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Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene

m19825p_2000While the National Gallery is embarked on one of its most ambitious rehangs, to make space for next month’s blockbuster exhibition in the Northern rooms, there is a temporary safe haven of tranquillity, in Room 1. The space here is remarkably versatile, accommodating a couple of dozen paintings in recent shows such as the brilliant Dutch Flowers last year, or, as here, concentrating our attention on a single picture – admittedly one of some size (2.3×2.6 m). The intensely beautiful Repentant Magdalene by Guido Cagnacci normally hangs in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where it has been since 1982, but is with us until May. And as the publicity tells us, the only other Cagnacci in Britain is in the Royal Collection. The texts displayed on the walls in Room 1 draw on the excellent monograph by Xavier F. Salomon, now at the Frick, where the painting has recently been on loan before arriving in London. (Salomon also wrote a short introductory article for Apollo recently.)

As the book tells us everything we need to know about Cagnacci – how original he is, and how important he was once considered, even if he is less well known today – I shall not attempt to do so, being no specialist in seventeenth century Italian religious painting. It’s worth however looking at some of the x-ray imaging on the panels, as they demonstrate some of the artist’s changes of mind in the positioning of the figures in this very ambitious composition. I’m not sure that he ultimately resolved all the problems he set himself: niggling doubts about the perspective and direction of lighting weren’t quite banished by the bravura painting of the flesh – the quality for which Cagnacci was most celebrated.

Indeed I wondered whether this painting was, as we are encouraged to think, an exercise in eroticism, or whether in fact the painting was at heart a far more conventional morality tale? Because for me the really beautiful piece of painting was not the Magdalene’s semi-naked body, but the play of light on her sister’s face. This stood out from the picture almost as Leonardo’s angel stands out from Verrocchio’s Baptism. Although perhaps there is an even more convoluted reading: Martha’s face with its half-open mouth radiates more than mere sanctity.

I’m not however the first to notice this. And the point I wanted to make in this post – which I think is absent from Salomon’s book, but which seems to me both of real interest and of some importance – is that (even if we don’t have any record of the contemporary critical response) we do have the fascinating testimony of a response from the next generation: that of the copy made by Rosalba Carriera of the head of Martha, in pastel.

rosalba-d-de-profil-hermitage-s109As the exhibition literature explains, the Cagnacci painting was in the collection of the last duke of Mantua until his death in 1708. The Gonzaga paintings collection was then sent to Venice where it would be dispersed over the next few years. The Cagnacci was acquired by Rosalba’s friend Christian Cole (with a view to selling it to the Earl of Dartmouth, although in the end it was the Duke of Portland who bought it), but what isn’t mentioned in the exhibition is that Rosalba had been independently involved (together with the painter Niccolò Cassana) in an attempt to sell the pictures to Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. She prepared a report on the pictures which she sent to the court at Düsseldorf (the Elector’s payment to her of 3200 ducats was sent by Baron Wiser on 5 January 1712 with a charming letter which survives). But the copy of the head of Martha seems to have been made for her own pleasure. She probably gave it to Crozat, for it was from his collection that it entered the Hermitage where it now belongs (see J.21.2421  in the Dictionary for further details): it was no. 133 in the 1772 sale contract with Catherine the Great:


The pastel would not have been allowed to travel to London, but perhaps a small reproduction of it might have been admitted to the wall texts of this otherwise excellent show.

Constant de Massoul: soldier, émigré and colourman

constant-pntSeveral years ago I unravelled the identity of the elusive “Constant de Massoul”, author of an important treatise which included a section on pastel, and included an article on him in my Dictionary of pastellists to supplement the very interesting discussion of the treatise itself in the chapter in Sarah Lowengard’s Creation of color in eighteenth century Europe (2008): she notes that nothing is known about the author, although the treatise was widely used at the time, including by artists such as John Constable.  As references continue to appear treating “Constant” as a forename (for example, the Liotard exhibition catalogue; see also the British Library catalogue, which makes no connection between the author in the printed catalogue and the “unspecified” baron de Constant in the manuscript catalogue), and as new documents have come to light on his rather colourful career, I thought I would post the contents of my article here, accompanied by some visuals (such as this portrait from a private collection) that don’t comfortably fit in the Dictionary.

Pierre-Barthélemy-Marie-Reine-Joseph-Alexandre de Constant was baptised at Lyon, paroisse Saint-Paul (contrary to some sources, which incorrectly cite Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, whose illegible registers will occupy several hours of fruitless searching), 2.vii.1755, the day after his birth:


The son of Pierre Constant de Massoul (1721–1796), chevalier de Saint-Louis, capitaine au regiment d’infanterie de Provence, lieutenant du roi de Neuville, from a family long established in Lyon (an échevin in 1697), and his wife, Marie-Louise-Éléonore de Béhague, he was admitted to the École militaire in 1766 on production of the necessary proofs of nobility. (For a brief genealogy see Constant.) He joined the régiment de Dauphin-dragons in 1772, becoming capitaine 1779. Between 1781 and 1786 he served in Martinique as concierge des prisons du Fort-Royal (a file in the AN d’outre-mer relates to his attempt to recover expenditure of some 15,000 livres on improvements to the military hospital). He became chevalier of both the orders of Saint-Louis and of Saint-Lazare. Father and son were living at place Saint-Michel, Lyon, when they took part in the assembly of the nobility at Lyon in 1789:


Unlike his father, the son seems almost never to have used the Massoul surname: the only exception I can find, apart from the London period discussed below, is his appearance in this list of pensions:


Constant was appointed aide de camp to his uncle, général de Béhague, in 1791; they were sent to Martinique to deal with the growing tensions, with an army of 5000 men. Constant was acting maréchal des logis du corps de troupe de la Martinique. However Béhague’s mission was countermanded by Rochambeau, who sought to apply the 1792 revolutionary order extending citizenship to all: Béhague was dismissed (and joined the armée des émigrés in London). The slave-owners in Martinique however opposed the revolutionary measures, and would not let Rochambeau take charge. Constant made a detailed memorandum of the complicated events (AN d’outre-mer, 2.iv.1793; copies of Constant’s correspondence with Dundas and Hawkesbury are also attached in the file): on 19.xi.1792 he arrived in Dover to secure British support for the pro-slavery royalists, leading to the accord signed by Dubuc in London, 4.ii.1793, putting Martinique under temporary British jurisdiction.

Further correspondence with the British government can be found in the Liverpool papers in the British Library. It shows that baron de Constant, as he was styled, remained in London, initially residing at 15 Wells Street, off Oxford Street (letter of 15.x.1793 to Lord Hawkesbury, soon to be Earl of Liverpool, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and President of the Board of Trade). An undated memorial (c.1796) sent to Lord Liverpool contained an appeal from a group of émigrés concerning the “établissement du Bron de Constant dans New Bond Street” on which they apparently depended, complaining about the (unexplained) “absence forcée du Bron de Constant”: here are the signatures:


Two of the fourteen signatories were the comte de Montamy and the chevalier d’Arclais de Montamy, nephews of the learned Didier d’Arclais de Montamy whose Traité des couleurs pour la peinture en émail was published in 1765. (The eagle-eyed will also spot the example of the Breton K barré which I discussed recently in my Sireul essay.)

In a letter of 23.v.1798 to Liverpool, Constant (back at 136 New Bond Street) invited the minister to his impending wedding to the daughter of the last marquis de Lambertye (1748–1819), who, he reminded his correspondent, was a relation of George III. At St Marylebone,, the baron de Constant married Suzanne-Célénie-Zoé de Lambertye (1779–1843):


The marriage contract, signed in London two days before, was witnessed by among others the ducs de Bourbon and Harcourt, the marquis de Castellane and the bishop of Nantes:


Although there is no previous record of his artistic interests, in London 1795–98 Constant worked as a colourman with a shop and factory at 136 New Bond Street, London, premises he shared with the apothecary Thomas Paytherus (Constant’s name does not appear in the Westminster rate books, but the address is that used in his correspondence with Lord Liverpool). Initially he advertised (Morning chronicle, 16.v.1795 and later dates), using the name Massoul alone rather than baron de Constant (presumably with the motive of concealing his involvement in trade while he was also working as a diplomat on behalf of the royalist government in exile):


This advertisement shows him in partnership with a miniaturist called La Tour (possibly Louis Brion de La Tour, but there were several unidentified homonyms; “Mr Latour, Miniature Painter” had previously announced the “Phisygraph” [sic] invention in the Times, 3.iv.1794, from his house at 72 New Bond Street; the royal patronage (of Princess Sophia of Gloucester) and address suggest a connection with Francis Tatton Latour of Bond Street, pianist to the Prince of Wales).

A further notice in the Times, 19.xi.1795, refers to the “Manufactory of Superfine Colours, established last year by Messrs Massoul and Co. at 136 New Bond Street.” By 1796 the firm of “Massoul & Co.” was offering Belanger’s views of Jamaica by subscription, from the same premises. By 1797 it was advertising perfectly prepared oil colours. The artist William Wood recorded his use of “Massoul’s vermilion and lake” in a miniature he finished in 1797.

constant-de-massoul-titleIn 1797 A treatise on the art of painting, and the composition of colours was published in London (from 136 New Bond Street), “translated from the French of M. Constant de Massoul” (no French edition seems to have been printed). (The death of Constant’s father in Lyon in 1796 (état civil) removed any ambiguity about Constant de Massoul’s identity.) Although it draws on numerous sources, it integrates them and is more than a mere compilation. It described a wide range of techniques in painting and drawing, including a section on pastel. Constant reviewed pastels available commercially, in Lausanne, Vevay, Nürnberg and Paris, and described supports of paper, vellum and prepared cloth, mentioning the need for keyed stretchers for the last of these (still fairly rare). A fixing method is presented based on information supplied by the pastellist Longastre. Constant also acknowledges observations from Danloux, Arlaud and Bélanger.

The author stated that he had had “little practice [himself] in Crayon Painting”: but it seems likely that he had at least an amateur competence in a number of the fields he describes.

As Sarah Lowengard noted, the book did not meet with immediate applause: here is part of Samuel Rose’s reaction, in the Monthly Review (xxix, 1798, p. 108):


Here is the more balanced assessment Lowengard herself offers:

How can we understand this treatise? Because it is one of a few publications that can be connected to an eighteenth-century colorman and the only one that offers to bring French technique to a London clientele, we need to consider seriously its claims and its contents. De Massoul hints at his own ideas (whether formed through personal experience or through the employment of skilled artists) about the consumption of painting techniques, and his beliefs depend on certain assumptions about the appeal that French style might have to British artists and amateurs. Who might need or want to own this, and how does it supplement other sources of information? A Treatise on the Art of Painting offers more-varied information than do other manuals of painting practice organized by or for painters and colormen, for example William Williams’s An Essay on the Mechanic of Oil Colours. It has a breadth of topics but no depth to its presentation of them; the treatise may have been as interesting to read and as difficult to use as the Encyclopédie méthodique. Above all, de Massoul assumes the need for personal demonstrations, suggesting a similarity between this book and those issued to accompany lecture series. Clearly, the book was designed to instruct and to expand its subject matter and its author to new levels of importance. De Massoul’s success in this is unclear; and his anonymity and lack of connection to the community of English painters in London suggest he had little. His work, then, is important to us for its inferences and its choices of information, but there are no certainties of its meaning in Constant de Massoul’s own time.

Constant remained in exile in London until at least 1799 (when a passport was issued allowing him to travel to Hamburg, although it is unclear whether he went).

It has not hitherto been noticed that Constant was associated with the firm of P. C. Lambertye of 5 rue d’Orléans-au-Marais (rue Charlot today), said to have been established in 1788, although the earliest references date from after his return to Paris; the firm was later taken over by Lambertye’s pupil Joseph Panier in 1822, and, in 1850, by Jacques-Michel Paillard. It offered “couleurs en tablettes et en poudre, très-bien préparées; coffrets en carton, décorés d’une manière agréable; papiers vélins d’une grande beauté…”. The initials P.-C. do not correspond to any recorded member of the Lambertye family, and may be a reference to Constant himself (again to avoid open derogation).

He died in Paris, at this same address, 5 rue d’Orléans-au-Marais (he is described in his estate inventory as a négociant). The house was the subject of a sale by Constant and his wife (AN MC/RE/vi/23, 22.xi.1811–11.i.1812), evidently not completed by the time of his death. His widow moved to Poitiers with other members of her family in 1814 (Guilhermy 1886, p. 351: her son Barthélemy, baron de Constant died in Poitiers in 1867); she was given a pension of 1200 livres (Liste générale des pensionnaires…, 1833).


I am most grateful to Constant’s descendants for making available certain unpublished material. Other sources include AN mc xcix/8, 20.viii.18013; AN d’outre-mer, various files; British Artists’ Suppliers at; British Library, correspondence of Lord Liverpool, Add. ms 38229–38232, 38254; Chaix d’Est-Ange; baron de Guilhermy, Papiers d’un émigré, 1789–1829, Paris, 1886; Henri de Jouvencel, L’Assemblée de la noblesse de la sénéchaussée de Lyon en 1789, Lyon, 1907; Kosek 1998; Georges de Lhomel, Jean-Pierre-Antoine, comte de Béhague, lieutenant général des armées du roi, 1727–1813, Paris, 1907; Lowengard 2008; G. C. Williamson, The miniature collector, 1921, p. 157 (signaled by Jacob Simon; see also RA Winter Exh. cat. 1951-52, p. 219); Wœlmont iii, s.v. Lambertye; État nominatif des pensions sur le Trésor royal, 1791, iii, p. 197; treatises

Too much Rigaud in your cosmos?

rigaudAriane James-Sarazin, Hyacinthe Rigaud 1659–1743. 1: L’homme et son art; 2: Catalogue raisonné, Dijon (Faton), 2016, 2 vols (€320)

Stéphane Perreau, Hyacinthe Rigaud. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre , online [] (free; registration required)

One day in the Portobello Road, nearly forty years ago, I came across some portrait engravings by the Drevet family, and, intrigued by their startling technical achievement, I started to collect them. That was then relatively easy, in flea markets whether in London or across France; but before I reached a complete set I was brought to my senses. A dealer, from whom I had bought one, asked me if I had any duplicate Drevets to part with: and it all unravelled, as he wanted them to sell on to another dealer whose client was … me. I never bought another one (nor for that matter have I been able to dispose of the solander boxes full of them which I now never open: if you know anyone who would like to make me an offer…).

I have however retained something of a faible for Rigaud: particularly once you add the missing ingredient of colour. The amazing self-confidence of his original work and its ability to express so much of what intrigues us of the reign of Louis XIV will hold our imagination far more securely than the prints (whatever their unsurpassed technical skills as engravings). And if you couple that with a taste for Saint-Simon you have an enthusiast for life.

But not of course an expert: that I do not claim. And so in this post I write about two new sources very much from the position of reader/user – and even then blinkered by my interests which won’t match those of others. But how do you review two enormous bodies of information fairly and objectively, without being H. W. Fowler’s mythical monster of omniscience? Worse still, how do evaluate either in less than the lifetime of use both promise? And how do you deal with the elephant in the room: namely the evident competition between the authors, of the background to which I know nothing and prefer to remain ignorant.

Of course any two catalogues are going to include a great deal of overlap, and in the case of Rigaud the detailed lists he left published by Roman in 1919 provide a solid corpus from which any account must build. Further Perreau’s website effectively follows the concise catalogue he published in 2013 which was fully known to AJS and cited throughout her work. But SP’s website does not (yet) include references to AJS: a surprising decision, particularly as anyone who wants to use the site quickly (and avoid a trip to the library) to provide a scholarly reference will need to know the AJS numbers.

What prompts me to write about these works, quite apart from any interest you or I may have in Rigaud’s œuvre, is the opportunity to discuss the medium of printed book versus that of the website. We are all aware of the issues facing publishers and authors with printed books (exacerbated in the case of art books by the cost of reproduction rights as well as of coated paper); while on the other hand, online publication remains, if not in its infancy, at the stage of unruly adolescence with concerns about common structures and longevity that haven’t properly been addressed. I’ve discussed these before in this blog, here and here. But I’m interested in how this works in a practical case.

AJS arrived on my desk two months ago. It’s in two volumes, 1408 pages in all, and weighs a colossal 8 kg. While only the second volume is technically the catalogue raisonné, you need the (magnificent) reproductions in the first to use it fully (those in the second volume are tiny). And I confess that, viewed purely from the point of view of physical convenience, this is a nuisance. The volumes in their box live underneath the great pile of books that accumulates in my library which long ran out of shelf space, and for that reason alone I am likely to prefer an online alternative. That is to say nothing of the price differential, an effective deterrent for all but the most enthusiastic. SP certainly deserves our applause for making his work freely available (although I am baffled as to why a registration is then required: this might surely deter some casual readers).

The SP website is relatively straightforward to use. The architecture appears to be rather basic: no bad thing in itself (one of my biggest terrors is investing in over-sophisticated databases which promise everything but end up failing completely, sucked into a need for ever more complex programming to make simple changes that ultimately lead to abandonment). That said, on launch (yesterday), there were plenty of minor glitches – links that take you back to the home page instead of to particular articles or external sites, but also some confusing design issues around the search page (where is it?). And the search function (surely the vital distinction between print and online), when you get to it, is very basic indeed: it does not seem possible to structure a search to retrieve only articles including a specific date: putting quotes around “12 mars 1934” will pick up anything with “12”, “mars” and “1934” in the same article. There is no possibility to search for items in specfic sales, for example.

AJS comes with the endorsement of introductory essays from Pierre Rosenberg and Dominique Brême – although Perreau’s 2004 monograph had a preface from Xavier Salmon. On bulk alone AJS appears considerably larger than SP, and has P numbers running up to 1531 (SP ends at 1445): but these ignore the density of lists of copies and related items which is the fabric of catalogues raisonnnés. Both have similar, possibly slightly confusing numbering systems, particularly when it comes to “œuvres mentionnées” (the plethora of sequences in AJS includes, in addition to the main “P.” run, “PM”, “PR”, “PI”, “NP”, “NPM”, “D”, “DM”, “DR”, “DI”, “E”, “EM”, “ER”, “EI”, “PS” and “PSI”, each with up to eight subdivisions). And for me one major weakness of AJS is that copies and related pictures are not numbered, making citation far more cumbersome; a curious decision.

But what of the content? Here is where I can only report, on little more than an anecdotal basis, my first few hours’ use of both, concentrated – as I have explained – on their coverage of topics which may seem peripheral. But in my experience books which look great when read linearly often fall apart when tested by an orthogonal approach.

Both have a fair number of typos, but SP will benefit from a thorough read throughout. Even headline names have errors (e.g. René-Françoise): an online searchable database won’t tolerate this.

With my enthusiasm for Saint-Simon and Drevet, my first search was for the abbé de “Rancé”. I applied this to the “all portraits” section (oddly labelled in the pull-down menu “Sous-catégories” or, when returning, “Level-up”), and got virtually the whole database. So I narrowed it to “Ecclésiastiques”, and got 24 prelates – but not the abbé. Was he as shy as Saint-Simon tells us? Only by calling him Bouthillier could he be called forth. (SP has the common “Le Bouthillier de Rancé”; AJS has the stricter “Bouthillier de Rancé”, and the index is cross-referenced accordingly.) I quickly gave up any attempt to collate the lists of copies and replicas in the two works: even for the primary version, AJS cites one exhibition (Paris 1878), while SP omits that and cites Paris 1976 and Rouen–Caen 1979. A proper reviewer would have tried to figure out why these don’t agree.

English titles are always a struggle for French writers (just as English writers haven’t a clue when it comes to the French shibboleths of aristocracy), so I thought I’d check “Sir Bourchier Wrey”. Sure enough AJS has “baron de Tawstock”, while SP makes no such error. But he curiously tells us that “Lorsqu’il vivait à Rome, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu parle de lui comme un amoureux de ce pays.” Biographical colour is the best way of bringing portrait catalogues to life: but what Lady Mary actually wrote (to Lady Pomfret, 22 October 1740) was much more amusing: she had tried to take the lodging Sir Bourchier Wrey had previously had, “but the landlord would not let it, for a very pleasant reason. It seems your gallant knight used to lie with his wife; and as he had no hopes I would do the same, he resolves to reserve his house for some young man.”

I next turned to Sireul’s portrait of Jean de La Fontaine, the work in his collection singled out for praise in Lebrun’s Almanach of 1777, when it was described as by Largillierre. I had had to research this problem picture recently when I was working on my article on Sireul (which you should look at for more details). I looked in vain for this in AJS in November, and again failed to find any reference to Sireul or Sireuil in SP. By the time of the liquidation of his estate, the attribution had been revised to Rigaud, and the valuation a mere 30 livres. Unlike most of the lots in his sale, however, this exceeded expectations, reaching 130 livres (Lot 15). It was there described as by Hyacinthe Rigaux [sic], but while my transcription of the liquidation is (I believe) the first to appear (online or in print), and therefore hard to find, several copies of the printed sale catalogue are freely Googleable.

When it comes to pastel versions of Rigaud portraits, considerable problems emerge. Neither work is complete: you will find, for example, no mention of R. E. Pine’s copy of Fleury in either. (SP’s entry on this most important of Rigaud’s lost portraits has as the main colour illustration a version labelled as P.1349-6, which hasn’t been seen since 1901; I presume it is actually the Goodwood version). We know that minor artists such as Graincourt made pastel copies after Rigaud, but he does not appear in the index of AJS, and only once in SP for a copy known to be in oil.

For the most part AJS’s descriptions of versions and copies make it clear which are autograph replicas or copies; one of the main weaknesses in SP is an inconsistent approach here. Is the pastel version of Jabach he lists to be regarded as autograph? And why when referring to La Tour’s copy of Vintimille du Luc does he describe it as: “suiveur de Rigaud (Quentin de La Tour)”, citing the last sale as in 1978 and the last appearance as in 1999. AJS isn’t entirely complete either, although she does reproduce the work, stating “Xavier Salmon a identifié en 2012 le modèle et considère qu’il s’agit d’une étude de La Tour d’apr. Rigaud.” This could have been corrected by reference to my 2006 Dictionary (online the number, or digital object identifier, is J.46.3761), where it is published with the correct identification – and a reference to Salmon’s 2004 exhibition. But the identification is due to Joseph Baillio, from long before then.

Similarly SP makes several references to Valade’s pastel of the comtesse de Sénozan which could have been clarified had he consulted (and preferably cited, as it allows readers to see a reproduction after a few keystrokes on their computer) my Dictionary: the reference is J.74.316. Instead he cites (under P.1360) the reproduction in a biography of Malesherbes which gives the location as the Nicolay-Lamoignon family; while in another article (P.1392) he gives the correct location (Detroit) but with the old attribution, to La Tour.

Of course citing modern literature is a matter of courtesy, and can easily be overlooked with the pressure of material involved in projects such as these. But it goes beyond mere courtesy when a new and tentative attribution is made in a single source, and that is used without acknowledgement and stripped of reservation. I think that may have happened where the lost portrait of “Mme Sandrier” is discussed. This name appears in Rigaud’s accounts for 1693, and Roman (followed by AJS, P.351) suggest she is probably Mme Jacques Sandrier, née Agnès Rillard; AJS adds that they were married in 1671, and links them to another Rigaud portrait: all perfectly plausible, if unverifiable. SP (P.317) misprints the name as “Billard” (all the more confusing since he uses only ladies’ maiden names in his headlines); nor can this be a correction since he says that this is Roman’s proposal. He then notes, without source, that “le pastelliste Joseph Vivien ayant portraituré Gilles-Jérôme Sandrier, maître charpentier, entrepreneur des bâtiments du roi et son épouse, il se peut que cette dernière ait à son tour sollicité Rigaud.” But as far as I know, I was the first to reattribute the pendant pastels of “M. Sandrier, entrepreneur des bâtimens du roi” from La Tour to Vivien (where you will find Madame at J.77.306), and tentatively to identify which Sandrier this was. What SP has not considered however is that Gilles-Jérôme was born in 1693.

As I said before, you can’t judge works like these in a few hours. Trivial errors don’t undermine the accumulated knowledge enshrined in these vast corpora, which will take years to unfold. The good thing about an online database is that it can be corrected, and the information made all the more accessible.

Bravo to both these authors for enriching our knowledge of this wonderful painter.

(With apologies to Kipling for my title.)

Vigée Le Brun’s petitioners

vlb-sigsIn these days where immigration is a hot topic, let us turn our minds back to a world where the focus was emigration. Everyone reading this post will be well aware that Mme Vigée Le Brun left France during the Revolution and spent many years in exile. Attentive students of her life will be aware that, in the early part of 1799, her husband (who had remained in Paris) organised a petition signed by 255 luminaries in the arts, letters and sciences which was presented to the Directoire to have her name removed from the list of émigrés (whose assets were forfeit). This ultimately paved the way for her return to Paris, although soon after her return she resumed her travels. That is a story which has been told repeatedly, and you can find excellent accounts for example in Geneviève Haroche-Bouzinac’s recent biography.

But little attention has been devoted to the signatories of that petition, which is now easily accessible from the Archives nationales. For on receipt of the petition (stamped 8 Thermidor an VII, i.e. 26 July 1799), the Directoire remitted the document and its supporting material to the police, where the file (of 136 pages) still remains (cote F/7/5651/9: demandes de radiation de la liste d’émigrés et de main-levée de séquestre). After an initial request (10 brumaire an II, i.e. 31 October 1793), which got nowhere, Le Brun waited until the climate was more propitious, and this time assembled a formidable dossier to support his application, carefully identifying a loophole in the regulations which permitted artists to travel (Art. Ier (VI), 2° Décret de l’Assemblée nationale, 30 mars–8 avril 1792, no. 1615 exempts “ceux qui ont été notoirement connus avant leur depart, pour s’être consacrés à ces études [des sciences, arts ou métiers], et ne s’être absente que pour acquérir de nouvelles connaissances dans leur état”).

The list of signatories of this 1799 petition itself is a fascinating document for a number of reasons. Apart from anything else it has the autograph signatures of a number of artists (see detail above), some famous (Fragonard, Greuze, Houdon, Pajou, Boze, Ducreux, Duplessis etc.), others quite obscure, specimens that can provide art historians with useful comparisons (e.g. to distinguish works signed by homonyms). But there will be far greater social interest in seeing who did sign – and who did not. While of course some artists may not have been in Paris at the time (Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine, for example, had just been appointed to the école de marine, and was probably not present), others – most notably Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and her famous group of female pupils (of whom Gabrielle Capet was the most talented) – may have chosen not to, either because they did not approve of Vigée Le Brun’s conduct, or because they judged the climate still too dangerous for open support. To gauge the latter however one need only take account of the presence of Vincent, Vien and – most surprisingly to those who reduce political complexities to caricature – David.

The broad parameters of a demographic analysis are easily summarised. Of the 255 signatories, 123 are painters, 28 sculptors and 31 engravers. (The painters comprise all genres, including portraitists, miniaturists etc.) Perhaps the surprising thing is the numbers of architects (32). There are 27 writers, 7 musicians and 11 scientists. Of these signatories, 37 were identified as members of the Institut. Astonishingly only seven of the signatories (under 3%) seem to have been female: I leave it to readers to debate the reasons for this (statistically however it cannot be explained by the general suppression of women artists: nearly a fifth of pastellists were female).

Helpfully Le Brun himself provided a list of signatories and their qualities, which I transcribe below. The original spelling is preserved (including inconsistent attempts at “Institut national” etc.), although capitalisation is often indeterminate; only the contraction Ptre has been spelt out, as “pintre”, since this is the spelling Le Brun employed when he wrote it out in full. There is little need for a gloss, as the identities of all but a few will be readily determined by consulting standard reference books (a good many of them even find entries in the Dictionary of pastellists).

Postscript, 9 January 2017

Nevertheless I have now posted a fully annotated list (that is the version of record, and may be cited as Neil Jeffares, “Vigée Le Brun’s petitioners”, Pastels & pastellists,

PPS: As helpfully signalled in Joseph Baillio’s 1982 Kimbell exhibition catalogue, pages of the document including the signatures (but not Le Brun’s list) are reproduced is reproduced in a surprising publication: André Girodie’s Un peintre de fêtes galantes: Jean-Frédéric Schall (Strasbourg, 1927), which is however no longer in print and not available online.

Allais                                    architecte

Andrieux                              (des 500) homme de lettres

Anselin                                 graveur

Ansiaux                                pintre d’histoir

Antoine                                architecte de la monoye

Arnault                                 homme de lettres

Aubry                                   pintre de portrait

Audouin (P.)                        graveur, municipal

Augustin                               pintre en miniature

Auzou                                  pintre en miniature

Bachelier                              pintre d’histoir, directeur de lecolle Central

Balhard                                 pintre et architecte

Barbier (de Nimes)              pintre d’histoir

Bazin                                    pintre de portrait

Beauvallet                             sculpteur, et ad. du departement de la Seine

Beaujouan                            architecte

Bellanger                              architecte

Belle                                     pintre d’histoir

Belle (fils)                             pintre d’histoir

Belin                                     pintre de portrait

Bellier                                   pintre de portrait

Berjon                                  pintre en miniature

Bertin                                   pintre de paysages

Berthelemy                           pintre d’histoir, commissaire des monuments des arts en Italie

Bervic                                   graveur

Bidault                                  pintre de paysages

Bienaime                              architecte

Blot                                      graveur

Boilly                                    pintre de genre

Bonvoisin                             pintre d’histoir

Bonnemaison                       pintre d’histoir

Bounieu                                pintre d’histoir

Bourgois                               pintre de genre

Boquet                                 pintre d’histoir

Boquet (jeune)                     sculpteur

Bouché                                 pintre d’histoir, pentionair de La republic

Boizot                                  sculpteur

Bouton                                 pintre en miniature

Bouillard (Citoyenne)          pintre d’histoir

Bouiliard                              graveur

Boze                                     pintre de portrait

Bréa                                      pintre en miniature et en emaille

Bridan                                  sculpteur

Brun                                     pintre de genre

Brongniart                            architecte

Cailhava                               homme de lettres de linstitu natiaunal

Callet                                    pintre d’histoir

Callamar                               sculpteur

Cazin                                    pintre de marine

Cellerier                               architecte

Chalgrin                               architete de linstitu natiaunal

Charles                                 phisitien de linstitu natiaunal

Chatillon                              pintre en miniature

Chaudet                               sculpteur

Chaudet (Citoyenne)            pintre de portrait

Chenier                                des 500 homme de lettres de listutu natonal

Chenard                               musitien du theatre &

Choffard                              graveur

Colson                                  pintre de portrait

Collin d’harville                   homme de lettres

Courteille                             graveur

Courteille                             pintre d’histoir

Cozette                                 pintre chef de la manufacture des tapissery des Goblin

Cozette fils                           pintre

Cuvuvier                              anatomiste de linstitu natiaunal

Dardel                                  sculpteur administrateur du museum de versailles

Davide                                 pintre d’histoir de linstitu natiaunal

Davide Le Roy                     architecte de linstitu natiaunal

Daudet                                 graveur

DeJoux                                 sculpteur de linstitu natiaunal

Delaitre                                sculpteur

Delafontaine                        pintre d’architecture

Demachy                              pintre idem

De Marne                             pintre de paysages et genre

Desmarteau                          graveur

Desrais                                 pintre desinateur

Devouges                             pintre d’histoir

Devouges (jeune)                 pintre de portrait

Domergue                            homme de lettres de linstitu natiaunal

Dorgez                                 graveur

Drabot                                 pintre

Drolling                               pintre de genre

DuBourg                              pintre

DuCis                                   homme de lettres de linstitu national

DuCreux                              pintre de portrait

Dufrenoy                             femme de lettres

Dumont                               sculpteur

Dumont                               sculpteur

Dumont                               pintre en miniature

Dunouy                                pintre de paysages

Duplessis                              pintre de portraits du museum de Versailles

Dupré                                   graveur de la monoy

Dupréel                                 architecte

Duval                                   architecte

Duvivier                               graveur des medailles

Espercieux                           sculpteur

Fajas                                     naturaliste de Linstitu natiaunal

Fessard                                 graveur

Fontaine                               architecte

Foucou                                 sculpteur

Fragonard                            pintre d’histoir du muse Central des arts

Fragonard (fils)                      pintre d’histoir

François de Neuf Chateau   homme de lettres de linsitu national

Fourcroy                              chimiste de linstitut natiaunal

Garnier                                 pintre d’histoir

Garnier                                 pintre de genre

Gaucher                               graveur

Gerard                                  pintre d’histoir

Gerard (Citoyenne)              pintre de genre

Girodet                                pintre d’histoir

Giraud                                  sculpteur

Giblin                                   pintre d’histoir du muse de Versailles correspondant de Linstitu national

Gilbert                                 architecte

Ginguené                             homme de lettres de linstitu national

Glot                                      graveur

Godefroi                              graveur

Gois                                     sculpteur

Gois (fils)                             sculpteur pintre de la republic

Gossec                                 musitien du conservatoire de musique, de linstitu national

Gounod                               pintre d’histoir

Greuze                                 pintre

Guillaumont                         architecte administrateur de la manufacture de tapisserie des goblin

Houel                                   pintre et graveur

Houdon                               sculpteur de Linstitu national

Hüe                                      pintre des ports de la republic

Huvé                                    architecte administrateur du muse de lecolle special a Versailles

Jallier                                    architecte

Imbert delonne                    anatomiste inspecteur general du service de santé

Jollain                                   pintre du muse Central des arts

Isabey                                   pintre en miniature

Julien                                    sculpteur, de linstitu national

La Cepede                            naturaliste de Linstitu national

Lafontaine                            pintre d’histoir

Lafontaine                            architecte

Lamarque                             naturaliste de linstitu natiaunal

Le Mercier                           homme de lettres

Le Monier                            pintre d’histoir

Landon                                 pintre d’histoir pentionair de la republic

Laneuville                            pintre de portrait

Langlois                               graveur

Laurent                                 graveur

Lavallee                                homme de lettres

La Grenné                            pintre d’histoir

La Grenné le Jeune              pintre d’histoir

Le Barbier L’ainé                 pintre d’histoir

Le Brun                                homme de lettres de linstitu national

Le Brun                                pintre en miniature

Le Cler                                 pintre electeur de l’an 7

Le Comte                             sculpteur

Le Doux                               architecte

Le Grand                              architecte

Le Guay                               pintre en email et mini

Le Gouvé                             homme de lettres de linstitu national

Le Thier                               pintre d’histoir

Le Sueur                               musitien du conservatoir de musique

Lorta                                    sculpteur

Louis                                    architecte

Malet                                    pintre de genre

Martiny                                musicitien du conservatoir de musique

Martin                                  pintre d’histoir

Marschal                               pintre de genre

Masquelier                            graveur

Massard                                graveur

Massard (fils)                       graveur

Méhul                                   musitien du conservatoir de musique

Mercier                                 homme de lettres de Linstitu national

Merimée                               pintre distoir

Meynier                                pintre d’histoir

Merckelin                             mecanitien de linstitu natiaunal

Miger                                    graveur

Millin                                   homme de lettres conservateur de la bibliotheque natio et de linstitu national

Milo (Citoyenne)                  sculpteur

Moitte                                  sculpteur de linstitu natiaunal commaissaire des monuments des arts en Italie

Moitte                                  architecte

Molinos                                architecte

Monot                                  sculpteur

Mongez                                antiquaire de linstitu natiaunal

Moreau                                 graveur de lecol special

Morel                                   homme de lettres

Monsiau                               pintre d’histoir

Monvelle                              homme de lettres de linstitu national

Monvelle (fils)                      homme de lettres

Naigion                                pintre d’histoir

Naudon                                pintre de paysages

Née                                      graveur

Névéu                                  pintre d’histoir de lecol politequenic

Palisot                                  homme de lettres

Parmentier                           de linstitu national

Parny                                    homme de lettres

Pajoux                                  sculpteur de linstitu natiaunal

Pajoux (fils)                          pintre d’histoir

Perrin                                   pintre d’histoir

Percier                                  architecte

Peyre                                    architecte de linstitut natiaunal

Peyre (neveu)                       architecte

Peyron                                  pintre d’histoir

Pipelet                                  femme de lettres

Petitot                                  sculpteur

Prevost                                 pintre de fleurs

Prevost                                 graveur

Prud’hon                              pintre d’hstoir

Portal                                   anataomiste de linstitut natiaunal

Poyet                                    architecte

Ramey                                  sculpteur

Raymond                              architecte de linstutu national

Redoutté                              pintre d’histoir

Regnaul                                pintre d’histoir de Linstitu natiaunal

Renou                                  pintre d’histoir

Robert                                  pintre de genre du muse Central des arts

Robin                                   pintre d’histoir

Roederer                              homme de lettres de Linstitu natiaunal

Roeser                                  pintre de paysages

Romany (Citoyenne)            pintre de portrait

Rode                                    violon

Rousseau                              architecte

Rousseau de la Roithier       sculpteur

Sablet                                   pintre de genre

Sarrette                                 commissaire du Gouvernement pres le Conservatoir de musique

Schall                                    pintre de genre

Senave                                  pintre de genre

Sergent                                 graveur et conventional

Serangeli                               pintre d’histoir

Sicardi                                  pintre en miniature

Silvain Marechal                   homme de lettres

Simon                                   pintre en miniature

Simon                                   graveur sur pierre fines

St Aubain                             graveur

St Martin                              pintre de paysages

Solie                                     musitien compositeur du theatres &

Spaendonck (Corneill van)  pintre de fleur

Spaendonck (van)                pintre de fleur de linstitu natiaunal

Stouf                                    sculpteur

Suvee                                    pintre d’histoir du muse Central des arts

Swagert                                pintre de paysages

Taillasson                             pintre d’histoir homme de lettres

Tardieu                                 graveur

Taunay                                 pintre de genre de linstitu natiaunal

Taurel                                   pintre de marine

Tibault                                  architecte et pintre

Tinet                                   pintre du museum de Versailles Commissaire des monuments des arts en Italie

Tourcaty                               graveur

Touzé                                   pintre d’histoir

Valenciennes                        pintre de paysages

Valmont Bomare                 naturaliste de linstitu natiaunal

Vallayer Coster (Citoyenne) pintre de genre

Vanderburg                          pintre de paysages

Vandael                                pintre de fleurs

Vangorp                               pintre de genre

Vernet (Carle)                      pintre d’histoir

Verniquet                             architecte

Vestier                                  pintre de portrait

Vien                                     pintre d’histoir de linstitu natiaunal et du muse central des arts

Vigée                                    homme de lettres

Vincent                                pintre d’histoir de Linstitu national

Villar                                    homme de lettres de Linsitut national et conventiaunel

Semper Augustus

Flora-Mallewagen.jpgJust as Gaul is divided in three parts, so now everyone also knows that the EU is founded on four pillars: freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour. Although “pillar” hardly seems le mot juste for such dynamic concepts. And one would require a lengthy gloss to discuss whether the fourth component is people or just workers. But while we are all focused on the tension between controlling immigration at the expense of suffering barriers to trade in goods and services, very little attention is being given to capital. That’s partly because virtually none of the UK electorate (and almost none of our MPs) understand the issues, and also because there are widely held misconceptions about capital to which even “experts” haven’t fully adjusted.

The Brexit issues for capital are indeed complicated, but there are some serious questions that are easy to grasp even if the answers aren’t knowable. The fundamental issue relates to how far flows of capital might be restricted. It is perhaps easiest to see this in the context of banking, and specifically the interbank trading which has come to dominate the London business. Essentially (unlike traditional lending or trade-related financial services) this is a zero-sum activity (less staff salaries and bonuses). Profitability depends on finding a loser. If that is a Japanese bank or a German Landesbank, then London benefits (and if the winner is the London branch of an American bank, UK taxpayers will still imagine they are ahead of the game through trickle-down from bonuses being spent or taxed in London). It’s a tradition that goes back to Sir Francis Drake. And when, as regularly happens, the loser is an incompetent UK bank, the UK taxpayer simply bails it out and (through the generosity of the Bank of England, labelled monetary policy) feeds it enough cheap money to stay at the table. Most people have only a dim idea of what is involved (how many understand the reason why savings earn nothing?), and the international dimension allows the picture to remain obscure. Mine was a lone voice in asking the various commissions and enquiries after 2008 to investigate the sources of profit in banking before rearranging the deckchairs with ring-fencing etc.

But suppose all interbank activity were restricted to UK banks trading among themselves, and you could see directly that every penny that Barclays made was paid for by RBS shareholders (that’s us, in case you had forgotten). Isn’t it possible that the penny might finally drop?

Or perhaps not. The stubbornness of stupidity in the face of the clearest evidence is of course the basis of populism – the cynical harnessing of prejudice, ignorance and superstition for the acquisition of power by a politician who should (and often does) know better. Like surfing on waves, it is what happens underneath that matters: and where contrary flows are overwhelmed, the resulting tsunami can have catastrophic effects.

There is a similar effect in stock-market bubbles: misdirection causes enough punters to pursue asset prices – be they equities, houses or tulips – to levels unrelated to fundamental value. That dissociation from reality is exactly what started with Brexit and with Trump. (The efficient markets hypothesis is flawed in exactly the same way as the process of democratic election – even if both ideas may be better than all the others.)

I have no predictions for 2017. There are too many moving parts.

This long pursuit

sibyl_domenichinoEarlier this week I was lucky enough to catch a few minutes of Patrick Malahide’s mellifluous readings from Richard Holmes’s new book, This Long Pursuit. I immediately bought a copy, and can unequivocally recommend it. If you haven’t bought all your Christmas presents yet, it will do for almost anyone, whether grandparent or godchild. Most of all, make sure you buy one for yourself.

Holmes – not to be confused with the military historian – is the author of numerous biographies of figures from the Romantic era. I first came across him through his books on Coleridge (the first volume has a German eighteenth century pastel on the cover) which came out in 1989. All his books are intelligent, informative and highly readable, and this can be taken as a kind of anthology of some of the most fascinating passages in his writing (although in fact it is far more than that, being rather an exercise in metabiography). It is the perfect way to wean the public off the diet of biography as served today on innumerable television documentaries, where great lives are reduced to three-minute snippets containing an ambitious puff and a funny anecdote. If the producer permits another three minutes, it is given to another “expert” to repeat the formula: analysis or thought are banished without mercy, as one mustn’t frighten the horses. Instead the television documentary is dominated by the presenter who must be given an absurdly exaggerated attribute of the kind that used to be the preserve of the fictional detective: the Meerschaum can now resurface as a panama hat, a pair of hyperactive shoes or a suitcase (let us not mention the lady who cannot resist dressing up), each to dominate the screen to the exclusion of the subject matter – which is further squashed by the constant intrusion of inappropriate music.

So there should be a ready market for the six-hundred-pager. And Holmes, the arch-professional in his field, knows better than anyone how to do this properly. Foremost among his trade secrets – the rules for biography which he shares with us, making this book so compelling for those of us who labour at the same cliff faces – is the avoidance of the first person pronoun. But if the trick of the biographer is to gain your trust and get you to think that their account is the objective truth, this book is at its most brilliant in showing just what that can mean in different hands. Comparative biography even becomes an academic discipline in itself: the forensic analysis of earlier biographers’ approaches yields insights time and again that I won’t spoil.

Meticulous accuracy is another of Holmes’s hallmarks: woe betide the biographer whose unsure command of his facts undermines your confidence in his research. I came across only a handful of trivial errors, all in the chapter on Mme de Staël where perhaps Holmes’s footing is less secure: Goodden, one of de Staël’s recent biographers, has two ds; Chateaubriand has no circumflex (however tempted we may be to add one, as it “looks” right). More worryingly, Holmes responds to the common bafflement as to how his subject’s name is to be pronounced by telling us it is “style” – perhaps that too “sounds” right, but (in France, at least) it should be “[stal]”.

Holmes’s eye is surer, and there is a strong visual sense throughout. I don’t just mean his focus on Mme de Staël’s famous turbans (instead of thinking about Domenichino’s Sibyl, I couldn’t help wondering whether they had influenced Camilla Batmanghelidjh). Several of his subjects are artists, and two versions of La Tour’s pastel of Belle de Zuylen are reproduced in the context of a discussion of Geoffrey Scott’s biography of her. As for the claim that Sir Thomas Lawrence was producing pastel portraits at the age of five, that belongs perhaps more to the rainbow area than the granite in Virginia Woolf’s opposition between the facts that biographers need to balance against their tendency to flights of literary fancy.

Holmes favours the “footsteps” approach, visiting every physical location associated with his subject, and writes grippingly of what this means – or doesn’t mean, as in his encounter with Coleridge’s initials in a cave. Too often the biographer has been denied this luxury by the bulldozer. Even ardent Supreme Court groupies, who recently latched onto the rare moment of comic relief afforded by the discussion over the pronunciation of the name of a case on royal prerogative, will have been unable to visit Sir Polydor De Keyser’s Royal Hotel as it has been replaced by Unilever’s headquarters. But recent academic art history has usefully turned to the study of artists’ objects as a peg for biography, as for example Hannah Williams’s analysis of Lemoyne’s sword.

Of course Holmes, as a professional biographer, must choose his subjects with care if he is to make a living out of his trade. Statesmen, soldiers and writers have always been grist to the biographer’s mill; more recently the market for studies of neglected women has taken off. But even then there needs to be enough material to work on, particularly if they are to be the subject of a metabiographical analysis.

Holmes has little to say about the plight of the lexicographer, condemned to work with far less (sometimes no) information about his subjects. Here there are no choices to be made: any snippet, however trivial, must go in, in case something can be attached to it by future generations. Instead of reviewing forty recordings of a Beethoven symphony, we might have only a couple of bars scribbled on a torn sheet of paper to work with. And in place of reams of analysis from previous biographers, endless boxes of correspondence from which to select a phrase that provides an insight into our subject’s personality, a biographer of obscure portraitists often has little more to go on than a list of names of customers. Some painters may have been close to some of their subjects – I suspect such claims are often inflated by art historians and dealers anxious to puff spurious life into second rate canvases – but for the most part I think the relationship is frequently superficial. How much would you know about me if you could only talk to my tailor? (No one has a valet nowadays.) My dentist might have a few harder facts, but only extreme personalities (usually defective ones) leave useful records at this level: biography cannot depend on the discovery of petrosomatoglyphs.

So it can be tempting to retreat into the position that an artist requires no biographical study: the work must speak for itself. I don’t believe that; and however imperfectly we go about, and however deficient the ingredients at our disposal, Holmes’s book (and his whole œuvre) shows us just why this pursuit matters. An example to us all.

Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul (1713–1781)

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.

Fixing Brexit: revocable notice

Readers of this blog will be well aware of the dreadful negotiating position which the UK faces under the terms of Article 50. My cunning plan to get around this has been scuppered by the High Court ruling in Miller v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union: now the legal requirement for parliamentary approval is evident (unless appealed). But curiously this now gives us a different route to turn Article 50 on its head and make it work to our advantage.

Instead of appealing Miller to the Supreme Court, the Government should immediately introduce a short bill to notify the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the EU – subject to a second clause, making this notice expressly revocable by further vote of Parliament. That way negotiations can proceed without the massive disadvantage of the two year fuse set out in Article 50(3). It is hard to see that the EU can reject such a notice. While in theory this could require a succession of further notices until a satisfactory deal is reached, the practical outcome will be that the UK can obtain a far more beneficial exit, quite probably in a shorter time frame as the opportunities for brinkmanship are removed. Parliament can give Mrs May a free hand to negotiate without what she sees as damaging public scrutiny in the knowledge that it has the final say. Leavers and remainers should welcome such an outcome; but not the most ardent Brexiters determined to prefer the will of the people expressed under the veil of ignorance prevailing last June to that of Parliament (with or without further advice from voters) based on a full understanding of the implications.

Postscript, 9 November

For those of you who think that revocable notice isn’t possible, several points should be made. Firstly the matter was not ruled on in Miller, since neither party ran an argument which was unhelpful to their position, and so the case was heard on the common ground of irrevocability (although the Lord Chief Justice questioned Lord Pannick during his submission on this). But the possibility is mentioned in this excellent analysis by Christopher Forsyth which appeared after my post, and which draws attention to the excellent arguments set out by Aurel Sari here. But while the law may be uncertain, the politics I outline are real enough: by passing the Bill with the clause, it is up to the EU to object to a notice given by act of parliament “in accordance with the constitutional requirements of” the member state, which (however much they hate it) they will be unwilling to do. And if they do try to challenge the validity of the notice, there is no time fuse forcing us to concede.

Postscript 2, 20 December

Readers will be aware of more recent developments posited on the same idea, that Article 50 notice may be revocable, and is the best basis for the UK to avoid the impending disaster created by the two year drop-dead clause in Article 50. The question is how to do it. Most attention has been focused on the crowd-funded scheme devised by tax lawyer Jolyon Maugham QC. This involves taking action in Ireland which it is hoped will be referred to the EU courts for a decision that would bind all member states including the UK. Not everyone agrees that this is the best approach: David Allen Green contributed a post entitled “Why the Dublin Article 50 challenge is misconceived” in his FT Brexit commentary on 15 December (online). Among some vigorous debate, I posted this comment (repeated here as there may be a firewall on the FT site):

The difficulty with the Irish route is that it may take some time to get a decision, and it may be inconclusive. A simpler route would be to build the revocability into the UK’s Art 50 notice by introducing a bill with a second clause, making the notice expressly revocable by further act of parliament. This would permit the UK to issue a series of Art 50 notices, revoking (and reissuing) for as long as it takes to get the best deal available, and thus reverse the EU’s negotiating advantage as built into Art 50. Of course the EU will dislike it, but if they start negotiating with us the problem is solved. If they refuse to do so after the issue of a notice valid in terms of our domestic constitution (what better authority than the Queen in Parliament?) we can challenge in the EU court with a strong case (given that Art 50 contains what in effect is an ouster provision). Crucially we have lost nothing by doing so – not even time, since if we lose, the clock wasn’t running, while if we win, we have used up part of our two years – but only of the first of the indefinite series of two year terms this strategy delivers.

Jo Maugham’s response to my scheme on Twitter was

It’s not within the Westminster Parliament’s power. It can enact what it likes but it will make no difference. …an Act of the UK Parliament can no more change the interpretation of Article 50 than it can alter the composition of the moon to green cheese.

But as to deciding what that composition is, the fact that the Lunarians have (through Article 50(1)) a privileged position is at least helpful. It is also relevant that while neither the Irish scheme nor mine may be certain of success, if the Irish scheme establishes that revocability is possible then my scheme would have succeeded too. But the converse is not logically required: in response to the Irish application, the EU might hold that the form of notice was a factor in deciding (possibly even a determinant of) revocability, while my idea comes with the form of notice most helpful to the case. Further my scheme brings clarity earlier, and at no expense, as in my comment above.

What is requires is a political will. Those MPs who know that Brexit is a disaster but are too frightened to speak should insist on this amendment. It is the only way for Theresa May to comply with her promise of triggering Article 50 by March without inflicting the gravest damage on this country.

John Norris Hewett, a singular woman

Browsing through eighteenth century sale catalogues occasionally produces curiosities beyond the works listed for sale. Collectors themselves have long been the subject of scholarly enquiry; but you will find little about the Mrs Hewett of Richmond whose collection was sold after her death by Christie’s in 1792 (she is “unknown” according to the Getty Provenance Index). As the sale included a number of pictures which she herself had made, in various media ranging from oil to watercolour and chalk as well as crayons (pastel), I was obliged to unravel the mystery of who she was. This wasn’t helped by her having the most unusual Christian names, “John Norris”, and of having married three times, each to men called John: and of being absent from virtually all reference books.

My curiosity was whetted when I came across this entry in the register of St George’s Bloomsbury (1773): storr-norris-fisher-marraige

“A single woman” is not a standard phrase encountered in these registers. What we call a single woman is properly termed a “spinster”; the alternative is a “widow”. The entry misleadingly suggests she was born Gordon and had married a Mr Fisher, etc. The name is so unusual that when the Law Commission researcher was compiling the lists of acts of parliament in 1999 she assumed the 1773 divorce bill I explain below must refer to some bizarre homosexual arrangement; and indeed the Journal of the House of Lords attempted to rectify the spelling to “Joan” in its report of one of the committee stages of the bill.

This post would be excessively long if I continue to work backwards through all the confusions I encountered, so let’s start at the beginning – even if it feels as though you are being shown a solved Sudoku puzzle (you can always turn away now).

hudsonMrs Hewett’s grandfather was Sir John Norris (1671–1749), admiral of the fleet, of whose naval career there is a good summary in the DNB (left is his portrait by Hudson from the Government Art Collection). He was a protégé of the wonderfully named Sir Cloudesley Shovell. His successes brought considerable wealth, including Hempstead Park (variously spelt) in Kent. The DNB acknowledges the obscurity of Norris’s family origins: probably Irish, and connected with the Aylmers. You can follow the relevant people in my iconographical genealogy for Aylmer.

One of Sir John’s daughters, Lucy (1705–1793), was married (like so many of her relations) into the Aylmers, to Sir Gerald Aylmer, 5th Baronet of Doneda. Their son was the oddly named Sir Fitzgerald Aylmer who was born eight months after Sir Gerald’s death: perhaps his name should be taken literally rather than as merely indicating his being posthumous (the 3rd baronet was also called Fitzgerald: he also was born in the year of his father’s death). In any case, Lucy, who was just 31, remarried the following year, and as we learn from her father’s will (1749, 12 years after the lapse), without his approval:


She receives only £10 from his vast estate, having “most undutifully and indiscreatly married a second husband without my consent or knowledge to the disgrace of her family.” Little is known about this second husband, one Robert Fisher, other than that he signs one of the documents below in a literate hand and is referred to as “Esquire”. (He is glossed as the “Mr Fisher” mentioned in the correspondence of Pitt, but that is more likely to be a reference to Thomas Fisher, a regimental agent.) Evidently Lucy christened her child (the only one she is known to have had) in a vain attempt to placate her father.  Curiously by the time Lucy’s mother died, in 1763 in Berkeley Square, it seems she was forgiven, as she was named as her mother’s sole executrix and residuary legatee. But bizarrely (perhaps proof of dementia), Lady Norris can remember neither her daughter’s name, calling her Elizabeth instead of Lucy, nor that of her husband, whom she names as “Joseph Fisher of St James’s Square” when he was Robert. Fortunately the errors are corrected in the probatum, but Fisher’s address is not corrected (and may be wrong). Lucy’s response was to disclaim the inheritance.

But I’ve leapt ahead. In 1743 (the year derived solely from her age at death) the future Mrs Hewett was born, and christened John Norris Fisher (for obvious reasons she often dropped the “John”). There seems to be absolutely no trace of any baptismal document, and virtually nothing is known about Norris’s upbringing (perhaps it took place in Ireland?). But on 20 March 1764 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, she married a John Gordon (there are several homonyms, but he was then a captain in the 50th Foot, later promoted to lieutenant-colonel; he was the third son of an Irish family, the Gordons of Ballinteggart; his brother Thomas Knox became chief justice of South Carolina): norris-gordon-marriage

Now this should have been her first marriage, but once again the phraseology is bizarre: “John Norris Gordon heretofore Fisher” suggests that there may already have been some unofficial union. The witnesses were her father, Robert Fisher; her mother (almost invisibly small), Lucy Fisher, while the third, Lucy Fortescue, was her great-aunt. In any case, it seems that Captain Gordon went back to Ireland with his regiment, but on his return found that Norris was having an affair with a senior naval officer, John Storr (1709–1783), vice-admiral of the red.

In the absence of diaries or correspondence we can only guess how things developed from the resulting action for crim. con. and the private bill for “Gordon’s divorce” brought before Parliament, passed by the Lords 31 March and by the Commons 29 April 1773.


For the sordid details you have to refer to the Journals of the House of Lords:


If the purpose of the bill was supposed to allow Gordon to remarry, he did not in fact do so until 1780, when he made the only alliance mentioned in the standard reference works, to Elizabeth Bamfylde, daughter of a baronet. But Gordon died soon after, in Islington, in 1782.

In fact, just a few weeks after the divorce bill was enacted, “Norris Fisher formerly Gordon” married Admiral Storr, the register entry at the top of this post. Here is how the Town and Country Magazine reported it (providing key details which allowed me to pull this story together):


Admiral Storr was by then 64. He lived for another ten years, leaving his house in Bedford Square and a life interest in his numerous estates in Yorkshire to Norris.


storr-westminster-abbeyThere is a memorial (with a bust by William Tyler, left) in Westminster Abbey.

Just a year later, on 13 February 1784, at St George, Hanover Square, Norris married for the third time, again to a figure whose lineage is obscured by changes of name: John Hewett (1720–1787). He was in fact born John Thornhaugh, but by another private act of parliament, 29 George II. c. 53 (1756) he changed his name to inherit an estate. He was subsequently sheriff of Nottinghamshire and an MP. In 1744 he had married Arabella, daughter of Sir George Savile, 7th Bt, and his political affiliations remained entwined with those of the Savile family. His daughter Mary Arabella married Francis Foljambe (who it won’t surprise you didn’t have that surname at birth), and when Mary Arabella died, Francis was remarried to the daughter of the Earl of Scarborough and his wife, yet another Savile.

But of John Hewett’s remarriage to Norris Storr there is no mention in the History of Parliament nor any of the standard volumes. His signature on the 1784 marriage allegation (now conventionally worded as between “John Hewett Esqr, a widower and John Norris Storr, a widow”) is sufficiently shaky to suggest that he was already ill, and indeed he died three years later.


As the Gentleman’s Magazine reported, on 22 December 1790 Mrs Norris Hewett, relict of John Hewett Esq of Shire Oakes, Co. Nottingham, died at Richmond. She was buried at St Peter’s, Petersham, 29 December 1790, aged 47.


She had made her will a few days before, and was hoping to make it to Christmas day where it seems a half-year payment was due. The document (too long to reproduce in full) gives a glimpse into her final state of mind:


And so on.  Her “dear Sir Andrew Ward and Mrs Ward” (who were they? why not Lady Ward?) were to choose four of her best pictures on condition that “they are not to be placed in Bed Chambers” (the usual fate of so many pastels).


The rest were “to become the property of Lady -“, the name omitted. One of the trustees of the will was Norris’s neice, Margaret, Lady Holt; the residual legatee was apparently another neice, called Harriet Hunt, of whom I can find no other trace nor any obvious connection: could it be that “niece” was a euphemism? Unsurprisingly the omission of the name led to litigation between the two nieces (notwithstanding Norris’s plea to Lady Hort “to feel for Harriet’s dessolute situation in point of protection and if it be possible may she find protection with or near” her), as this disguised account of the resulting case of  Hunt v Hort (3 Bro C.C. 311) in an 1804 Treatise on the law of legacies (by the admirably named Roper Stote Donnison Roper) indicates-


The furniture was sold three months after Norris’s death, by Christie’s, but it was not until the following year, after the litigation was settled (the bequest to “Lady -” being declared void, so the pictures fell to Norris’s niece, Harriet Hunt) that her pictures were sold, on 16 and on 20 January 1792:

A catalogue of a collection of genuine and valuable pictures; drawings and miniatures; consisting of a variety of pleasing, historical and other subjects in crayons, the property and performance of the late Mrs. Hewett, deceased, celebrated for her refined taste in the polite arts brought from her late residence at Richmond; the most of which are rich, and elegantly framed and glazed, with large plates of glass. Which will be sold by auction (by order of the Executors) by Mr. Christie, at his Great Room, Pall Mall, on Friday, January the 20th, 1792, at twelve o’clock

Her collection included landscapes by Hubert Robert and Dietsch, an unknown oil of her second husband by John Russell, numerous anonymous flower pieces, landscapes, portraits etc.; copies after Stubbs, Kauffman and Cipriani. Her own work in unspecified media included copies after Kauffman, Reynolds, Guido Reni and several after Matthew William Peters. (Peters was a painter patronised by Norris’s cousins, the Fortescues – as was Cotes.) Subjects such as “a girl feeding a rabbit” might well be after Russell, and the many works for which no medium is indicated might well include pastels. A head of Christ and several sets of oval portraits are mentioned as in crayons. Everything is now lost without trace, including the portraits of Mr and Mrs Hewett.

peters-resurrection-bonhamsem7v2015Or is it? One of the copies after Peters was described as a “very large of angels and spirits ascending” (lot 48 sold or bought in at £11, the highest price for any of her pictures): it sounds as though it might be a copy of his Resurrection of a pious family, an enormous canvas which hung in Totteridge Church in the nineteenth century, and of which a large anonymous pastel copy (123×90 cm) was sold by Bonhams recently. It is not the only recorded copy, and I hesitated to put it forward as Norris’s work, but I recall that the pastel came from Hooton Pagnell. (I was quite sure that it was not by William Peters himself, but had no idea who the copyist might be.)

And then finally the penny dropped: Norris’s dear friends were not Sir Andrew, but the (yet again curiously named) St Andrew Warde (1745-1822) and his wife, née Anne Cooke. (The writing is perfectly clear once you know what you’re looking for.) Who owned Hooton Pagnell at this very time. The pastel, which did not make it into the bedrooms, had hung in the stairwell probably since its arrival until last year.

Perhaps someone out there has a stash of letters, or some enterprising social historian will find this outline of an unusually obscure life worth investigating further. But for the moment this pastel will have to suffice for the Resurrection of a not-so-pious lady.

La Tour’s cousins

Ever since the publication of La Tour’s wills, there has been something of a puzzle concerning the beneficiaries he describes as his “cousins”, among them the tailor Raphael Joret whom I mentioned before, but also (from the 1768 will, as transcribed by Maurice Tourneux):

A mon cousin Deschamps, chanoine de Laon, à la fille de son frère, à ses sœurs Masse et Mauclair, mes cousines, à chacun cent pistoles; deux mille livres à mes arrières petittes cousines Beaudemont, qu’elles partageront, et [à] sa sœur Joseph, rue du Petit-Pont, à Saint-Quentin, et à leurs cousins Dominique et Jean Baptiste Devrin

The fact that La Tour leaves money to these relatives suggests that the exact relationships are worth exploring. As you will be aware from my last two posts (more or less about his parents), I have been spending time in the parish registers of Noyon, Laon and Saint-Quentin looking into his family, and I think I have unravelled the connections that previously eluded my research.

You can find the key documents once again set out in the chronological table, with a number of further dates of actes for individuals in the genealogies for La Tour, Deschamps, Garbe, Havart, Joret, Masse. I wish there were a simple visual to present all these connections, but the genealogy software on the market is tedious to use and childishly simplistic in the graphical output; and my patience doesn’t stretch to drawing an old-fashioned pedigree on a very large sheet of paper. But here’s a terribly oversimplified version:


Armed with the dates in these genealogies you can find the deeds online (in the Archives départementales de l’Aisne ou de l’Oise), with my transcriptions in my table. I will only burden this post with what turned out to be the hardest to find (since I didn’t have the dates or parishes for any of these documents), but which is touching in its way.


It is the baptism of the daughter of the niece of La Tour’s mother, who you will recall was named Reine Havart or Avart (curiously in Laon the spelling Havart is standard; in Saint-Quentin, Avart is used). Reine’s niece married Louis Deruys (sometimes Deruis or Deruis; but previous scholars have settled for Dervet or Devrin), who was, it turns out, the son of a Latin tutor (“répétiteur de Latin” in another document). Louis himself was a humble manouvrier or labourer, but later became a jardinier; his son Jean-Baptiste (who appears in La Tour’s will), remained a mulquinier, or weaver. So some of these families went down as well as up.

Anyway: you can see that little Marie-Anne-Reine Duruys, who was given the name of the pastellist’s mother, could not be held over the font by her, as Reine Havart was dead; but La Tour’s stepmother, Marie Francoise Duliège, was in effect step-god-mother to the girl.

Further down the same page there is another event, which unlike the baptism was attended as was normal only by father and curate, its sadness only partly dimmed by the passage of nearly three hundred years and the knowledge of the frequency of infant mortality:


Here however is a summary of the key relationships as they emerge from dozens of similar documents (the majority far less legible than these two).

La Tour’s mother was the niece of Charles Havart, a tapissier from Noyon who settled in Saint-Quentin. As we have seen his daughter married Louis Deruÿs, while her brother Pierre Avart was also a manouvrier; Pierre’s daughter Agathe married Claude-Nicolas Baudemont, a mulquinier: they were the parents of the young girls Angélique and Victoire Baudemont who were mentioned in La Tour’s will, as also was Agathe’s twin sister Joseph [sic, both in the registers and in La Tour’s will].


On his father’s side there were several connections with the Garbe family of blacksmiths. La Tour’s paternal grandmother Marie was the daughter of François Garbe (1610–1678), maréchal ferrant in Laon; her brother Nicolas married Elisabeth, Jean de La Tour’s niece (La Tour’s father was parrain to one of her numerous children), while Marie’s sister Marguerite married Pierre Caton, a tapissier in Laon; their daughter Anne-Françoise married écrivain Denis Deschamps, father of La Tour’s subject chanoine Claude-Charles Deschamps; one of the canon’s half-sisters, Noëlle, married an Augustin Masse, marchand de tabac à Paris: their daughter Charlotte Masse (pictured) married Jean-Robert Dorizon, the son of a tailor. Finally, “la petite-cousine Morelli, vitrier, à Sceaux” is Louise-Catherine , daughter of the chanoine’s brother Pierre-Denis Deschamps; she married Pierre Morel, vitrier-peintre at Verrières-le-Buisson.

Confusingly (although this has been known for some time) Augustin Masse was not related to the marchand orfèvre, Grégoire Masse, who, in 1752, married the sister of Dufloquet, comte de Réals, a senior cavalry officer (from an altogether different level of the social hierarchy): that Mme Masse was another La Tour subject, but not a relative.

The family circumstances, on both sides, were clearly artisanal, not even bourgeois. What is remarkable is that La Tour – an artist who chose his clientele with a close eye on their ability to pay, if not with outright snobbery – retained contact with so many of these people who worked with their hands and owned little. It is not that they were simply mentioned in the 1784 will, made when he was senile, had returned to his native town, and may have been in contact with them; but they mostly appear in the 1768 will, alongside calculations of his annual income (a formidable 19,975 livres). One might cynically conjecture that his impoverished relatives badgered him for money, to which he developed a standard reply: I’ll mention you in my will. Or one may guess that he felt a real sense of family loyalty, akin to the motives that led to his charitable foundations. Documents can only take us as far as they go.

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