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Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul (1713–1781)

11 November 2016

SireulThis post was first published on 11 November 2016, with a fuller version (including a transcription of Sireul’s collection) being available on my website.[1]

Ever since the appearance of his collection in the posthumous sale at the Hôtel de Bullion on 3 December 1781 and subsequent days, the Cabinet de M. de Sireul [sic] has been the object of veneration for old master drawings specialists.[2] His special relationship with François Boucher – whose name appears in the first line of the avant-propos to the catalogue – ensured that Sireul not only received “une place entre les Amateurs passionnés & instruits” but would be forever associated with that artist, his cabinet being “le porte-feuille de M. Boucher”. While Boucher was working, Sireul “passoit des heures entieres à voir la toile s’animer sous les crayons heureux de l’Artiste”; after his death, the collector’s devotion became “une passion violante, qu’il satisfaisoit pour ainsi dire aux dépens de sa propre aisance.” His name is recorded as a purchaser in public sales of the time from 1767,[3] and he was still buying until a few months before his death.

All of this is well known, and in almost every book on Boucher or on collecting in the Ancien Régime Sireul’s name will appear, albeit with various spellings. Alastair Laing’s article in Grove and his discussion of Sireul in his catalogue for the 2003 Boucher drawings exhibition[4] have more recently been supplemented by an article by (the aptly christened) Jean-Claude Boyer entitled “Qui était Sireul?”[5] This concentrated on his art criticism and other ephemera but made little advance on the basic biographical details that have been known since 1781: that he had died that year, and had been a valet de chambre du roi. Both articles mention a document acquired in 2002 by the Fondation Custodia which was effectively his inventaire après décès; technically it was the “Liquidation des reprises, droits et créances de la Dame Sireul contre la succession de son mari”, and is referred to below as the Liquidation.[6]

Since its appearance at auction in 1988 a fine pastel[7] by Boucher of his friend has been known (reproduced above), but less attention has been given to the Carmontelle drawing of him (see below). All sources continue to print a variety of guesses for his date of birth, usually between 1720 and 1730, and all simply inferred from his appearance in the Boucher pastel (1761), signed on the mount.

The question of his age can be answered very easily, by reference to the État civil reconstitué: Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul was born in Paris on 13 February 1713, and baptised at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. The remaining biographical facts in this note have been assembled from a wide variety of sources including inventaires après décès, registres de clôtures d’inventaires, registres de tutelles and other notarial documents in the Archives nationales as well as parish records for a number of towns.[8] They have been found by following Sireul’s links with the network of families of marchand merciers and similar trades, many associated with royal service.

A widespread confusion should be cleared up immediately: the office of valet de chambre du roi did not of itself ennoble the holder – although notable families such as the Bontemps were noble, this was through specific royal warrants.[9] Many of the valets de chambre du roi, and similar officers of the Maison du roi, were roturiers, although the valets enjoyed certain fiscal advantages – notably exemption from the droit de franc-fief, the tax that roturiers had to pay if they acquired land that normally belonged to nobles. They also enjoyed the courtesy title of “écuyer”, a suffix which in all other contexts is the clearest indication that the person was noble.[10] In Sireul’s case the notarial documents unanimously give him bourgeois status; they are also unanimous in giving him no particle. Boileau’s title page “M. de Sireul” is simply mistaken. His confusion was not unique: in the 1777 Randon de Boisset catalogue, Pierre Rémy wrote “Les anecdotes suivantes nous ont été données par M. de Sireuil, ami de M. Randon de Boisset pour server d’Avertissement”. The misspelling was widespread (“Sireuil” was a seigneurie held by a noble family to whom Sireul was unrelated).[11]

Sireul’s father was Jean-Baptiste Sireul, recorded in notarial documents as “officier de garde-robe du duc d’Orléans”. In fact he was tailor to the duc, as appears from an insertion in the Nouveau Mercure galant for February 1715 (pp. 298f) under the curious heading “Autre Avis, dont l’usage me paroist assez impracticable”–

Le Sieur Sireul, Valet de Chambre Tailleur de S. A R. Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans & de Monseigneur le Duc de Chartres, juge à propos de vous apprendre qu’il est l’Auteur des habits ébloüissants de richesses & de diamants que leurs Altesses Royales ont porté le jour de l’Audience de l’Ambassadeur de Perse à Versailles. Il devoit ajoûter à cet avis, qu’il en fait de pareils à juste prix, & vous donner son adresse.

The spectacular reception of Mehmet Riza Beg by Louis XIV on 19 February is commemorated in pictures and in the writings of Montesquieu and Saint-Simon. The king’s outfit was covered in diamonds to a value of 12½ million livres, while the duc d’Orléans wore, according to Saint-Simon, “un habit de velours bleu brodé en mosaïque, tout chamarré de perles et de diamants, qui remporta le prix de la parure et du bon goût”.[12] Saint-Simon also tells us that Coypel was placed near the throne to record the ceremony, but the picture of which there is a version at Versailles seems neither to confirm the description of the outfits nor to be by Coypel:[13]


The ambassador stayed with Alexandre Bontemps, premier valet de chambre du roi, during his visit.

Jean-Baptiste Sireul died in 1720, survived by his widow, Jeanne-Françoise Landot ( –1742). Her family were linked to marchands épiciers and marchands merciers such as the Cochin and Paris families (not to be confused with the homonyms in art and finance). (Thus, for example, Sireul was connected to another famous collector, Jean-Denis Lempereur, who married a Cochin.[14]) A tuteur, or guardian, was appointed to look after Jean-Claude-Gaspard’s interests: he was Martin Thieriot (1698–1770), marchand drapier, rue Vieille du Temple, another figure occupying the grey area of luxury goods. His younger brother Pierre Thieriot (1701–1777) was a conseiller du roi, contrôleur honoraire des rentes, while his elder brother Claude-Nicolas Thieriot (c.1697–1772) was the impecunious writer and friend of Voltaire. Voltaire’s lengthy correspondence[15] in 1754 concerning the inadequacies of Sireul’s libretto (adapting a poem of Voltaire for the composer Pancrace Royer) is mentioned in Boyer’s 2010 article, but it seems that neither Boyer nor (in his 3 December 1754 letter to Thieriot) Voltaire were aware of Sireul’s previous connection to Thieriot’s brother – although the change in tone in Voltaire’s 19 December 1754 letter suggests that Thieriot had revealed his acquaintance. By 25 January 1755, Royer’s death had resolved the impasse, and Voltaire was able to write more generously of Sireul: “C’est un honnête homme, doux et modèste; de quoi s’avise-t-il d’aller se fourrer dans cette bagare?”

The date of Sireul’s appointment as valet de chambre du roi remains unknown (Voltaire contemptuously called him a “porte-manteau du roi”, a somewhat lower rank in the royal household). It was the premier valet de chambre (confusingly there were four, serving by quarter) who slept at the foot of the king’s bed. Putting up foreign ambassadors was probably not a duty for the valets ordinaires (32 in all, eight serving at a time), but in addition to dressing the king they were expected to have a complete understanding of royal protocol such as who could sit where and on what type of chair: all the minutiae that any reader of Saint-Simon will relish. There were also a number of lesser officers of the Maison du roi, such as perruquiers, tapissiers and even horlogers, who could preface their trade with the phrase “valet de chambre” (as also in the d’Orléans household, where Sireul’s father had been “valet de chambre-tailleur”). A long tradition of royal valets de chambre included draughtsmen such as Jean Perréal, Pierre Dumonstier and Antoine Benoist.

Nor do we know when or why Sireul resigned his charge, except that it must have been after his marriage, in 1742 (see below), but before January 1749, when he published some (not very inspired) verses in the Mercure addressed to the future Premier peintre, Jean-Baptise-Marie Pierre, under the signature (at least it was printed thus) “Par M. Sireüil, ancien Valet-de-Chambre du Roi.”

As noted above, Sireul was married in 1742, the contract[16] making the usual provisions under the Paris customs for communauté des biens for the respective dowries of 10,000 livres from each party, the surplus to remain the property of the party providing it. Sireul’s assets included his charge of valet de chambre du roi.[16a] His wife had the expectations of her own family inheritance and 1200 livres of rents. She was Gabrielle-Louise Hamart, born in Paris, where she was baptised at Saint-Eustache on 12 October 1715. Her name too was frequently misspelt: Louise took the curious step of issuing a notarial document[17] confirming her correct names and attaching a certified copy of her baptismal entry.

Louise’s brother Gabriel Hamart (1708–1786) was receveur général des aides à Pontoise, while their parents were a marchand, also called Gabriel Hamart, and Marie Denos, daughter of a marchand maître tailleur d’habits à Paris. The Hamarts were surely related to the family of senior servants in the Orléans household. Louise’s great-great-grandfather was probably Jean Hamart, contrôleur général de la maison et argenterie de la duchesse d’Orléans, while his wife and sisters were femmes de chambre to Henriette d’Angleterre and to the subsequent duchesses d’Orléans. A footnote in the Correspondence de Bossuet[18] relates how Marie-Madeleine Hamart married the baron de Busca, whom she had assisted to flee following a gaming dispute; but she died on 27 March 1711 not in Versailles as the editors have, but in Triel-sur-Seine. There her unmarried sister was supérieure de la communauté des orphelines established by the duchesse d’Orléans.

One of Louise’s uncles, Jacques Hamart (1681–1767), was for 45 years curé of Toussus-le-Noble. Sireul attended his funeral in 1767, signing the register (as Sireul) where he was recorded as “Jean Claude Gaspard Sireuil ancien valet de chambre du roy, son neveu, bourgeois de Paris”.

Mme Sireul was the subject also of a portrait[19] by Boucher which (unlike the pastel of her husband or the Carmontelles below) was included in the posthumous sale, where it was given an extensive description:

47. Le portrait de Madame de * * * en petit & vu de face. Elle est représentée coîffée en cheveux & en habit de Bergere, ayant le bras droit passé dans une corbeille de fleurs. Le fond du tableau offre un paysage.

Ce Morceau précieux & agréable réunit tous les charmes d’une composition heureuse & d’un pinceau le plus délicat. La plupart des Amateurs n’ignorent pas que ce fut un hommage de l’amitié de M. Boucher pour M. de Sireul. Hauteur 14 pouces, largeur 12 pouces

This was withdrawn at 215 livres (or noted pour mémoire).[21] The description is sufficiently precise to leave no doubt that it relates to an oil, signed and dated 1754 (lower left) and subsequently in the collection of Gabriel Cognaq.[22]


The photograph is too poor to judge whether it is the original, or whether it is a copy of Lot 47 (which, although placed in the pastels section among the Boucher drawings, is not specifically described as a pastel). Ananoff & Wildenstein[23] (1976, no. 427) note a related sanguine counterproof (sold 8 November 1924, as of Mme de Pompadour), while a copy in miniature was offered in London, Phillips, 17 April 2000, Lot 48 (reproduced), accompanied by a free interpretation of the Boucher pastel of Sireul on the reverse (not reproduced).[24] Alastair Laing discusses[25] the matter at length, and concludes that lot 47 was probably a pastel of which the Cognacq painting was a version; in support of this he argues that the background of the canvas is too perfunctory to be described as a landscape. My view is that it would be very unusual to have a more developed landscape in a pastel than in an oil version (particularly in a work on this scale); there is no contemporary record of (or obvious explanation for) the existence of a second version; the word pastel is omitted in the specific description of this lot; and the very small size of the oil, 36×28 cm[26] and its domestic character may simply have induced the auctioneer to include it in the “wrong” section. The description in the Liquidation introduces a further confusion:

A l’égard d’un portrait dessin du même F[ranç]ois Boucher representant le portrait de lad. De Sireul et d’un tableau au pastel representant celui dudit feu sieur son mari, il n’en est point fait de prisée comme portrait de famille et le premier article est seulement tiré pour mémoire

The difference in the terminology reinforces the suggestion that Lot 47 was not in pastel (and also implies that the pastel of Sireul himself was not part of the estate at all). While it might logically be possible that the portrait of Mme Sireul was a “dessin” (in chalk? a study for the oil?) rather than an oil, this is most likely an incorrect reading of the phrase which merely identifies the author as Boucher (consistent with Lot 47’s mention of “pinceau”, an equally treacherous term). But unless the date on the canvas is disputed, Lot 47 cannot have been a pendant to the pastel of Sireul, and was made some seven years before.

The couple’s only recorded child, Denis, was born in Paris on 12 August 1749.[27]

Louise Sireul was evidently a lady of determined character, whether from the wording of her notarial documents,[28] or from the description of her provided by the brilliant lawyer Louis-Eugène Hardouin de La Reynerie who represented the poet Lebrun-Pindare in his divorce action.[29] Ponce-Denis Écouchard Lebrun, dit Lebrun-Pindare (1729–1807), was secrétaire des commandements du prince de Conti (a position not unlike Sireul’s), and in 1759 had married a Marie-Anne de Surcoût. She had an affair with a certain Justinien-Victor Grimod de La Loube,[30] intéressé dans les affaires du roi, and the proceedings depended on how conflicting accounts of events in 1774 were to be weighed up. The Sireuls were on the poet’s side, and Hardouin (who had quite a difficult case, since Lebrun’s own mother and sister sided with the wife’s allegations of cruelty) drew on the testimony of Sireul and his wife (“mais celle-ci surtout”), arguing that–

La dame de Sireuil, par son âge, par ses qualités personnelles, par la considération générale dont elle jouit, est trop supérieure à des inculpations de ce genre pour qu’il soit besoin de l’en justifier.

A rather different picture of the younger Mme Sireul emerges however from the secret contemporary reports sent to the lieutenant de police Nicolas-René Berryer.[31] Thus in a letter of 10 February 1751, we learn that the “dame Sireuil” was “environ 28 ans, assez jolie, de l’esprit, et fait des vers” and that she was the mistress of the chevalier Clément-Ignace de Rességuier (1724–1797), who had just been arrested: indeed “il avait même couché avec elle la veille.” He had met her at one of M. Titon’s dinners, through the abbé Raynal, “ami du chevalier et fort lié avec cette dame.” Rességuier was the target of police interest because of his libellous verses against Mme de Pompadour which resulted in his incarceration in the Bastille and then the château d’If. By 1754 he had been released to exile in Malta (he was a chevalier de Malte and would later become général des galères de l’ordre); agents reported on his efforts to recover certain letters he had written to Mme Sireul, “femme mariée qui fait des vers” (in the context this was not necessarily a compliment). “J’ai appris”, the agent continued,

que M. Sireuil son mari est gentilhomme ordinaire chez le Roi, fils d’un riche tailleur, et que Mme Sireul peut avoir 25 à 26 ans, qu’elle a été très jolie et très piquante. Elle est à présent affligée d’une dartre à la partie secrete.

This is perhaps more than we wanted to know (it is curious that the agent had such an intimate knowledge of her medical condition, but underestimated her age by 13 years), but her frequenting the famous salon of Évrard Titon du Tillet and her close connection to Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, editor of the Correspondance littéraire, provide fascinating clues to her social life. Titon’s personal conduct was notorious, and according to Barbier led to his resignation from the Grand’Chambre, since “il vit dans une petite maison sur le rempart dans une débauche publique avec des filles qui sont tous les jours à sa table, ce qui ne convient pas à un magistrat”.[32]

How well had Sireul himself known these major figures? Did Titon du Tillet, author of Le Parnasse françois and himself the subject of a portrait by Largillierre, know Sireul’s Largillierre, of Jean de La Fontaine,[33] the work in his collection singled out for praise in Lebrun’s Almanach of 1777? By the time of the liquidation, however, the attribution had been revised to Rigaud, and the valuation a mere 30 livres.[34] Unlike most of the lots in the sale, however, this exceeded expectations, reaching 130 livres.

We can only speculate whether Louise’s behaviour caused, or was a response to, the long hours her husband spent in Boucher’s studio (the extremely pretty Mme Boucher was her almost exact contemporary), or whether a sense of guilt caused her to testify so clearly in favour of another cuckold, Lebrun-Pindare. Was the unusual commentary added to Lot 47 a hint that the portrait, made in 1754, marked some sort of rapprochement between the Sireuls?

With connections to the Orléans household through his own family as well as his wife’s, it is unsurprising that the Sireul couple were the subject of portraits[35] by Carmontelle (shown below). His is inscribed[36] “en voyant mon portrait, souvenés vous d’un Pere qui vous aime”; their son Denis must have been the dedicatee (the picture did not appear in the 1781 sale or liquidation, perhaps because it already have belonged to Denis). The second Carmontelle, of Mme Sireul, is now in the Morgan Library.[37] Evidently it shows a much older lady than the Boucher portrait, but once again in a landscape setting.

These portraits must date to around the same period when Sireul was involved with a Compagnie pour la réception des rentes à Paris. The original idea, floated by Silhouette in 1760, was to create some 60 new receveurs des rentes, but this was vigorously opposed by the Parlement de Paris. The story is confused by the existence of several rival operations and by a succession of royal decrees concerning the monopolies required. The purpose was to convert rental streams which were in arrears or in default into guaranteed payments. A certain Jean-Bernard Basset issued various notices, for example in L’Année littéraire, 1760, pp. 60ff, describing the project, which had a capital of 500,000 livres (the phrase “recette des rentes” replaced the “reception” of the printed prospectus). Although not one of the five founder syndics (among whom the most important seems to have been Jacques-Sébastien Prépaud, a Maltese financier supported by the Choiseul family and who died bankrupt after the fall of Choiseul), by 1767 Sireul was one of the eleven associates behind the short-lived enterprise which appeared for several years in the Almanach royal; the circumstances were described in a letter to “M. le Chancelier” written in 1769 by Mme Sireul, inexplicably described as the widow of Sireul.[38] (One wonders whether this adventure was more inimical to “sa propre aisance” than his collecting habit.)

In fact Sireul died[39] on 17 August 1781, in the rue l’Evêque, butte Saint-Roch, the same address as had appeared in the Almanach historique. It was probably the same house, and certainly very close to, that described in the 1751 police report: “rue des Moulins, la première porte cochère à droite, par la rue des Moineaux”. These directions can be followed in Lattré’s street plan of 1775:


The locality, with its modest houses frequented by doctors, writers[40] and other professionals, was probably not much changed from that depicted by Étienne Bouhot in a painting of “Le magasin de l’orfèvrerie de Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot” exhibited[41] in the Salon de 1822, no. 146 (below), or from the photographs taken in the 1860s. (It was demolished later in the nineteenth century to make way for the Avenue de l’Opéra.) From the Liquidation we know that the Sireul’s apartment consisted only of several rooms: the salon, looking out over the rue l’Evêque (could this even be the room with a figure at the balcony over Odiot’s sign?), a dining room, kitchen and bedrooms (for M. and Mme Sireul and for her femme de chambre), all on the second floor of the building, while a domestique had a room on the fourth floor.


Immediately after Sireul’s death, no inventaire après décès was prepared, to save costs. But three weeks later a formal valuation did take place – as set out in the Liquidation (and as envisaged by the 1742 marriage contract) – enabling a division of assets between the parties, Louise and her son Denis. This included an inventory of the household goods (amounting to 5094 livres 8 sols 1 denier) as well as a list of his collection (valued at 14,128 livres) prepared by Boileau, which corresponds broadly with the sale catalogue.[42] Louise exercised her right under the marriage contract to reclaim assets she had contributed (mainly from various legacies[43]) amounting to some 70,600 livres; this she then waived in favour of her son against his undertaking to pay her a smaller capital sum of 40,000 livres and an annual amount of 1200 livres representing her 1742 dowry. The arrangements seem to have been amicable, as Denis waived the need for documentation of the sources of assets which Louise was unable to provide, “l’union intime qui a toujours regné entre elle, son mari et son fils, lui ayant fait negliger passer pardevant notaires les actes au soutien de ces differentes reprises.”

Perhaps it should not surprise us that the inventaire listed Sireul’s clothing in some detail:

Quatre habits de velours doublés en satin, dont deux de couleurs et deux noirs, deux vestes et deux culottes de velours de couleur cizelé ; une veste de satin jeaune brodée en argent, une autre de satin cramoisy brodé en or et soye, deux culottes de velours noir, un habit une veste et une culotte de drap noir, un habit, une veste et une culotte ratine d’hollande mordoré doublé de velours noir, un habit de velours mordoré de printems veste et culotte pareilles ornées de boutons d’or en fil, un vieux habit, la veste et la culotte de tricot de filosel, un habit, veste et culotte de drap gris de fer, usé avec un petit bord d’argent, un vieux habit de petits draps rayé bleu et gris, veste pareille, un habit, sa veste et sa culotte de gourgourau noisette doublé de soye blanche, un autre habit de soye puce, veste et culotte pareille, un habit veste et culotte de camelot gris usé, un habit de moëre noisette, la veste et la culotte pareille, un habit, veste et culotte de voile noir, une robbe et sa veste pour la chambre en vieux satin et fleures, une robbe et veste d’Indienne pour l’été.

These alone were valued at 400 livres, with further amounts for his linen, shoes, hats, wigs etc. (It is curious that the two surviving portraits show him in relatively subdued outfits.) In contrast Louise’s dresses were worth only 120 livres. No books were noted.

After Sireul’s death Louise moved to Saint-Denis to be with their son Denis. By a curious irony the notarial document in which Louise so emphatically corrected the spelling of her own name referred to her recently deceased husband as a “bourgeois de Saint-Denis”, but that description applied to her son (and by then to herself). It was Denis, rather than Louise, who attended the rather lavish funeral in Pontoise of her brother Gabriel in 1786.

By the time of his death in 1799, Denis (described simply as a rentier) had moved back to Paris (where he died in the 9e arrondissement; his mother died the following year, also in Paris, but in the 12e). We can however confirm that he resided in Saint-Denis from the entry in the register of the church of Saint-Martin where, on 18 December 1781 (just a few days after his father’s sale), he married a certain Thérèse-Guillemette Kermorrant. Her story is as complicated and obscure as Sireul’s: she was the illegitimate daughter of a Jacobite soldier, Richard Fermor of Tusmore, capitaine au regiment de Lally, conceived while he was serving at Port-Louis in Brittany.[44]

Their son, Denis-Gabriel Sireul,[45] was born a year later: his baptismal entry, while largely obliterated (Saint-Denis, église Saint-Martin, 22 December 1782), nevertheless has the clear instruction: “Sireul sans i à la fin”.


[1] The version of record may be cited as Neil Jeffares, “Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul (1713–1781)”, Pastels & pastellists, It contains a number of later amendments as well as a transcript of the 1781 list of Sireul’s pictures.

[2] The collection was first noted in Le Brun’s Almanach historique et raisonné des architectes, peintres &c., 1777, p. 183, where it was described as small. His Largillierre was selected for particular praise, as well as the numerous Boucher drawings which were notably glazed.

[3] This first purchase was of copies of Boucher by Marianne de Villebrune from the sale of her brother-in-law, Johann Anton de Peters (26 January 1767, Lot 91 [part]). He also owned a Liotard pastel which he bought at the Vassal de Saint-Hubert sale (29 March 1779 & seq., Lot 252).

[4] Alastair Laing, The drawings of François Boucher, New York, Frick Collection; Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 2003–4.

[5] In Séries et variations: Études littéraires offertes à Sylvain Menant, Paris, 2010, pp. 463–75.

[6] 6 September 1781, before Jean Maupas, notaire à Paris. The document has not been indexed online by the Archives nationales, so its existence was only known through the counterpart acquired by the Fondation Custodia (inv. 2002-A.1171). I am most grateful to Mariska de Jonge and Marie-Noëlle Grison of the Fondation Custodia for making it available to me. A transcription by Katie Scott (which I have not seen) is mentioned by Laing 2003 and by Melissa Hyde, in Rethinking Boucher, ed. with Mark Ledbury, Los Angeles, 2006, p. 36.

[7] For details, see Dictionary of pastellists, online, J.173.214.

[8] The key documents include Clôtures d’inventaires après décès, 9 February 1733 (AN Y5324); mariage de Pierre Boulanger & Jeanne Paris, 10 June 1731 (AN mc/xxxix/342); Inventaire après décès François Denos, 4 June 782 (AN mc/xli/666); rectification, 21 January 1783 (AN mc/lxv/461). Detailed genealogies of the Sireul, Hamart and other families are posted on the Pastels & pastellists website,

[9] A useful account will be found in Joseph-Nicolas Guyot, Traité des droits…, Paris, 1786–88, t. i, pp. 521f; see also his Répertoire universel et raisonné de jurisprudence civile, Paris, 1784, t. vii, pp. 600f.

[10] See Pierre Goubert & Daniel Roche, Les Français et l’Ancien Régime, Paris, 1984, I, p. 116. The phrase “noble homme” in documents had become heavily debased by the modern era, so that (for those nobles who were not chevaliers or held higher titles), “écuyer” was the magic indicator of noble status. As Arlette Jouanna put it (La Devoir de révolte, Paris, 1989, p. 26), to join the nobility required nothing more than “persuader les notaires chez qui on passait des actes d’y inscrire l’épithète écuyer.”

[11] The frequency of the erroneous spelling, for example in Sireul’s own publications, suggests that at least he did not object to such a confusion. There is no connection with Jean Jarlan de Sireuil (1749– ), an officier in the garde du corps du roi (compagnie de Noailles) from 1768 (he came from a noble family in the Périgord); nor with the Breton family of Charbonnier de Sireul. The family de Sireuil de Montaudun from Anjou (Touraine) provided échevins of Angers in the 16th century and was ennobled in 1715; Cara D. Denison assumes that the sitter in the Carmontelle portrait discussed below (exhibition catalogue Fantasy and reality: drawings from the Sunny Crawford von Bülow collection, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1995–96) belonged to this family (did this suggestion come from Cailleux or de Bayser, from whom the Morgan acquired the portrait in 1978?), while acknowledging that she was “likely the wife of the collector” of Boucher. The unacknowledged source is Jougla de Morenas (t. vi, p. 229).

[12] Mémoires, éd. Yves Coirault, 1985, t. v, p. 170.

[13] MV 5461; there are versions in Krakow and Saintes. It is rejected in Nicole Garnier’s catalogue raisonné.

[14] Lempereur appeared among the relatives as witness at the marriage of Pierre Boulanger and Jeanne Paris, 10 June 1731 (AN mc/xxxix/342).

[15] Most easily consulted on the Electronic Enlightenment website.

[16] Passed before Lecourt, 4 March 1742, as cited in the Liquidation.

[16a] There is limited evidence for the value of this asset, but an indication may be the 21,500 livres paid for Jean-Philippe Rameau’s son Claude-François to acquire the charge from Louis Tréheux in 1754 (Lionel de La Laurencie, “Quelques documents sur Jean-Phillippe Rameau et sa famille”, Le Mercure musical, iii, 15 June 1907, p. 594).

[17] On 21 January 1783 (AN mc/lxv/461).

[18] Edition 1923, t. xiv, p. 411.

[19] Because of the possibility that it was a pastel, there  is an entry in the Dictionary, J.173.219.

[20] The name Sireul is added to the * * * in an annotation to the copy of the sale catalogue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[21] The copies in the Met and the INHA have slightly different annotations.

[22] It was Lot 10 in his posthumous sale, Paris, Galerie Charpentier, 14 May 1952, described only as “la jolie jardinière”.

[23] Alexandre Ananoff & Daniel Wildenstein, Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint de François Boucher, Paris, 1976, with a poorer reproduction than the 1952 sale catalogue; it is also reproduced (as no. 448) in the same authors’ L’opera completa di Boucher, Milan, 1980.

[24] I am most grateful to Alastair Laing for drawing this to my attention. The miniatures were not identified in the sale. Their coupling does not of course imply that the Boucher portraits were pendants, as the compositional differences and dates in any case exclude.

[25] In The drawings of François Boucher exhibition catalogue, cited in note 2 above, p. 240.

[26] A&W, close enough to the 14×12 (imperial) pouces size in the 1781 catalogue, equivalent to 38×32 cm.

[27] État civil reconstitué.

[28] See also the reference in the Liquidation cited in a footnote below recording the gratuity of 3000 livres for her success in an unexplained matter.

[29] His lengthy speech, “Mémoire pour Lebrun…”, was included in the selection of famous pleadings Annales du barreau français, Paris, 1824, t. v: see pp. 518ff & passim.

[30] Only the name Grimod is given in Hardouin’s speech; and as he was an amateur artist (his portrait, and those he commissioned from the miniaturist Pierre Le Sage, played a role in the procedings), it is tempting to identify him as the amateur artist Laurent Grimod de La Reynière, but a closer reading of the text corrects this.

[31] See François Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, Paris, 1881, pp. 356f, 413f.

[32] Edmond-Jean-François Barbier, Journal historique et anecdotique du règne de Louis XV, Paris, 1847–56, t. iv, p. 259, March 1758.

[33] Was it the picture from the collection of the comte et comtesse de Niel sold recently by Christie’s (Paris, 16 April 2012, Lot 46), now in a private collection (shown above), or that now in Versailles (MV 5749), both oval? The size in the 1781 catalogue, 65×54 cm, is significantly smaller than either.

[34] Sireul’s picture is not mentioned in Ariane James-Sarazin’s Hyacinthe Rigaud: catalogue raisonné, 2016; the identification of the “M. de La Fontaine” P.496 is uncertain, although three répliques are listed.

[35] This was with the Galerie André Weil. It appeared at auction, Galerie Bassenge, Berlin-Grunewald, 27 May 2016, Lot 6586. It was with Galere André Weil in Paris, in the Carmontelle exhibition, 14–28 November 1933, no. 54, as “Monsieur de Sireuil”, “Madame de Sireuil” being no. 31. It and its pendant were in the Collection Albert Meyer, nos. 19, 20 (Seymour de Ricci, 1935), and were sold as successive lots at Sotheby’s, 23 March 1972, Lot 73, 72. They do not appear in Gruyer’s comprehensive account of the collections at Chantilly, nor in Laurence Chatel de Brancion’s more recent monograph on Carmontelle.

[36] Curiously Boyer cites this inscription as attached to the Boucher pastel, I think erroneously, and does not otherwise mention the Carmontelle.

[37] Inv. 1992.3. Again it is identified in the catalogue simply as of “Mme de Sireuil in a landscape”. The drawing was not annotated, and it and its companion were identified only by apparently belonging to the Sireuil family until the twentieth century. See the note above for the entry in the Morgan exhibition catalogue in 1995.

[38] See Michel Bruguière, “Une source méconnue d’histoire économique et sociale: le Bureau de correspondance générale au xviiie siècle”, Journal des savants, 1982, p. 97. The Correspondance Générale seems to have been more successful than the Basset company. A broader account of this intricate episode is in Henri Lévy-Bruhl, “Inventaire sommaire des pieces d’archives…”, Revue d’histoire modern, x, 1935, pp. 488–93.

[39] Journal de Paris, 19 August 1781, p. 932. The exact day is given in the 1781 partage des biens.

[40] Including writers from Voltaire to Piron: “Ce qui primait tout à la Butte, c’était la philosophie encyclopédique” according to Edouard Fournier, Histoire de la Butte des Moulins…¸Paris, 1877, p. 132 & passim.

[41] The picture appeared at auction on 8 June 2016 (Cheverny, Rouillac); it was with Galerie Neuse in 2016.

[42] Some of the attributions were changed (for example a portrait of Largillierre by Tournieres in the Liquidation became a self-portrait of the former in the sale). The values however were rather optimistic compared with the prices realised in the sale: two landscapes by Van Goyen valued at 240 livres achived 100, and others performed similarly.

[43] Among these was 1000 livres from her uncle, Jacques Hamart, mentioned above; 6000 from her parents; and 11,400 livres from her aunt, Mlle Desnos. A M. Daubigny left her 2000 livres, while a M. Delafreté, of Montauban, left 3000 livres. “Trois mille livres pour le pot de vin donné à lad. De Sireul pour la reussite d’une affaire dont a connoissance led. sieur Sireul” only invites speculation (were any of these payments the result of her amours?); as does an unexplained sum of 6000 livres was given to Mme Sireul by an unspecified person; with it she bought an annuity for her son. 9000 livres were with the prince de Guéméné, and presumably lost in his celebrated bankruptcy the year after the liquidation.

[44] Fermor is omitted from most accounts of the Tusmore family, but his 1758 will (proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 11 March 1758, prob 11/842) provides the necessary ingredients to reconstruct this lengthy story. He left the future Mme Sireul £400 in trust.

[45] He became a lieutenant in the douanes royales, and married, in 1827 in Cagnes-sur-Mar, an Eugénie Apollonie Davin. Their son Joseph-Hippolyte was baptised there in 1828, and Paul-Victor elsewhere in 1835. The latter’s daughter Léontine-Appoline-Clara (1865– ) married twice, to MM. Renart and Desmonceau. But there are no records detailing the family member from whom André Weil acquired the Carmontelles, nor has it been possible to trace back the vendors of the Boucher portraits before they emerged on the art market in the early twentieth century.


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