François BOUCHER (Paris, 1703-1770)

Portrait of Alexandrine-Jeanne Le Normant d’Étiolles (1744-1754), the Marquise de Pompadour’s Daughter, Playing with a Goldfinch

53 x 45 cm. (20 78 x 17 1116 in.)
1749. Oil on canvas. Signed and dated on the cage: f. Boucher 1749

Provenance

- Georges Mühlbacher Collection († 1906), Paris.
- His sale, Georges Petit Gallery, Paris, May 15th -18th, 1899, lot 6, ill.
- Acquired by Ludwig Deutsch, painter (1855-1935), Paris, for 85 000 fr.
- France, Private Collection.

Exhibition
- 1932, Paris, Charpentier Gallery, François Boucher (for the benefit of the Foch Foundation), no 95.

Before becoming Madame de Pompadour, the beautiful Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was Madame d’Étiolles, having married the nephew and heir of her tutor, Charles-Guillaume Le Normant on March 9th, 1741; the Seigneury of Étiolles, near Corbeil-Essonnes, was their wedding present. The couple first had a son, Charles Guillaume Louis, born on Christmas 1741, but he died before the age of one year. Three years later, in summer 1744, that is, a year after the probable first encounter between the young chatelaine of Étiolles and Louis XV in the Forest of Sénart, and six months before the famous Ball of Yews in Versailles which marked the real beginning of their relationship, Jeanne-Antoinette gave birth to a girl named Alexandrine-Jeanne who was baptized on August 10th at Saint Eustache Church in Paris. The separation of the Étiolles couple was pronounced on June 15th, 1745. Jeanne-Antoinette received the Marquisate of Pompadour a few days later, along with custody of Alexandrine whom she brought with her to Versailles.

The little girl was her mother’s joy and comfort in the often cruel world of the court in which the favorite was now evolving. Lively, intelligent, and charming, Alexandrine remained near her until she was five years old, and their tender bond inspired two oil paintings on zinc by François Guérin in which depicted a “Lady in Morning Dress” with a young child playing beside her and which the favorite bequeathed to her brother, the Marquis de Marigny (private collection).

In 1749, to improve her education, Alexandrine was placed in the Convent of the Ladies of the Assumption, situated on Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris and reserved for young girls belonging to the highest nobility. The nuns held her in great esteem and called her by her baptismal name, a privilege reserved for Princesses of the Blood. Proud of her daughter, who had a taste for study, but also uneasy about the delay in her blossoming beauty, if one goes by her letters, Madame de Pompadour brought her daughter regularly to court and made a point of finding her a brilliant situation very early. A project was finally concluded with the Duke of Chaulnes to marry Alexandrine to his son, Vidame (secular bishop) of Amiens, the future Duke of Picquigny. However the young girl was carried off in a few hours by a lightning swift illness two months before her tenth birthday. Her mother was inconsolable, though she never let any of her suffering be seen. Alexandrine was buried in the chapel of the Convent of the Capucines on the Place Vendôme which the Marquise had acquired from the Trémoïlle family and where she herself wished to be laid to rest.

Aside from François Guérin’s two paintings on copper, which are more evocations of a mother-daughter relationship than genuine portraits, little Alexandrine seems to have been depicted only once in her lifetime. Painted by François Boucher, this portrait is mentioned in the Marquise’s post-mortem inventory done in 1764 at the request of her brother the Marquis de Marigny and her cousin, Poisson de Malvoisin, who were her heirs. It figures among the Pictures, Drawings and Prints brought from the said Mansion [of Pompadour in Paris]: “1252.101. Portrait of Madlle, daughter of the late Lady of Pompadour, painted in Pastel by F. Boucher, it is not estimated here, but only listed for the record.”

Our painting is the only contemporary known replica of this lost pastel, and was probably made as a gift to a relative or someone close to the Marquise, and thus its absence from the 1764 inventory. Aside from its undeniable artistic quality and date of 1749, which corresponds perfectly with the apparent age of the little girl, the iconographic exactness is confirmed by two other works. The first is an enamel miniature by Louis-François Aubert (who died in Paris in 1755) which formerly probably embellished a box “garnished with diamonds” which the Marquise bequeathed to Madame du Roure. Inscribed on the verso, “D’après Mr. Boucher 1751” (after Mr. Boucher 1751), this little bust medallion only leaves out the bird cage, while faithfully reproducing the rest: Alexandrine’s angelic face, her supple neat hairdo, her blue silk dress decorated with a live rose, and the ribbon tied around her neck. The second version, unquestionably posthumous, is François Guérin’s who painted a large copper showing his patroness and Alexandrine inside the Château of Bellevue. This time, he had to enlarge Boucher’s portrait, because the little girl is shown full-length, but the artist preserved her pose – only modifying slightly the angle of her head and position of her right hand, – her attire, and the cage.

Despite the date on the cage, our picture could also be posterior to Alexandrine’s disappearance. She appears dreamy, even absent, indifferent to her little winged companion, in a way that can remind one of the posthumous portrait of Mademoiselle de Tours, called The Little Girl with Soap Bubbles, by Pierre Mignard (Versailles, inv. MV 3624). In any case, this impression could be explained by the fact that it is done from an existing portrait, instead of a work done from life. Moreover, the Boucher specialist Alastair Laing does not exclude possible studio participation in the face where the restrained handling is in contrast to the freedom of the brush in the clothing, the cage, and audacity of the large yellow ochre drapery. The latter leads one to believe that Boucher’s pastel portrait had a much tighter setting as when he drew his own girls: in realizing our picture, the artist had to imagine a number of new details and an environment worthy of a court effigy. Boucher seems to have employed the same process for the portrait of his daughter, Marie-Emilie Baudouin, for which a small bust length pastel exists which is known through numerous replicas and a larger canvas which shows her behind a parapet with a cage and a bird (Paris, Cognacq-Jay Museum, inv. 11). If this hypothesis proves true, François Guérin, would have been inspired by our canvas for his copper miniature depicting Madame de Pompadour and Alexandrine, rather than by the original pastel..

An inventive artist with uneven sensitivity, Boucher imagined a presentation halfway between a state portrait and a genre scene for the only daughter of the Marquise de Pompadour, his faithful client and patron. The little girl stands in front of a table as she offers a small spoonful of food to the goldfinch whose cage she has opened. The unctuous lush brushstroke masterfully describes the bird’s fluffed feathers, Alexandrine’s silky straw colored curls, as well as the pleated silk ribbons and bows which decorate her low-necked dress. The bouquet fastened to her bodice is a little masterpiece in precision and delicacy. It is formed of campanula, plus an open rose and its bud, like a discreet allusion to the Marquise and her daughter. Finally, the harmony of the pastel shades –ochre yellow, slate blue, amaranth, smoky gray – echo the sitter’s sweetness and innocence.
A.Z.

General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
- Xavier Salmon, Madame de Pompadour et les arts, exh. cat. National Museum of the châteaux of Versailles and of Trianon, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, National Gallery, London, 2002-2003, p. 156, under no 32, ill. fig. 1 (as current location unknown).
- Françoise Joulie, Ésquisses, pastels et dessins de François Boucher dans les collections privées, 2004, p. 20, under no 3.
- André Michel, François Boucher. 1703-1770. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint et dessiné, Paris, 1906, under no 1055.

See more