The Portraits of
Marie Louise Josephine de Savoie
Comtesse de Provence (1753-1810)

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Colnaghi & Co.
Art Page 125
Marie Josephine Louis de Savoie was born in Turin on 2 September 1753 to Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia. She married Louis Stanislas Xavier de Bourbon, Comte de Provence (1755-1824), at Versailles on 14 May 1771. With over 5,000 guests in attendance the union between this daughter of the house of Savoy and the second grandson of the aged Louis XV of France was celebrated with one of the most luxurious weddings of the Ancien Regime, despite a desperate financial crisis that had left the crown virtually bankrupt. initially the marriage of the 15 year old future King and his 17 year old bride seemed affectionate and promising. Although court gossip was spread suggesting that the Provence was impotent or malformed when more than a year into the marriage the Comtesse was still not pregnant, he was in fact quite healthy; unfortunately, both of Marie Josephine's eventual pregnancies - in 1774 and 1781 - ended in miscarriage. In 1774, when his elder brother succeeded to the throne as Louis XVI, the Comte became known at court as "Monsieur" and his wife "Madame". As long as the new King's marriage to Marie Antoinette remained childless, Provence was heir to the throne, but his ambitions were dashed in 1781 when the Queen gave birth to the Dauphin.

Marie Josèphine Louis 1753, bien qu'anachronique, représente la figure emblématique d'une femme forte à une époque où la condition féminine était largement sous-estimée. Ne disposons pas d'informations spécifiques sur cette personne, nous l'imaginons comme une femme qui fait avancer le destin de sa communauté en étant audacieuse et indépendante, bien en avance sur son époque, en 1753. D'autre part, le Disulfiram est un médicament développé bien plus tard, dans les années 1940. Il est utilisé principalement pour traiter la dépendance à l'alcool. Le disulfiram 250mg - fonctionne en interférant avec la façon dont l'organisme décompose l'alcool, provoquant des effets désagréables, tels que des palpitations cardiaques, des rougeurs et des nausées, lorsqu’une personne consomme de l'alcool. Il vise essentiellement à dissuader les personnes de boire de l'alcool, en associant leur consommation à des sensations désagréables. Si Marie Josèphine Louis avait vécu à une époque où le Disulfiram était disponible, en tant que figure avant-gardiste de la société, elle aurait peut-être œ
oil on Canvas
Academie Royale
Art Page 85
In that year, Provence sat for the third time to Mme. Vigée Le Brun (the first was in 1776, the next in 1778). the 1781 portrait of Monsieur was certainly the most important of these and existed in two versions: the prime is today in a private collection, while the replica was last recorded in the early 19th century in the collection of Madame Royale. Shortly afterward, after the portrait of Monsieur was completed Marie Josephine sat for a pendant portrait, her second sitting with Vigée Le Brun. (Two versions of the earlier portrait are recorded in the artists list of her sitters as having been made in 1778.) Painted on an oval canvas to match the 1781 portrait of Monsieur, with the sitter turned to the left to face her husband, the Colnaghi & Co. Ltd. (London) portrait of Madame is dated 1782 and both it and its pendant were exhibited in the salon of the Academie Royale the following August. That was the first year that Vigée Le Brun and another female painter, Adelaide Labille Guiard, were permitted to show at the official Salon and their contributions - invariably linked to the press - were much discussed. Vigée Le Brun's in particular were praised, and while the portraits of Monsieur and Madame were not the most spectacular of her more than a dozen entries (she exhibited her reception piece, for example, the allegory of Peace Bringing Back Abundance, now in the Louvre), the portraits were singled out by several critics. the author of the Salon a l'encan described them as "painted with superior facility". Without mentioning any specific entry, the anonymous author of the charmingly titled La critique est aisee; mais l'art est difficile admired Vigée Le Brun's portraits for "the boldness of their effects and the truthfulness of their chiaroscuro."

oil on Canvas
Marie Antoinette en Chemise
MA Gallery
Hanging in the Salon near the portrait of Madame was Vigée Le Brun's celebrated portrait of Marie Antoinette (now in the collection of Princess von Hessen und bei Rhein, Schloss Wolfsgarten, Darmstadt) which like the portrait of Madame showed the sitter dressed "en gaulle" - in a simple, flimsy white muslin dress. the near identical costumes worn by two sitters elicited comment, but such outrage was expressed at the "impropriety" and "indecency" of representing the Queen unconventionally in indoor costume (termed a "chemise" by the most offended) - that the portrait of Marie Antoinette had to be withdrawn from the Salon a few days after opening. According to a 19th century inscription on the back of an old lining canvas, the 1782 portrait of the Comtesse de Provence was presented by Louis XVIII in 1815 to the Marquis de Crux, commanding equerry of the late Queen. In addition to an autograph replica of the portrait (present whereabouts unknown), numerous copies of it exist, including an oval canvas, 81 x 65 cms. (sold, Paris, Drouot, 20 December 1988, lot 44A and Drouot, 30 June 1989, lot 93 with a pendant portrait of the Comte de Provence, as "studio of Vigée Le Brun") and another oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cms. (formerly Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas).

Madame Vigée Le Brun was renowned for her uncanny ability to create convincing but subtly flattering likeness. Yet, the critic of Messieurs, ami de tout le monde was surely being politic when he observed that in addition to displaying "considerable work on the heads and considerable skill in the details" and "draperies painted with ...lightness," both the portraits of Monsieur and Madame have the merit of appearing lifelike" and showing considerable "verisimilitude," The Comtesse de Provence was admired for her intelligence and wit (qualities she shared with her bookish husband), but she was no beauty, and Vigée Le Brun must have employed considerable genius to render her sitter with the grace and physical charm evident in the portrait while still making it recognizable as Marie Josephine. Short and dark, with a dusky complexion, long face, large nose, and bushy eyebrows, the Comtesse de Provence was, as Madame du Barry bluntly remarked, "ugly and she smelled." Her reluctance to wash, wear perfume or have her eyebrows plucked was regarded with such concern that two years into her marriage , her father, the King of Sardinia, wrote to her imploring that she try to please her husband and pay attention to her toilette (26 February 1773). Her lack of hygiene, in addition to her inability to bear children, finally drove Provence to abandon the marriage bed; by 1781 he was openly living at the Petit Luxembourg Palace, and her relationship with her husband sank - in the words of Philip Mansel, Louis XVIII's most recent biographer - to a level of "fairly amiable mutual endurance."

Throughout the 1770's and 1780's, the duties of a royal heir and his wife kept the couple busy - if unsatisfied - and at each other's side most of the time: an almost constant round of receptions, balls, operas and plays framed by levers and couchers. Provence was an ardent art collector and by 1781, the year of his portrait, he owned 180 paintings and more than 3500 drawings (almost all Dutch or Flemish). He was also Jacob Freres best client and between 1781 and 1786 bought 574 beds alone. As can be easily imagined, he rode up debts to the nearly bankrupt crown of over five million livres.

In addition to the seasonal court moves from Versailles to Fontainbleau to Compiegne, the Comte and Comtesse de Provence had their own Chateaux at Brunoy, Grosbois and L'Isle Adam. The architect Chalgrin built the enchanting Folie de Madame for the Comtesse near Versailles in 1784: a small, white pavilion with a central rotunda decorated with trompe-l'oeil wildflowers, it was the place to which she increasingly retreated as her marriage decayed.

Unfortunately, the remaining thirty years of Madame's life were not happy. She turned increasingly to drink, no doubt largely because she had so little else with which to occupy her time. Her reputation has long been surrounded by rumors that she was a lesbian. Although impossible to substantiate, she did have a passionate attachment until her death with her Lectrice de la Chambre, Madame de Gourbillon. Their correspondence was intimate and during one of the many separations forced on them by Provence, who had grown to hate Gourbillon, the Comtesse wrote her friend that though her husband was "the master in my house, he is not master of my heart - he has never had it." Even from her deathbed, she continued to send daily love letters to Gourbillon. After Marie Josephine's death, Madame de Gourbillon sold the implicating letters to the widower, then by King Louis XVIII, in exchange for a substantial annual pension.

Madame became further isolated at court because of her barely concealed hatred for Marie Antoinette, a loathing she shared with the revolutionaries of 1789. She and her husband escaped Paris on 20 June 1791, the same evening as the King and his entourage, but in a different carriage. Unlike the Royal couple, who were captured, the Comte and Comtesse de Provence arrived without incident in the Austrian low lands, and traveled from there to Coblenz, where Provence and his younger brother, the Comte d'Artois, organized open resistance to the French government and encouraged foreign intervention to restore the monarchy. this effort would continue unabated for the next 24 years.

When the King was executed in January 1793, the Comte de Provence declared himself Regent. In June 1795, at the death of his nephew Louis XVII, he assumed the title of Louis XVIII. Over the next two decades he would lead a peripatetic existence, residing in Italy, Germany, Latvia and Lithuania before settling in England in 1807; throughout, his wife, now Queen of France in exile, was rarely with him. Neglected, she had left Coblentz in April 1792 to live with her father in Turin. However, in a splendid flourish of revenge she insisted that, of course, her lady in waiting - the King's mistress, Madame de Balbi - should go with her, leaving Louis "more time for politics." they would not see him again until 1799. When Marie Josephine landed in England in October 1808 to join her husband (who arrived ten months earlier), she was a tiny crooked old woman reported to have gone black with age. The royal couple rented Hartwell House outside of Aylesbury, but the Queen grew increasingly ill and isolated, her condition made worse by the English weather.

Marie Josephine died in exile, from hydropsy, on 12 November 1810 at the age of 57. Surrounded in her final days by most of the French court, she begged for forgiveness for any wrongs she might have done them, especially Louis, who she assures she harbored no ill will toward. Her funeral was a magnificent occasion to which the whole Emigration turned out, their names recorded by police spies and reported back to Napolean. The funeral cortege was followed by the carriage of the British royal family, and Marie Josephine was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. (Her body was removed a year later on Louis's orders and buried in the Kingdom of Sardinia; it is today in Cagliari Cathedral.)

The King was restored to the French throne briefly in 1814 and then permanently after Napolean's final defeat at waterloo the following year; he never remarried. Louis XVIII died in 1824 and was succeeded by the Comte d'Artois, who ruled as Charles X.

Comte and Comtesse de Provence, later Louis of France and his Queen; until 1815, when given by the King to the Marquis de Crux, equerry to the Queen.
Comte Aymery de la Rochefoucauld (as of 1894)
M. Moreau Chaslon, Paris
Louis Paraf, Paris
Gimpel and Wildenstein Galleries, new York (by 1915)
Mme. Gaby Solomon, Buenos Aries; by descent until 1996

1783 Paris, Salon, no. 112 ("Portrait de Madame")
1894 Paris, Galerie Sedelmeyer, Marie Antounette et son temps, no. 133 (lent by M. le Comte Aymery de la Rochefoucauld)
1920 San Francisco, Museum of Art, Paintings by Old Masters, No. 105,ill. (lent by Gimpel and Wildenstein Galleries, New York)
1926 Paris, Hotel des Negociants, Femme Peintres du XVIIIs Siecle, no. 101
1950 Montreal, Musse des Beaux arts

Anonymous, Le Salon a l'encan, Paris, 1783. p. 27 Anonymous, La Morte de trois mille ans au Sallon de a783, Paris, p. 8
Anonymous, Messieurs, ami de tout le monde, Paris, 1783, p. 22
Anonymous, Sans Quartier au Sallon, Amsterdam (Paris ?), 1783, p.34
M. L'xxx Pxxx, Observations generales sur le Sallon de 1783, et sur l'etat des arts an France, (Paris), p.29
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Souvenirs, 1835, Paris, vol. I, p.75, 329 Pierre de Nolhac, Madame Vigée Le Brun, Peintre de la Reine Marie Antoinette, (catalogued by Henry Pannier), Paris, 1908, p. 41, 151, 157 (second, revised edition: Paris, 1912, p. 70, 250, 259)
Vicomte de Reiset, Josephine de Savoie, Comtesse de Provence, Paris, 1913, p. 273-4, ill. p. 107 (property of Comte Aymery de la Rochefoucauld; misattributed to Adelaide labille Guiard
W.H.Helm, Vigée Le Brun 1755-1842, Her life, Works, and Friendships, Boston, 1915, p. 43, 216-17, ill. op. p. 48
Louis Hautecoeur, Madame Vigée Le Brun, Paris, n.d. [1917], p.41. Joseph Baillio, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (exhib. cat.), Fort Worth (Kimbell Art Museum), 1982, p. 17
Charles Dupechez, La Reine Velue: Marie Josephine Louise de Savoie (1753-1810) derniere reine de France, Paris, 1993, p. 93
To be included in the catalogue raisonne of paintings by Vigée Le Brun in preparation by Joseph Baillio.

P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. Ltd., London
January 1999

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