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12 December 2017

Nattier csse de Brac 1741In his magisterial catalogue of the Nattier exhibition held in 1999/2000, Xavier Salmon unravelled numerous confusions and misidentifications, including the painting (above) now in Detroit which had previously been called Mme de Vintimille. By reading the date correctly (1741, not 1744) and comparing the painting with the descriptions in the salon critiques of the day, Salmon established that the portrait was in fact of the “comtesse de Brac en Aurore” – but was unable to identify her for certain:

…nous n’avons pu determiner si elle était la dame d’honneur de Madame Louise, fille de Louis XV, que citent plusieurs documents d’archives, ou Élisabeth Lorimier, épouse de Paul-Émile de Braque, mort le 6 octobre 1744, et mère d’Élisabeth de Braque, née le 31 mai 1741, mariée en 1761 à François-Joseph, marquis de Choiseul-Meuse (peut-être ces deux dames n’en sont-elles d’ailleurs qu’une seule)

A visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts website adds nothing more: so, as the picture is in a public collection, it is perhaps time to resolve the question – particularly since the reason I came across the answer tells us about something quite different.

D’Hozier has an extremely long article (over 100 pages) on the genealogy of the de Braque family (tome iii, pp. 130–228): the comtesse de Braque is found on the penultimate page, as indeed Élisabeth Lorimier, daughter of a mPerronneau Lorimieraître de la Chambre de deniers, intendant et contôleur general des Écuries du roi; one of her brothers, who inherited the same office, was the subject of a lively Perronneau pastel (right) dating from the same period as the Nattier. You can easily persuade yourself of a family resemblance. Unlike the de Braques, her family was of recent nobility, having bought their nobility by purchasing offices (her grandfathers were a notary and a draper: the duc de Luynes noted the former with disgust when she was presented at court in March 1750). On 22.ix.1733, Élisabeth (at the age of 12 – she was born, and so was only 20 at the time of Nattier’s portrait) became the second wife of Paul-Émile de Braque, who, d’Hozier tells us, was “connu dans le monde sous le nom de Comte de Braque” (among his profusion of titles was also that of marquis de Braque). He was noble of the XII degree, and head of the fourth branch of the family.


As Salmon tells us, he did indeed die in 1744; what he does not tell us was that six years later, Élisabeth was remarried, to Joseph-François Damas d’Antigny, marquis de Ruffey (1706–1782), whom she outlived: fortunately on their marriage the king had provided Ruffey with a pension of 2000 livres of which she had the reversion, and she also received a further pension of 6000 livres awarded on the same basis in 1781 when Ruffey’s governorship of Dombes was suppressed. She was still drawing these pensions in 1793.

In 1741 no one but Élisabeth would have been titled the comtesse de Braque, and there is no reason to doubt that she was Nattier’s 20-year-old subject. But was she the dame d’honneur of Madame Louise?

In fact that lady appears some 25 pages earlier in d’Hozier, as the last in the line of the second branch of the family, noble of the XI degree and an extremely distant relation of the comtesse (in fact the fourth cousin, once removed, of her husband). She was Anne-Marguerite de Braque du Parc, born 20.i.1678. All d’Hozier tells us is that she was reçue at Saint-Cyr on 3.v.1687 – which of course may be one of the reasons why d’Hozier went to such trouble to establish the genealogy: proof of nobility was an essential requirement for admission to Mme de Maintenon’s school for poor girls. The Liste des Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr de 1686 à 1793 published in 1908 has a note against her name “cordelière à Gournay 1706” – a reference to the religious community at Gournay-en-Bray. By 1741, when Nattier’s portrait was exhibited, she was 63 years of age.

It was not until 1750, at the age of 72, that she was presented at court (just a few months after Élisabeth’s presentation) as a Dame de la suite de Mesdames les cadettes, and the archives Salmon refers to mention her as Dame de compagnie de Madame Louise or as Dame pour accompagner Mesdames les Cadettes: she is not however among the married ladies who appear under that title in the Almanachs royaux of the period. Fortunately the duc de Luynes records her appointment:

Du vendredi 11 [septembre 1750], Versailles : le Roi a déclaré aujourd’hui les deux demoiselles qui doivent être attachées à Mesdames les deux cadettes ; l’une est Mlle de Welderen : elle est Hollandoise et de grande condition ; elle a beaucoup de mérite, et est amie intime de Mlle de Tourbes, avec qui elle passe sa vie. La deuxième est Mlle de Braque : elle est fort pauvre ; elle est depuis vingt ans avec Mme du Tronc, veuve du lieutenant général des armées du Roi ; on dit qu’elle est fort aimable ; elle est amie de Mlle de Charleval.

(Mme du Tronc was Françoise-Angélique Sanguin du Rouillier (1673-1753), veuve de Nicolas-Alexandre Le Cordier, marquis du Troncq; Mlle de Charleval was another Dame de Mesdames; the following summer she married the marquis de Rouchechouart.) Madame Louise seems to have known Mlle de Braque from her days at Fontevrault, and presented her with a small three-volume set of Racine printed in 1750 with the following dedication (Bulletin du bibliophile…, 1899, p. 51; see also pp. 126ff):


Mlle de Braque lodged in the royal quarters at Versailles until her retirement in April 1756, when she was granted a pension of 10,000 livres. It is then that we become better informed about her, from a series of letters from Marigny preserved in the Archives nationales and mined by William Ritchey Newton in his useful study of La Petite Cour (2006), where my eye was caught by this sentence in a letter from Marigny to Mlle de Braque of 11.viii.1756 (AN O1 1828 384):

Madame Louise m’ayant aussi dit qu’elle voulait vous donner son portrait, fait par le sieur Dufrey, j’ai envoyé ordre pour que ce peintre le délive afin qu’il vous soit remis sans aucun retardement.

The “Dufrey” referred to is surely the Alsatian pastellist Franz Bernhard Frey (1716–1806) of whom there is an entry in the Dictionary of pastellists: he was employed by the Bâtiments du roi to make royal portraits in succession to Maurice-Quentin de La Tour whose patience was tested too far by the timekeeping of the princesses. One turns immediately to the accounts of the Bâtiments published by Engerand in 1901 to find the entry for the portrait: Frey did indeed make a portrait (which Engerand thought was in pastel) of “Madame Louise de France, en corps de robe richement orné, 2 pieds de haut sur 15 pouces de large” (a surprisingly narrow 65×40.6 cm), for which he charged 700 livres. The frame (no maker is named) must have been superb: it cost an additional 832 livres. But the accounts also show that the work was delivered in 1754 (and paid at the end of 1756). No copy was recorded in 1756: it was either an omission, or possibly a confusion, because two copies were recorded in 1755 but not paid for until 1760 when the year might have been confused. Those copies were made in oil, and in a more conventional format: 65×54 cm; together they cost 672 livres – a figure to remember next time you are told that pastel was popular because it was cheaper than oil.

Drouais Mme LouiseFrey later executed similar versions of Madame Louise’s sister, Madame Sophie de France, of which you can read more in my essay where its derivation from a painting by François-Hubert Drouais is discussed. It seems plausible that Frey’s portrait of Madame Louise is also connected with a Drouais portrait such as that at Versailles (right), although in 1754 Drouais, who was fifteen years younger than Frey, was not yet agréé and should not have been assumed to have priority (Laurent Hugues’s 1999 article suggests that he was given access to the court only in 1756). But the particular interest here was the involvement of the Bâtiments in producing gifts for servants rather than diplomatic gifts for foreign ambassadors etc.

The rest of the correspondence with Marigny provides us too with some glimpses of Mlle de Braque and her relations with Madame Louise who evidently held her in the highest esteem. Mlle de Braque wanted to stay on at Versailles, but the pressure on space meant that she had to be moved to the part known as the “Grand Commun”. (Ironically this was location of the office of the Chambre de deniers, held by Élisabeth Lorimier’s father and brother.) She was assigned the apartment that had been occupied by the recently deceased abbé de Pomponne, a former ambassador to Venice, aumônier du roi, conseiller d’état and chancellor of the Ordres du roi, and as you can see from Petit’s engraving after Jean-BaptistPomponnee Van Loo, a rather important figure.

Not content with that, Mlle de Braque insisted on repairs and improvement to the apartment which were estimated to cost 8000 livres. Marigny put his foot down, and forced her to cut back her expenditure to 6000 livres, but even then had to get the king’s permission, noting that the revised plans still included 4600 livres for “glaces, cheminées de marbre et menuiserie”.

But before you focus too much on the idea of conspicuous excess, the correspondence brings us back to the other side of life at Versailles which isn’t shown to tourists today: in 1758 Mlle de Braque wrote to Marigny to complain that the disposal of “tous les immondices et ordures imaginables” (in the manner which was common practice at the château, through a window in an upper floor) had broken her windows and damaged her furniture. Marigny sanctioned the installation of iron bars over the offending window, at the end of a corridor; but soon after (such were the pressures on sanitation) someone prised open the bars and resumed the practice. Marigny enlisted the duc de Noailles to deal with the problem.

Apart from that we find only minute references to Mlle de Braque. In the January 1760 issue, the Mercure recorded the public donations of silver to the mint to meet the costs of war: her respectable contribution (by weight, 27 marcs 6 onces 7 gros, or about 7 kilograms) was about half as much as given by the pastellist and violinist Louis Aubert, but much more that the 5m. 6o. 3½g. donated by another pastellist, Léon-Pascal Glain – curious names to find among a list of fermiers généraux, secrétaires du roi, présidents and duchesses, but precious morsels about the finances of these minor artists. Even the excessively wealthy banker Nicolas Beaujon gave only about four times as much silver as Mlle de Braque.Nivelon

Ritchey Newton tells us that Mlle de Braque died in 1778, when she would have been 100, but he provides no source [PS: see comment below: Mlle de Braque must have died c.1762]. She may well have followed her patroness, Madame Louise, who in 1770 left Versailles to become a nun (under the name of sœur Thérèse-Augustine, dying in 1787): Versailles houses a portrait of her at that time by Anne-Baptiste Nivelon (right).

From → Art history

  1. Diana Kostyrko permalink

    Interesting, Neil, as of course this picture is in my database. I’ve now noted that you have identified the sitter. It’s also mentioned briefly in my book but too late to give the sitter her full name (dommage). Detroit does not have the full provenance, I notice.

    All the best,


    Dr Diana J. Kostyrko Cultural historian

    School of Literature, Languages & Linguistics The Australian National University Canberra ACT 2601 AUSTRALIA

    Literature hasn’t yet been strangled,

    but the cinema, which is more directly tied to the forces of capitalism,

    has already learned to hold its tongue

  2. William Ritchey Newton permalink

    Dear Sir:

    A life in history is rewarding because there’s no retirement age. However, one leans more with time an one’s knowledge expands as one sees more data. When La petite cour was published I had not yet seen the “Decisions du roi” [A.N. O/1/ registers 194 to 201 ~now unavailable to readers]. Subsequent research proved that the date of death of Mlle de Bracq was not 1778, but around 1763. Here is an abtsract of the entry for January 1, 1763: ‘Mlle de Braque [sic] etant morte, le roi a accorde une pension de 600 livres a sa soeur et une de 1,200 a sa niece.”

    I am currently putting the final corrections on a six volume institutional and biographical encyclopedia of the court of Versailles in the XVIIIth century entitled Almanach de la Cour. If you would provide your e-mail address I should be pleased to share additional the information I have collected with a scholar who shows such care in his research.

    William Ritchey Newton

  3. Thank yo so much for this. I hope my email reached you, but you can always get me on info [at]

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