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Vivien’s portrait of Pierre Richelet at Artcurial

Wednesday’s sale at Artcurial attracted a great deal of interest, and as the Tribune de l’Art website noted (see also their presale report), numerous preemptions by the French state – although not of the star lot, the magnificent Chardin from the Marcille collection which fetched a record €24.4 million. One picture that attracted slightly less attention was the portrait of the lexicographer César-Pierre Richelet (1626–1698). It is the earliest surviving pastel in Vivien’s œuvre, and its rediscovery in 2022 advances our understanding of the artist’s career in several respects.

Richelet[1] was born on 8.xi.1626 in Cheminon, Marne, the son of Jehan, procureur du roi in the town, and Marie-Madeleine Herard. His baptismal entry in the parish register has been damaged by flooding, making it impossible to see if he received the names César-Pierre or just the Pierre by which he is more often known. In any case both parents died before he was 6. He nevertheless became first a teacher: he was régent in the college of Vitry-le-François, and then a tutor in Dijon, before becoming an avocat in Paris (as had been his great-uncle, Nicolas Richelet, who was also an amateur littérateur best known as editor of Ronsard).

Falling under the influence of Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt (1606–1664), the linguist and translator, and the writer Olivier Patru (1604–1681), Richelet devoted his energies to the study of linguistics. In addition to Latin and Greek, he mastered Italian and Spanish in preparation for his work on the origins of the French language. Richelet’s first exercise in lexicography was a Nouveau Dictionnaire des rimes in 1667. This led in turn to his hugely important Dictionnaire françois, one of the first works prepared on methodical principles, and the first monolingual encyclopaedic French dictionary. While the Artcurial sale catalogue noted that “son œuvre épouse le Grand Siècle qui propulse la France à la première place en montrant la voie de l’excellence”, Richelet’s contribution may also be seen as forward looking. Summarised by Alain Rey[2],

[l]’ouvrage de Richelet était un recueil de format pratique, une sorte d’usuel au texte très dense. Pour la première fois une conception relativement homogène du lexique français et une description ne devant plus rien au bilinguisme s’y faisait jour.

It underwent some 60 editions up to 1811, starting with the first, in Geneva in 1680, and second, printed in Lyon by Benoist Bailly in 1681 and was widely copied or plagiarized. That the original edition appeared outside France was because the Académie française had an exclusive royal monopoly (unlike Antoine Furetière, Richelet was not a member; but Furetière was expelled before he too published his dictionary abroad); the first edition of their dictionary appeared in 1694. These and other works of systematization paved the way for the Encyclopédie in the following century. As another modern critic noted,[3]

Qu’ils consignent l’usage ou qu’ils se réfèrent à la raison, les dictionnaires de l’époque Classique sont, suivant l’expression de Richelet, l’« ouvrage de tout le monde ».

While it may sound dry, Richelet’s dictionary has been compared with Johnson’s (who owned[4] a copy of the 1710 edition of Richelet) for his occasionally quirky or even snarky observations: for example, of “bain”, “Quand les Médecins ne savent plus où ils en sont ils ordonnent le bain à leurs malades.” Similar witticisms earned him the enmity of several influential figures in the literary world, which it has been suggested accounts for his frequent movements around France. Indeed, when, after numerous requests, Nicolas Toinard finally managed to find a copy to send to John Locke, he wrote on 7.xii.1680 to excuse the delay[5]:

Vous avez a cete heure a ceque je crois le Richelet, que lon ne doit considerer que comme le plan imparfait dun bel ouvrage a faire. ce livre est tres recherché à cause des impertinences que dit l’auteur parcỳ parla contre beaucoup d’honetes gens.

Locke was pleased with the volume, replying two days later:

il me semble avoire trouvè le vray secret de fair un bon dictionaire, parceque la maniere ordinaire de rendre les paroles d’une langue en ceux d’une autre n’est pas plus raisonable que d’envoier querir un estui en France pour un instrument Anglois dont on ne scait pas en France ny la forme ny l’usage. parceque les mots de different langues ne s’accordent pas mieux que cela.

Among Richelet’s more sober definitions (he included technical terms from arts and sciences which other lexicographers preferred to omit), that of Pastel is early and important enough to be cited in our treatises from the first edition:

Pastel, s.m. Craion fait d’une espece de pâte composée. Il y a de ces craions de toutes les couleurs & l’on fait des tableaux au pastel comme on en fait à l’huile, ou en détrempe. [Dessiner au pastel.]

Richelet’s annotated anthology of Les Plus Belles Lettres des meilleurs auteurs français was published in several editions, of which the second, Paris, 1698, is best known; but the first, single volume, appeared in Lyon in 1689 and is of particular relevance because the frontispiece is the portrait of the author engraved by Langlois after the present pastel.

Subsequent editions and other publications carried reprints and variants engraved by other hands, of which the most important are those by Thomassin (facing right) and Desrochers (facing left). The Langlois and Thomassin prints are inverted from the pastel, the Desrochers corrected. It is fair to say that all three prints are fairly wretched and give no idea of the accomplishment of the original – but their significance is the terminus ante quem they provide for the pastel.

Of Jean Langlois little is known. The Inventaire du Fonds français, xviie siècle (vi, pp. 321ff) tells us that he had been a pensionnaire of the Académie de France in Rome by 1673. In 1692 he was established at the sign of Le Soleil d’or, rue Saint-Jacques. There is nothing to suggest a local Lyon connection.

The Langlois and Thomassin prints are inscribed with verses written by the sitter himself, and the subject of a satire by François Gacon (Le Poète sans fard, 1698, pp. 181f):

Vers de Richelet

Pour mettre au bas de son Portrait, devant un mauvais recuëil de Lettres.

A quoy bon nous faire paroître

D’apres nature Richelet?

Cet Ouvrage le fait connoître

Mille fois mieux que son Portrait.


Sur les Vers precedens.

A quoy bon nous faire paroître

D’apres nature Richelet,

Cet Livre pour un fat le fait assez connoître,

Il devoit épargner l’argent de son Portrait.

Late in life Richelet married Michelle Brumeaux, some 24 years his junior, the mother of their illegitmate daughter Anne-Madeleine, baptised at Saint-Sulpice, five years before their eventual marriage on 17.i.1693. He died on 23.xi.1698, and was buried at Saint-Sulpice the following day.

Quite why the Plus Belles Lettres was first published in Lyon, and whether that led to his acquaintance with Vivien whose roots were in that town, is unknown. The portrait’s place in Vivien’s œuvre is however clear: no other pastel from before 1690 is known, nor anything that demonstrates so clearly the full mastery of Vivien’s mature talent. Although far from being a copy – indeed the directness and warmth of the face are in some contrast with the Grand Siècle demeanour of the master – the parallels with the self-portrait (Uffizi) which Charles Le Brun sent to Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany in 1684 are undeniable. An oval workshop copy of this (Largillierre 1981, fig. 31a, p. 181), given to the Gobelins in 1749 by Jacques Caffieri, may still have been in the Le Brun studio when Vivien was in contact with him, and suggests their relationship was closer than previously understood.

Nothing is known of the provenance of the pastel before 1935 when it was lent to the Paris exhibition celebrating the Troisième centenaire de l’Académie française. Perhaps a late entry (and a surprising one, since Richelet was not an immortel), it was numbered 997 bis. There it was noted in Solange René-Doumic’s critique in La Revue hebdomadaire, 1935, p. 486: “Un autre tableau de Vivien, aussi admirable que le premier, est le portrait de Richelet”, the preceding being the Munich portrait of Fénélon, “assurément…un des plus beaux tableaux du dix-septième siècle.” The lender, the wife of Ferdinand-Jules Deveaud, née Anna-Mélanie-Henriette Fabre (1866–1955), was a pastellist in her own right. Her copy of the Vivien, signed and dated 1940 (right), was on the art market in 2022, the sitter unrecognised. The pastel itself, which Artcurial indicate as passing through Mme Deveaud’s grandchildren, was unknown to Helmut Börsch-Supan when he compiled his 1963 Vivien catalogue, including Richelet only by virtue of the Langlois and Thomassin prints and vouchsafing no date for the work.

At the end of the bidding at Artcurial, Maître Fournier asked expectantly “sans pré-emption?”; met with none, he lamented “C’est vrai que la langue française est enterrée depuis longtemps.” Few today will turn to Richelet’s dictionary, but those that do will have a far better image of the author than the prints were able to convey.

Postscript: an expanded version of this essay is available here.


[1] There are numerous accounts of Richelet’s lexicography. Robert Connesson’s 1985 monograph and Laurent Bray’s 1986 thesis on Richelet remain the most comprehensive studies of his life and work.

[2] Alain Rey, Antoine Furetière : Un précurseur des Lumières sous Louis XIV, Paris, 2006, p. 91.

[3] Georges Matoré, Histoire des dictionnaires français, Paris, 1968, p. 87.

[4] Donald Greene, Samuel Johnson’s library, an annotated guide, 1975, p. 97.

[5] Cited from Electronic Enlightenment.


Cent portraits pour un siècle

The private collection sometimes referred to rather cryptically as the Conservatoire du portrait du dix-huitième siècle (CPDHS) caused some controversy when it was exhibited in the musée Lambinet in Versailles in 2019, with a catalogue by Xavier Salmon, and again in the Palais Lascaris in Nice. No doubt the title “Cent portraits pour un siècle” deliberately echoes the famous exhibition of Cent pastels in Paris in 1908 (the catalogue for which was vigorously criticised by M. Salmon in the introduction to his 2004 La Tour exhibition catalogue). It is now, no doubt with further controversy, to be sold at auction, by Artcurial, next month (15 February 2022). The online catalogue on their website largely follows Salmon’s catalogue (a few numbers are changed, perhaps to make the display in the sale catalogue more effective visually). I don’t propose to enter into the controversy, particularly since much of it is about oil portraits which are versions of established pictures: whether they are autograph replicas, versions with studio assistance or just plain copies is a matter you must judge for yourselves – although I would urge you to seek out the primary versions and put them side by side before deciding (neither the sale nor the exhibition catalogues have done this in most cases).

A collection which focuses on royal portraiture inevitably runs into this problem. But the collection also includes original works by more obscure artists, and offers an opportunity for exploring their biographies which I think has not been fully pursued. The purpose of this blog post is simply to record some facts I’ve unearthed that may be of interest more widely (but which don’t necessarily fit into my Dictionary of pastellists). A few discoveries which were previously published in the Dictionary are used but not acknowledged (I do not appear in the exhibition catalogue, although the Artcurial sale catalogue adds references and J numbers for the pastels which you can consult in, while many of the points below could have been found from consulting it more closely. I refrained from posting this blog in 2019 on the grounds that this was a private collection, but now it is being offered for sale, a few clarifications may be of use to readers. I should emphasize that these are simply matters that caught my eye; a full critique of the catalogue is beyond both my powers and the limits of my (and your) patience.

I’ll follow the sale catalogue lot numbers, noting where the exhibition catalogue numbers differ.

Lot 2. I agree that there may well be a connection between Adélaïde and Pomponne Hubert, Labille-Guiard’s pupil: see my article on Pomponne. But if the puzzle is to be solved, we must get the facts straight, and Anne-Marie Passez’s confusion over the pension payments to Pomponne and the unrelated Hubert sisters must not be repeated. (The Versailles sisters’ family name was actually Huot, but their father called himself Hubert; Pomponne lived in Paris.)

Lot 9. Anne-Baptiste Nivelon’s dates (1711–1786) were established by me on this blog.

Lot 10/11: J.329.1225/J.329.137. I’m not convinced that these pastels are autograph; to me they look like copies. I have published the exact date of death of François Bernardin Frey, as he called himself; XS continues to include “ou 1808”, an error in Ratouis de Limay. The letter identifying a copy for Mme de Braque (O1 1828/384 p. 36) was found and published by me, as well as (p. 38) the name of the “Comtesse de Bar”, Marguerite de Pionne (it is a different question as to whether this is the right identification).

Lots 16, cat. nos. 16/17: J.612.123 /J.612.188.

Lot 19, cat. no. 20. The bases of the identification and attribution are unclear. The matter is certainly not resolved by the pastel from the Fritz Arndt collection in 1905, as that doesn’t seem to me to be by the same hand. This gets rather complicated, but there is a useful discussion on this post on the Forum de Marie-Antoinette blog.

Lot 20, cat. no. 19. J.4976.111. De Lorge. I have more on his biography in the Dictionary: he was still alive in 1796. This picture is inscribed “chev~ Delorge/pictor Peigint 1781”, not “pictor Regine”, the only basis for the identification as Marie-Therese de Savoie, comtesse d’Artois; the sitter is unknown. I originally catalogued it in 2003 before any other de Lorge pastels were known. Those that I have since discovered have a consistent style (rather like that of Colson père) and the signature has a high form level, in the language of graphology (quite different from this semi-legible inscription); these now cause me to question whether this example is “right”.

Lot 22: A great deal has already been written about Vigée Le Brun’s portraits of the duc d’Orléans (J.76.314) and Mme de Montesson, including in relation to the pastel versions now in the Louvre which I first identified as autograph: see the note on this blog, at 141/142. Lot 22 is described as autograph in the exhibition catalogued, but like a number of other lots is qualified with “et collaborateurs” in the sale catalogue; others will have different views.

Lot 24: For French readers unfamiliar with other versions of Hamilton’s portrait of the prince, I offer this juxtaposition of the face with the one in the National Portrait Gallery in London:

In the exhibition catalogue XS suggests that the well-known drawing supposed to be of Louis XVI (Carnavalet, inv. D7108) by Ducreux must in fact be of Bonnie Prince Charles. I can’t see it myself.

Lot 25: This I think was exhibited in the Visiteurs de Versailles exhibition in 2017.

Lot 26: XS notes the Laurent Cars engraving whose lettering provides the name of the artist, identified only cryptically as “An. Demare, prieure de Saint-Calais”.

The print, catalogued in the Inventaire du fonds français as of Louis de Lorraine, prince de Lambesc (1692–1743), fully in accord with the lettering “Ludouicus a Lotharingia Princeps de Lambesc Andium Prorex” (the last phrase means Gouverneur d’Anjou, a position which he held from 1712). Nevertheless XS identifies the sitter as of his son, Charles-Louis, comte de Brionne (1725–1761) for reasons that are not explained. (The internet is now awash with confusions because the titles and offices were passed on from father to son: but Charles-Louis was known as the comte de Brionne while his father and son both used the title prince de Lambesc; see Levantal and La Chesnaye des Bois.) Perhaps he thought the face looked like that of the child in the Nattier double portrait he cites: but the eyes are a different colour?

The debate may easily be resolved however by identifying the artist. She was evidently the “Anne des Mares, coadjutrice” who supervised an inventory at the prieuré Saint-Denis de Saint-Calais in 1714, standing in for the prioress who was ill. The installation of a third prioress in 1721 puts a terminus ante quem for Mme des Mares’s tenure as prioress (among many resources, see this), and indicates that the portrait was made c.1715–20 (this is also consistent with the fact that the convent was dissolved c.1730 when XS’s sitter was only 5). It therefore depicts the prince de Lambesc listed in the IFF, not his son.

Lot 31: J.662.1181 and J.662.1182.

Lot 34: “John Borgnis, Limner” was married in Hull, Yorkshire, on 10 April 1774, to an Ann Scott. Soon after, he returned to London, where several children were born in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields. He was still in that parish when he died and was buried on 8 September 1815 at Whitefield’s Memorial Church, Camden. He was probably the Borgnis, drawing master and miniature painter, at 40 Oxford Street, whose trade card is in the British Museum collection.

Lot 36: While there is no doubt that this is of Marie-Alexandre-Éléonore-Louis-César de Saint-Mauris, prince de Montbarey (that’s how he spelt his name: Mauris, one r in Montbarey, although frequently seen with two), I’m unconvinced that this could be the Vigée Le Brun portrait of 1776. He is shown with the Saint-Esprit awarded in 1778. The catalogue suggests that this was a later addition, but in 1776 he had not the simple croix of a chevalier de Saint-Louis, but the grand-croix (from 1763: Lot 58 shows you what that looks like). The changes involved would be far more elaborate than a simple addition; and it seems improbable that the alterer would have made their task even trickier by incorporating in the unnecessary additional fold in the cordon bleu just visible behind the lace jabot, level with the ribbon of the Saint-Louis. To me this looks like a later portrait, and the documentation link to Vigée Le Brun unreliable.

Lot 37: this oil follows the pastel J.76.146.

Lot 40: I doubt if this is Rotari; probably by a native Russian painter, perhaps Levitsky.

Lot 41, cat. 39. I have this as J.9.2553, anon. Éc. fr., and I wrote about it here at the time of the 2013 sale. An attribution to Kucharski is not unreasonable, although I couldn’t myself get to a firm attribution.

Lot 42, cat. 41: The painter given here only as “Millot” is surely Pierre Millot, as Guiffrey has; reçu 1754 and referred to in Jean-François Brun’s Almanach des peintres. He appears as “Pierre Millot, peintre demeurant à Paris, rue Comtesse d’Artois” in an Avis in the registres de tutelles (10 mai 1783, AN Y5105A) for the children of the sculptor Defernex, along with friends, the painters Anseaume, Doyen, Le Peintre and Lafont.

Lot 44, cat. 43: Lassave, whose biodetails are given as “Toulouse, vers 1750 – ? après 1813” was actually born and died in Paris: 1751-1832. An élève de l’Académie royale, he was reçu at the Académie de Toulouse in 1788. His 1793 carte de sûreté (F7/4805) reveals that he born in Paris, and was living in rue Saint-Medéric 438, age 42, peintre. Among works he copied for the Bâtiments du roi were a pastel of the king (presumably by La Tour), for which his bill for 300 livres was not settled on time. The son of Jean Lassave and Edmee Marguerite Bourgeois (who married in Paris the year before his birth), he married Catherine Meneau at Paris, Bonne Nouvelle, in 1785, and died 19 avril 1832 in Paris 7e. Their son was Alexandre-Jean Lassave (Paris 3 juin 1791 – 1881), chef d’escadron d’artillerie de marine, officier de la Légion d’honneur. His signature appears in the registres de tutelles for his minor cousin Jean Gueral, son of a tailleur d’habits, 1786: “peintre du cabinet du roi…rue St Méderic.”

Lots 49/51, cat. nos. 49/50. Given in the exhibition catalogue to “Joseph (?) Vallière, actif de 1778 à 1797 à Besançon et à Pari”, I am pleased to see that the sale catalogue has now published Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard’s discovery of the artist’s real name to a wider audience. See also my article.

Lot 52: my J.9.2548, among the unattributed Éc. fr. I don’t believe this is by or after Carriera.

Lot 53. The Yale drawing of Mme Nettine is surely after Pierre Bernard, not Joseph, who didn’t work in this manner and was too young. The error is in Greuze 2002 but correct in the Dictionary. XS omits the suggestion (made by the current owner of the pastel: not proven but worth discussing) that the subject is the first Mme La Live de Jully.

Lot 54, cat. 55. The discovery that the pastellist formerly known as “Pierre Allais” was in fact Jacques-Charles Allais, and the biographical details of that artist, who worked in both media, were first published in the online Dictionary of pastellists.

Lot 57, cat. 58. A good deal more is known about Jean-Baptiste Garand, including his dates: see the article in pastellists. It is curious that XS does not mention the very similar drawing, in imitation of a print, of Feydeau de Brou in the Louvre (inv. RF 29447). A third chalk drawing of a police inspector, Sartine, was named in the livret of the salon de l’Académie de Saint-Luc in 1762 (no. 89), the same year as this drawing; perhaps it was among the “plusieurs portraits dessinés de même [à la pierre noire], de differentes grandeurs, sous le même numéro.” I don’t however have an explanation for the coat of arms shown, nor for the appearance of the Saint-Louis which is only recorded from 1776.

Lot 58, cat. 59. Remi-Fursy Descarsin was born and baptised on 4 juillet 1747. The René that appears on his death certificate is no doubt just a misspelling.

Lot 59, cat. 60. As far as I can see the only basis for identifying this lady as Mme Necker is a claimed resemblance to Liotard’s sitter (unfortunately the two Liotard portraits of her are so different as to make any such identification hazardous – they don’t even have the same eye colour; neither much resembles the Duplessis portrait). The miniature in the Louvre (RF 212) was previously an anonyme inconnue. There is a real danger in extrapolating from a bold hypothesis into presenting the inferences as supporting evidence – petitio principii. It is hard to know why the Pichon sale is mentioned (1897, not 1896), as the lot there (not reproduced) described a “robe grise”, while this is a pale yellow (the colour may of course have been misdescribed – but the description is broad enough to cover hundreds of candidates). Whether it is by Aubry I will leave to others to discuss.

Lots 69/70, cats. 72/71. Louis Petit is mentioned at several addresses; Guiffrey cites rue Saint-Honoré, près SaintRoch, making it likely that he is the peintre-doreur of this name and address married to a Marie-Nicolle Raflet (AN Y5130B, 1785).

Lot 73, cat. 69 p. 143: Davesne’s dates used here were first discovered and published by me (by 2017).

Lot 77, cat. 9. Anne-Charlotte-Julie Beausire, veuve Destouches died 9 juillet 1814. Her husband’s inventaire après décès was closed 27 novembre 1772 (AN Y5304).

Lot 80, p. 165 A photograph of the “lost” Mlle Silvia by La Tour (“n’est connu que par l’estampe”) is included in my La Tour catalogue, J.46.2972. (I’m also responsible for most of the recovered œuvre of Drouais père in pastel.)

Lot 82, my J.6.1013; a version of the original pastel. p. 167: Pougin’s birth “vers 1721” was my deduction, first published in the Dictionary in 2015.

Lots 88/92, cats. 90–92. Simon Pinson was born in Paris in 1739 and still alive in 1800; his first wife was the aunt of Francois-Guillaume Ménageot, and his second was the sister-in-law of the artist Jean-Baptiste Garand (v. Lot 57).

Lot 97: J.284.101. p. 194: I identified the names etc of Mmes Rathelot and La Loge. pp. 194, 206: The distinguished miniatures specialist Bernd Pappe is spelt with 3 ps.

Lot 98, cat. 99. The photograph of the Bordeaux 1913 exhibition referred to was reproduced in 2014 from my copy of the rare album. It also shows another version of cat. 1. The sitter’s identity is easily deduced from the name of the lender to that exhibition, although one degree of consanguinity has been omitted: the lender was Mme David-Louis-Adrien Léon, née Thérèse-Elisabeth-Judith Levylier (1857-1939), whose great-great-grandmother was Mme Abraham Mendes, née Esther Lopez-Diaz (c.1754-1827).

The essence of innumerable biographies…

David Alexander, A biographical dictionary of British and Irish engravers 1714–1820, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale: New Haven and London, 2021

I pre-ordered this a long time ago, and had completely forgotten when it unexpectedly arrived a week ago. It spent the ritual three days in quarantine before I dared open it. And I have been browsing through it since, reflecting as I did on the concept of art dictionaries. For of course I am the last person to ask to review one, since I am in a sense a rival. (Actually not as much as I expected: both Alexander’s dictionary, which I refer to below as DA, and mine include about 3000 names, but the overlap of artists in both is about 5% at a rough estimate.)

Physically it is similar to Ingrid Roscoe’s Biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain 1660–1850, 2009 (from the same publisher), although that is considerably longer; at xii+1047 pages (not 1120 pp as on publisher’s website) DA is the same size as John Ingamells’s invaluable Dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy 1701–1800, 1997 – a work whose charms and scholarship never fail. (What a pity the same paper could not be used.)

DA too is a work of obvious scholarship and huge diligence, but which nevertheless brought out the Beckmesser in me (never far from the surface), for reasons that I will come to. Partly dare I confess I found it odd to have my work referred to as “Pastellists” when everything else is cited by author’s name. The feeling that I was a late addition was reinforced by my puzzlement as to when Pastellists is cited – it seems rarely, usually in relation to minor figures, but, for example, not in the bibliographies for Joseph Ducreux, Daniel Gardner, William Hoare, Charles Howard Hodges, Arthur Pond, Thomas Frye, Jean Pillement etc. It didn’t put me in the best frame of mind for a balanced review. Which in any case should only be undertaken after using a reference work over a much longer period than four days.

But readers of this blog will want to know more immediately whether they should buy it. At £75 it’s neither expensive nor cheap – the decision depends on what you want it for. There is something about art history that attracts dictionary-makers, and for dealers and collectors the ability to find basic information and be directed to deeper studies is a major attraction. So publishers have found a market for major works throughout the ages. The great Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, Bénézit or the Grove Dictionary of art are perhaps best known, but there is a vast number of dictionaries and encyclopaedias focused on narrower areas from architecture to miniatures. Perhaps there should be a dictionary of dictionaries – but of course there is, there are…

Prints have had more than their fair share of lexicographical obsession. The role of engravings before photography was often as reproductions of real works of art; the prints themselves could display a level of craftsmanship which was occasionally breathtaking, but rarely original. The challenge of identifying and cataloguing “states” of engravings involves a rare kind of meticulous attention which is not for all; some will consider it little removed from stamp collecting. I confess to having indulged in a bit of this myself, justified I think by the astonishing quality of the work by Nanteuil and Drevet which I collected 35 years ago (when you could buy portrait engravings on the Portobello Road). In France, Firmin-Didot, Portalis & Beraldi set a standard that progressed to the sadly still incomplete Inventaire du Fonds français, and Britain has not been ignored with the vast riches of Victorian scholarship now updated and largely consolidated in the fabulously useful, if occasionally incomplete, British Museum collection database (“BM” below).

So is there a need for yet another Dictionary of British and Irish engravers? (I didn’t count but I suspect there are nearly as many engravers from France as from Ireland – a reminder that the level of skill and training in Paris was astonishing, and of the need to be as familiar with French genealogy sources as with British ones.)

On the positive side there is a truly vast amount of information in this volume, and really important accounts of the work of major engravers presented clearly. Its function of identifying engravers whose names are known is obvious. The question of homonyms (there are 50 Smiths, 18 Walkers (6 of them John), 17 Williamses…) illustrates the need for such a dictionary. And I noted very few omissions: Luttrell may be an example, although it is difficult to be sure if he made any plates after 1714; see also Holloway and Benson below. Who knows if Basan was correct in suggesting that Franz de Paula Ferg and Pierre Maloeuvre (neither is included) had worked in London? Omissions are always harder to spot.

How helpful is it as a practical guide to attribution when there are literally no reproductions beyond a tiny vignette on the dust-wrapper? As it is a biographical dictionary, are the family relationships set out clearly? As it is printed, are the indexing (none) and cross-referencing good enough? How much original material is there? If this is a compilation, is there any logic to assembling in a single volume material available elsewhere (particularly when the scope ranges from engravers of portraits to music etc.)? And fundamentally, as anyone who works with this type of material knows, when presenting information from different sources that is contradictory, are the discrepancies satisfactorily resolved, or has the book merely added another source of confusion?

That I think is probably the most important challenge. I don’t want a seventeenth reference work I’m going to have to read against sixteen others before deciding which is right: I want one which gives the correct dates (surely one of the most important pieces of information sought in a biographical dictionary) every time, and, where they contradict other respected sources, explains why.

A reviewer is likely to open this book, see a wealth of interesting facts and assume it is all correct, without realising that it is virtually impossible to escape error or incompleteness when it comes to biographies of obscure people in the eighteenth century. This is partly because of the explosion of online material: databases with parish records, imaged as well as transcribed (so previous errors can be eliminated) as well as far more liberal access to images of the prints themselves. I note for example that Ian Mackenzie’s rather useful British prints (Antique Collectors’ Club) is not mentioned, although it is a handy compilation with useful images that many readers may have to hand from pre-internet days. Comparing the first page of both, DA gives Henry Abbott’s dates as fl.1820, Mackenzie the full 1768–1840. This is found also for example in the Yale Center for British Art Collections Online database, so, even if wrong, DA needs to say why.

This is not the only example. It is only by working through specific examples that one comes across questions: I have (not quite randomly, as my eye was inevitably drawn to artists I knew independently) compiled below a list of such observations. Suffice it to say that it is rather longer than I expected. (I know only too well how such errors arise, particularly when a work has developed over a very long period.)

I’m attaching it partly to help readers understand the sort of problems I encountered, but also I hope to set off a debate about how we can more efficiently handle the task of sifting such errors out of art history reference material. Lists of errata (several have previously appeared on this blog) are never popular with the authors, and my own preference is to provide them before printing rather than after purchase – but I’m not asked as often as I’d like.

Increasingly of course reference material is online, or will go online (as I hope this will), and so can be corrected and updated: but even here practices differ widely. I’ve submitted corrections or observations to the British Museum collection database which have invariably been adopted with courtesy (not always immediately, but the advance of human knowledge doesn’t have to be instant, and there is something to be said for letting new information mature before it is acted upon). In contrast a long list of corrections for the Oxford DNB sent in 2014 have been ignored with a level of arrogance I find misplaced.

Another approach which in theory should be efficient is the collective enterprise of a Wiki-like undertaking. In principle this could allow us to join together all those dictionaries of minor arts, genealogies etc and forge a communal knowledge base etc. But sadly I don’t see any way to get it to work in practice, with the wide range of skills among likely participants, combined with the genuinely different needs for a database on say needlework compared with one for topographical watercolourists. I fear we are stuck with the individual project.

There are other issues with the book. It has entries only for those who actually engraved: no doubt for reasons of space, but many of us will want list of artists whose work has been engraved and by whom, if only in an index. Indeed when prints are mentioned, the details don’t always include the artist whose work is engraved. This (like many of my criticisms) all depends on where you’re coming from.

The vocabulary is occasionally quaint: apprentices are invariably “bound”, while a few artists come from “gentry families” (I use the word reluctantly, but only as a noun). The handling of foreign names is a bit odd, as some of the examples below illustrate. Of course French names often appeared in anglicised form in British documents at the time, but both forms should be given today; spelling, alphabetisation and identification of family names are not standardised here. And, as a number of my illustrations below suggest, I felt a biographical dictionary should have more about wives and families and colourful stories rather than just the work; others will disagree.

Specific comments

Francis Edward Adams: died 20.iv.1777 according to his widow’s declaration appended to his will, probated 26.iii.1801 (Prerogative Court of Canterbury).

William Barnard: birth given as “c.1776” although ODNB (cited) provides date of baptism. We can go one step further: he was in fact born 8.vii.1774.

Bartolozzi: there is huge confusion in the literature about his date of birth: citing an 1815 source is no substitute for explaining why the date given (1728) is correct.

Nicolas Dauphin de Beauvais appears under B, not D, and the forename is given as Nicholas.

Birrell: the entry is of no help in identifying the “W Birrell” who signed Hamilton’s Lady Temple in 1798; I had already conjectured this might be Andrew Birrell.

Bland: The BM collection database gives Thomas Bland’s dates as fl.1770–1790, while DA gives fl.1765–72.

James Bolton: DA gives death as 1799. BM: “died in March 1807 (information from David Beasley, Goldsmiths’ Company). Previously incorrectly identified with James Bolton, botanical painter of Halifax, who died in 1799.”

William Bond death “1842 or later”: his will made 27.xii.1837 was probated 1842; buried 2.vii.1842 aged 80, St Anne’s Soho.

Thomas Bragg (c.1780-1840): The Times inquest report gives his age as 95, while the parish burial entry is probably more accurate at 86 years. In any case c.1780 (which I presume is deduced from his likely age at apprenticeship) seems unlikely.

C. Carter: Charles Carter is identified in Pastellists (and Walpole’s correspondence, where there are numerous references) as the “painting servant” of Canon Mason, whose portrait by Vaslet J.749.18 he engraved.

Jacques Chéreau was born in 1688, not 1694.

Louis Chéron died in 1725, not 1735 (twice).

Philip Dawe: DA has “c.1750-1809 or later”; Pastellists, following ODNB (neither is cited), as ?c.1745–?1809.

William Delacour: DA plausibly suggests that he be identified with the Guillaume de la Court, son of Salomon, who was a weaver of Bethnal Green in 1704 when he married; his wife was Marie-Magdelaine du Bois, and the baptism took place in the Huguenot church, Threadneedle Street, not the hospital chapel in Spitalfields.

Nicholas [sic] Dorigny: Nicolas was born in 1658, not 1638.

Robert Dunkarton’s will was given probate on 2.ii.1815, so he must have died before “c.1817”. He married Mary Barnard on 6.x.1771 at St Paul’s Hammersmith.

Gainsborough Dupont was born in Sudbury 20.xii.1754 (if the RA archive is to be believed), not 1757.

Abraham Easto was baptised 14.v.1786 in Fressingfield, Suffolk and died in Norfolk 26.iii.1867.

William Faden, pp. 334f: this might be the place to mention his son-in-law rather than just p. 773. The question of how to handle cross-references and avoid duplication in printed dictionaries is tricky.

“Amadeo Gabrieli”: the name in the BM Collection Database is Amedeo Gabrielli: the alternatives should be listed. “C. Cunningham” is Edward Francis Cunningham. The only Boze seems to be the Louis XVI; the other royal portraits after Gratise etc.

Daniel Gardner: surely Pastellists might have been added to the bibliography? Despite my researches (Transactions of the Romney Society, xxi, 2016) we still haven’t found his exact date of birth, so c.1750 still required.

John Alexander Gresse: more in Pastellists beyond ODNB.

Samuel Hieronymous Grimm lodged with the pastellist Susannah, not Sarah, Sledge.

Charles Harris: DA suggests he may have been the engraver apprenticed to Peter Mazell, but it is difficult to see how an apprentice could exhibit as an honorary amateur.

Charles Howard Hodges: born in London, not Portsmouth (discussed in Pastellists).

Why is John Holloway Jr missing? His engraving after La Tour’s Voltaire (my J.46.312551) for Literary magazine, 1792; BM also has Joseph Benson 1804 (inv. 1851,1108.19).

Isaac Jehner: The Isaac Jenner who married Mary Ann Cattell in 1803 was a bachelor, so this cannot have been a second marriage of the father. Two years after his autobiography, Jenner, “drawing master”, also published a manual on the Art of drawing.

Elizabeth Judkins: the EJ buried in St Botolph, Bishopsgate in 20.i.1815 was aged 56, so born 1758, too late for the engraver. Another, of Leadenhall Market, was buried 30.x.1823 aged 68, just possible. Note that when James Watson married, his bride signed Mary Judkin, not Judkins, so both spellings were evidently in use. ODNB (following Goodman) gives her father as Reuben Judkins, not cited DA: from that I traced the clandestine marriage of Reuben Judkins, a coach painter of St Giles, to Ann Bouch on They had at least four children, Mary, born 30.i.1746, bpd St George’s Hanover Square, who is too young to be the future Mrs Watson (that Mary Judkin was 21 or over in 1757 according to the banns); Samuel 1748 and Joseph 1753, both baptised St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Elizabeth, baptised 12.ix.1756 at St Giles-in-the-Fields (matching the age of the deceased buried in Leadenhall Market in 1823). Nor is it likely that Reuben Judkins had an earlier marriage: he was apprenticed in 1740 (to Richard Abbott of the Painters’ company).

Charles Knapton’s dates are 1698-1742: see Pastellists.

S. Lamborn: one wonders if his engraving of Samuel Johnson, “from an original drawing”, inverted from the anonymous pastel after Reynolds, my J.6174.159, might mean he was a pastellist?

William Lane: the suggestion that he was born in Hereford (Hampton Bishop, surely, rather than Hampton Wick?) is added credence by the large group of his drawings discussed in Pastellists, of which the donor was the daughter of Reginald Lane Poole, a great-grandson of the Rev. Dr Theophilus Lane (1762–1814), prebendary of Hereford. He was the son of James Lane (1731–1791) and Eliza Reece. But the Ann Lane born in Hampton Bishop on was probably the daughter of Rev. William Lane, canon of Hereford and rector of Hampton Bishop who died 1752, born 1700 (matriculated at Oxford, Oriel College, in 1718), son of another James Lane. This could be looked at further.

“James Christopher Le Blon” for Jakob Christoffel etc.: the reader needs warning of the numerous variants.

James Macardell’s birth is given as 1729, without explaining the discrepancy with the ODNB: “in 1727 or 1728”. Later the ODNB says “he died at the age of thirty-seven on 1 June 1765”, while DA has “in July 1765” without age. Musgrave has

Alexander Macdonald: the print of Todd Jones may be after Matthew, not Robert, Hunter.

For Thomas Major’s collaboration with Liotard, see my

Simon Malgo was born in Copenhagen in 1745 according to old sources: are they wrong?

Maucourt: although Pastellists is cited (and I think I first published his forename as Claude rather than Charles), the birth certificate I found, Passavant-en-Argonne 1.iv.1714 (not c.1707), is ignored.

George Morland was the son of Henry Robert, not of George Henry, Morland.

Amelia Noel: See article in Pastellists for the full account of why she is Minka Levy. I find it hard to understand why DA questions this (or why he does not cite the source for the theory he rejects), which I put forward in 2012 (and has since appeared in various websites). My proposed identification is not in the Massill article, which merely reprints the 1781 reports of the wedding (already cited in my article) without mentioning Amelia. The law report, properly understood, makes it perfectly clear that the Amelia Noel sued by her coal merchant was the same lady.

Nutter’s birth often cited as 1754. Are we relying only on age in GM obit? If in 44th year on 22.iii.1802, 1758 is three times as likely as 1759.

Pether’s dates: buried 25.vii.1821 aged 82, so more likely born 1739 than 1738.

Purcell: The Richard Purcell of Springford, Co. Cork, born 1728, who married Catherine Grove in 1762 (Cloyne marriage licence bonds index) died in 3.ix.1797: he was the rector of Casteltownroche near Cork, and appears in Edmund Burke’s correspondence. He was from a different layer of Irish society. See link for his career. The son apprenticed to John Bennett of Fleet Street, Printseller (surely the details refer to the master, not the deceased father), on 2.xii.1777, was according to the source cited (Mckenzie), “Gasper”, not Gaspar. DA’s spelling may be correct (but if so from what source?), but the unnoted change delays verification. It seems to me likely that this apprentice was the “Jasper Purcell” listed on the register of poor children taken into parish care at St Clement Danes, aged 7, on 2 December 1767 (London Lives online). If his father was the engraver, that would confirm that Richard Purcell probably died in 1767.

Ravenet’s son was Simon-Jean-François Ravenet (1737-1821).

Ruotte: There is no doubt that the engraver was Louis-Charles Ruotte. On 16 May 1782 at St Marylebone Charles Lewis Ruotte married Jeanne Terase dit Labaume (the witnesses were Louis Francis Dumay and Marguerite Dubuisson). Their son, Louis-Nicolas-Marie Ruotte, was born in Paris on 3.vii.1785 (as we know from his 1843 marriage in Lyon, at an advanced age), so Ruotte was probably back by then. We can find many more documents in French archives. He was described as “graveur étant actuellement à Londres” in a document of 10.i.1784 (AN Y5122A) dealing with his deceased father’s estate (François Ruotte, bourgeois de Paris); a grandson of the deceased, Alexandre-François, was also named: he was the son of a deceased “professeur de langue angloise”, Francois-Marie Ruotte, the engraver’s brother. The engraver’s mother was Marie-Jeanne Caron, still living. Louis-Charles Ruotte, graveur en taille-douce, was back in Paris by 16.ix.1785, living at rue Saint-Hyacinthe, paroisse Saint-Côme (AN Y5133B). He was still there five years later, in .vii.1790 (AN Y5192B), when he applied to compromise with his creditors. Another document in the registre de tutelles (AN Y5144B) identifies him as still a minor in .viii.1786, so he must have been born no earlier than 1761, not in 1754.

John Charles Russell (p. 774) “was the son of John Russell (q.v.)”, but of which?

Charles Reuben Ryley was admitted to the RA in 14.ii.1769 aged 17, so c.1751 is surely to be preferred to the 1749 suggestion (is there any evidence that that Abraham Ryley was a trooper in the Horse Guards?).

Richard Sisson (born “c.1730”) was baptised on 19.viii.1722 at St Mary’s, Church of Ireland, the youngest of six children of Robert and Frances Sisson.

“Scorodomoff” needs at least to be cross-referenced from Sk-, 34 pages away. His dates are given in Pastellists, 12.iii.1755–12.vii.1792.

Sintzenich: three members of the family are included, but not others e.g. Friedrich Heinrich, presumably because he didn’t visit, or isn’t known to have visited, England. Correct but annoying.

Emma Smith married in London on 10.viii.1808 Robert Smith, who later adopted the name Pauncefote; that is why the marriage is hard to find.

Gabriel Smith: perhaps 1783 is wrong for his death, but is there any reason to suggest the Gabriel Smith buried in Whitechapel 8.iv.1773 rather than say the one buried at St James’s Piccadilly on 8.v.1774?

John Raphael Smith: born “c.1746”: D’Oench has Derby bpt 25.v.1751.

Francois-David Soiron was Swiss, not French; born in Geneva 12.x.1764, trained there and left for London in 1790 (Brun, Schweizerisches Künstler-Lexikon, 1913).

Peltro William Tomkins: perhaps worth noting that he owned Russell’s pastel (J.64.114) of Bartolozzi, now in the Louvre.

Townley: the family relationship worth explaining is with the collector: the connection is (very) distant. I am not sure whether he died in Hertford in 1802 (plausible); but Margaret called herself his widow in a will made in 1803 and proved on her death in 1809. He had two children by a previous marriage (the son’s name, Charles Haswell Townley, might be a clue to his first wife’s family name). This is made clearer by the marriage record on 14.ix.1801 which did not take place in “St George’s Church, Hendon” as incorrectly reported in the press at the time, but at St John’s, Hampstead, and he was described as “Chas Townly Widower”.

George, Marquess Townshend: it seems eccentric not to give him his title in the headline. He is the subject of a rich iconography by artists including Reynolds, Hudson, Mather Brown and Angelica Kauffman, as well as (probably) by Liotard. It’s a pity portraits of engravers aren’t systematically listed as they are a useful clue to the reciprocity of artistic relations.

Henry Trench: there is no reason to doubt the 1684 year of birth inscribed on his self-portrait in Stockholm reproduced in Pastellists.

George Vertue’s death is printed twice (on pp. 939, 941) as in 1755; is there any reason to question the 24.vii.1756 given in Pastellists and most other sources?

J. Violet: nothing better illustrates the need for continuing research. Here is a portrait engraving of the highest quality signed by an otherwise unrecorded engraver. Was he English or French? Looking through the biographical sources, one wonders about the James Violet living in Grafton Street, London in 1781 according to the Westminster rates books; but the Westminster poll book for 1780 (his name struck out as “foreign”) gives his occupation as “victualler”. Perhaps he might be the Jacques Violet, aged 10 in 1751 (registres de tutelles), son of a menuisier in Paris, but there is no other trace. Could this in fact be an early London appearance of the miniaturist Pierre (see below) Violet whose middle names was Jean? All guesses, wisely omitted from the book.

“Pierre Violet (1749–1819)”: citing ODNB for his career as a whole. But Pastellists has more than either. His full name was Pierre-Jean-Noel Violet, born 25.xii.1742. ODNB is confused too about his marriages: his first marriage, in Paris on 7.viii.1770 (contract of 20.vii.1770), was to Marie-Félicité Legeste; he was divorced on 12.iii.1794, and, on 11.xii.1797, at St James’s Piccadilly, he married Marguerite Becret (1769–1851); Francesco Bartolozzi was witness. There were two daughters of the second relationship: Maria, born 1793 and Cécilia, born three weeks before the 1797 marriage.

James Ward: Pastellists and ODNB give his birth as 23.x.1769, not 1770.

Caroline Watson “(1760–1814)”: where does the 1760 come from? The ODNB gives 1760/61–1814, and notes that her mother was Mary, daughter of Reuben Judkins, indicating she was born c.1740. See my comments on Elisabeth Judkins above, where I suggest Mary was in fact born 30.i.1746. But James Watson married Mary Judkin [sic] on 17.i.1757, and according to the banns she was 21 or over. I can’t resolve these curiosities (I’d rather hoped that DA would do so for me), although it is not impossible that Mary’s age was misstated, she married at 13 and gave birth several years later; but this seems improbable.

“James Watson (c.1740–1790)”. According to Pastellists, based on Irish church records (which may be incomplete), and assuming that Redgrave is right that he was the brother of William Watson, it is most likely that they were the William and James Watson baptised respectively on 20.iv.1730 and 18.ix.1734 at St John’s Dublin, the sons of William and Sarah Watson.

“Ephraim Welsh (c.1749–1772 or later)”: he served as topographical artist on the voyage of the Fox packet to and from China 1781–82.

Francis Wheatley: there is no mention of his liaison with Jean-Alexandre Gresse’s wife which is supposed to have caused his four-year stay in Ireland.

La Tour’s second thoughts

So much of my work on La Tour has been unravelling and rejecting myth. Herodotus faced much the same problem with his sources, but eventually conceded “having condemned others’ opinions, I must now say what I think about these obscure matters.” The problem of course is in finding new, reliable sources of information – or else one is simply compounding the confusion. With an artist on whom so much scholarship has been devoted, entirely new sources are difficult to find. But sometimes crucial information has been hiding under our noses.

The legend about La Tour’s destruction of two of his masterpieces in a senile attempt to “improve” them is more than just a story: the evidence was shown to all in the Louvre exhibition in 2018. The sorry state of Dumont le Romain (left), and the even sorrier remnants of what was once Jean Restout (right), were bravely presented to an audience with a reasonable account of their confused history. You can find my version of this written up in the relevant entries in my online catalogue raisonné: Dumont at J.46.1681, Restout at J.46.2687. (Remember you find these by searching the J numbers in the search box on, opening the relevant pdf and going to the J number which is in a decimal sequence – so J.46.2787 is before J.46.279. Or you can go direct to the pdf from You can also find a precis of the discussion below in §II.4 of my main La Tour article, As always the crucial contemporary documents are transcribed, with further references, in

But here at any rate is a broad chronology of what must have happened.

At a session of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture on 25.v.1737 “le sieur Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Peintre de portraits en pastel, aïant fait apporter de ses ouvrages” was agréé (provisionally accepted for membership). His set pieces for full reception were selected the following week: they were to be portraits of the academicians François Lemoyne and Jean Restout. Lemoyne committed suicide a few days later, and Jean-Baptiste Van Loo was nominated instead: but his departure to London and later return to his native Provence created a further hurdle, before La Tour eventually submitted Restout alone, in 1746, when he was finally reçu. Four years later he also presented the portrait of Dumont le Romain as a gift to the Académie; it is often erroneously described as a morceau de réception.

Some six years after that, in 1756, the Polish painter Tadeusz Kuntze copied both works. Although this has been in the Dictionary since 2015, the copies are not mentioned in other La Tour scholarship and their significance has escaped me until now. Tadeusz Konicz, dit Kuntze (Zielonej Górze 1727 – Rome 1793), was trained in Rome at the Académie de France, 1747–52, and stayed on to paint religious and allegorical pictures there in the tradition of Reni and Solimena. In 1756 he was sent to Paris where he made oil copies (all now in Wilanów) of artists’ portraits which had been acquired by the Académie royale (normally as morceaux de réception), including pastels by La Tour (Dumont le Romain, Restout) and Lundberg (Boucher, Natoire). He returned to Poland in 1757 before settling in Rome in 1759 and disappearing from our story. His copies were run of the mill, boringly but helpfully unimaginative.


A few years later attention focused on engravings of both La Tour pastels. Neither sitter had had a portrait engraved (the Cochin portrait of Dumont was engraved by Saint-Aubin only in 1770). The engraver Pierre-Étienne Moitte (1722–1780) – who also engraved La Tour’s portraits of Belle-Isle and of Jolyot de Crébillon – was agréé on 26.iv.1761, with Galloche, acting recteur, deputed to set him two subjects for his morceaux de reception. Evidently the La Tour portrait of Restout was one of those, but the other was never recorded. Six months later, in a session of the Académie where La Tour was present, the question of the format of the engraving was raised: La Tour’s portrait being deemed unsuited to the usual oval format (Moitte’s head of Crébillon for the Galerie française is no doubt what was in mind), the Académie decided that the whole portrait be engraved, but in view of the additional work required, this single engraving would suffice for Moitte’s reception. It was not however delivered until 1771 (although it must have been based on the pastel before its reworking already underway in 1769 – see below), for reasons unknown but one may speculate that La Tour’s dissatisfaction with his own work may have played a part in the delay. Nevertheless the engraving accurately corresponds to Kuntze’s 1756 copy of the original version of the pastel.

Separately the engraver Jean-Jacques Flipart (1719–1782) produced a full-length portrait after Dumont le Romain. (Again one may speculate that it was originally the other set piece for Moitte, but there is no evidence for this.) Flipart was agréé in 1755 but never reçu, and this engraving was not part of his Académie requirements. Apart from the La Tour, he engraved a self-portrait by Rosalba and a pastel by Vivien, but most of his work was not portraiture: he was best known for his genre pieces after Greuze. A 1772 Chasse au tigre, after Boucher (actually a leopard), is one of the few plates for which the engraver’s preparatory drawing survives (Paris, Drouot, Thierry de Maigret, 27.iii.2009, Lot 76).

The lettering on Flipart’s Restout includes the artist’s offices, and thus provides a terminus post quem for the plate (or at least the complete state), of 1768, when Restout was promoted to chancelier of the Académie. Unlike the Moitte, it is reversed from the pastel; and perhaps for this reason its departures from the Louvre work have gone unnoticed. It is equally possible that anyone comparing the print with the pastel would simply have assumed the alterations were the engraver’s fancy. That theory survives the discovery of what may be Flipart’s preparatory drawing in the Walker Art Gallery (again omitted from all La Tour scholarship to date) – a drawing which however is in the same sense as the pastel, reinforcing the suggestion that it may have been preparatory to the engraving; the lower part is unfinished. (The evidence of the Cleveland préparation is limited to the central fold in the turban, which matches far more closely the print than the Louvre pastel. The Restout préparation in Saint-Quentin, of stunning quality, with a knotted falling lock of hair as in the Kuntze copy, can however tell us nothing about the overall composition.)


But it is in both cases the almost exact match of the Flipart and Moitte engravings with the Kuntze copies that provides incontrovertible evidence of how the pastels looked in 1756 and during the 1760s before La Tour’s changes.

That changes were made is of course well documented. Shortly after Restout’s death in 1768 La Tour retrieved both portraits with the intention of “improving” them. Mariette mentions only Restout, while Diderot compounds the confusion when he interrupts his Salon de 1769 with an account of a visit to La Tour’s studio in which he suggests that La Tour is copying rather than altering the pastel of Restout he had borrowed:

Je sortais du Sallon; j’étais fatigué; je suis entré chez La Tour, cet homme singulier qui apprend le latin à cinquante-cinq ans, et qui a abandonné l’art dans lequel il excelle pour s’enfoncer dans les profondeurs de la métaphysique qui achèvera de lui déranger la tête. Je l’ai trouvé payant un tribut à la mémoire de Restout, dont il peignait le portrait d’après un autre de lui dont il n’était pas satisfait. O le beau jeu que je joue, me dit-il! Je ne saurais que gagner. Si je réussis, j’aurais l’éloge d’un bon artiste; si je ne réussis pas, il me restera celui de bon ami. Il m’avoua qu’il devait infiniment aux conseils de Restout, le seul homme du même talent qui lui ait paru vraiment communicatif, que c’était ce peintre qui lui avait appris à faire tourner une tête et à faire circuler l’air entre la figure et le fond en reflétant le côté éclairé sur le fond, et le fond sur le côté ombré; que soit la faute de Restout, soit la sienne, il avait eu toutes les peines du monde à saisir ce principe, malgré sa simplicité; que, lorsque le reflet est trop fort ou trop faible, en général vous ne rendez pas la nature, vous peignez; que vous êtes faible ou dur, et que vous n’êtes plus ni vrai ni harmonieux.

Diderot’s account at least offers an explanation of La Tour’s interest in a tribute to his recently deceased mentor. No such explanation can account for the assault on the Dumont pastel: the subject would live on to 1781.

The following year La Tour laid out the problems with the portrait of Restout in his long letter to Belle de Zuylen (5.iii.1770). The letter is too long to quote in full, but this is relevant:

C’est s’occuper de chimères, on ne fait ny tableaux ny poëmes tels que je les désire. Cette perfection est au-dessus de l’humanité; je l’éprouve actuellement: j’ay sur le chevallet le portrait de feu M. Restout, fait et donné à l’Académie en 1744; j’ay voulu depuis sa mort luy témoigner ma reconnoissance des grands principes de peinture qu’il m’a communiqué, en remaniant cet ouvrage. Après avoir fait cent changemens, on me dit « Quel dommage! » Il y avoit un mouvement qui se communiquoit à ceux qui le voyoient. Je suis encore après et ay changé jusqu’à ce jour; je ne puis dire quand il sera fini. On attend d’autres ouvrages faits anciennement, que j’ai eu en fantaisie de remanier; je les renverray si un compagnon de voyage arrive avant.

(Once again La Tour is confused about dates: his morceau de réception was presented to the Académie in 1746, not 1744.) But at least the letter makes it clear that what was under way was a “remaniement”, not a copying. The postscript disclosed that the Académie had required him to return the portrait of Restout, more or less as it was:

les regrets de l’Académie m’obligent de tacher de remettre le portrait de M. Restout à peu près comme il était. Voilà bien du temps perdu et des efforts in vanum. Mieux que bien est terrible! On ne se corrige pas, puisque j’ay tombé dans le cas plus de cent fois.

The pastels were presumably returned to the Académie soon after, or perhaps later. They were listed among the revolutionary seizures from the ci-devant Académie on 9.xii.1793, when they were inventoried in the Premier Garde-meuble with this note: “Ces deux tableaux sont perdus par l’auteur même qui, trop vieux, voulut les retoucher: on peut compter que les glaces.” In the 21.vii.1796 inventory, Phlipault noted that they had not been transported to the maison de Nesle with the other Académie pictures; the entry included the important note that by then they were “sans bordure”; if the glass too had been removed since 1793 that would have led to further losses beyond those inflicted by the artist.

But interesting though these verbal documents may be, they leave us completely ignorant of the visual issues which must be paramount in any art historical analysis. Further there is a limit to what scientific analysis alone can bring to this discussion: the use of multiple sheets (Restout we know is on 13 sheets of paper, Dumont on 5), repaired joins  etc. can offer little to tell us whether changes were made during the 1740s or thirty years later: no newly invented pigment or material is likely to be detectable.

What we can now say with confidence is that La Tour decided to make radical changes to both works for essentially aesthetic reasons. Those to Restout are less clear in view of the subsequent deterioration (so that what was deliberately altered and what has been damaged are sometimes irretrievably confused). Why round the corners of the canvas on the easel, unless La Tour had developed a dislike of linearity (or had noticed that the perspective of the plane of the canvas and that of the easel were incorrect)? Most curiously, the proper arm, visibly on a separate sheet on the Louvre pastel, seems if anything to be closer to the original than the rest of the work. The most important alteration is that the portfolio resting on the artist’s knees on which he has been drawing has been replaced by a far less ambitious work table covered in baize. The gesture of drawing, with the porte-crayon now resting on cloth, makes no sense. But the covering up of the sitter’s legs has transformed this three-quarter length portrait jusqu’aux genoux into a half-length image: what is lost in sense is gained in proximity: it is in the current vernacular up close and personal.

The changes to Dumont can be more exhaustively listed. Among the minor details, one notes that the original had a fuller background curtain, a rectangular palette with an oil reservoir, a larger group of brushes and a simpler table with no drawer, supporting different objects. The effect of these differences, notably in the table, is again, and even more dramatically, to change to viewpoint, providing a di sotto in sù perspective (unique in the œuvre) which served to make the portrait both more intimate and more reverential.

What is clearly happening illustrates La Tour’s problems with the viewpoint, one of numerous particular difficulties facing the portraitist on which he wrote at great length to Marigny in 1763:

Les gens délicats sont blessés d’un tableau dont le point de distance est près et n’a pas au moins vingt-cinq pieds. Partant de ce principe, quel embarras pour une vûe courte et foible, forcée d’être à deux ou trois pieds du modelle, obligée de se hausser et baisser à mesure, de tourner à droite, à gauche, pour tâcher d’appercevoir de près ce qu’on ne peut voir bien que de loin! Il faudroit être à ma place pour sentir les efforts que je fais pour mettre une figure et une teste ensemble dans les règles de la perspective. Les angles sont si courts que la personne qu’on peint de près ne peut pas regarder de ses deux yeux à la fois l’œil du peintre. Ils vont et viennent sans être jamais ensemble. C’est pourtant de leur parfait accord que résulte l’âme et la vie du portrait. De la naissent les inquiétudes qui occasionnent tant de changements qu’ils font passer le malheureux peintre pour fou ou tout au moins capricieux, fantasque; à la vûe de tant de difficultés l’humeur gagne l’artiste et, au souvenir de M. Coypel qui n’a pas rempli les intentions du Roi, elle s’aigrit et s’éloigne de beaucoup de choses telles que des devoirs, des bienfaisances, etc.

In his letter to d’Angiviller in 1778, in which La Tour argues at length as to why he needs the use of an additional logement in the Louvre, spelling out all the difficulties consequent to his perfectionism he mentions perspective. And the postscript reinforces this:

J’ay oublié qu’il s’agit du portrait de M. Retout [sic], que j’ay enlevé pour un mot de critique de feu M. Toqué: c’est un maître à danser. Ce mot et le désir de donner aux élèves l’exemple avec le précepte de la perspective qui manquoit dans mes portraits sont les causes funestes des peines infinies que je me suis donné jusqu’à present. Dieu et Monsieur le Comte me soient en ayde, j’en ay un très grand besoin.

It may be possible to read this as indicating that La Tour had not returned Restout to the Académie as he had reported to Belle de Zuylen, or perhaps that he had borrowed it again; once again La Tour’s correspondence baffles us today as much as it baffled Marigny and other recipients at the time. But the evidence of Kuntze, Flipart and Moitte tells us much of what we need to know, and hadn’t troubled to see until now. The distant monuments to Pompadour and de Rieux are dismantled for these friends.

Alexis Judlin (1740–1808), miniaturist

[Note, 9.viii.2021: There have been a number of alterations to this blog since posted on 7.viii.2021 – including to its title, since Judlin’s dates have since been discovered. Additions are integrated below.]

One of the features of my work on Maurice-Quentin de La Tour is the fully annotated documentation in which I (at least try to) provide short biographical details of all the people mentioned. When they are pastellists of course I simply refer to my dictionary (I’ve already researched them from primary sources wherever possible), but when they are not I try to ensure that the main reference sources agree before relying on them. And sometimes unpicking disagreements opens up a rabbit hole which I may not have the time or inclination to pursue myself, but where the elements I’ve uncovered are sufficiently suggestive that I wish others would (that’s particularly the case where hot topics such as international espionage or transgender celebrity arise – much better left to enthusiasts). The result is somewhere between a footnote in my La Tour monograph and a full essay or article in my dictionary…in other words, a blog post…

The starting point for these ruminations was a document I’ve recently added to you can find the full transcription at 10 janvier 1784. It’s one of those expert reports commissioned by the Châtelet to settle the frequent disputes between disappointed clients and portraitists – in this case a pastel by Jean-Gabriel Montjoye, the pupil of La Tour responsible, as you may remember, for the famous “self-portrait” in Amiens that, until my revelation in 2019, took everyone in as autograph (and continues to be reproduced as such by those who should read my research). This post isn’t about Montjoye, nor La Tour (who was clearly senile by this stage, and a bizarre choice for a forensic judgment), but the second expert appointed by the court to countersign the report, described as “André Alexis Judelin peintre de l’accademie de Londres demeurant a Paris rue dauphine hotel de Mouy.” The procès-verbal tells us nothing more about him other than that the inspection took place at La Tour’s studio in the Louvre rather than in Judlin’s; and his signature gives a more accurate spelling of his name:

Judlin’s forenames are inserted into the notary’s document in a different hand in a space left for them, but are completely clear as André Alexis. Moreover they are the two forenames (not always both together) found in all documents below.

Judlin is well known as a miniaturist: you will easily find some of his works which have appeared on the art market, and his name appears in most art reference books – but with puzzling contradictions if all you want is to find his dates. There is a consensus that his origins were in Haut-Rhin, one of the two départements in Alsace (not Germany, although a good deal of German is spoken; baptismal records are in Latin). Both Guebwiller and Thann have been suggested as his birthplace: records for the former are not online, but although a great many Judlins were born in the 1740s in Thann (as for example Schidlof has), none has the right combination of forenames and parents’ names. Lemoine-Bouchard relies on Edouard Sitzmann’s 1909 biographical dictionary repeating (uncredited) the “discovery” published in the Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux, 25.iii.1881, of the record of the birth of an André-Melchior Koessler in Guebwiller in 7.i.1742 from the marriage of an André Koessler with a Jeanne Judlin; it was explained that the miniaturist later adopted his mother’s name of Judlin as a pseudonym. The ICC contributor noted that he was a cousin of général Schérer. Sitzmann added that he died in Thann in 1800, which Lemoine-Bouchard found was incorrect. Instead she found a rather brief burial record for an André Judlin in Thann in 1795 which she adopted by a process of elimination, believing that he had probably died unmarried. Unfortunately the name Judlin or Jüdlin (and that of Koessler in its many variants) was extremely common, and this suggestion simply doesn’t match known facts about the miniaturist. There are literally dozens of André Judlins, but Alexis is very rare. No document suggests that the miniaturist was called Melchior.

The most important clue to the genealogy is the names of the artist’s parent provided by the Fonds Andriveau index cards for the two marriages discussed below: these make it clear that André-Alexis Jüdlin was the son of another André-Alexis Jüdlin and Jeanne Koessler (contrary to Sitzmann’s belief that Judlin was his mother’s name). The second piece of firm (usually fairly reliable) evidence is the entry for his admission to the Royal Academy schools on 22.x.1773, “aged 27”, which points to a year of birth of 1746. How he got to London is unclear, but we know he was there at least a year previously, as on 15.viii.1772 he married “Lucy de Vignoles” (recte Barbe-Lucie Vignoles) in St Marylebone:

We’ll come back to that document later, in particular the name of her father. He appears again in the baptism of their first child, Frances Henrietta Sophia, born 2.v.1773 but not baptised until 25.xi.1773, at the Roman Catholic Sardinian Chapel of St Anselm & St Cecilia in Lincoln’s Inn Fields:

Meanwhile Judlin exhibited in the Royal Academy in London 1773–76, the catalogue entries listed as follows in Graves:

Note that not all the items were miniatures, but I suspect we can assume they were in oil rather than pastel (or else I’d have to pursue all the loose ends in this post).

He was evidently in Paris by the time these lines appeared in the Journal de Paris (


The same author also provided verses to go under a bust of the chevalier d’Éon (v. infra) by Mme Falconnet. Adrien-Michel-Hyacinthe Blin de Sainmore was co-founder, in 1780, of the Société philanthropique, with Savalette de Lange, head of the masonic lodge to which La Tour belonged around this time. It seems very plausible that Judlin and La Tour met through this masonic route.

Judlin’s arrival in Paris is also documented in the two cartes de sûreté that were issued to him during the revolution. These, incorrectly transcribed and indexed, have been located since the first version of this post. They were issued on 4.x.1792 and 16.viii.1793 respectively, to Alexis Judlin, peintre, living respectively in rue Dauphin and the rue de Thionville (the two addresses that also appear in the salons livrets. They both agree as to his age – 52 in 1792, 53 in 1793, so that he must have been born between 5.x.1739 and 16.viii.1740. However the first carte gives his place of birth as Strasbourg, the second as Colmar: doubtless the artist felt that a village such as Guebwiller or Thann would have been too small to mention, but Mulhouse might have been nearer than Colmar as a substitute. Colmar parish records are not online, but provisionally Haut-Rhin 1740 seems the best inference. As to his arrival in Paris, the transcription of the first card has “depuis 1774” while the second has “depuis 14”, i.e. 14 years previously, or 1779. The first transcription s probably erroneous.

A letter of 15.vii.1780 from him to Benjamin Franklin concerns the miniature of the diplomat he was commissioned to make, probably after Duplessis. A miniature of Louis XVI (sold at Sotheby’s in 1989) in a lilac coat, signed and dated 1784, bears an ambitious inscription around the case, suggesting an English market (if not a later addition): “Judlin Painter to the Queen of France took the outline of this Picture in 1784 while the King was ailling in the Queen’s apartment in Versailles.”

In 1785 he exhibited two miniatures at the Salon de la Correspondance, one a portrait, the other, also a tête de femme, but “dans le genre historique”, both “d’un beau faire, d’un coloris vigoureux, & d’un grand style de dessin.” When the official salons became open, he exhibited another miniature tête de femme in 1791, and in 1793 a case with five miniatures, one a portrait, the other topical allegories of “La Liberté”, “L’Egalité”, “La République”, “Les Droits de l’Homme”. No doubt the third of these is the miniature that you can find on a specialist’s blog:


So let’s pursue his biography a little further. Brief references such as the engraver Wille’s journals (noting Judlin’s hospitable dinners) add little of substance, but genealogical records offer concrete facts (usually).

The transcriptions (Fichier Laborde) of the records of Saint-André-des-Arts made before the 1871 conflagration of all Paris registres paroissiaux provide a number of interesting events (you have to search all spelling variants): the baptism on 9.ii.1780 of a son, born rue Dauphine, with parrain Alexis’s brother Joseph “demeurant ordinairement à Vienne en Autriche”; two years later, another son with Lucie’s sister Marie-Anne-Gabrielle as marraine; in 1786, another son, with parrain a former cavalry officer, Nicolas-Roland Fouquet Dulomboy. That is of some interest because only six months previously Dulomboy had married the comédienne Marie-Élisabeth Joly, and Judlin had acted as joint guarantor on her purchase of jewellery from François-Félix Boyer. One can only guess who was the parrain at the birth of Alexis Dulomboy, 3.xii.1785, just weeks after his parents are thought to have been married (although Fabre d’Eglantine, in a complaint about his former mistress, alleged that the marriage was irregular); the boy grew up to be a painter.

The following year, a fourth son, with parrain Jean-Baptiste Schérer, avocat en parlement and intendant du maréchal de Richelieu; however he was also the brother of the future général Schérer to whom Sitzmann told us the miniaturist was related. On 10.iv.1789, Lucie died and was buried in the presence of Judlin and Francois-Xavier and Jean-Baptiste Vogt, both secrétaires-interprètes, whose mother was an Elisabeth Judlin, doubtless a close relation.

On Judlin remarried; his second wife was Lucie’s sister Marie-Gabrielle de Vignoles. So it’s clear that Judlin was particularly closely connected with this family, and we must revert to the question I parked much earlier. The Vignoles girls’ father signed the St Marylebone register in 1772 as “John Joseph de Vignoles”: that is enough to set us on a lengthy line of enquiry which I shall leave others to complete.

Google will take you directly to dozens of mentions of this mysterious figure who was associated with the chevalier d’Éon. The essence of these accounts is that Jean-Joseph de Vignoles (1721-1780), apparently a Fleming of French extraction probably from Antwerp, had been a Prémontré monk but had been forced to leave his monastery after his girlfriend (I assume the Barbe Borlé recorded as the girls’ mother) became pregnant; they married in Holland where Vignoles became a merchant; in this he was unsuccessful and soon made bankrupt. He moved on to London where he put “Esq” after his name and dabbled in various matters from publishing to politics and spying.

His dubious reputation emerges from an account in British government papers which is too long to cite in full, but may be found here: his “character and manner of life in England, where he had subsisted for several years without visible means of support, rendered him very suspected.” Further enquiries revealed that “he was a man of letters and intrigue…likely that he acted as a spy for the Court of Vienna, that he corrected D’Eon’s works for the press, and that a very close intimacy subsisted between them.” But not it seems above spying on d’Éon himself. His name was also connected with Beaumarchais, whose international activities have appeared previously in this blog.

Vignoles was also a prominent freemason, the British Grand Master for Foreign Lodges: in 1766 he founded the Lodge of Immortality, held at the Crown & Anchor in the Strand in London. He was grandmaster, but the membership list reveals a mix of French-speaking gentlemen, merchants, surgeons and clockmakers (Francis Hobler and Justin Vulliamy) and numerous accounts (I don’t know whether freemasonry or transvestite espionage attracts the larger cult) suggest that it was Vignoles who initiated d’Éon into the cult. For further details, see William Wonnacott’s lengthy article on Vignoles published in 1921.

This material tells little about other members of the family, although it provides an explanation as to why Judlin’s brother Joseph might have lived in Vienna. This is reinforced by the entry in the register for the Bavarian Chapel (Roman Catholic) in Warwick Street on 6.ix.1766 where Lucy was godmother at the baptism of her sister Teresia; the godfather was Karl Graf Cobenzl, the Austrian minister in Brussels (see collectors):

Teresia de Vignoles

Another source suggests that the d’Éon connection continued after his return to Paris in 1777, as he is said to have contacted his dress-maker Rose Bertin on behalf of one of the Vignoles girls who wanted to follow her fashion.

In any case we have enough material to understand the significance of the V&A’s miniature of d’Éon (inv. P.31-1929) which Judlin made in 1776. Engraved on the case “Mademoiselle / la Chevaliere D’Eon / Painted from the Life / in London 1776 / by Monr. Judelin”, the V&A online catalogue nevertheless questions the identity of the sitter. Because it shows d’Éon in a conventional male uniform, it isn’t as well known as the Stewart copy of the lost Mosnier portrait that the NPG acquired some years ago, but it deserves to be a little better known. Even the rather poor photograph at the top of this post no longer appears on the V&A’s website, where the work is said to have been executed in France, no information is offered about Judlin and the sitter’s identity is questioned. For the record, d’Éon wears the uniform of a lieutenant in the régiment du Colonel-Général des dragons, to which he was commissioned on 22.vii.1758.

As we started this post with La Tour, I’d better deal with the annoying entry J.46.175 I’ve been forced to include in my La Tour catalogue, a record of a hypothetical portrait of d’Éon by La Tour. This is most unlikely to have any connection with Maurice-Quentin La Tour, but derives from the enigmatic legend on a Haward mezzotint of 1788 indicating that it was based on a copy by Angelika Kauffmann after La Tour. The lettering on the print adds that the portrait was made in d’Eon’s 25th year (although d’Éon was not awarded the Saint-Louis until 1762), and that it was in the collection of George Keate. However this information may be entirely spurious, as the Haward engraving appears to copy a 1779 print by Bradel. It is also possible there may be a confusion with the Flemish history and portrait painter Jan Latour. But that is a different rabbit.

Postscript, 9.viii.2021: Our original quest has now yielded the final answer, located in the Tables de successions (DQ8). Judlin did not return to Alsace, but remained in Paris, rue Dauphine. “Alexis Judelin” [sic], now a mere journalier, died on 1.xii.1808, aged 68, in the hospice Beaujon; of the heirs, there was “aucun renseignement”.

Judlin 1.xii.1808 archives_FRAD075AF_DQ8_00316_00086


Gabrielle Capet’s origins

Here, from the exhibition of Peintres femmes that closed today at the Luxembourg, is a fair summary of scholarship to date about the background to the artist universally recognised as Labille-Guiard’s best pupil:

Marie-Gabrielle Capet


Fille de domestique, née à Lyon, on ignore quelle fut sa première formation artistique. Fait rare au XVIIIe siècle pour une femme de sa condition, elle réussit à devenir l’élève d’Adélaïde Labille-Guiard à Paris en 1781. Dès 1783, elle expose des pastels au Salon de la Jeunesse, puis en 1785 au Salon de la Correspondance. De 1791 à 1814, ses portraits sont présentés au Salon du Louvre. Elle produit de nombreuses copies en miniature des oeuvres de Labille-Guiard et parallèlement des portraits de sa composition, en miniature et au pastel plutôt qu’à l’huile, apanage de Labille-Guiard. Ses modèles appartiennent à l’aristocratie, à la famille royale et au cercle des artistes et proches du couple Vincent et Labille-Guiard. Devenue l’assistante, le modèle et l’amie fidèle de l’académicienne, elle habite avec elle sa vie durant, entretenant une relation de nature « familiale ».

I’ll pass over the question of what an “amie fidèle” might mean, because my interest in this post is to investigate the question of how this girl came to be in Paris in the first place. (I’ll also pass over the condition of some of Labille-Guiard’s other pupils, which I have explored in detail in the relevant entries in the online Dictionary of pastellists: many were quite humble – see for example Mlle Carraux de Rosemond.) Already by October 1781, barely 20 years old, Capet was producing strikingly original work such as this pastel (see J.196.156 in the Dictionary for full details: it is signed and dated “Mlle Capet/8bre 1781”), entirely consistent with her later œuvre.

Art history until now has not progressed beyond the discovery, by Léon Charvet, an architect in Lyon, about 1880, of the artist’s baptismal entry, in the parish of Ainay, Lyon, 8.ix.1761, two days after her birth:

Until now no further documents were located, and the imaginations of art historians focused therefore on this document, incompletely or inaccurately transcribed in various sources and naming parents and godparents of whom nothing was known. Doria even “corrects” the spelling of her father’s name from Cappet to Capet, the form the artist always used. The suggestion by Henri Bouchot, in answer to the question of how she got to Paris, “qu’une marraine, portière dans une prison, la reçut à son arrivée, et, par des relations, la confia à Mme Labille-Guiard” is not only without evidence, but even confuses her parrain and marraine. Nevertheless, “en l’absence d’autres explications, cette hypothèse…reste la plus satisfaisante” according to the otherwise excellent biography by Christophe Marcheteau de Quinçay at the time of the 2014 exhibition in Caen.

I think we can go further, albeit without all the proof we would like to see.

It’s perhaps surprising that, with the plethora of genealogy sources all apparently indexed, it isn’t possible to pull out the documents I’ve found more readily, but the simple vagaries of spelling, gaps in the coverage etc. mean that a considerable amount of ingenuity is needed to locate these entries which accordingly I’ve set out for you below (not in the order in which I winkled them out!).

The first point is that Capet’s family name was properly spelled Cappet – as it correctly appears in her acte de baptême. Her parents were Henry Cappet and his wife named only as Marie Blanc in that acte. But there is more in their marriage documents: I first tracked this down from the contract dated 20.i.1759 indexed in a Lyon notary’s repertoire (Heurtaut & Berdoud, AD 69 3 E 17953, fo 220: still with Cappet). Although it didn’t specify the parish, it wasn’t too difficult to locate the entry in the register of Saint-Nizier, a different Lyon parish, five days later 25.i.1759:

This reveals that Henry Cappet was then a mere “journalier”, son of Antoine Cappet dit Maquet ou Macquet (1690–1727) and Jeanne Garbe. They came from Vironchaux, Somme: and the parish register shows that the artist’s paternal grandparents married there in 1715. I won’t test your patience with all the generations one can trace back there, but “Cappet” was the established spelling for at least three. The Garbe family were based there by the late 16th century. The name, confined to the Hauts-de-France, is sufficiently unusual that it is tempting to wonder if, at that time, one of them moved to Laon, and started the line of blacksmiths that led to Marie Garbe, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour’s grandmother. If so the connection was so tenuous it is highly unlikely that either pastellist was aware of it.

Gabrielle Capet’s mother’s family were from Marchamp (Ain), a village about 75 km east of Lyon. Marie Blanc dit Benon, to give her the full family name, was baptised there on 17.xii.1730. It is clear thus that the match arose after Henry’s move to Lyon, and the key to that must surely be the parrain identified in the artist’s baptismal entry – Jacques Garbe, concierge de la prison de l’archevêché at Lyon. The office is confirmed in one other contemporary document which adds nothing further, but there are no parish records confirming a Garbe in the Lyon area. Except for one: the death on 25.v.1796 of a Charles-Honoré Garbe, a rentier, aged 61 – “natif de Vironchaux”! Unfortunately gaps in the Vironchaux register make it impossible to prove the connection, but it seems beyond doubt that Jacques and Charles-Honoré were closely related – possibly brothers or father and son, and, through Jeanne Garbe, Mme Antoine Cappet, no doubt cousins of Henry Cappet. So when Jacques Garbe moved to Lyon and secured a position at the prison he may well have been the magnet to draw Henry there in search of work. Incidentally Charles-Honoré was reasonably well off, at least able to make a modest patriotic donation at the time of the Revolution.

In 1759 Henry was a “journalier”; by 1761 he appeared as a “domestique” – the only information art history has had to date, summarised as an “homme de service dont la condition était précaire”, as Bouchot put it. So let us pursue this a little further afield, there being no further Capet or Cappet documents indexed in the Lyon genealogy sites.

My search discovered that over the next five years three siblings of Gabrielle were born: Denise, Jeanne and Jean-Baptiste. All died in infancy, having been sent out to nurse in Saint-Genis-L’Argentière, a village about 50 km west of Lyon, as was the custom at the time.

I couldn’t locate the baptismal entries for Gabrielle’s younger sisters Denise or Jeanne: they don’t seem to appear in either Ainay or Saint-Nizier, but at the baptism of the youngest, Jean-Baptiste (Saint-Nizier, 28.x.1765):

Henry was described as “homme d’affaires chez M. de Meximieu”, absent (as he was at Gabrielle’s baptism), no doubt travelling. There is no further record of the artist’s parents. As their links with the area were not profound they may have moved away.

But I think a possible key to the question posed by Bouchot is in this entry, and the mysterious employer whose name doesn’t easily Google. But we can identify him as Jean-François Trollier de Fétan (1731–1814), conseiller du roi en la cour des Monnaies de Lyon, who was known at the time by his title of seigneur de Messimieux – this is the name that appeared in the parish register at Ainay, 31.i.1764, when he married Louise-Marie-Suzanne Chappuis de Margnolas (among the guests was Liotard’s subject Claret de Fleuriau); it is even spelled Meximieux in a 1785 document in the registres de tutelles (AN Y5129C).

Trollier was known as a philanthropist and patron of the arts: he was a founder member of the learned Société d’Agriculture, d’Histoire naturelle et des Arts utiles de Lyon, of which he was secrétaire pour la correspondence étrangère. “Aussi riche que charitable”, most notably, he paid for Marc-Antoine Petit, of humble and illegitimate lyonnais origin, to study in Paris for several years (and later wrote verses to put under the by then famous surgeon’s engraved physionotrace). Trollier lived in Paris, Île Saint-Louis; in the register of cartes de sûreté, his name is followed by that of his son, Alphonse, who described himself as a peintre, although he soon abandoned the profession.

We know virtually nothing of what happened to the artist’s parents after the death of her baby brother. No record for their deaths has been found. One might suspect that the artist had been orphaned young – which would explain why their daughter was unaware of the spelling of her name that had been used for many generations. The only information we have is the inference that her mother survived into the 19th century from the fact that the livret of the Salon de 1801 has this entry for “La Mère de l’auteur”:

This “grande miniature” is unfortunately lost. Doria, quite reasonably, takes it at face value, assumes it was painted from life, and wonders whether the lady, at least 60 (she was in fact 71), had travelled from Lyon for the portrait, had moved to Paris, or if her daughter had visited Lyon, a suggestion he rejects as unlikely. He doesn’t consider whether it might not have been done from life, or necessarily while she was still living. Even more audaciously one wonders if Capet might be referring to Labille-Guiard – after all she does refer in her will to “mon père Vincent”, only later in the document describing him as “mon bienaimé père d’adoption”. (Omitted from earlier sources, Capet’s testament of 20.x.1818 is helpfully reprinted in the voluminous documentation in Jean-Pierre Cuzin’s 2013 monograph on Vincent, pp. 532f.)

There is however the record of the pair of pastels Gabrielle made of her parents (see note below) which does suggest they survived at least until the start of her artistic career. Whether or not, it seems probable that it was her father’s employer who was responsible for ensuring that the girl was sent to Paris and to the studio of the best teacher – whose own father (as I recently discovered) had been chargé d’affaire to the président de Sénozan from another important family in Lyon. The rest is art history.

Or is it? While writing this post I was conscious that however plausible my theory was, it lacked documentary proof. So once again I went over my material, including more or less the only piece of writing of the artist that has survived – that 1818 will, where I found nothing to help.

Except that she left “trois cent francs de rente” to each of “Zoé et Suzanne Capet mes petites cousins”. I don’t why they have been overlooked so far, but I thought I’d better investigate. And indeed the sisters were born, in 1785 and 1786 respectively, and would soon marry. But it is their antecedents who interest us. Here is Zoe’s baptismal record, which is worth reproducing in full:

Here we discover that Mlle Capet’s cousin was an artist of whom most of us have never heard: Antoine-Marie Capet. And you will struggle to find any reference to him in standard art historical works. After a great deal of research, the best account I could find was a newspaper article, written by Jacqueline Hériard-Dubreuil, on “La peinture religieuse dans les sanctuaires de Seine-et-Marne” which appeared in L’Abeille de Fontainbleau on 26.v.1939. This reports an inscription under two religious paintings (one a copy of Raphael’s Sainte Famille, the other an original Baptism of Christ) in the church at Nantouillet, near Juilly (about 40 km north-east of Paris), identifying them as by “Antoine Marie Copet [sic], né et mort à Paris (1743-1824), élève du célèbre Restout”, further claiming that he had won the prix de Rome, and confirming that he had been professeur de dessin at the Académie royale de Jully, and then director of the École de dessin at Chantilly. And indeed an entry in the liste des élèves de l’Académie royale de peinture at ENSBA confirms, with the correct spelling:

Mars 1765. Antoine Marie Capet, P. de Paris, âgé de 22 ans au mois de septembre prochain. Protégé par M. Restout, demeure ché M. son Père, ché Le Serrurier Visavis St-Jean-en-Grève, rue du Martois.

Hériard-Dubreuil also reprints the short note in Charles Hamel’s Histoire de l’abbaye et collège de Juilly (1888 edition, p. 291; there is nothing in the 1868 edition), which explains that the teaching of drawing was confided to Capet, a layman, who made some good portraits, in pen and ink, of several Pères de l’Oratoire de Juilly, and adds that he was buried in the church at Nantouillet. As to whether he taught at Chantilly, Hériard-Dubreuil consulted Henri Malo who was unable to confirm this.

There is also a reference to Capet and his role at Juilly in Nicole Willk-Brocard’s immensely thorough account of Jean-Bernard Restout, 2017: this is on p. 16 (the references on pp. 124, 125 indexed as to Antoine-Marie Capet are in fact to the deposed king Louis XVI, illustrating why Googling art history questions isn’t always as simple as it sounds), and introduces a document discovered by a bibliophile and reproduced in full on p. 203: a letter by Restout fils of 18.iv.1788 certifying Capet’s good character:

Je soussigné, Peintre ordinaire du Roy atteste que le sr Capet, élève de mon père et le mien, m’est connu depuis sa première jeunesse pour avoir toujours tenu la conduite la plus régulière, que j’ai honoré son respect et sa reconnaissance envers mon digne père et d’après l’estime que j’ai fait de ses mœurs et de son caractère, je me suis intéressé et j’ai œuvré pour lui procurer la place qu’il occupe au collège de Juilly où depuis plus de vingt ans il m’a paru obtenir la satisfaction et mériter la bienveillance des supérieurs de cette maison et y a rempli ses devoirs. J’ai toujours aussi rendu justice à la douceur et à l’égalité de son caractère qui m’a été pareillement connu ainsi que son honnêteté et sa modération. En foi de quoi je lui ai délivré le présent certificat pour lui servir en tant que de raison. À Paris ce dix huit avril mil sept cent quatre vingt huit.

We should add too the evidence from Zoé’s godparents: Benoît Marsollier de Vivetières ()1712–1787), the fabulously wealthy marchand drapier nick-named “Mylord Velours” and his widowed daughter: his sister-in-law and her daughter were the subject of the fabulous Nattier painting now in the Met.

So here is firm evidence that Antoine-Marie Capet had been a pupil of Restout at the Académie royale and had been teaching drawing at the Académie de Juilly from the late 1760s. Given that Restout was the only teacher Maurice-Quentin de La Tour said had taught him anything useful, this obviously presents an alternative narrative of how Capet might have become a pastellist in Paris.

But first we must check whether they were really related. As far as I am aware this has never been suggested. So far all we have is the reference to “mes petites cousines” in Gabrielle’s will, a term used quite loosely in those days (as witness La Tour’s various references which we’ve discussed elsewhere in this blog).

Once again this proves to be trickier than you might expect: you won’t get there directly through Geneanet, Filae or any of the other indexing sites. But here is a long-story-cut-very-short account. From Zoé’s baptismal entry we know that Antoine-Marie Capet was married to an Anne-Angélique Mangin, and the Paris divorces are indexed: theirs took place on 6.vii.1793, when the girls were 7 and 8 years old. The divorce tables provide Antoine-Marie Capet’s parents: Jean-Charles, and Jeanne-Claude Charonat. The Fonds Andriveau index reveals that this marriage took place in Paris, Saint-Séverin, on 3.viii.1739; Capet was identifies as a “domestique”, as Henry would be later. Further research reveals that “Jean-Charles dit Maquet Capet”, born in 1723, remarried at least three times; at his fourth marriage, at Regniere-Ecluse Somme 19.i.1773, his parents’ names were disclosed as Antoine Capet and Jeanne Garbe. In other words he was Henry’s brother, and Gabrielle’s uncle, so that Antoine-Marie was indeed her first cousin, as we can see in this brief pedigree:

Jean Cappet ∞ Vironchaux 1715 N

ðAntoine Cappet dit Maquet ou Macquet (1690–1727), de Vironchaux ∞ Jeanne Garbe

ððHenry Cappet ∞ Lyon Saint-Nizier, 25.i.1759 Marie Blanc dit Benon (bpt Marchamp 17.xii.1730 – p.1801)

ðððMarie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818sa), pastelliste

ðððDenise (Lyon .xii.1762 – Saint-Genis-L’Argentière 16.ii.1763)

ðððJeanne (Lyon .xi.1765 – Saint-Genis-L’Argentière 7.ii.1766)

ðððJean-Baptiste Cappet (Lyon, Saint-Nizier, 28.x.1765 – Saint-Genis-L’Argentière 24.iii.1767)

ððJean-Charles dit Maquet Capet (1723–p.1782), domestique 1739 ∞ Paris, Saint-Séverin 3.viii.1739 Jeanne-Claude Charonat; 2° Marie-Anne Courbet (1721–1747); 3° Vironchaux 11.ii.1766 Marie-Jeanne Walet ; 4° Regniere-Ecluse Somme 19.i.1773 Marie Anne Deleyen (1714– )

ðððAntoine-Marie Capet (1743–1824), professeur de dessin à l’académie royale de Juilly ∞ div. 6.vii.1793 Anne-Angélique Mangin, fille d’Antoine & Marguerite Michel

ððððAnne-Benoist-Zoé (Paris, St Eustache 11.xi.1785– ) ∞ Juilly 1819 Antoine-Denis Grevin

ððððAntoinette-Marie-Suzanne (Paris, St Eustache 17.xi.1786– Jean-Baptiste-René Rigaud

And it is clear too that Gabrielle knew of her cousin, even though she mentions only the two daughters in her will. He was eighteen years older than she was, already established as a drawing teacher in an academy, known and respected by a peintre du roi and enjoyed (or was soon to enjoy) the patronage of an extremely wealthy financier. It seems inconceivable that she would not at the very least have sought her cousin’s advice before joining Labille-Guiard’s studio.


I should clarify one further point. In her posthumous inventory (reproduced in Passez 1973; Cuzin has the testament, but they are different documents), a double portrait in oil of Zoé and Suzanne is mentioned. The preceding item included two pastels of M. et Mme Capet: as clarified in the testament they are of her parents rather than of her cousin and his wife. However, as with the 1801 miniature there is no indication of when they were made (unless we are tempted to conflate them with the anonymous couple dated 1782, my J.196.182 and J.196.183). This of course is pure speculation. But the point of this post is that, as “homme d’affaires chez M. de Meximieu”, he might well have been dressed in this manner; as a “domestique”, probably not.


Mitoire et boule de gomme

[NB For the version of record (containing additional material etc.), see]

By some way the most ambitious work in pastel by Mme Labille-Guiard,[1] Mme Mitoire et ses enfants (pastel; private collection) has attracted a great deal of critical attention while a number of basic facts have remained unresearched or incorrect until now. It is hardly surprising that feminist art historians have taken it up as an emblem of the virtues of maternal breast-feeding and rousseauisme, a subject to which I can add nothing – except to point out that this was by no means “the first modern French painting of breast-feeding”, as Simon Schama describes the miniature version[2] (in pastel alone one could mention Perronneau’s Mme Poissonnier with the duc de Bourgogne, c.1751, J.582.1684; more proximately one might note that Mme Labille-Guiard’s partner, François-André Vincent, painted a woman holding an infant in 1782, for which he made a careful study: see Cuzin 2013, 407D and 408P). Nor shall I analyse the striking visual accomplishment of this composition with complexities that are seldom required in the world of pastel. Even the still life of the table with its glass of water, so reminisicent of Liotard’s Belle Chocolatière, replaces the Swiss clinical precision with the warmth and humanity that characterize Labille-Guiard’s art.

The pastel was first exhibited in the salon of 1783. According to Anne-Marie Passez’s monograph, it was shown anonymously, as “Madame *** avec ses enfants…”, but in fact at least one further edition of the livret provided her name in full (we reproduce the whole context as it is important to see how Labille-Guiard saw it among her other submissions; this was the only alteration on the page):

In any case no one was in doubt about the lady’s identity at the time. The critic in L’Année littéraire, having praised her portraits of her fellow artists, said “Je ne suis pas aussi satisfait du Portrait de Madame Mitoire, qui est un peu gris”, a sentiment not quite shared with the author of Messieurs, Ami de tout le monde!:

Pour celui de Mad. Mitoire, que je crois très-ressemblant, le coloris ne m’en a point paru si vrai, la carnation si naturelle, & le dessin aussi pur. La Figure est même un peu lourde & ronde, cela pourrait venir du modele.

Most of the other critics however, while enthusing over Labille-Guiard’s other submissions, passed over this portrait in silence – and perhaps a little male embarrassment that one detects also in baron Portalis’s account in 1902. He however is ready to dissociate himself from the criticism of the colouring:

L’ensemble forme un agréable tableau et la tonalité de ce pastel est blonde, argentine et non pas grisâtre, comme l’a osé dire un critique du temps.

By then the pastel belonged to “Mme veuve Sanné”, a provenance Portalis leaves unexplained, and which has not been subsequently decoded in the modern literature (Anne-Marie Passez’s flawed catalogue of 1973, updated by Laura Auricchio in 2009) – although this puzzle is easy enough to decipher. As my Van Loo genealogy reveals, Mme veuve Sanné was Mme Albert Sanné, née Sophie-Adrienne-Marie Barthez de Marmorières (1840–1923), Mme Mitoire’s great-granddaughter by the younger child shown. We will return to his identity, and that of his brother, below.

We can complete the provenance with a few tools that may not have been available to Passez or Auricchio. By the time Portalis’s monograph appeared, the pastel had already been sold, and in July 1901 passed out of the hands of Kraemer to Duveen Brothers for £1440 (with a commission of £233/17/6 paid to the agents Carlhian & Beaumetz), as their stockbooks reveal:

There it was also photographed in its neoclassical frame, which may well have been original, although it is no longer present.

Duveen Brothers stock photographs and records, 1829-1965

It was sent on consignment soon after (on 3.vii.1901) to one of Duveen’s favourite clients, Mrs T. Henry Mason, née Emma Jane Powley (1850–1918) (although as my blog post Jeffares 2018r shows, Mrs Mason didn’t always like what she was sent, and much of it was returned unpaid). In any case, by 1923 it was back on the market, consigned anonymously (by Duveen?) to Christie’s in a sale in which Viscountess Northcliffe was also a vendor (but not, pace Passez, of this lot). Cailleux bought it, apparently through Percy Moore Turner, and included it in a spectacular exhibition of French eighteenth century pastels in 1923. There it was singled out for praise by the anonymous “Curieux” (Henry Lapauze?) in La Renaissance de l’art who commented:

Le portrait de Mme Mitoire et de ses enfants par Mme Labille-Guiard est plein de grâce et d’une remarquable science de composition; il fut exposé au Salon de 1783; l’émule de Mme Vigée-Lebrun voit de plus en plus grandir sa reputation et ses somptueux portraits, à Versailles, des filles aînées de Louis XV, montrent une vigueur et un accent de verité inoubliables. Le mari de cette Mme Mitoire était peintre lui-même et a travaillé en Russie. Fort bien conservé, ce pastel soutient le redoutable voisinage d’un Jeune femme en robe bleue, par Nattier[3]….

It’s evidently time to turn our attention to the sitters in this portrait – particular since the painter in Russia was not Mme Mitoire’s husband, but the infant she is suckling. Although Mme Mitoire herself has been correctly identified as Christine-Geneviève Bron, granddaughter of Carle Van Loo, to date the Labille-Guiard literature has said nothing about the children, and little about the husband. Several years ago I updated the Dictionary entry with details of the younger child, Charles-Benoît Mitoire, who indeed grew up to be a painter (see below). On 27 floréal an II (16 May 1794), he obtained a notarized “certificat de vie” stating that he was aged 12 and had been born in Clichy. His mother obtained a similar certificate a month later; it failed to mention her husband’s name. Charles-Benoît’s document had no birth certificate attached, and the documents raised questions while at least allowing us to identify the infant shown in the salon of 1783 as likely to have been born just before 16 May 1782. But who was the elder child?

And how did this fit with a troubling “legend”, alluded to obliquely by Portalis when discussing the “belle gorge de la mère”, that Mme Mitoire’s cousin, the gourmand Grimod de La Reynière, “n’avait pas eu trop mauvais goût”? The allusion is traced easily enough, since Desnoireterres’s 1877 biography of Grimod discusses it at some length, and refers to the curious relationship the young and rather wayward boy had with his (third[4]) cousin Christine-Geneviève Bron, and which he apparently confided to his friend, the novelist Rétif de la Bretonne, who fictionalized the liaison, disguising the girl under the name Angélique de Bissi, but giving the game away by disclosing her real married name (Mitoire) once her parents had put the 17 year old out of harm’s way.

I’m not the first person to decode this, although I did so before finding that Philippe Havard de La Montagne had published a detailed analysis of the novel and the reality (at least as far as it may be gleaned from Grimod’s numerous letters which he continued to send to the girl for many years), appropriately in Etudes rétiviennes in 2011, to which I willingly refer you (it has so far escaped the attention of art historians and Labille-Guiard specialists). Havard de La Montagne was aware of a painter called Benoît-Charles Mitoire who had died in 1832 (age unknown to him), and guessed from the names he might be one of the children shown (but chose the wrong one on the basis that the forenames were those of the father and maternal grandfather, most likely given to the first-born son).

Havard’s logic might have been fruitfully applied to the name of the elder boy shown. A search of the parish register at Clichy (which, despite the notarial declaration, failed to reveal any baptismal entry for Charles-Benoît[5]) shows that, on 13 September 1780, a boy was baptized and given the names Alexandre-Laurent:

With these names, it will come as no surprise that his parrain was a Grimod de La Reynière: not Antoine-Laurent the son but his father, Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1733–1793), fermier général 1753–80, administrateur des postes, who was also an amateur pastellist and later (1787) an honoraire associé libre de l’Académie royale de peinture. He was also seigneur de Clichy-la-Garenne. I doubt if we will ever know for certain whether the relationship was closer than that. We note too that the 76-year-old Christine Somis, Mme Van Loo was the marraine to her great-grandson.

We do know what happened to the boy, as he died in Martinique aged 36, his profession being described as marchand modiste:

Much more is known about the younger brother, although it is easier to find it in Russian (where his name is transcribed as Бенуа-Шарль Митуар). Despite exhibiting in the Paris salon in 1819 (from Paris, rue des Tournelles, during a temporary visit home) and in 1822 (from St Petersburg), he is omitted from most art reference works. Cuzin 2013 records him as a pupil of Vincent, enrolled during messidor and thermidor an IV (i.e. June–August 1796). The short entry in Bénézit notes that he was a member of the Academy in St Petersburg in 1813. He was in fact a prolific portraitist in oil and miniature (and is represented in the Hermitage and other Russian museums), having emigrated, obtained Russian citizenship and married a Russian – presumably the Annette-Marguerite Berg recorded in the Paris index cards for his death, which took place in Paris, rue Notre Dame des Champs, on; he had it seems returned there shortly before. An inventaire was taken on 3.ix.1832 (AN mc/re/xx/14).

Returning to the parents, a search of the notarial archives in the Minutier central gives the date for their marriage contract as 14 October 1779 (AN mc/re/lvi/13).[6] We have also located the parish record of the marriage, which did take place at the church of Saint-Médard in Clichy on 19 October 1779:

The parish register provides us with a number of interesting details. There is probably no particular significance in the waiver of the customary three banns, nor is there any surprise in the appearance of Charles-Amédée Van Loo whose portrait (now in Versailles, MV 5874) Labille-Guiard would exhibit in 1785, one of her morceaux de réception set at her entry into the Académie royale in 1783. It is easy to pass over some of the less well-known names, but the Bron family were close friends with Paul-César Gibert (1717–1787), a music teacher who had studied in Italy (where he may well have known Christina Somis, Mme Carle Van Loo); he died leaving children called Christine-Geneviève, aged 10 (so born in 1777) and Benoît-Charles-César, aged 8.[7]

But perhaps the most interesting information is about Christine-Geneviève Bron’s husband, the elusive Charles Mitoire (or Mitoire Dumoncel as he signs) of whom all that art history has hitherto reported is that he was connected with the finances de Lyon. The research set out below may seem somewhat remote from Labille-Guiard’s family portrait, but the questions that emerge go to the nature of Mme Mitoire’s marriage. Was Mitoire induced to marry a girl whose reputation was already in danger by the offer of a position in her father’s gift?

The marriage contract reveals that Mitoire brought assets up to 30,000 livres into the marriage, while Bron settled on his daughter the same sum – but made up in part by her share of her mother’s estate. The contract followed reasonably standard terms, with one important reservation: the communauté des biens was limited, as to future acquisitions, to a value of 10,000 livres, so that any assets acquired by either party above that limit are not shared. However the terms don’t clearly establish whether the marriage was one of convenience.

It is perhaps worth noting that one rapidly comes up against surprising barriers in following Mitoire’s career. He was probably the “Mitoire, bourgeois de Paris” recorded as a member of the masonic lodge L’Amitié in 1778.[8] Havard de La Montagne notes that Mitoire was cited as a “commis à la Recette Générale du Lyonnais” in some documents, and wonders how this could have been combined with his position as “sous-visiteur” at the Direction générale des postes aux chevaux, relais et messageries de France shown in the Almanach royal for 1787. As is well known the Bron family (and the Grimods) were very closely connected with the French postal service.

The phrase “commis par arrêt du conseil à la recette général des finances de Lyon” in the parish register again might excite suspicion of something not quite routine about the appointment. But in fact we can show that Mitoire was in this position a year before the marriage, as he was implicated in a complex legal case relating to the acceptance of bills of exchange.[9] The case involved bills sent by a M. de La Borde to an agent de change called Offmann which Mitoire (the legal reporter does not give a forename for “le sieur Mitoire, commis par arrêt du conseil, à la recette générale des finances du Lyonnais”) had already endorsed as “pour acquit”. Offmann disappeared, and the question was who should face the loss amounting, by December 1778, to some 153,000 livres; the case appears to have been decided (in February 1779) against Mitoire, making him personally liable for a sum he could not afford.

The 1780 Almanach civil, politique et littéraire de Lyon…, p. 119, gives the “Commis par Arrêt du Conseil” at the Recettes généraux des Finances de Lyon as “Paul-René Mitoire”, a name for which I have failed to find any genealogical data.[10] He is indicated as based in Paris, carrying on the functions of Jacques-David Ollivier who had died on 3.v.1777, leaving a widow, née Anne-Marguerite Lamouroux. Their son François-Marie-David Ollivier de Montluçon (1743–1790), a soldier, was appointed in succession on; Paul-René Mitoire carried out the duties in 1778 and 1780. He is evidently the Mitoire in the law case – but the office is exactly that claimed by the Charles Mitoire in the 1778 marriage in the Clichy parish register. The identification is confirmed by the presence at the Mitoire–Bron marriage contract (although not the church ceremony at Clichy six days later) of “Mme Olivier et M. Olivier son fils receveur général des finances.”: they signed respectively “Lamouroux Ollivier” and “Ollivier”.

If the Ollivier papers can be relied upon, Mitoire’s position in the finances de Lyon ended in 1780. He still cited this position when he appeared as a witness to his sister-in-law’s marriage which again took place at Saint-Médard, Clichy, attended by the bride’s father, Benoît Bron “demeurant à Monceaux de cette paroisse son domicile de droit et de fait”, and Amédée Van Loo (again), while Mitoire is shown as living in the rue Thévenot in Paris. (This is curious because the certificate de vie obtained by Christine-Geneviève and the young Charles-Benoît Mitoire in 1794 indicate that they were still living in Monceaux.)

It was some time before Charles Mitoire formally received his commission[11] of “sous-visiteur ordinaire des Postes aux chevaux, relais et messageries du royaume” (2.iv.1786), no doubt with support from the family he had married into. But that position too soon came into jeopardy, as we learn from a letter from Grimod de La Reynière, who had continued to write to Mme Mitoire long after his father terminated the relationship. His letter of 21.ix.1787[12], addressed from the abbaye de Domâvre near Blamont (where his father had had him confined for errant behaviour) to Angélique [sic] Mitoire in Monceau, sympathized with the difficulties facing her husband:

En apprenant la reunion de la poste aux chevaux à celle aux lettres[13] j’étois pris de peurs que M. Mitoire dût perdre son etat à cette révolution. Il est bien faisant pour lui qui né avec son talent et de la fortune il ait toujours préféré des emplois incertains et précaires à des charges decoratives qui l’eussent mis à l’abri de tous les événements. S’il étoit notaire par exemple, il verroit avec l’indifférence toutes les reformes de la finance…. Heureusement qu’il vous reste dans les debris de sa fortune … [Il faut maintenant] attendre patiemment que les circonstances deviennent plus favorables.

* * *

What we also find from the marriage contract and parish register entry is that Charles’s parents were “deffunt Jean-Claude Mitoire et Charlotte Lardant de la paroisse de Saint-Eustache”, and his uncle, a witness, was Pierre-François Lardant. These facts, albeit spelled not quite consistently with other records, are sufficient to direct us to a clearer picture of M. Mitoire’s background. The widowed Jeanne-Charlotte Lardant, Lardent or Lardain died in 1781, rue d’Anjou, in the Marais; her brother was an architecte entrepreneur des bâtiments à Paris, and her husband was better known as Jean-Baptiste Mitoire (1718–1772), maître cartier in Paris.[14] They were married on 12.v.1746 in Paris, Saint-Paul, appearing in the Fonds Andriveau records as “Jean Baptiste Claude Mitouar, fils de Claude, et de Marie Bouliard”; while “Charlotte Lardant” was the daughter of François Lardant and Catherine Rolland. Charles, Mme Mitoire’s husband, must have been born c.1750, so the Charles Mitoire who was reçu maître cartier in Paris in 1758[15] (if correctly reported) was probably his uncle or cousin.

Mme Mitoire’s husband was surely a brother of the Jacques-Charles Mitoire (1749–1805), compagnon cartier de la ville de Paris, recorded in Clermont in 1769 when he alleged that a bill presented to him was a fake (the matter was referred to the duc de Choiseul before the Intendant de l’Auvergne declared the bill valid). Jacques-Charles later returned to Paris: “Le sieur Mitoire, marchand papetier, rue Phelippeaux” supplied paper to the value of 222 livres 7 sols, invoiced 23.xii.1792, to the commissaires du Conseil du Temple (where the royal family had been imprisoned).[16] “Mitoire papetier” appears in the 1800 Almanach du commerce de Paris from a new address, 111 rue du Temple, the street where Jacques-Charles died in 1805.

Jean-Baptiste Mitoire’s speciality was the manufacture of playing cards, in which he was extremely successful. A king of hearts of his design appears in a contemporary genre pastel of a boy with a château de cartes (J.2342.107).[17] But in 1761, as documents in the Archives de la Bastille[18] reveal, he was prosecuted for forgery (using cheaper, unofficial, materials, which facilitated the avoidance of duty), a crime treated very harshly in the eighteenth century. He was sentenced to “déchéance de maîtrise”, i.e. permanently banned from his trade, and fined 3000 livres. This does not seem to have deterred him from working with the engraver Nicolas Poilly on a series of geographical playing cards in Abbeville in 1763. There are further sightings, such as this advertisement in L’Avant-Coureur in 1770:

Was this Jean-Baptiste Mitoire, brazenly defying the order of déchéance – or perhaps his son, the future husband of Mlle Bron, had started on this career? When Christine-Geneviève Bron’s third child, Henriette-Marie-Sophie Mitoire, was baptized (in Clichy, 7.i.1790 – Gibert’s widow was marraine), Charles Mitoire signed the register, but was described as a “négociant” rather than as a commis des finances or sous-visiteur aux postes. It is tempting to speculate that he had helped his parents in the paper business before these more impressive appointments, and had returned to it after he lost them.

The evidence discussed further below suggests that Jean-Baptiste Mitoire had indeed left Paris before 1770: his death certificate (burial 27.xii.1772, “maître cartier de la ville de Paris exerçant en cette ville”) shows him in Metz. It was presumably around this time that Jeanne-Charlotte, veuve Mitoire[19] issued the trade card of which the copy below is in the Waddesdon collection. It shows that she had taken over the business.

The business in the premises at the rue d’Anjou passed at veuve Mitoire’s death in 1781 to a certain “La Chapelle”, and in 1794 adopted the name La Chapelle et Auzou (Grand-Carteret 1913, who however offers no biographical information on the new proprietors). We here identify the new owner as Antoine-François Chapelle or Lachapelle, papetier. On 6.x.1790, in Paris, Saint-Jean-en-Grève, he married (as his second wife) a Jeanne-Marie-Victoire Desmarquest. They adopted and brought up her cousin Jeanne-Marie-Catherine Desmarquest (1775–1835); on 9.xii.1793 she married the papetier Charles-Marie Auzou and became known as the painter Pauline Auzou. There is a further twist that emerges from the marriages indexed in the Fonds Andriveau: Chapelle’s first marriage, on 29.vii.1769, also at Paris, Saint-Jean-en-Grève, he was married (bigamously) to “Jeanne-Charlotte Lardent, fille majeure de François Lardent et de Catherine Rolland”. Jean-Baptiste Mitoire, her real husband (there is no evidence of any annulment), still had three years to live; at the very least she must have assumed he was safely out of the way.

But while Charles Mitoire’s husband did not take over his mother’s business, he (or a homonym[20]) seems to have returned to an activity closely related to the sale of luxury goods, as garde-magasin de l’intendance des Menus-Plaisirs. (Contact might have come about through the patronage of Papillon de la Ferté, who had been one of the administrateurs généraux at the Postes – along with Grimod de La Reynière – while Mitoire was there.) The exact date of his appointment is not yet known, but he was in place by 1807, when Mitoire was accused of assisting one Thorel, portier des Menus-Plaisirs in fraudulently appropriating firewood intended for the Opéra.[21] The police were called in to investigate, and the report exonerated them:

Thorel et Mitoire ont été interrogés séparément. Thorel a prouvé qu’il avait fait ses provisions de bois au chantier de la Bastille. Mitoire a protesté qu’il n’avait livré aucuns bois du magasin confiés à sa garde que pour la consommation de l’administration; il a invoqué le suffrage de M. Mareuil, inspecteur général de l’Opéra, et de M. Vente, agent comptable. Il y a lieu de croire que les plaintes portées contre les sieurs Thorel et Mitoire ne sont point fondées…

More routinely, in a letter of 15.v.1809, he wrote to the directeur de l’Opéra concerning stage decorations for an opera by Spontini, Fernand Cortez ou la conquête du Mexique with costumes by Ménageot. Charles Mitoire continued to be recorded at the rue du Faubourg Poissonnière as garde magasin de l’intendance des Menus-Plaisirs du roi until his death there in 1822. Curiously at his death no heir was nominated.

In any case, Mme Mitoire outlived her husband and died in 1842. Labille-Guiard’s masterpiece shows a picture of conventional domestic tranquility that reveals nothing of the turbulent story unfolded in this essay. The pastel passed down through the family of a daughter born seven years after the salon, Henriette-Marie-Sophie (1790–1818), who married into a medical family.


[1] This essay appears simultaneously on this blog and on my main website in a version of record (containing fuller details etc.), which may be cited as Neil Jeffares, “Labille-Guiard Mme Mitoire et ses enfants”, Pastels & pastellists, Any additions or corrections will be included in that version only. Consult Pastels & pastellists (and in particular the entry for Labille-Guiard) for details of pastels referred to by J number or bibliographic items cited in abbreviation.

[2] Citizens, 1989, p. 148. The miniature was not the version exhibited in the Salon de 1783; because it is in a public collection, it has however been more widely reproduced than the primary version. The secondary literature citing it is too extended to list in full.

[3] This may be the portrait of Mme Royer J.554.179.

[4] See my Grimod genealogy.

[5] One unverified source states that he was born on 6.i.1782. This seems improbable given the difference in age between the children in the portrait. In any case there is no such entry in the parish register for Saint-Médard, Clichy for several years around this date.

[6] A certified copy of the acte de mariage was also deposited on 27.vii.1785 (AN mc/re/xv/992), accompanied by one for Christine-Geneviève’s sister, presumably relating to the death of their grandmother Mme Carle Van Loo which had occurred three months previously.

[7] Although the Chaillot parish registers were destroyed in the Commune (unlike those of Clichy), both entries are preserved in the reconstructed Paris archives. The future Mme Mitoire was indeed the girl’s marraine.

[8] Alain Le Bihan, Francs-maçons parisiens du Grand Orient de France, 1966, p. 359.

[9] Denisart, Collection de décisions Nouvelles…, Paris, 1788, vii, pp. 593ff.

[10] As confirmed in the accounts of the Ollivier estate (AN mc/xxxii, 23.ii.1789), according to Claeys 2009, p. 566, n.5.

[11] AN O1 128, fol. 91.

[12] Sold Paris, Ader Nordmann, 10–11.xii.2018, Lot 221. My transcription from a low resolution image. Other letters were sold c.1975 by the Librarie de l’Abbaye, cat. 242: among them, one of 22.ii.1787, expressing desperation at her coolness towards him and threatening suicide.

[13] This indeed was enacted by order of 12.viii.1787.

[14] There are numerous mentions of Mitoire père in the paper literature; see e.g. Henri Alibaux, “Mitoire, marchand-papetier parisien”, Le Vieux Papier, fasc. 137, .xii.1946, pp. 93-95; Thierry depaulis, Des « figures maussades & révoltantes » :Diderot et les cartes à jouer, Le Vieux Papier, fasc. 414, .x.2014. Those that I have consulted shed no light on the identity of Charles Mitoire.

[15] The standard text on the subject, Henry-René d’Allemagne, Les Cartes à jouer du xive au xxe siècle, 1906, ii, p. 618.

[16] Répertoire général des sources manuscrites de l’histoire de Paris pendant la Révolution française, 1900, v, p. 13.

[17] Bearing a false signature of Drouais, the attribution to Colson is also unreliable.

[18] François Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, documents inédits…, 1866, xviii, pp. 122ff.

[19] Grand-Carteret 1913 notes that she appears in some contemporary reference books as “Veuve Mitouart”.

[20] It cannot be excluded that the Charles Mitoire, maître cartier in 1758 and presumably a relative, was still alive; but the son, Charles-Benoît, was in Russia from c.1801 to c.1830 and cannot be the garde-magasin; nor can Jacques-Charles Mitoire, apparently his brother, who died in 1805. Documents in the Archives nationales, not currently available, may yet shed light on the identifications in this essay.

[21] F.-A. Aulard, Paris sous le premier Empire, 1923, iii, p. 374.

L’abbé Le Brun

Art historians are as partial as any other clique to shibboleths – trivia that allow them to remind themselves what superior beings they are. Knowing for example that Chardin’s forenames were not Jean-Baptiste-Siméon, or that Rosalba Carriera was not born in 1675, although these errors remain widespread; we of course know better. Best of all are the known unknowns: who was the mysterious ARD? Or who – apart from not being Mme Vigée Le Brun’s husband – was the abbé Le Brun who published the Almanach des peintres (as it is usually known, since its full name is absurdly long), of which two volumes appeared, in 1776 and 1777?

The question of the authorship has been addressed many times, most notably in a couple of articles in the Burlington Magazine. In November 1992, Andrew McClellan, of Tufts University, reported a letter he had found in the Archives nationales from the author of the Almanach seeking d’Angiviller’s patronage. This revealed that the author was “one Abbé Lebrun, Chaplain to the Cistercian nuns of Bellechasse, Faubourg Saint-Germain. The Abbé was also the great nephew of Charles Lebrun, First Painter to Louis XIV.” In response, in October 1993, Fabienne Camus wrote to confirm this attribution, and while noting that little was known about the author, concluded that he must have been a descendant of Charles Le Brun’s nephew Charles II Le Brun (Mme Vigée Le Brun’s husband, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, was the grandson of another nephew of the Premier Peintre).

She mentions several more facts emerging from the two letters Le Brun had written to d’Angiviller, other correspondence and the entry about him in the Almanach itself: the abbé’s “father lived at Saint Zacharie and his brother [was] a retired master surgeon of the French colonies”; that he was a corresponding member of the Académie de Bordeaux, and that from 1776 he was a chanoine at Beauvais, and had tried to obtain a position as chaplain to the royal household.

Several other clues emerged. For example, in the Supplément to La France littéraire, 1778, p. 56, a list of the correspondent members of the Académie de peinture at Bordeaux included “L’abbé le Brun, Chapelain de feu son A. S. Madame la Princesse de Conti.”

Recourse to the standard genealogies (mine is here) on Charles Le Brun (notably Jouin’s 1889 magnum opus) was of limited use: the descendance of his nephews was incomplete, and no one seemed to fit perfectly. (I should say checking this took a good deal of time, which is partly why I thought I would put up a blog post rather than simply correct the entry on my index of writers at Perhaps however someone should have noticed that Jouin lists a number of people claiming a relationship with Charles Le Brun but with no foundation.

In any case the royal chaplaincy did send me off in various directions, as did the Bellechasse reference: evidently, like Miss Prism, he was remotely connected with education. So first out was Charles Gardeur-Lebrun, précepteur des enfants du duc de Chartres à Bellechasse, of whom Mme de Genlis tells us a good deal, but who does not seem to have been in holy orders.

Then, spurred on perhaps by a remark in Charles-Étienne Gaucher’s attack on the Almanach hinting that the author was an oratorian, I investigated the abbé Louis-Joseph Le Brun (Reims, St Jacques 3.xi.1722–8.i.1787), régent au collège d’Oratoriens d’Angers, précepteur des pages des Écuries de la reine 1761–67, auteur du Déluge etc., chanoine de Reims. But his father was an avocat in Reims, one Timothé Le Brun (1673–1723), who died shortly after the celebrated educationalist was born, and cannot have been living in Provence in 1775.

More tempting among the chaplains in the royal household was the abbé Claude-Nicolas Le Brun de Chassinroy (Nogent-le-Rotrou 1721 – p.1791), vicaire de Bailly 1748–54, chapelain de Madame Sophie de France, maître des requêtes du comte d’Artois. But once again his humble origins didn’t fit: his grandfather was a carpenter, Louis Le Brun.

An extensive search of Le Bruns or Lebruns born in Provence or of surgeons of that name (however spelled) connected with the region was also fruitless.

However the answer emerged from a topographical volume about Beauvais which noted that a certain Jean-François Brun [sic], chanoine de Beauvais, published in 1792 Tablettes historiques du département de l’Oise, and provided his date and place of death. I’m afraid I cannot recreate the excitement in pursuing this lead in a narrative which you must by now have guessed has an outcome, but here is the death certificate at Dampierre-en-Bray in Normandie:

This in turn led to a more informative account of Le Brun’s later years, in the Annuaire des cinq départements de la Normandie, lxi, 1894, pp. 108ff, in a piece entitled “Notes inédites sur quelques-uns des premiers glorificateurs de Nicolas Poussin en Normandie” submitted by a M. [Victor-Ernest] Veuclin, imprimeur à Bernay. This helpfully informed us that Jean-François Le Brun [sic] was born on 8 novembre 1732 but in a place the author didn’t know, and rather unhelpfully that he was chanoine de Versailles. He lost his place during the Revolution, fled to a village near Dampierre-en-Bray, where after a spell as a school teacher he resumed the priesthood when allowed to do so (1795), and was appointed curé at Dampierre. In an IX (1801) he decided to write a eulogy to Nicolas Poussin, and (just as he had done with d’Angiviller) offered to dedicate the work to the préfet de l’Eure, Claude Masson de Saint-Amand. This time the offer was accepted, but Masson sent the manuscript back to the abbé for corrections to be made, and it was not subsequently heard of.

Only one more difficulty: to find the Jean-François Le Brun born somewhere on 8 November 1732. And the answer, if your eye-sight can take the strain, is: Saint-Zacharie

where his father was still living in 1775 according to the letters cited by Camus. But the name wasn’t Le Brun: it was simply Brun. And his genealogy (uncovered step by step from parish records, but presented here with all the drama of a crossword solution) goes back through four generations at least, based in the Var; indeed his brother was also a surgeon, living in Aubagne:

Jean Brun, chirurgien ∞ Catherine Arnoux

ðJean-Baptiste Brun, chirurgien ∞ La Verdière, Var, 24.v.1649 Catherine Audiffren

ððHonoré Brun (c.1665–Saint-Zacharie 30.iv.1725), maître chirurgien ∞ 14.ii.1694 Anne Roche (1668– )

ðððJean-Augustin [Le] Brun (Saint-Zacharie Var 28.viii.1709 – p.1774), maître chirurgien, habitant Saint-Zacharie ∞ Pourrières 12.ii.1732 Marguriete Ouvière (Saint-Zacharie c.1710 – Roquevaire 20.v.1775)

ððððL’abbé Jean-François Brun, dit Le Brun (Saint-Zacharie 11.xi.1732 – Dampierre-en-Bray 15.iv.1804), chanoine de Saint-Pierre, Beauvais, vicaire-général de Sagonne 1776, auteur, membre correspondant de l’Académie de Bordeaux 1776, chapelain de feue princesse de Conti douairière, chapelain des Cisterciennes de Bellechasse, curé de Dampierre-en-Bray 1795

ððððFrançois-Benoît-Augustin Brun (13.viii.1744 – Aubange 27.ix.1804), officier de santé, chirurgien au colonies, résidant à Aubagne ∞ 1° 1769 Marguerite Beaumond; 2° Aubagne 2.ii.1775 Rose Simian

I think we can add the abbé’s name to Jouin’s list of imposters: the author of the Almanachs was plain Brun. No doubt he admired Charles Le Brun as much as he later admired Nicolas Poussin.

Who was Mlle Puvigné?

The dozens of préparations[1] by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour in the museum in his native town of Saint-Quentin have always attracted great attention, frequently being ranked ahead of his finished portraits. They have an immediacy and a vitality that is instantly arresting: the cliché that the artist is looking into his sitters’ souls is overused, but here not misplaced. While much of the portrait historian’s duty is to explain who sitters were, and what relationship they had with the artist, most of these préparations have lost their identities. Only a few are known today, usually from the slips of paper in La Tour’s own hand on which he wrote their names. One such was Mme Boëte de Saint-Leger whose full identity we wrote about on this blog.

The case of Mlle Puvigné (above; see J.46.266 in my La Tour catalogue for full details) is a little different, as her brief career as a dancer is known. As we shall see completing the picture, which has not hitherto been possible, provides an astonishing insight into the overlapping worlds of La Tour’s subjects: the oldest nobility, the richest fermiers généraux, actors and dancers. It also tells us about the other side of the “douceur de vivre” in the Ancien régime.

The entry in Fleury & Brière provides essentially all that was known about her to art history and musical scholarship (here from the 1954 edition):

Puvigné ou Puvigny (Mlle), danseuse. Née vers 1735, fille d’une danseuse à l’Opéra, elle monte sur les planches dès son enfance; élève de Mlle Sallé[2], de qui elle continue la manière, elle entre à l’Opéra en 1746 et devient rapidement un des premiers sujets; elle prit sa retraite en 1756 et mourut probablement en 1785, car elle ne figure plus aux Spectacles de Paris en 1784. Mlle Puvigné fut également l’une des étoiles du théâtre[3] des Petits Appartements à la cour.

Only one other image of her is known – hardly a portrait, but the costume drawing by Louis-René Boquet (Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra) shows Mlle Puvigné in an elaborate taffetas dress with paniers. She is supposed to be the living statue in Pygmalion, a ballet set to music by Rameau, which she premiered in 1748 at the Académie royale de musique:

Until now, no one has known her full name. The dates mentioned by Fleury & Brière – more termini than approximations – became fixed as 1735–1783 in B&W, with no additional evidence. The Fleury & Brière entry abbreviates the information in Fleury’s original 1904 catalogue, which confusingly has her as a star in 1741 (when she was only 6) but notes that she and her mother were both drawing pensions (État actuel de la musique du roi, 1773, p. 72) in 1773 (of 1000 and 250 livres respectively). Entries in the theatrical usuels – the excellent CESAR database serves as a compilation of these references – provide a list of her known appearances which I won’t repeat in detail. Here for example is the entry in Campardon, Les Spectacles de la foire, 1877, ii, p. 286:

PUVIGNÉ (Mlle), danseuse de l’Opéra-Comique à la foire Saint-Laurent de 1743, avait un rôle dans le ballet-pantomime des Fleurs, exécuté à la suite de l’Ambigu de la Folie, ou le Ballet des dindons, parade en quatre entrées, de Favart, représentée le 31 août de cette même année.

One should add that she was première danseuse in Rameau’s Les Indes galantes 1749 and in Les Fêtes de Polymnie. She made a sufficient impression to appear, for example, in Mme de Graffigny’s correspondence. The scandal sheets of the day hint at more, but with few details.

However one source which has previously been overlooked[4] is the manuscript collection of police reports in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. These provide a rather different account of Mlle Puvigné’s career which are worth reproducing in full, even if you may find them somewhat distressing. Scroll down if you are only interested in her later life.

First we have to start with her mother, who came to the attention of the police first in 1736. I won’t transcribe the whole of the complaint, but suffice it to say that she was then living in Paris as a tenant of a M. Blanchard, chirurgien in the rue Montorgueil. A dispute with a neighbour over a chimney which Blanchard had opened up led to Colombe-Françoise Puvigné, as she is described, danseuse de l’Opéra-Comique, assaulting the official who was deputed to block it up. In the course of the row, it was claimed that she was “connue de tout le monde pour une prostituée”, and the papers include a warrant (signed by René Hérault, lieutenant général de police, and the subject of a portrait by Liotard) for her to be sent to the Fort l’Eveque prison for 24 hours:

Fast forward to 1749, when there is another report of the mother, followed by the complete file (edited here to remove duplications – some of the draft reports are very hard to read – but preserving original spelling etc.) on the daughter which follows with minimal commentary as none is needed[5] – beyond noting that the list of the aristocracy is every bit as exclusive as La Tour’s own clientèle, and the documents resonate in every sense of the worlds in which she – and he – had to make their way.

Mlle Puvignée mere

Danseuse à l’opera

Rue La Croix du petits Champs

Chés une lingere à la belle flamande

Du 8 Juillet 1749

La Dlle Puvignée mere Danseuse a l’opera demeure depuis un an rue de la Croix des petits Champs chés une lingere à la belle flamande et ocupe tout le second Etage sur la Rue,

Elle est agée d’environ 28 a 30 ans, brun, petite, bien faite, assés jolie. Elle est de Paris.

Il y a 3 a 4 ans qu’elle avoit M. Bernard de Saint-Saire[6] President a la Ve des Enquestes rue Ne Dame des Victoires, qui a se remarié en second noces depuis environ 2 mois. Sa p[remi]ere f[emm]e avec laqualle il n’a vecu qu’un an est morte en couche; l’enfant est vivant.

Elle a eu ensuitte M. de Valroche[7] <frere de M. Bouret> Interessé dans les soufermes demeurant Rue du Mail pres la P. de V[ictoires] Il est garçon et va[…] de tems en tems chés la Dlle Puvigné. On assure qu’il a un bon du Roy pour la premiere place vacante de f[ermie]r général.

Elle est actuellement entretenue par M. Mazade[8] fils fermier général rue N[otr]e D[am]e des Victoire [avec son pere] <Na Scavoir si M. Mazade pere n’est pas mort>, mais depuis environ 4 mois son pere est mort. Il va presque tous les jours chés la Dlle Puvigné.

Du 10 juin 1749. Na Elle a une petite fille, <qui a quelque 13 a 14 ans>, qui est aussi danseuse a lopera, on m’a assure que le Mis de Courtanvaux[9] avoit eu son pucelage pour une montre d’or elle n’a que 13 a 14 ans il y a environ un an. Elle est fort jolie, petite, brune, le nez aquiline, petite bouche, fort jolie

Voir tant pour l’histoire de la mere que celle de la fille danseuse seule a l’opera. La feuille de cette dere c’est la suite…

Du 20 Janvier 1751

La Dlle Puvigné fille, danseuse seule à l’opera, demeure avec sa mere rue de la Croix des petits champs à la belle flamande

Elle est agé de 16 à 17 ans, petite, brune, la bouche bien faite, le nez acquilin, jolie. Il a déjà été dit dans la feüille du 8 Juillet 1749 à l’article de la mere, quelle avoit vendu la pucelage de sa fille, qui n’avoit au plus que 12 a 13 ans, a M. le Mis de Courtanvaux.

Depuis quelques mois que la Dlle Puvigné est de retour de Lyon, d’où <(par parenthese)>elle a raporté de forts bons effets, sa mere la produite a M. le Prince de Soubise chés qui elle va diner ordinairement trois fois par semaine lorsqu’il est à Paris et afin d’observer le decorum la mere l’accompagne. Le prince de Soubise[10] est dans le gout d’en avoir plus avoir sur ce tout à il ne donne à la dlle Puvingé que 12 louis par mois.

Du 6 avril 1751

La Dlle Puvigné fille, danseuse a l’opera demeure actuellement <depuis environ trois mois> avec sa mere, rue St Honoré chés Vignolles Coutellier <vis a vis l’oratoire> au per etage sur la rüe, meme maison qie la Dlle Le Miere

Il a eté dit dans la feuille du 20 Janvier der que la dlle Puvigné allois de tems en tems chés le Pce de Soubise, soit pour y diner, ou pour danser seule aux differents Bals qu’il a donné <Le 2. Janer der la Psse de Soubise lui a fait … pour son Etrenne d’une …rette fine de diamans en reconnce a ce quelle a plusieurs fois dansé …> Il n’en est plus question depuis plus de 2 mois; elle est sous les auspices de M. le marquis de Voyer[11] <rue du Gros Chenet> qui … au moins trois a 4 fois par semaine l’a voir/ Il n’y arrive ordt que le Soir dans son Equipage. Il n’y couche jamais.

Du 10 Juillet 1752

Vendredi 7 de ce mois M. le Duc de Luxembourg[12] a eté souper avec la Dlle Puvigné, tête à tête, dans la petite Maison de Campagne du Prince de Soubise situé entre Vaugirard et les Invalides, proche d’Issy, et la ramenée chés elle à deux heures du matin.


Du 18 Septembre 1752

M. le Comte de Kaunitz[13] ambassadeur de l’Empereur a fait plusieurs presents à la Dlle Puvigné, sur laquelle il paroît vouloir jetter un dévolu; néanmoins quoiquelle ait déja eté collationer plusieurs fois chés lui, on ne croit pas que la mariage soit encore consommé.


Du 13 Novembre 1752

M. de Fontanieu[14] fils, demeurant rüe Vivienne chés M. son pere[15], Conseiller d’Etat et Garde des meubles de la Couronne, entretien fort secrettement, et donne tout ce qu’il peut à la Dlle Puvigné fille, Danseuse à l’opera. Il court même un bruit quelle est grosse de ses oeuvres.


Du 19 Janvier 1753

Il y a environ six semaines que la Dlle Puvigné fille, Danseuse à l’opera, avoit donne pour adjouir à M. de Fontanieu fils, M. le comte de Mniszeck[16] grand Chambellan de Lithuanie, mais elle de l’a gardé que 15 Jours. <> dit hautement que pendant cet espace de tems elle en a tire plus de 14000#. En autres presens, il lui a donné une Navette d’or enrichi de Diamants. <C’est actuellement la Dlle Rez qui en est en possession, au grand regret sans doute de la Dlle Puvigné pries gler>

Du 3 avril 1753

Dlle Puvigne fille danseuse à l’opera

Rue St Honoré

Rüe neuve des petits Champs

Près la rue de Richelieu

La Dlle Puvigne fille danseuse à l’opera est le fruit des amours de la De Puvigné et du nommé Haroche <Droüllion[17]> jadis acteur de l’opera comique. Elle est agée d’environ dix huit ans, petite, brune, bien faite, le nez acquilin, assés jolie; sa mere qui danse dans les ballets à l’opera, a parüe sur plusieurs Theatres de province.

En 1744 la Dlle Puvigné, âgée seulement de 8 à 9 ans, debuta à la foire St Germain sur celui de l’opera Comique dirigé alors par le S. Berger; mais ce spectacle aïant eté suprimé en 1745, elle partie pour Lyon avec sa mere et elles ne revinrent à Paris qu’en 1749 quelle entrerent toutes deux à l’opera aux 1200# d’appointements.

La Dlle Puvigné n’etoit point encore nubile lorsqu’elle reçut les premieres leçons du Mis de Courtanvaux, qui ne la fit pas bien riche, car l’histoire rapporte qu’il ne donna que quelques Louis à la mère, et une montre d’or à la fille.

En 1751 le Prince de Soubise crût en avoir les gands et la garda jusqu’au commencement de l’annee 1752; il ne la même pas encore aujourd’hui entierrement quittée. Depuis elle n’a eu que des passades avec le Duc de Deux Ponts[18] <le mis de Voyer>, le Comte de Kaunitz, le Duc de la Valliere[19], le Duc de Luxembourg. Maintenant elle est, en attendant mieux, à M de Fontanieu fils du Coner d’Etat qui lui donne ce qu’il peut. Pendant le bail de celui-cy, elle a encore une passade avec le Comte de Mniszech, Grand Chambellan de Lithuanie, qui lui a valu 13 à 14000#.


Du 14 May 1753

On s’est trompé dans ce qui a eté donné precedemment de la filiation de la Dlle Puvigné. Voici ce qu’il faut suivre.

Le Sr Sabatier étoit, dit-on, un riche armateur de St Malo, qui périt sur mer, et avec lui tout ce qu’il pouvoit avoir de plus precieux. Il laisse sa femme sans fortune, avec une fille qui dans la suitte a parüe à l’opera Comique avant la derniere supression qui en fut faite en 1745, et depuis sur differens Theatres de Province, sous le nom de Julie. C’est dans ces dernieres Caravanes que le S. Bercaville alors Comedien de la Troupe à Bruxelles, ensuitte Lecteur de feu M. le Marechal de Saxe, l’a connüe, en est devenu amoureux et la épousé. Aujourd’hui elle a le privilege de la Comedie de Lille. Quant à la mere de Julie, qui etoit lors du deces du S. Sabatier, encore jeune, fraiche et Jolie, elle plût au Sr Puvigné de Martel, homme riche et de condition, qui, dit-on, l’épousa clandestinement, du moins il en eût la Dame Puvigné mere aussi danseuse à l’opera; laquelle du tems quelle étoit à l’opera comique; eût de ses amours avec Hamoche acteur de ce Théâtre (et non avec Droüillon comme il a eté dit dans la feuille du 3. Avril dernier) la Dlle Puvigné fille dont il s’agit, qui toujours pour tenant M de Fontanieu fils.


Du 26 Septembre 1755

Rue Notre Dame des Victoires

Il y a deux ans que M de Fontanieu … a la Dlle Puvigné fille danseuse à l’opera …maintenant elle est entretenue par M. de Fontanieu l’ainé me des Requetes demeurant <ainsi que son pere…> Rue Vivienne … M. de Fontanieu donne 100 pistolles par mois à la Dlle Puvigné, et l’on assure qu’il lui a donné pour 5 à 6000# de vaisselle d’argent …

La Dlle Puvigné demeure avec sa mere rue Ne De des Victoires/a 3e porte cochere a droite, et entrance du cote de la rue du mail …pour 200# de loyer et trois domestique à leur service.

Du 6 aoust 1756

Depuis deux mois la Dlle Puvigne danseuse à l’Opéra, est entretenüe par M. Masson de Maisonrouge[20], Receveur général des finances, qui vient la voir trois à quatre fois par semaine.

La Dlle Sallé ancienne danseuse à l’Opéra, qui joüissoit de 3. Pensions de 600#  chacune <Il y a aux petits appartemens 4 places de baladins et 4 places de Baladines, à sa l’ancienne denomination. Chacune de ces places est de 600#. La Dlle Sallé an avoit deux et jouissoit en valeur de 600# de pension>, étant porte la Semaine derniere, la Dlle Puvigné en a obtenu une, Mlle Lany l’autre. Mlle Vestris cours apres la 3e.

But there the police documents end. What happened to Mlle Puvigné? We still don’t know her name. But we do now have some names of close relations, although merely searching for these online or in genealogical references books doesn’t get very far. We can however identify her biological father, the actor Jean-Baptiste Hamoche: here’s the entry in Campardon, Les Spectacles de la foire, 1877, i, pp. 391ff:

HAMOCHE (JEAN-BAPTISTE), excellent pierrot de la foire, commença par jouer la comédie en province, puis vint à Paris, où il s’engagea chez Saint-Edme et chez la dame Baron (…). Admis à l’Opéra-Comique, il y obtint, grâce au naturel et à la vérité de son jeu, de nombreux applaudissements et devint l’acteur favori du public. A la foire Saint-Laurent de 1732, il prit de / moitié avec Devienne la direction de l’Opéra-Comique, et célébra son entrée en fonctions par une petite pièce qu’il commanda à Carolet et qui fut jouée à l’ouverture de la foire, le 7 juillet, sous le titre du Nouveau Bail. Malheureusement l’entreprise d’Hamoche ne réussit pas; les deux associés se brouillèrent et de dépit l’acteur s’engagea à la Comédie-Italienne, où il débuta le 1er décembre 1732. Dépaysé sur cette scène, Hamoche ne tarda pas à la quitter, et le 30 juin 1733 il faisait sa rentrée à l’Opéra-Comique dans la Fausse Égyptienne, de Panard. (…) / Hamoche fut fort bien reçu, mais l’incorrigible Pierrot se brouilla une seconde fois avec son directeur, à qui il fit même un procès, et quitta de nouveau la scène à la fin de la foire Saint-Laurent de 1733 pour n’y plus reparaître que le 13 juillet 1743 (…). Il joua encore (28 août 1743) les rôles d’un ivrogne dans la Fontaine de Sapience, opéra comique en un acte, de Laffichard et Valois, et (31 août 1743) Osman, Turc, Huascar, Inca, et Zima, sauvagesse, dans les actes I, II et III de l’Ambigu de la folie, ou le Ballet des dindons, parodie en quatre actes, de Favart. Enfin Hamoche, s’étant créé encore de nouveaux ennuis à l’Opéra-Comique, finit par quitter tout à fait la scène et par se retirer en province.

The key fact here is the reference to Favart’s play, L’Ambigu de la folie ou le ballet des dindons, in which Mlle Puvigné debuted on 31 August 1743, the other two dancers being Mlle Lany and Noverre. Hamoche was the lead actor.

Let us return then to the other names. Neither Sabattier nor Puvigné de Martel get us far. But, as luck would have it, I came across a document in the Archives nationales, in which a certain Vincent Martenne de Puvigné renounced the succession of his half-sister Julienne-Nicole Sabatier, veuve de Louis-Gabriel Cabre de Bercaville, 27.xi.1786 (AN mc/xxiv/953).

Cabre, formerly an actor, was secrétaire to the maréchal de Saxe[21] and then (1761) to the maréchal de Löwendal (two more La Tour sitters: J.46.2863 and J.46.2188). He was later inspecteur du Théâtre de la Monnaie until 1780. As for Julienne-Nicole, she did, as Meunier noted, appear on the stage. Here is the entry in Campardon:

BERCAVILLE (JULIE), actrice de l’Opéra-Comique, débuta à ce théâtre à la foire Saint-Laurent de 1733, dans le Départ de l’Opéra-Comique, pièce en un acte et en vaudevilles mêlés de prose, de Panard, et joua le rôle de la Lune, dans Zéphire et la lune, ou la Nuit d’été, opéra comique en un acte, de Boissy, représenté à la même foire. Julie Bercaville, qui n’était connue à l’Opéra-Comique que sous le nom de Julie, débuta plus tard sous son nom de famille à la Comédie-Française.

In her will[22], Julienne-Nicole left a substantial annuity to her “frère uterin” [half-brother] Vincent Martin de Puvigné [sic]; a portrait of an “abbé en robe de chambre” was left to a priest. But there was no mention of any half-sister or niece or anyone that could be La Tour’s Mlle Puvigné (nor indeed of any pastel portrait that might have been the work the préparation was made for).

Her half-brother was Vincent-François Martenne de Puvigné (c.1718–1791), chevalier de l’ordre de Saint-Jean-de-Latran, officier d’infanterie, commandant de l’Ile de Rodrigues in 1752; he died in the Île Maurice. He was born in Nantes (paroisse Saint-Laurent), his parents being Vincent Martenne, sieur de Puvigné and Guillemette Seguin. It is unclear how they were connected with Vincent [de] Puvigné, chantre de la chapelle-musique du roi in Versailles 1682–1720.

So the logic of the police report is that Guillemette Seguin must originally have been married to the armateur Sabatier. And that indeed proves to have been the case: Joseph Sabatier married Guillemette Seguin, a minor, in Saint-Malo on 3 January 1708. Further, three years later, on 23 August 1711 in the cathédrale de Saint-Malo, Guillemette, veuve de Joseph Sabatier, married Vincent Martene, sieur de Puvigné. She lived until 1758, providing 1500 livres for the repair of the chapel of Saint-Jean de Saint-Michel (Archives de la Gironde).

Guillemette was thus the mother of Julienne-Nicole by her first marriage, and of Vincent-François Martenne de Puvigné and Colombe-Françoise by her legitimate second marriage. Colombe-Françoise may never have married, but was the mother of La Tour’s sitter:

There is one further clue in Julienne-Nicole Sabatier’s will: a substantial legacy in favour of her godson Nicolas-Philippe d’Albessard. It is that which enabled me to make the link to the Dlle Puvigné: she was Louise-Claire Hamoche-Puvigné (c.1735–1779) who, on 8 August 1760, in Paris, Saint-Eustache, was married to Jean-Baptiste d’Albessard (1716–1794). If not of the highest aristocracy, it was a very good match: her husband was conseiller du roi, avocat général au parlement de Bordeaux, and had married once before (in 1751).

She had already borne two children to him: Charles (before 1758 – died young) and Colombe Thibaut d’Albessard (1759–1784). Another son, Jacques, was born in Paris in 1768 (he died in 1834). When Jacques applied for military service in 1787 as an officer in the regiment de Guadaloupe, Chérin was persuaded to issue the necessary proof of nobility to d’Albessard and “Louise-Claire Hamoche”. And, c.1772, she gave birth to Nicolas-Philippe d’Albessard, whose marraine was her aunt Julienne. Nicolas-Philippe served in the Egypt campaign, and died without issue. Colombe became Dame de la maison de Madame Victoire. The avocat général sat on the Assemblée Générale de la noblesse d’agenois, and was guillotined in Bordeaux. The family’s pedigree is set out in O’Gilvy’s Nobiliaire de Guienne.

The witnesses at Louise-Claire’s burial at Versailles (paroisse Saint-Louis, 29 August 1779) were Me Guillaume Angélique Barrau, avocat au parlement et premier commis des finances de Monsieur, Pierre Talon ordinaire de la musique du Roy (1721–1785; a known cellist and composer), and her son Jacques d’Albessard.

None of this tells us why or for whom La Tour undertook his pastel. While portraits of actors were often intended to further their careers on the stage, we cannot avoid the suspicion that this commission was placed by one of her “admirers”. Even more disturbing is the idea that her mother may have thought it helpful for business: if so, does that make La Tour complicit? Or us?


[1] This essay first appeared in this blog on 27.i.2021. The version of record, which may be cited as Neil Jeffares, “La Tour, Mlle Puvigné”, Pastels & pastellists, has been expanded and includes additional material.

[2] See the entry in my La Tour catalogue, at J.46.2842.

[3] Organised by Mme de Pompadour: La Tour catalogue, at J.46.2541.

[4] It is mentioned in an obscure article, M. Fuchs, “Les danseurs des théâtres de provinces au xviiie siècle”, Archives intenrnationales de la danse, 15.i.1935, p. 29; but Hamoche’s name is transcribed as Lamoche, again throwing us off the scent.

[5] The reports were made by the police inspector Jean-Baptiste Meusnier, dit Meunier, who was assassinated in 1757.

[6] Better known as Anne-Gabriel-Henri Bernard, marquis de Boulainvilliers 1766 (1724–1798), président au parlement, gouverneur d’Ile-de-France 1775, prévôt de Paris, maître des cérémonies de l’ordre de Saint-Louis. He was the son of La Tour’s famous président de Rieux. In 1749 he was at the 2e des Enquêtes, not the 5e. His first wife was Marie-Madeleine de Grimoart du Roure; his second, whom he married in 1748, Marie-Madeleine-Adrienne de Hallencourt de Boulainvilliers (1725–1781).

[7] Antoine-François Bouret de Valroche (1711–1776), fermier général, secrétaire du roi. In 1765 he married Marie-Antoinette Petit, de l’Opéra. For her liaison with the marquis de Bonnac, see Jeffares 2002.

[8] Jean-Laurent Mazade de Bobigny (1719–a.1759), fermier général 1740, brother of Marie-Madeleine Mazade (1716–1773), who, with her husband Antoine-Gaspard Grimod de La Reynière (1690–1756), were also La Tour sitters: J.46.1867 and J.46.188.

[9] Louis-Charles-César, chevalier de Louvois, marquis de Courtenvaux, comte, puis duc d’Estrées (1695–1771sp), maréchal de France, chev. Saint-Esprit.

[10] Charles de Rohan, prince de Soubise, 2e duc de Rohan-Rohan (1715–1787), gouverneur de Flandre &c 1751, maréchal de France 1758, ministre d’état, maréchal de Soubise; he was the subject of a Perronneau pastel.

[11] Marc-René de Voyer de Paulmy, marquis de Voyer d’Argenson (1722–1782), maréchal de camp, lieutenant-général d’Alsace; gouverneur de Romorentin, inspecteur général des dragons, directeur général des haras royaux 1758, associé libre 1749, puis honoraire amateur de l’Académie royale de peinture, vice protecteur de l’Académie de Saint-Luc 1751–64: see entry for La Tour’s portrait J.46.3144.

[12] Charles-François-Frédéric de Montmorency-Luxembourg, duc de Piney-Luxembourg, prince de Tingry (1702–1764), chev. Saint-Esprit 1744, maréchal de France, capitaine des gardes du corps du roi.

[13] Wenzel Anton Fürst von Kaunitz-Rietberg 1764 (1711–1794), chev. Toison d’or 1749, St Stephen, Maria Theresia, Hof- und Staatskanzler. He was portrayed by Liotard.

[14] Probably the elder son, Bonaventure-Moïse de Fontanieu (1728–1757), maître des requêtes.

[15] Gaspard-Moïse-Augustin de Fontanieu (1694–1767), conseiller du parlement de Paris, intendant des meubles de la Couronne, maître des requêtes.

[16] Jan Karol Mniszech (1716–1759), chev. Orła Białego 1744; his wife, Katarzyna Zamoyska, was portrayed by Roslin.

[17] Drouillon in the copie nette, Haroche in the original manuscript.

[18] Christian IV. Pfalzgraf von Birkenfeld-Zweibrücken (1722–1775); the subject of a portrait by Tocqué.

[19] Louis César de La Baume-le-Blanc, duc de La Vallière et pair de France (1708–1780), grand fauconnier de France, chev. Saint-Esprit 1749 ; there is a Cochin portrait. The Journal et mémoires du marquis d’Argenson (v, p. 303, December 1748), give a rather more innocent sounding account of his encounter: “M. de la Vallière d’est mis à entretenir la petite Puvigné, danseuse de l’Opéra, qui a à peine Treize ans et qui n’est qu’une enfant; il fait construire pour lui des cabinets à sa maison des champs, à l’imitation du roi; il doit de tous côtés.”

[20] Etienne-Pierre Masson de Maisonrouge (1700–1785), receveur des finances à Amiens. His second wife, the singer “la Romainville”, took Vestris as a lover just after her marriage. Maisonrouge had a child by La Tour’s lover, Marie Fel (J.46.1762), before 1752.

[21] Confirmed by his widow’s entry in the scellés apposés…, AN Y13810, 4.ii.1785, place Saint-Michel.

[22] AD75 DC 6 262, 10.iii.1785.

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,

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