted on this blog. There were several reasons for this, the main one being that I’ve been very focused on my La Tour catalogue, and the surprising discovery I wrote about in my penultimate post (where I revealed that the famous self-portrait of La Tour in Amiens was, it turns out, a copy by a talented pupil) made me feel I should go through a rigorous period of thinking to get my story straight. I’ll shortly get back to using this blog now that I think I have done so.

But the very last post I made was – not for the first time – about Liotard. An artist who today is far more fashionable than La Tour, and with far greater influence measured in academic research or in saleroom prices. It was not so half a century ago. That it happened is largely due to Marcel Roethlisberger, an art historian whose death, at the beginning of March, may have passed unnoticed amid the present worldwide circumstances.

This isn’t the obituary he deserves, and will in due course receive in the proper places, but just some personal observations about this wonderful man whose enthusiasms were so inspirational. Because of the breadth of his interests an obituary would be a challenge to anyone, who, as so many of us do today, specialises in a single topic. The gulf between Claude and Liotard, the two artists with whom Marcel Roethlisberger’s name is instantly associated, belong to completely different worlds. Indeed when he visited my house some fifteen years ago, perhaps expecting to find some pastel I might want to associate with Liotard, I can remember his delight (and perhaps relief) when instead he found an etching by Claude… from an earlier stage in my own collecting interests.

Roethlisberger was born in Zurich in 1929. As a lexicographer I felt a duty when we first met to quiz him about the umlaut and its transformation – not least because it affected where he appeared in my bibliography – and, much to my surprise (most people are passionate about the “correct” spelling of their name), found him hugely relaxed about the matter. He had an enormously broad education – of a kind that students today never enjoy – at the universities of Bern, Cologne, Paris (where he was a pupil of André Chastel), Florence (Roberto Longhi) and Pisa studying economics, law, archaeology and music before specialising in the history of art. That brought him to the Courtauld under Anthony Blunt, 1954–56 (long after my mother). His thesis, awarded by the university of Bern, was on Jacopo Bellini. But it was Blunt, the Poussin specialist, who encouraged his interest in Claude. His two-volume Claude Lorrain: the paintings appeared in 1961. There followed a distinguished career teaching in a number of the most prestigious American universities – Yale, Princeton, UCLA – where he was a full professor by 1968, when he published his catalogue raisonné of Claude’s drawings. Two years later he took up the chair in Geneva. There were several subsequent visiting appointments in the US (Washington, the Getty etc.). He published a major work on Bloemaert in 1993, demonstrating again the breadth of his interests.

But it was his research on Liotard that I knew best. He worked closely on the artist with Renée Loche, who was conservateur at the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva until 1992. Their collaboration was astonishingly fruitful. Perhaps this was in part due to the hands-on interest in the objects themselves which museum curators have deeply ingrained, but which academic art historians occasionally lack. However it developed, Roethlisberger’s work on Liotard was never lost in theory, and never departed from the works of art themselves. Roethlisberger had written briefly about Liotard in an article on Swiss self-portraits in Florence in 1956, while Loche had become focused on Liotard with several exhibitions in Geneva in the early 1970s. But their joint publication, L’opera completa di Liotard, published by Rizzoli in 1978 in the rather limiting format of the Classici dell’arte series, that transformed interest in the artist. It coincided with the first major acquisition, for a very substantial price, by an American museum (Cleveland) of a Liotard pastel, the hugely important portrait of François Tronchin dans son cabinet (below; J.49.2329 in my Dictionary), the forerunner of a number of subsequent purchases of Liotard pastels for previously unheard of prices. (I know Roethlisberger would have had as little interest in such measures as I do, but I know too that many of you will find this strand of interest.)


The old Loche & Roethlisberger was astonishingly useful, but its tiny reproductions didn’t tell the whole story. Conscious of that, and aware too of the explosion of Liotard research (Roethlisberger alone had published a dozen articles since 1978), the new catalogue – this time Roethlisberger & Loche – appeared in 2008 in a format that made up in every way possible for the deficiencies of L&R. I reviewed it in the Burlington Magazine in May 2009, so I won’t comment in detail. But one sentence is perhaps worth repeating:

Though we are reminded that ‘l’art de Liotard dépasse toujours les limites de l’analyse verbale’, it is impossible to read these essays without responding to the authors’ evident love and appreciation of their subject.

In some ways my review was rather severe (in a later note I referred to “the wonderful Roethlisberger & Loche catalogue raisonné (of which I can only say that my admiration increases every time I consult it – a comment I couldn’t really include in my Burlington Magazine review which was published immediately after it appeared)”), but it is a measure of his magnanimity that when I later discussed it with him, Roethlisberger was very happy to follow up all the points I had raised. Our correspondence followed freely as we exchanged discoveries and trouvailles on so many points, a flood of information none of which would have been discovered were it not for the huge advances in L&R and R&L. An update, “Liotard mis à jour”, written with typical generosity, appeared in Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte in 2014 (it deserves to be more widely consulted). It included a typical example of a work which he had once rejected but was prepared to reconsider after a thorough debate which resulted in a more convincing narrative.

In 2018 we were both invited to a study day in Dresden while the gallery was preparing for the Liotard exhibition that took place later that year. The photo above shows us both looking rather carefully at one of the best-loved works of the Swiss master. I can’t think of a better way to share my appreciation of a man who has inspired so many with his scholarship, breadth of culture, openness and humanity.


L’Écriture deciphered

Liotard EcritureThose of you who saw the Liotard exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2015 will not have forgotten one of the finest exhibits – the stunning pastel of a young man writing with a boy in attendance holding a candle.[1] It was sold to Maria Theresia in 1762, ten years after it was painted, and so its permanent home is now Vienna. Its connection with the famous Déjeuner Lavergne (J.49.1795: see my post) of 1754 is obvious, despite the two-year interval between their execution: the visual evidence is overwhelmingly that the latter was conceived as a pendant, and this is confirmed by the advertisement in the London Public advertiser that I reproduced in the earlier post. There is no doubt either that the Déjeuner was executed during a trip to Lyon in 1754 – indeed another Lavergne family portrait was done there in 1746 – as there is other corroborative evidence of Liotard’s visits to his sister and her family: Sara Liotard had married the négociant François Lavergne in Geneva before they settled in Lyon. All this is rehearsed in my previous post, so I won’t repeat it here.

I might add that the abbé Pernetty, whose portrait by Liotard was also made in 1754, returned the compliment by mentioning the artist as well as “Mrs Lavergne, établis ici, & connus par leurs talens” in his Les Lyonnois digne de mémoire (1757, p. 255). The MM. Lavergne were of course François, who died in 1752; his eldest son Jean (1715–1776), also described as a négociant on his burial certificate (most sources incorrectly thought he had died in 1729); and the son shown in L’Écriture, Jacques-Antoine (1724–1781), described as a banquier on his (but the professions were not much different). Although that document gives nothing away, Marie-Félicie Perez published a note in Genava in 1997 with an entry from the unpublished manuscript diary[2] of the abbé Duret in which he reveals that Jacques-Antoine committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window. No one knows why – Perez checked for a declaration of bankruptcy, but could find nothing.

Nor frankly does any of the Liotard literature tell us anything of the biography of this young man. Indeed earlier authors spotting the book whose title, L’Art d’aimer et de plaire, is so carefully shown in the pastel concluded he must be a poet, and identified the sitter as Pierre-Joseph Bernard who published a book called L’Art d’aimer – but failed to notice that it didn’t appear until 1775, and that in 1752 Gentil-Bernard (as he was known) was already 44. (Indeed of Liotard’s two nephews, it is the apparent age of the sitter that identifies him as Jacques-Antoine (28 in 1752) rather than his brother Jean – not dead, but at 36 too old.) Of course that doesn’t mean that Liotard’s sitter didn’t also have literary aspirations: it’s just that, until now, no one has produced any evidence. Was he then just a boring banker?

And as for the boy, predictably described as the nephew’s nephew in some sources, and therefore named Clarence (as the girl in the Déjeuner as previously thought to be), that is far from certain (but it was not impossible that he could be the Pierre Clarenc [sic] who was married in Puylaurens in 1771, but whose age is uncertain). But I’m inclined in this case to believe Liotard when he calls the boy a “laquais”, and I don’t think he’d so describe a member of his family.[2a]

L’Écriture, as the 1752 pastel is known, is signed and dated with the year – but not the place. And while everyone assumes it was made on a trip to Lyon, that might not necessarily be correct. If Jacques-Antoine went to Paris, which he might well have done, then the boy would almost certainly be unrelated. On the other hand, if you think that he is the same child as in the L’Enfant à la bougie (J.49.2441) that I published a few years ago (also reproduced in my Déjeuner post), he probably did come from Lyon, as that pastel was reported (again by the abbé Duret, as spotted by Perez) in 1781 as having previously being bought by Mme de Flesselles for her husband, the intendant de Lyon from 1767 on. Roethlisberger & Loche inferred from the subject matter that it might belong to the period of L’Écriture, and with the image I found I concur. So it’s possible that it was left with the Lavergne family in Lyon and it was only disposed of between 15 and 30 years later.

So far virtually everything I’ve repeated here is known – and it’s not very much. The diary of Jean-Jacques Juventin which I recently added as a postscript to my Déjeuner post talks only about the Lavergne ladies, and tells us nothing of the men. Nor, despite its usual encyclopaedic coverage, does Lüthy (La Banque protestante…) even mention the firm. There’s a tiny snippet in a letter[3] from Louis-Michel Vanloo’s sister, Marie-Anne Vanloo Berger, from Paris, 20 April 1757, to his partners Antoine Rey and Barthélemy Magneval, merchants in Lyon, describing how she had missed M. Lavergne who had called that morning, and promising if he returned to receive him as well as she could as he was their friend. At least this proves that Lavergne travelled to Paris occasionally – but that is hardly surprising for a négociant.

But I recently noticed a source which as far as I can see has been completely overlooked in the Liotard literature: Voltaire’s correspondence.[4]

There are no Voltaire letters directly to the Lavergnes, but several to his other friends give their name (as “Lavergne père et fils” etc. – no first names ever appear) as an accommodation address. But there are two letters with specific information. In one (8 May 1773) to Joseph Vesselier, a poet and writer whose day-job was with the Lyon post office, Voltaire noted that “un de ces Lavergne … joue parfaitement la comédie”. In a letter to Trudaine de Montigny (12 April 1776), then travelling to Nice, he adds more:

J’avais un ami genevois qui s’appelle Lavergne, excellent auteur, dit on, dans les comédies de société. Il était malade à Lyon et désespérait de sa vie, il est allé à Nice et y a recouvré la santé. Je ne sais s’il y est encore, et s’il a eu le bonheur de vous faire sa cour.

Tantalisingly Voltaire doesn’t identify which of the Lavergne men this amateur actor, writer and invalid might have been. Was it our Jacques-Antoine, or his elder brother Jean?

To answer that I found another report – a 1773 account of the health-giving properties of the thermal waters not at Nice, but at Aix, by the celebrated doctor Joseph Daquin (who was best known for his work in psychiatry). Here it is in full, although the crucial part is the age: Jacques-Antoine would have been 48 or so, near enough 50, while his brother was eight years older:



From the age I infer that this was more likely the younger brother. The condition described was severe enough to merit Voltaire’s description of a man despairing of life, particularly if after the cure the symptoms returned. That rather than financial failure might well have led to his suicide.

But Voltaire’s description has even more pertinent information that goes directly to the pastel: the writer is indeed a writer. The sense of intelligence with which he ponders his material is real. If any of his work was ever published it was certainly not under his own name, but his interests were plainly in plays. What then can we make of the carefully planted copy of L’art d’aimer et de plaire, hitherto assumed to be purely fanciful?

M119_02_R118_163rI had previously identified it as the subtitle of a play called Zélide, but that was only published in 1755 and the dates still don’t quite work. It was written by one Jean-Julien-Constant Rénout, who was secrétaire du duc de Gesvres (the duc had commissioned Pierre Mérelle to copy Liotard’s portraits of the royal princesses in 1751). But although not premiered until 1755,[5] there was apparently an earlier performance of Zélide at the comte de Clermont’s château de Berny, probably by an amateur cast. (Liotard’s pastel of the comte de Clermont was recorded in the artist’s posthumous inventory.) It is of course sheer speculation, but might Jacques-Antoine, who played “parfaitement la comédie”, have had an advance manuscript copy for amateur use?

[1] L’Écriture is J.49.1763 in the online Dictionary of pastellists, where as usual full details can be found (just put the J number into the search box and follow the link to the pdf).

[2] In the municipal library at Lyon.

[2a] [Postscript:] I am grateful to Chris Bryant who has pointed out that the boy’s coat, with its braided edging, is servant’s livery.

[3] Georges Guigue, Vanloo négociant, 1902, p. 24.

[4] The easiest way to consult this is via the Electronic Enlightenment website, so the dates alone will find the passages I mention. One of Voltaire’s correspondents was the pasteur Jacques Vernes (also a friend of Rousseau) who married Jacques-Antoine’s 18-year-old niece Marie-Françoise Clarenc in 1759; she died later that year.

[5] To a mixed reception: in a letter from Claude-Pierre Patu to David Garrick written from Passy, 23 August 1755, he notes that it had “Assez d’esprit, peu de justesse, style haché, mauvais tour de vers.” The extract from the Comédie-Française’s register show the receipts for the double bill on 26 June 1755.


Super omnes docentes se intellexit…

La Tour Auto Amiens ScaledThose are the words inscribed on the old frame of the famous La Tour Autoportrait au jabot now in Amiens (left). They are not directly from Psalm 119 (no. 118 in the Vulgate), but from St Augustine’s commentary, where the authorial voice (“me intellexi”) is turned into the third person. The King James version of verse 99 is: “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.”

I’ve been meditating quite a lot about this picture (and some testimonies about it) in the context of preparing my La Tour catalogue. The standard approach is to lock yourself away for many years and release the final product on paper. I’m trying to do this differently, sharing the work as I go, as you can find in the various documents on my website indexed from here. Sometimes I release a fairly final version (corrections are always welcome!) of my thinking, as in my recent entry on the portrait of Mme de Pompadour, which perhaps I should have shared on this blog. But the present portrait (or rather, group of versions of it) raises many issues which I haven’t fully resolved, and so the blog is the best possible way to share the puzzles and open the discussion before I go nap on the definitive cataloguing. You’ll see why if you read to the end. As much of the intermediate workings are rather detailed, skip straight to the end if you want.

Everyone will be aware that there are several versions of the Autoportrait au jabot (and at least ten later copies that make no further appearance in this post are listed in my online Dictionary of pastellists in the La Tour self-portraits article), and that one of them was supposed to be the one La Tour exhibited at the Salon in 1750 when he tricked his younger rival by placing it next to the pastel of La Tour himself that Perronneau had made – probably (or itself perhaps a version of) the pastel now in Saint-Quentin:

Perronneau La Tour SQ

Too much has already been written on the respective merits of the two portraits. But while the mirror compositions suggest that the La Tour self-portrait, of all the known types, was surely that “au jabot” (rather than say the “oeil-de-bœuf” or “chapeau en clabaud” etc. types); that the specific work was that in Amiens (reproduced at the top of this post: no. J.46.1128) has rather been deduced from the fact that it is larger than the other versions assumed to be autograph, those in the musée Cognacq-Jay (J.46.113: left below) and in the Norton Simon Museum (J.46.1132: right below). Horridly I’m going to refer to these pastels as Amiens, CJ and NS.

This isn’t assisted by some erroneous conflations and confusions in the literature, so that, for example, Besnard & Wildenstein 1928 (p. 149) records Amiens as having a note on the back stating that it was made in 1751 – a year after the salon in which it was assumed to have been shown. (That label in fact belongs to a version sold in 1867 which it turns out is not the Amiens pastel at all; I list it as J.46.1131.) Among dozens of other errors in the literature I will mention here just two more: the date inscribed on the back of NS is 1754, not 1764 as usually reported; while CJ, contrary to Mme Burollet (Pastels et dessins, 2008, p. 139), was not the one from the Laperlier collection sold in 1879, lot 52 (that was NS) – CJ has no secure provenance before Pierre Decourcelle who sold it in 1911.

It was while I was trying to resolve the 1750/1751 confusion that I began to look harder at the questions these versions raise. I am most grateful to the curators at Amiens and Pasadena for providing imaging and documents that I discuss below. I should also remind readers about the usual important notice about attributions being subjective etc., and record the fact that the provisional suggestions I make below are not endorsed by other experts.

Before we get into the documents or delve further into the literature (even recent publications remain hopelessly confused), what can be said of the visual appearance of the principal versions? My own belief, before the recent discoveries, was that CJ was the best, showing all La Tour’s brilliance and inventiveness, while remaining an autograph replica of Amiens, which “must” be the one shown in 1750. I was a little surprised on the several occasions I saw it (in the musée de Picardie, Amiens and most recently in Orléans, when it was lent to the 2017 Perronneau exhibition) that Amiens seemed underwhelming for the mythology attached to the 1750 competition: as I wrote in a recent (but before the discovery at the end of this post) private email to a curator, “The Amiens pastel is not entirely happy: the jabot always struck me as a little pedestrian, while the shadows on the underside of the arms I find particularly perplexing.” (The shadows consist in some odd strokes of heavy black pastel.) But not to the point of questioning Amiens being autograph. Nor as far as I am aware has it been questioned by any other art historian, despite extended discussions in numerous sources (see the Dictionary entry for the full literature): thus for Debrie & Salmon 2000, it is “une œuvre essentielle”; while, in his préface to Dominique d’Arnoult’s Perronneau monograph of 2014, Xavier Salmon was even more emphatic, writing that the La Tour pastel exhibited in 1750 was “très certainement celui aujourd’hui conservé au musée de Picardie à Amiens, œuvre magistrale de psychologie et de maîtrise technique.”

CJ is smaller than Amiens in that the lower part of the bust is cut off; there is still space above the head. It is highly finished, with a superb sense of modelling which you can perhaps see most easily in the structure of the eye socket. The handling is relatively free – La Tour recreates effects rather than repeating each stroke exactly – just what I’d hope to find in an autograph replica.

NS (which I have not examined de visu, let alone side by side with the others – something which is not likely to be possible) caused me some concerns in the way it followed Amiens. While sticking to more or less the size of CJ, the figure is moved up so more of the bust shows, with less space above the head (see my scaled composite):

La Tour Autoportraits au jabot Amiens CJ NS

NS then imitates the exact composition of Amiens far more closely – for example, the angle of the arm, which in CJ is allowed to drop vertically, follows the angle of Amiens exactly: indeed the top of the hand placed in the waistcoat is still included, although it now makes little sense and might comfortably have been omitted had the artist allowed himself the same freedom as taken in CJ. There are differences too in the eyes: those in CJ engage us directly; those in Amiens and NS both seem slightly to veer off to the left. (You might think this an error in Amiens, corrected in CJ, so it is odd to find them repeated in NS.) More obviously the technique differs, in the face in particular, with a network of hatching in place of the finished appearance of CJ and much more prominent than in Amiens (although this isn’t immediately evident from the photography which makes the hatching on Amiens more prominent than I recall from direct examination). But elsewhere there is a very precise replication of each chalk stroke in Amiens: it is perhaps too close (in a way that is found in some otherwise excellent copies of other La Tour pastels).

La Tour Autoportraits au jabot Visages Amiens CJ NS

I’m not worried about the appearance of these visible strokes on the flesh, per se; La Tour adopted this technique frequently, particularly in portraits intended for connoisseurs who he thought would be more receptive to the brilliance of these strokes which require to be viewed from a specific distance, while the general public found them too sophisticated. Perhaps the most extreme example of this heavy hatching is the pastel of Chardin in the Louvre (J.46.1436) from the 1761 salon. There are other examples from the mid-1750s – and, to make this problem even more tricky, there is very little sense of a chronological progression in La Tour’s technique that allows one to say that he used a specific technique at a particular time.

So it doesn’t follow that he came back to the Amiens pastel and made a replica say 14 years later in a different technique than the one he would have used say in 1750. You can’t even say that he wouldn’t make two versions in different techniques at the same time. But I can see why one would like to propose different dates for NS and Amiens and CJ, to help explain away the differences. Because of course the question is whether these are autograph versions. Normally the effect of these vigorous hatchings in the master’s hand is to make the portrait come to life. Judging from the photograph of NS I don’t have that immediate response. There seems to be a flatness to the modelling compared with the other versions that is surprising. Further the best of La Tour’s heavily hatched faces have an irregularity and energy I don’t see in NS. One shouldn’t attach too much importance to a single example, but putting the face in NS against a similar detail from his Chardin shows how differently he used this hatched technique:

La Tour auto NS v Chardin Louvre visages

Time now to broach the various inscriptions on the works. The reason we know it is NS rather than CJ that was in the Laperlier sale is because his 1879 sale catalogue mentions verses on the back by the abbé Violette, a priest in Saint-Quentin – just the sort of thing which makes you believe there is a continuous provenance back to the artist. So we have to look at that.

Although it wasn’t easy to find Violette’s biography, I can tell you (after a lengthy search of parish records) that he was abbé Charles-Théodore Violette (1737–1815), curé de Notre-Dame de Saint-Quentin, and a member of the Assemblée provinciale in 1787. So clearly it would be significant if NS turns out to have belonged to Violette.

As it happens there is rather a lot of writing on several different sheets pasted to the backing card of NS. There is a central panel in a mid-nineteenth century formal hand, with La Tour’s qualities and honours transcribed precisely from the title page of the abbé Duplaquet’s 1789 Éloge historique de La Tour:

de M. Maurice-Quentin Delatour, Peintre
du Roi, Conseiller de l’Académie Royale de Peinture & de Sculpture
de Paris, et Honoraire de l’Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres,
et Arts d’Amiens, Fondateur de l’Ecole Royale gratuite de Dessin,
de la Ville de Saint-Quentin.
Peint par lui-même, en 1754

The “Peint par lui-même, en 1754” comes from this label alone. The writing is quite clear: 1754, not 1764.

The rest of the writing appears to come from a different, probably single, hand, but appears on two sheets. The lower sheet contains, on the left, an epitaph in Latin which I find extremely difficult to decipher. I suspect the Latin isn’t very good, but the text seems to echo the sentiments of the French verses below. Very broadly translated, it seems to mean:

This dust is mixed with the dust of Apelles, citizen of the Seine [“Sequana”] and citizen of the Somme [“Summa”]; they were astonished to find La Tour [“turreum”] under the soil; but his excellence and his mighty deeds will resound.

To the right are the abbé Violette’s verses which have been partially transcribed in several publications (but not the three lines at the bottom, which are critical):

Vers pour mettre au bas du portrait.

citoyen de la Somme, Apelle de la Seine,
de La Tour, dans ces traits, c’est bien toi ressemblant:
c’est ta bouche, tes yeux, ce rire caressant
qui vers toi tous les cœurs entraîne.
pour bien peindre le tien, ton âme, tes vertus,
bienfaisance, candeur, esprit, talens, droiture,
dons rares que te fit largement la Nature,
il faudrait toi, mais tu n’es plus!

L’inscription manuscrite, l’épitaphe et
et les vers français sont de M. Violette cure
de Notre-Dame de St quentin

As I read these, I don’t think the writing can be that of Violette himself. While sometimes people refer to themselves in the third person, that really doesn’t fit here, and he would probably have signed if it was his own writing. The verses themselves must have been composed after the artist’s death, but the inscription could have been transcribed by anyone who had found it at any time in the nineteenth century or later. It isn’t even sure that they were intended for this version – they could equally have been intended for the Amiens version, or indeed any other La Tour self-portrait (or any portrait of La Tour at all).

After La Tour’s death there were memorials (such as Duplaquet’s éloge, cited directly on the label), epitaphs and statues etc., so there were many occasions for the local curate to produce some verses of this kind. (For the very complicated events concerning La Tour’s death and burial at Saint-Quentin, see my La Tour documentation. The two witnesses were La Tour’s half-brother Jean-François de La Tour and the latter’s cousin, Adrien-Joseph-Constant Duliège, who as it happens was vicaire at Violette’s church of Notre-Dame. We met him in my last post, on La Tour’s brother and the letters that had descended to Mme Sarrazin.) But I don’t think that Violette was ever the owner of the pastel: the words could have been added later by anyone coming across his verses – perhaps even taken from another version.

But it turns out that there is more to learn from the upper panel, apparently in the same hand, which appears to contain some innocuous biographical information:

Maurice Quentin de la Tour,
Né à St Quentin, le 4 7bre 1704,
revenu audit lieu le 26 Juin 1784,
ou il est mort et enterré au cimetière
de la Paroisse de St André, le 18
février 1788 –

Again these appear to be facts which would have been well known to anyone in Saint-Quentin throughout the nineteenth century or later. (The 26 Juin 1784 date is difficult to read; the month is correct, but the day should be 20 June according to other documents you can find in my chronological table of documents The inscription gives La Tour’s date of birth as 4 September rather than 5: such confusions are common in a Catholic country where children were usually baptised the day after their birth, although in La Tour’s case he was born and baptised on the 5th.

The significance is that the same mistake, and in fact exactly the same inscription, word for word (perhaps with misreadings: “revenue audit lieu le 21 juin 1784” and mort… “le 18 fev. 1783”), followed by “peint par lui-meme”, appear on the back of a miniature version of the autoportrait purporting to be by La Tour. At the time when it was described by Auguste Jal in his biographical dictionary, 1872 (sub verbo La Tour) it belonged to the princesse Mathilde (whom the Goncourt brothers derided for her susceptibility to fakes), and came from Aimable-Pierre-Joseph Opigez (1802–1881), a literary figure whose father and brother were alarmingly makers and retailers of objets d’art. It’s now lost (unless it corresponds with one in the musée Antoine-Lécuyer at Saint-Quentin: their two miniatures have no earlier provenance but I am investigating if we can tie them in). But as we know La Tour didn’t do miniatures.

The question however is whether this precise inscription taints the NS pastel or merely identifies it as the source of a later fake. It’s rather long to fit onto a miniature of normal dimensions. The possibilities include: (i) a common source for both NS and the miniature; (ii) the miniature copied from NS, or vice versa; (iii) Jal mistakenly referring to the princesse’s picture as a miniature when perhaps it was NS: but if so how did it get from her collection to Laperlier? (I couldn’t find either a pastel or miniature of La Tour in her posthumous sale in 1904.)

Having discarded the Violette provenance, the first certain sighting of NS is in the Laperlier sale of 1879 where the Violette verses are first mentioned. It is very probable that either NS or CJ is the pastel which belonged to Symphorien Boittelle (1813–1897), sous-préfet for Saint-Quentin before becoming préfet for the Aisne département, and later sénateur; in his sale at Paris, 24–25.iv.1866, Lot 70, not reproduced, is described as in a “light” blue coat, dimensions 44×35 cm. Boittelle’s collection was of mixed quality, and this was in one of a number of lifetime sales. The pastel reappeared with Jacques Reiset: his posthumous sale describes it as coming from the Boittelle collection, so it is no doubt the same. Both these sale prices were very modest, but that was a question of fashion rather than an indication of quality.

There was another sale in between, Paris, Drouot, Delbergue-Cormont, 8.xi.1867, where a pastel Lot 146 was sold, said to be dated on the back 1751 (although 1750 is mentioned in the preface), which all sources to date have identified as the Amiens version: the pastel is described but no size was given. It was said to be in a nice frame “en bois sculpté” (as CJ still is, while NS has been reframed). Although Amiens’s then frame was a fairly standard moulding which probably wouldn’t have been so described, and while its owners were attempting to sell it at that stage, a detailed analysis of the provenance shows that it cannot have been sold in the 1867 sale. (It is most probable that the vendor in 1867 was Sosthène-Louis-Félix Cambray (1819–1905), homme de lettres and a prolific collector and seller of drawings and prints. He might well have purchased Boittelle’s pastel. Although the commissaire-priseur’s copy of the 1867 catalogue shows Fr650 annotated against lot 146, it is not included in the list of bordereaux also bound into the same copy. However on the sheet opposite the lot is recorded “c.600 Lap.400 Gautier 300”, suggesting that Laperlier may well have bid, and perhaps bought it post sale, so this may well be NS – except for the 1751 date reported in the catalogue.)

In brief the 1867 pastel cannot be the pastel I’m calling Amiens because the musée de Picardie purchased that work (to which we now need to turn) in 1878 from the Lorne family who had owned it since 1796. It is true that the art critic Léon Lagrange had seen it around 1866 when the heirs of a previous generation were keen to sell, but it was not in fact sold then. I will spare you all the detailed steps from the 1770 gift of the pastel (recorded on another label pasted to the back of the work) by one Mlle Mangenot to the abbé Savary (he was Charles Savary (1731–1810), curé de Sainte-Colombe-lès-Sens) and its purchase in 1796 by François-Théodore-Clément Lorne (1768–1854), commerçant en gros de sel à Sens, who, the previous year, had married Savary’s niece but subsequently left it to his widow, his second wife: hours of harmless fun were required to establish these details, when of course, as Mme du Deffand would have told us, it is only the first step that counts: how it came into the hands of Marie-Louise Mangenot (1702–1782).

That takes us to her brother: the abbé Louis Mangenot (1694–1768), chanoine du Temple à Paris, poet, journalist, and great friend of the salon critic Philippe Bridard de La Garde who wrote so gushingly of La Tour’s later submissions. Mangenot was also the intimate friend of another La Tour subject, the playwright Crébillon (who made Mangenot his heir). Marie-Louise was probably the sister who was described in Palissot’s Nécrologe as“fort dévote”, but who “tyrannisait” her brother.

Most of the printed sources record Mlle Mangenot’s label, but only a few – notably Bitton 1936, which has been almost entirely overlooked – make the connection with her brother. Yet the abbé Mangenot does appear in the standard La Tour literature – as the author of yet more verses to be attached to a La Tour self-portrait:

Admirez jusqu’où l’art atteint
La Tour est gravé comme il peint…

Cited by Louis Hordret (Histoire des droits anciens… de la ville de Saint-Quentin, 1781), they were attached erroneously by B&W to the Autoportrait au chapeau en clabaud (J.46.1087). As that was only engraved by Schmidt in 1772 (after Mangenot’s death), it is however far more likely they were intended for the earlier Autoportrait à l’oeil de boeuf (J.46.1001), exhibited in 1737 and engraved by Schmidt in 1742. It of course, unlike the other self-portraits, does show the artist in his working clothes.

What this shows however is that Mangenot was indeed close to La Tour, followed his self-portraits etc. So there is nothing surprising in his owning one (except perhaps that there is no evidence that he had the means to pay for a major work by the artist). And one that he owned must be “right” in the sense that ones only traceable back to the mid-nineteenth century might not be – so that investigations such as opening the back and looking for anachronistic irregularities in the mounting of the pastel and canvas on the strainer etc. (often the easiest way to detect later fakes, of which there are sadly many in the La Tour catalogues) would be unnecessary (indeed pointless).

This is where things stood until a few days ago. While writing up my entries I investigated Mangenot more thoroughly, and came across this article in the Mercure de France, published in the edition for May 1755 (pp. 26-27). As far as I am aware it is completely unknown to art historians: indeed the only secondary reference I have been able to find (although not linked to Amiens, nor naming the copyist) is in the very useful Dictionnaire des journalistes in the entry on Mangenot (who would later edit the Mercure himself: it was then in hands of Louis de Boissy):

Mangenot La Tour Montjoie Mercure 1755

The footnote is, to say the least, astonishing. Unambiguously it identifies the La Tour portrait given to Mangenot as a copy by his pupil Jean-Gabriel Montjoie. Although he was mentioned in La Tour’s will and believed to be a pupil, recorded as an exhibitor in some minor events, virtually nothing was known about Montjoie’s biography until I unearthed some documents three years ago which are summarised in my Dictionary entry. Despite appearing in the Salon de la jeunesse in 1767 and later, he had in fact been born in 1725. But the surviving work, with one exception, all belonged to the 1780s or 90s, thirty years after Amiens. The one in the Louvre exhibited last year probably gives a fair account of his work: it was, I think we can agree, one of the weakest works in the show. The only earlier work I have found (J.543.11) is signed and dated 1768 – still some 15 years after the copy he made for Mangenot:

Montjoie H 1768 Turin23iv2015 L208

One isn’t likely to confuse this with the work of his master.

How do we make sense of all this? There are I think only two realistic logical possibilities, given that Amiens clearly belonged to Mangenot: either he subsequently acquired the original; or the Amiens pastel is indeed the copy Montjoie made for Mangenot as celebrated in the poem.

I’m not sure that either of these hypotheses will meet with universal approval. The first seems at best contrived, and raises all sorts of difficulties: why, having been given a version with which he was satisfied, would he seek to acquire the original – hardly likely that the artist would have made him a second present, so how could he afford it, and what did he do with the Montjoie copy? (The Lorne family papers make it quite clear that the abbé Savary had only this pastel, and 17 framed prints.)

The second requires us all to admit we were wrong in accepting Amiens as autograph. (The La Tour original, exhibited in 1750, must be lost – perhaps another work La Tour destroyed himself, or just still hidden away?) It requires us to reassess Montjoie’s competence. But is that such a step? Not only was Amiens made far earlier, when Montjoie was 30 years old and presumably at the peak of his skills; but it was also made under La Tour’s direction, and possibly with a good deal of assistance from the master. And the crucial fact we so easily forget is that it is far easier for artists to make brilliant copies of masterpieces than to create independent works of the same quality: we see this all the time in the pastiches and copies that flood the salerooms.

Do however look at the strange black shadows around the waistcoat buttonholes in the 1768 Montjoie. Isn’t that what troubled me about the arm in Amiens?

LaTour v Montjoie

To sum up, provisionally at least. I’m quite happy that CJ is a fully autograph replica by La Tour. I have some doubts about NS which may nevertheless be fine: if at some stage it is opened for conservation I shall be interested in what can be seen, but I certainly wouldn’t reject it outright. Amiens in contrast, and to my surprise, seems to raise real difficulties: despite its quality, the conclusion from the Mercure footnote is hard to evade. Whatever assistance La Tour may have given, this appears to be the work of his pupil – you can only escape this by believing in a rather convoluted alternative narrative. The absence of the version shown in 1750, of which Amiens is no doubt a very precise copy, makes the classification of NS rather trickier as we cannot be sure how closely either followed the original.

Jean-François, chevalier de La Tour…

An. Jean Franc ois de La Tour SQ LT81 FlBr107…is the answer to Monday’s puzzle. Half-brother of the pastellist, he owned the collection of Maurice-Quentin’s works that are now to be found in the musée Antoine-Lécuyer at Saint-Quentin (where you can also find his portrait, left – anonymous French school – which may also inform your reaction to his letters). Had he married the lady in question, whose identity remains unknown (apart from the initials Ad. D. with which one of her letters is signed), who knows what might have happened to the collection which he bequeathed to his native city in his will? That story has been told repeatedly, and of course can be followed in my annotated table of La Tour documents which I have now updated to include the correspondence which was published by Charles Desmaze in Travaux de la Société académique de Saint-Quentin (xii, 1875, pp. 310–38), but subsequently overlooked by everyone. Desmaze left these letters to the museum, but they are thought to have been destroyed in the war. We have only therefore his printed text (unfortunately he arranged the documents in no order, and attached some sheets to the wrong letters, which is why I had to update my first blog when I found another description of the young widow before the chevalier wrote to her).

There (or I hope better arranged in my table) you can find the few names I have suppressed: the initial letter came from a person Desmaze identifies only as Mme Durosoy de Lépidor: she was in fact Marie-Thérèse Du Rozoi, third wife of Michel-Julien Mathieu dit Lépidor (1740–p.1799); they had married in 1784. A juge de paix, and former secrétaire du chevalier de Luxembourg, Lépidor was the younger son of the composer and musicien du roi Michel Mathieu, and himself composed several operas and some chamber music: very much the world the pastellist loved.

But perhaps the trickiest puzzle (apart from Ad. D.) concerns how Desmaze obtained the letters. They included a number, such as these, that B&W did print. But all Desmaze reveals was that he was given the letters by “Madame Sarrazin-Varluzel-de-Cessières” [sic]; in another reference Desmaze refers to her as “Mme Sarazin V. Varluzel, 10, rue de Chabrol, à Paris” (does the V. mean veuve?), while in a third Desmaze tells us that “Mme Sarazin Varluzel, légataire de l’abbé Duliège, a recueilli, dans cette succession, des tableaux venant de La Tour”; finally, in his 1874 Reliquaire, Desmaze states that Mme Sarazin was the heir of the abbé Duliège, “exécuteur testamentaire du chevalier de La Tour”. Later sources have gone no further, although embellishments occur: the Goncourts called Mme Sarazin Varluzel “une descendante de La Tour”.

Those of you addicted to puzzles may want to try your hand at unravelling this now. But as I have put the details into my documentation file, the answer is already, or will very shortly be, googleable. So I shall explain, after first disposing of the red herring that the link relates to a Pierre-Antoine Du Liège, sgr de Warluzel (1714–1789), who was président-trésorier de France et général des finances en la généralité d’Amiens.

The answer is quite different. The chevalier de La Tour’s executor, the abbé Duliège, has been known for some time, as Adrien-Joseph-Constant Duliège, chapelain de l’église de Saint-Quentin et vicaire de la paroisse de Notre-Dame, although I have only recently tracked his baptismal and burial records which require patient trawling through parish records. He was born in 1749 to a tailor whose sister was the pastellist’s step-mother and the chevalier’s mother. It is the abbé’s death which would seem most relevant in tracking Desmaze’s source: he died in 1817.

As it turns out Desmaze is wrong. Flore-Joséphine Warluzèle, as her name appeared at her baptism in 1820, was not related to La Tour, and, born three years after the abbé Duliège’s death, cannot have been his heir (didn’t Desmaze realize this when he met the 52-year-old lady?). She married, apparently for the second time, Henry-Léopold Sarrazin (from a Bordeaux family), at Cessières (Aisne) in 1872: he was very much alive, and lived at 11 [not 10] rue de Chabrol at the time. Her origins were humble, her father being a carpenter, and the name was variously spelt (names beginning with W were hardly popular in France in the 1870s). Consulting her previous marriage entry in 1866, however, we find that she was then described as the widow of an Emilien Duliège, a claim not documented anywhere else. Indeed Duliège’s death certificate, which describes him as a marchand de bois in Paris, rue de Charenton-Saint-Antoine, has him as a bachelor. The plot thickens however when we discover the name of one of the witnesses on Duliège’s death certificate: Joseph-Florimond Warluzel, ébéniste. To jump to the answer, Warluzel was Flore’s half-brother; he had obviously gone to Paris to practise his trade; the Duliège family included numerous members active in the carpentry and wood business in Paris, and the ébéniste presumably introduced his sister to Emilien, leading to a relationship of some level of irregularity. Emilien was born in Paris 10e on 26 janvier 1819, but the Paris archives where the Etat civil reconstitué is held do not provide copies of documents for remote scholarship, so the final link between Emilien and the abbé will have to remain open until I next have time…unless some kind reader of this blog would be kind enough to consult the microfiche. (My guess is that Emilien was the grandson of Pierre-Alexis-René Duliège, tailleur d’habits, brother of the abbé who married him to an Eusèbe-Adélaïde Lescot at Notre-Dame de Saint-Quentin in 1787: the chevalier de La Tour was a witness.)

[Post script, 9 October 2019: The Etat civil reconsitué has now revealed that Emilien was indeed Pierre-Alexis-René’s grandson.]

Matchmaking in Ancien Régime France

This exchange of letters has been published – but in an obscure journal which has hitherto been completely overlooked. I won’t at this stage name the participants as it spoils the story, but I haven’t changed anything else. Suffice it to say that the fate of a major picture collection depends on the outcome.

An undated (evidently some time in 1788) letter from a lady, Mme R, to Monsieur X, an unmarried 62-year-old retired soldier living in a town in Northern France, concerning Mme D.:

C’est uniquement, Monsieur, par reconnaissance de la conversation que nous avons eue ensemble quand j’ai eu l’honneur de vous voir, que je me suis permis de parler à M. le chevalier de B*** d’une demoiselle qui me paraît réunir tout ce que vous m’avez paru désirer dans une compagne, et que je connais assez pour être persuadé qu’elle ferait votre bonheur. M. le chevalier de B*** ne vous a sûrement pas laissé ignorer qu’il s’agissait d’une personne de 40 à 48 ans, parfaitement bien élevée, laborieuse, accoutumée aux soins du ménage et aussi recommendable par les qualités du cœur que par les agréments de l’esprit. Je ne vous parle point de sa figure: vous êtes sûrement, Monsieur, au-dessus de cette considération: tout ce que je vous en dirai c’est qu’elle est grande, bien faite, qu’elle a de belles dents, de beaux yeux et de superbes cheveux noirs; c’est à tort, Monsieur, que vous vous effrayés de ce qu’elle est née Demoiselle. Sa sœur n’en a pas moins épousé un simple particulier, revêtu d’une charge honnête, qui n’a pas comme vous, Monsieur, l’avantage d’avoir servi et d’être décoré de la Croix de Saint Louis; et cette union n’en a pas moins été constamment heureuse et paisible depuis plus de douze ans, malgré les revers qui ont diminués la fortune du mari, épreuve délicate, comme vous savez, Monsieur, et à laquelle ne tiennent pas beaucoup d’hommes mêmes, quoique très recommandables d’ailleurs. Mon amie qui a toujours vécu avec son beau-frère et sa sœur depuis leur mariage, a peut être encore plus de cette bonhomie si désirable dans le commerce de l’intime amitié; et bien loin de se prévaloir du hazard de sa naissance, je lui ai toujours trouvé plus de franchise dans l’expression de ses sentiments, plus de simplicité dans les manières que n’en ont certaines femmes, de ce qu’on appelle l’honnête bourgeoisie.

Quelle que soit cependant, Monsieur, ma prédilection et mon attachement sincère pour cette demoiselle, je suis fort éloignée de vouloir employer vis-à-vis de vous aucun genre de séduction. Je vois en elle du côté du personnel tout ce qui peut vous convenir; du côté de la fortune, un peu plus même que vous ne m’aviez paru exiger, car vous m’avez paru souhaiter seulement qu’une femme eut assés de quoi pourvoir à son entretien, et je crois que mon amie auroit encore quelque chose de reste, cette clause remplie. L’occasion me paraît donc telle que vous la désiriés; et si vous n’êtes arrêté que par la considération de sa naissance, j’ose vous répondre que, gentilhomme ou non, vous lui serés toujours très cher si vous savés d’ailleurs la rendre heureuse, et que son caractère vous y fera trouver autant de facilité que de plaisir.

Je ne consulte pas moins, Monsieur, dans cette explication l’intérêt de votre bonheur que celui d’assurer un sort tranquille à une amie véritablement estimable et méritante à tous égards. Je me serais reprochée de vous laisser des craintes que sa façon de penser ne justiffiera jamais. Je n’irai pas plus loin, Monsieur, et contente d’avoir fait ce que je croyais devoir à la vérité autant qu’à l’amitié, je me bornerai maintenant à vous prier de croire à la sincérité des sentiments avec lesquels j’ai l’honneur d’être, Monsieur, votre très humble et très obéissante servante.


J’ai oublié de vous observer que tout séjour, à Paris, rue ***, en province et même à la campagne, serait parfaitement égal à la personne en question.

What follows appears to be an enclosure to a lost letter from X to an unnamed friend (in my 19th century source it is printed in a completely incorrect location, attached to a much later letter), while the second and third paragraphs are presumably transcribed from a letter X has received from a very close friend:

Je n’ai pas cru devoir insérer dans ma lettre la réponse que l’on a faite à mon amy. La voicy mot pour mot:

Au reçu de ta lettre, mon cher ami, je n’ai eu rien de plus pressé que d’aller à R*** pour y prendre les informations concernant Madame *** quoique je la connoisse depuis longtems, je n’ai pas voulu m’en rapporter à moy seul, et j’ai consulté quelqu’un dont je suis sur, pour avoir les renseignemens que tu désire, et tu peux compter sur ce que tu va dire.

Madame D*** a 33 ou 34 ans au plus, et non 40 comme tu me le mandes, elle est grande, assez bien de figure, mais elle est rien moins que saine, elle est d’une laiderie dont rien n’approche. La crainte de brûler quelques bouts de chandelles l’a concentrée chez elle, et elle est femme à proposer à des amies, qui viennent la voir le soir, de les éteindre, parce que l’on peut bien s’entretenir sans se voir. On dit qu’elle pleure continuellement son premier mary; note bien cecy, paraport aux risques que l’on court. Tu dois m’entendre. Quant à sa fortune, on ne sçait pas au juste ce qu’elle a; cependant on lui croit mille écus de rente; et après la mort de Mme sa mère, qui est infirme, elle pourra jouïr de 4,500 fr.

Mon amy vient d’écrire au sien pour sçavoir au juste ce qu’il entend: par-elle est rien moins que saine. Je vous avoüe, Monsieur, que cette phrase m’a fort inquiété. Je jouïs de la meilleure santé, je n’ai jamais fait aucune maladie, exceptée la petite vérole; il seroit bien facheuex pour moi d’être uni à une personne, dont la mauvaise santé me feroit passer le reste de mes jours dans des inquiétudes continuelles. Je compte assés sur vôtre honnêteté, et sur votre véracité pour espérer que vous voudrés bien me dire ce qui en est; ainsi que de la ladrerie dont on l’accuse. Le défaut de santé est un malheur, mais l’avarice est un vice qui fait le malheur, non de l’avare, mais de ceux qui sont obligés de vivre avec lui. La franchise avec laquelle j’ai l’honneur de vous écrire doit vous prouver combine je suis incapable de tromper personne, mais aussi combien je serois faché de l’être.

23 novembre 1788 — A letter from X, to an unnamed friend:

Je te remercie bien sincèrement, mon cher et ancien camarade, des informations que tu as fait prendre; mais je trouve qu’il y a bien à rabattre de ce que tu m’as dit de l’âge et de la fortune de la personne en question. Monsieur ton parent te mande qu’elle n’a que 36 ans, au lieu de 40 ou 45 ans que j’aurois désiré, et 2,400 fr. de rentes, au lieu de 4 à 5,000 fr. que tu lui croyois. Ce dernier article, le plus important et le plus essentiel pour bien des personnes, ne l’est pas pour moi. La trop grande disproportion d’âge est tout ce que je redoute de plus. Quoiqu’ordinairement une femme à 36 ans ne soit plus dans l’âge d’inspirer une grande passion, elle n’en a pas moins les prétentions; et, comme elle est dans la force du tempérament, elle n’en est que plus exigeante; et à 63 ans, un homme est peu propre à inspirer du goût et à satisfaire et remplir ses désirs: alors, la jalousie et la mauvaise humeur se mettent dans le ménage, et l’on fait réciproquement son malheur. D’ailleurs, dans le compte que te rend M. ton parent, il n’est pas question du caractère, et de la manière qu’elle a vécu avec son premier mary, non plus que de la conduitte actuelle. Quoique d’après tout ce que tu m’en a dis, je doive la croire très honnête, on ne saurait trop prendre d’informations sur ces trois objets, puisqu’ils sont et doivent être la base de l’estime, ou du mépris que l’on a l’un pour l’autre, lorsque l’on est obligé de vivre ensemble.

Je te prie, au reçû de ma lettre, d’engager M. ton parent de te mander ce qui en est, et d’après sa réponse, j’aurai l’honneur de l’aller voir et de le remercier des peines que je lui occasionne. Pour éviter les longueurs qui sont toujours désagréables en pareil cas, je crois qu’il pouroit m’adresser directement sa réponse. Surtout prie-le bien instamment de ne point me nommer que je n’ai sçu à quoi m’en tenir, et que je n’ai vu la personne. Si après cela, elle me convient, et que de son côté elle se décide à former un second engagement, alors je me ferai connoître et lui donnerai tous les moyens, pour prendre des renseignements les plus certains sur ma conduit, mon âge, mes mœurs et ma fortune, dont tu auras sans doute parlé à M. ton parent, à qui je te prie de faire agréer les assurances de ma sincère reconnaissance. Sois persuadé de celle que j’aurois toujours pour l’intérêt que tu prends à ce qui me regard, ainsi que du parfait attachement, avec lequel je suis ton sincere et véritable ami,


Je compte sur ce que tu m’as dit que la dame est veuve sans enfants, car autrement il ne faudrait pas faire de démarches. Je ne veux pas avoir les embarrass ny les inquiétudes, qui en sont les suites.

23 janvier 1789 — Letter from X to Mme D:


Je me suis fait une loy d’être franc et sincère. Si j’ai le bonheur de vous être uni, j’ose me flatter que vous reconnoîtrez de plus en plus que je m’en écarterai jamais. Je dois donc vous avoûer que l’impression que m’a laissé notre entrevue, m’a fait douter quelques instants si j’avais eu raison de vous montrer la fermeté qui vous a étonnée. Plus je me livrois à ma sensibilité, plus mon doute augmentoit; mais aussi vous confesserai-je avec la même franchise que, plus j’ai senti l’obstacle, plus j’ai vu la nécessité de me vaincre, de réfléchir et de me juger. Rendu à moi-même, j’ai dû peser scrupuleusement ce que je vous devois et la suite d’un engagement aussi important pour votre bonheur et le mien. J’ai reconnu, Madame, que ce bonheur mutuel ne peut vrayment exister, sans se dépouiller respectivement, des affections qui lui sont étrangères. Vous conviendrez, j’ose l’espérer, que ce bonheur dépend absolument d’une union sans partage. Il exige entièrement le sacrifice de tout ce qui pouroit y porter le moindre mélange. Je vais plus loin, et dès que ce sacrifice doit même cesser de l’être, dès lors que la raison le prescrit. Je n’en voudrois d’autre témoignage que celui de Mme la marquise de L, qui paroit avoir pour vous la plus tendre amitié. Aussi suis-je toujours persuadé que ce sacrifice, si c’en est un pour le moment, doit non-seulement s’étendre sur le gage que vous aviez pris d’un souvenir qui vous est cher, mais encore sur le portrait qui ne paroit que trop l’entretenir. Je me trouve donc confirmé plus que jamais dans cette nécessité absolue.

Ecartons, je vous prie, Madame, ces ombres, ces nuages, dont on couvre trop souvent le flambeau de l’hymen. Là où est la raison, ces idées d’illusion, si fatales à l’union conjugale, ne peuvent se rencontrer. Cette tendre union ne présente qu’un tout de deux parties: et cet heureux assemblage, si propre à ses douceurs et à ces charmes, ne peut certainement former une unité parfaitte, qu’autant que chacun se livre tout entier à l’autre. Telle est l’image que je me fais, et me suis fait du mariage, et à laquelle je sens que je dois absolument m’attacher. Puissent ces réflexions être assez persuasives pour vous y fixer de même. Si vous m’en donnez l’assurance, la noblesse de vos sentiments m’en sera votre garant: mon âme s’y confiera pleinement, et j’en prévois déjà d’avance la plus heureuse augure. Permettez-moi de compter assez sur moi-même pour la réaliser. Puissé-je jurer une foy inviolable en recevant la vôtre: et vous convaincre du respectueux dévouement avec lequel je suis et ne cesse d’être, Mme, V. S.


30 janvier 1789 — Response to X from Mme D:

J’ai lu avec beaucoup d’attention, Monsieur, la lettre que vous m’avez fait l’honneur de mécrire. Je vois clair comme le jour que vous craingnés que le petit être qui fait l’objet de votre discussion ne soit un obstacle à l’attachement que je dois avoir pour vous. Vous ne connoissés pas mon cœur, ni l’honnêteté de mes sentimens. Soyez-bien persuadé que si je n’avois pas l’espoir que vos procédés feroient naitre dans mon cœur un attachement sincère, je n’aurois jamais pensé à former un second engagement, parce que je sens qu’il est impossible de pouvoir être heureux, qu’autant que l’on a l’un pour l’autre la plus tendre et la plus sincère amitié. J’ai connu ce bonheur, et c’est dans l’espérance que j’ai eu de le voir renaître, que j’ai consenti aux propositions qui m’ont été faites de vôtre part. Ce n’est cependant qu’après avoir eu la certitude que je trouverois aussi dans l’honnêteté de vos sentimens tout ce qui pouvoit faire le bonheur d’une femme honnête et raisonnable. Mais comme il faut prononcer sur l’article qui tient au cœur, et moi aussy, et qu’il faut se décider d’une manière ou d’autre; je vais vous dire tout naturellement mes intentions à cet égard, et vous dirés à M. de F si cela vous convient ou non. Je désire ne jamais abandonner l’enfant dont je me suis chargé. Son père ne l’a accordé qu’à mes sollicitations réitérées, et parce que sa mère n’avait pas pour cette enfant la tendresse qu’elle avoit pour les autres, quoique cette petite créature soit d’un caractère tout à fait aimable. D’après cela, en me chargeant de cette petite, je lui ai jurée, dans mon cœur, amitié et protection; et je sens que je ne puis me détacher de l’une et lui refuser l’autre. Je vous avois proposé un accommodement sur cela: c’était de la mettre dans une petite pension de cette ville ou des environs; vous avès eu l’air d’abord d’y acquiescer, et, par une réflexion qui a été défavorable à l’honnêteté de mes sentimens, vous avés mis, dans votre refus, une fermeté qui, je vous l’avoue, m’a étonnée, et je vous dirai même plus, qui m’a effrayée. Vous avez fait sur cet objet beaucoup de réflexions; j’en a fait aussi beaucoup de mon côté;  j’en sondé mon cœur, et j’ai trouvé que cet espèce d’attachement ne pouvoit avoir aucun rapport, ni être mis en comparaison à celui qu’un mary et une femme doivent avoir l’un pour l’autre. Voilà, Monsieur, mes sentimens; vous voudrès bien dire à M. de F qui doit aller à [***] dans la semaine prochaine, si vous les adoptés ou si vous les refusés, il m’en fera part à son retour. Soyés, je vous prie, persuadé, Monsieur, de toute la sincérité de mes sentimens, et de ceux avec lesquels j’ai l’honneur d’être


5 février 1789 — Response from X to Mme D:


Aussi flatté qu’ému de la réponse dont vous m’avez honnoré, que de réflexions ne m’a-t-il pas fallu faire pour ramener au vrai principe les raisons que vous avés eu le talent de si bien faire valoir? Je l’ai lue et relue plusieurs fois, et ne peux vous rendre et le plaisir et la peine qu’elle m’a faite. Icy une âme honnêtte et sensible se développe avec toute l’énergie qui lui est propre; là les obligations qu’elle croit avoir contractées semble devoir prépondérer sur toute autre; ou du moins, elle en est si remplie qu’elle ne voit pas qu’il est impossible de les allier, que ne puis-je avoir l’art de vous persuader! Je ne dois au moins rien négliger pour y parvenir. A ne considérer, Madame, l’attachement qui nous divise, abstraction de toute circonstances, sans doute ce pur effet de l’humanité n’auroit rien de contraire à un attachement, dont les causes et les vues sont si différentes; mais m’est-il possible de juger du vôtre sous ce seul rapport? C’est ce que je vous prie de bien peser. Cette innocente créature qui vous fixe, n’a pu tant vous fixer par ce seul sentiment. Il est noble, il est louable sans doute, mais il faut y voir nécessairement d’autres causes; et ces causes peuvent-elles m’être indifférentes. Plus elles peuvent servir à augmenter ou entretenir le degré de sensibilité qui vous y attache, plus je dois envisager les dangers qui peuvent en naître. Je ne m’arrêterai pas à la nécessité où est une veuve de se détacher absolument et pleinement de toutes les impressions, que son premier mary a pu lui laisser: une seconde union, pour être pure et parfaitte ne souffre pas de partage. Vôtre silence fera cette vérité me convaincre de toute sa force. Je parlerai encore moins de l’effet de l’amour propre qu’il ne m’est pas permis de faire valoir. Il est plus naturel de tenir à cet instant à l’amitié, qui vous occupe qu’à celle que j’ai fait naître. J’ai donc à vous démontrer la juste crainte que j’ai à concevoir.

Vous désirés, Madame, de jouir du bonheur que vous avés eu dans vôtre premier engagement; c’est ce que je cherche, et qui fait mon unique veu. Mais vous faut-il plus que vôtre expérience pour convenir que ce bonheur ne peut être pur et durable, si l’on névite pas tout ce qui peut en troubler et en altérer la source. Il ne peut exister, très certainement qu’autant que les deux cœurs ont les mêmes affections, et les mêmes sentimens. Pour entretenir cette unité si essentielle, il faut nécessairement que les impressions de l’un deviennent celles de l’autre. Appliquons ces principes: il faut donc que vôtre attachement devienne le mien; car nous ne devons pas seulement aimer pour nous-mêmes, nous devons encore mieux aimer tout ce qui flatte la personne que nous aimons.

Or, permettez-moy, Madame, de vous demander s’il serait raisonnable d’exiger de moi le même attachement qui vous tient tant à cœur, en ce moment. En supposant que l’habitude de voir ce qui vous seroit cher pût me faire naître le même sentiment, ne dois-je pas craindre le contraire! L’intérêt que j’aurais à vous faire perdre entièrement le souvenir que vous m’avés tant montré pour la mémoire de M. votre mary, ne seroit-il pas un obstacle? et même ne doit-il pas l’être? si je ne puis prendre ce sentiment; si même je ne le dois pas, je serais donc au moins indifférent à un objet qui loin de vous l’être, vous affectera plus vivement. Hé quoy! je vous verrois affectée, et loin de trouver des raisons pour vous complaire, j’en aurois au contraire pour n’y pas condescendre. C’est là positivement le trouble et la diversité de sentimens que j’ai si grand intérêt de prévenir. C’est la pomme de discorde, que je dois éloigner de chez moy. Plus nous paroissons sensible l’un et l’autre, moins nous devons admettre ce qui peut devenir un sujet et une source de chagrins et de peines.

Telles sont, Madame, les nouvelles réfléxions que j’ai cru propres à détruire les vôtres. Puissent-elles être assés convaincantes pour vous déterminer à ce qui m’est si important d’obtenir; c’est-à-dire de renvoyer la petite dans sa famille, à qui je consens que vous fassiés du bien, et à laisser dans le sein de la vôtre le portrait de M. votre mary, que je ne peux recevoir, chez moy, sans risque. Si vous me refusés ces deux sacrifices, auxquels sont attachés le bonheur ou le malheur de ma vie; je suis forcé de voir cet évênement et cette fatalité dans les décrets de la providence. Je n’en conserverais pas moins pour vous, Madame, l’estime que vous m’avés inspirée; et ne m’étant plus permis d’y joindre des sentimens plus tendres, je me borne à vous assurer dans toutes les occasions et dans tous les instants de ma vie, du profond respect avec lequel je suis


10 février 1789 — Response to X from Mme D:

J’ai bien tardé, Monsieur de répondre à la dernière lettre que vous m’avés fait l’honneur de m’écrire; je vais le faire avec toute la franchise qui fait le fond de mon caractère. Je conviens que, d’après vôtre manière d’envisager les objets qui nous divisent, il est tout naturel que vous cherchiés à éloigner tous les obstacles que vous croyés devoir troubler vôtre bonheur; et tous les argumens que vous employés pour me convaincre seroient bien faits pour me persuader. J’avois aussi cédé en partie à vos désirs, puisque je vous avois proposé de mettre cet enfant en pension, c’étoit l’éloigner de chez vous, permettés moy de vous rappeler encore que vous étiés au moment d’y consentir; mais une réfléxion désavantageuse à mes sentimens vous a fait revenir sur cet article: je dis désavantageux : parce que, persuadée comme je le suis de la pureté de mes intentions, je n’avais pas voulu apporter chés vous aucun sujet de discorde. Seroit-il possible d’imaginer que j’ai pu consentir à former un second engagement, si je n’avois été dans la ferme résolution de contribuer de tout mon pouvoir au bonheur de celui à qui je me serois unie! et ce seroit être ennemie du mien si j’avois crüe y apporter volontairement des obstacles: car il est dans ma manière de penser de ne pouvoir être heureux, si je n’ai pas un véritable attachement pour la personne avec laquelle je serois destinée à passer ma vie.

D’après cela je n’ai pas imaginé qu’un enfant que j’avois pris auprès de moy pour me distraire et m’occuper, et qui m’a inspiré de l’intérêt et de l’amitié, put jamais être un obstacle à un attachement qui doit être de beaucoup au-dessus de celui que j’ai pour elle. Je suis si persuadé de la sincérité de mes sentimens sur cet article que cela me fait persister dans la résolution que j’ai prise de ne point renvoyer cette enfant à ses parents, et de m’intéresser toujours à son sort. Je lui dois ce tendre intérêt, et je dois aussi beaucoup à ses parents pour la marque de confiance et d’amitié qu’ils m’ont donnée. Voilà, Monsieur, mes intentions sur cet article, et je ne me permettrés jamais de prononcer et d’agir différemment. Quant à celui du portrait de l’homme estimable que j’ai perdu, il m’est encore dur d’avoir à discuter cet objet; mais puisque vous désirés que je vous parle avec franchise, je vous dirai que je ne veux point laisser à ma famille cette image: ils n’ont pas assés accordé à sa mémoire pour croire qu’ils en fassent grand cas, et d’ailleurs le public seroit instruit de cela, et ce seroit un ridicule que je me donnerois, et qu’à coup sûr je ne mériterois pas: mais il auroit été une manierre d’arranger cet article à vôtre gré et au mien.

Je regrette beaucoup de n’avoir pas prévu toutes ces difficultés: je vous aurois épargné, Monsieur, et à moy aussi, la peine de les discuter; mais j’en suis dédomagée par l’avantage que j’ai de vous connoître, et de vous assurer des sentimens avec lesquels j’ai l’honneur d’être


17 février 1789 — Letter from X to M. de F:

Sensible à tous vos bons offices, et vos honnêtetés, c’est moy qui doit vous témoigner la plus vive reconnaissance. Je verrai toujours naître, avec intérêt, les occasions qui pourront me venger.

Mme D m’a bien honoré de sa réponse. J’en suis affecté. La naïveté de ses impressions, le charme qu’elle sçait y répandre, tout, en elle, me pénétre délicieusement, et m’auroit entraîné, si mes raisons ne m’avoient pas paru devoir prépondérer.

Chacun a droit à son opinion: la nôtre, quoique différente, est peut être admissible de part et d’autre, il n’en résulte pas moins une discordance de vües, dont l’idée seule doit m’effrayer et m’arrêter.

Que nous étions bien éloignés de cette unité de sentimens que je recherchois, et dont je me faisois, d’après notre existence, une si gracieuse image! si nous n’avons pu nous accorder dès le premier pas, quelle crainte cette circonstance ne doit-elle pas m’inspirer!

Je suis trop jaloux de son bonheur, et de ma tranquillité pour rien hazarder qui puisse y porter le moindre trouble. Je vois donc l’impossibilité de nôtre union. Par quelle fatalité faut-il que celle, dont les qualités extérieures avoient fait sur moy une si douce impression, ne puisse faire son bonheur avec moy par la diversité de nos manierres de penser. J’en ai tous les regrêts possibles.

Je vous prie, Monsieur, de les lui rendre avec cette énergie dont vous êtes capable; vous ne pouvés jamais excéder la vérité.

J’aurois eu l’honneur de vous écrire plustôt, si je n’avois compté avoir un entretien avec M. M., ainsi que vous me l’avés annoncé. Je ne l’ai pas vu. Sans doute que ses affaires ne lui auront pas permis de venir icy. Permettés que Mme votre épouse trouve icy les assurances de mon profond respect, et soyés persuadé des sentimens sincères et distingués avec lesquels j’ai l’honneur d’être, Monsieur, votre très humble et très obéissante serviteur,


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