Alexandre-Jean DUBOIS-DRAHONET (Paris, 1790 – Versailles, 1834)

Portrait of the Young Princess Louise d’Artois, Daughter of the Duchess of Berry, future Duchess of Parma (1819-1864) on the Beach at Dieppe

Oil on its original canvas
178 x 146 cm. (5 ft. 10 1/16 in. x 4 ft. 9 ½ in.)
Signed and dated lower right on a beam: A Dubois Drahonet 1830

• Sale, Dorotheum, Vienna, April 13th, 1943, lot 31 (as Arsene Dubois);
• Austria, Private collection.

• Pierre Rosenberg, De David à Delacroix: La peinture française de 1774 à 1830, exh. cat. Paris, Grand-Palais, 1974.
• Nicolas Ivanoff, Charles-Achille d’Hardiviller peintre de la duchesse de Berry, F. de Nobele, Paris, 1973.
• Jean-Joël BRÉGEON, La Duchesse de Berry. Paris, Tallandier, 2009.

In assuming his father-in-law’s name, the painter Pierre Drahonet, Alexandre-Jean Dubois became Dubois-Drahonet. As a result and despite a very different style, the paternity of certain of their works has been confused. The artist did his apprenticeship under Jean-Baptiste Regnault (Paris, 1754-1829), Professor at the School of Fine Arts who was considered the rival of Jacques-Louis David (Paris, 1748-Brussels, 1825). In the Salons of 1822, 1827, and 1831, Dubois-Drahonet met with great success in presenting portraits which had resulted from private commissions. They were very marked by the use of chiaroscuro inherited from the Empire and close to the work of his contemporary François Gérard (Rome, 1710-Paris, 1837).

His work relies on rigorous study of psychological expression. In his portraits, faces unveil a form of the sitter’s introspection though powerful light contrasts which intensify the gaze and increase three-dimensionality.

After two disastrous pregnancies, Marie-Caroline of Bourbon Sicily, Duchess of Berry, finally gave birth to a long awaited child, Louise, Princess of Artois, on September 21st, 1819. Entitled “Granddaughter of France” at birth, she was raised in Elysée Palace, and then the Chateau of Rosny in the Yvelines with her younger brother Henri, the future Count of Chambord. Subsequently known as “Mademoiselle”, she was given the title “Countess of Rosny” in 1830, the year our picture was created.

In his Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, François-René de Chateaubriand portrays the princess when she was 13 years old:

Mademoiselle reminds one of her father, her hair is blond. Her blue eyes have a fine expression: small for her age, she is not as formed as depicted in her portraits. Her very person is a mixture of child, young girl, princess: she looks, lowers her eyes, smiles with a naive coquetry mixed with artfulness. One doesn’t know if one should tell her fairy stories, make a declaration or talk to her with respect as to a queen.

After a sumptuous full-length standing portrait of her mother in an interior which was presented at the Salon of 1827 and is conserved in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, and of which a version remains at the Château-Museum of Dieppe, the artist depicted the young princess at the beach of Dieppe three years later. The young girl’s innocence at age 11 is illustrated through the white bathing costume characteristic of Romantic fashion in the 1830s. The dress, with puffed (“leg-of-mutton”) sleeves definitively ending Empire style fashion, is of silk muslin over long drawers and stockings with embroidered scalloped edges clothing her small feet in their satin slippers elegantly tied around her ankles.

She poses proudly on Dieppe’s famous shingle beach, the very first sea resort in France. It was made famous by her mother, known as “the intrepid swimmer,” who had discovered the pleasures of bathing a few years earlier. In a completely new type of ceremony, she liked to go to the sea, while observed and applauded by thousands of people from Dieppe, who are depicted here in the background as if they were waiting for the little princess to bathe. Later, in 1847-1848, the opening of railroads between Paris and Le Havre, and Paris and Dieppe, contributed to the Parisian bourgeoisie craze for seaside vacations.

The first beach cabins, which the artist shows in the mid ground of our painting, appeared at this time. One changed one’s attire in these mobile cabins and striped tents which were installed on carts pulled by horses to the edge of the water. Here behind the sitter can be detected a flight of their wooden steps. Elsewhere, the artist drew a few bathing clothes which he presented at the Salon of 1827: “A frame with sketches of costumes from Dieppe, among which is the bather of Her Royal Highness Madame,” “Madame” being the title given the Duchess of Berry.

In our work, the artist freely expresses all the virtuosity of his brushwork in the unctuousness of fabrics and details. He excels in rendering materials, going so far as reproduce the fine reflections in the dress’ white belt which becomes pinkish from the reflections of the nude flesh of the child’s arm and the hat’s pink bow. In several places, Dubois-Drahonet displays his skillful mastery of light through use of a charged brush which brings out reflections in clothing illuminated by a bright rift in the sky coming from her left. Thus the pink silk shines and the beige kid gloves seem as supple and melting as fresh butter.

Our picture was probably painted a few months before the forced abdication of Charles X, an event which obliged the young princess and her family to leave France. During those years of exile, Louise d’Artois lived and pursued her education between Holyrood Castle in Edinburg, the Royal Castle of Prague in Bohemia, and finally at Goritz in Austria where the king died in 1836. In 1845, she married the son of Charles II, who became Charles III, Duke of Parma in 1849, which made her the new Duchess of Parma.

The actual state of research on the artist does not make it possible to trace the original provenance of the work which does not appear in any of the Salon livrets. It probably was privately commissioned by the Duchess of Berry, carried into exile, and remained in Austria where the canvas survived in a private collection.

We would like to thank Mr. Ronald Pawly, who plans to include our picture in his forth-coming catalogue raisonné on the artist, for his valuable assistance.

transl. chr

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