• According to family tradition, former Jacques Doucet collection (Paris, 1853 - Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1929), Paris.
• Sale, Sotheby’s London, May 4th, 1938, lot 146.
• France, Private Collection.
1824, Paris, Salon, no 701 (Molière Honored by Louis XIV)
1825, Lille, Salon, no 259 (Louis XIV and Molière), bronze medal.
1825, Douai, Salon, no 259 (Louis XIV and Molière), silver medal.
The Original Anecdote
In 1660, his brother John’s death obliged Molière to reassume his responsibility of royal Tapissier and valet inherited from his father which he had renounced to become an actor. Highly envied, the position consisted of making the king’s bed, decorating his apartments with tapestries, and looking after the furnishings. The writer carried out his service at court one quarter per year, to the great indignity of the other officers who were offended at having to “eat at the food controller’s table with Molière, because he had acted in comedies.” One day, when he learned about this situation at his rising known as the petit lever, Louis XIV apparently invited the actor to share his early repast:
“Wherepon the king, cutting his poultry after having directed Molière to sit down, served him a wing, and at the same time took one for himself, and gave orders that the most notable and preferred people at court should begin their usual entries. “You see me,” the king said to them, “busy giving Molière something to eat, one whom my valets did not think good enough company for themselves.”
Such is the anecdote told by a certain M. Lafosse, former ordinary doctor to the king, to Henriette Campan’s father-in-law. Instructor to Louis XV’s daughters, first lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette and then Directrice of the Maison d’Education at the Legion of Honor, Madame Campan devoted her last years to writing her Memoirs which were published in 1822, the year of her death. Four editions would appear in just two years.
Significance of the Anecdote
Of all the little voluntarily didactic anecdotes which are scattered through the work, that of the young Sun-King’s early morning meal with Molière was among the ones which were the most noticed. “This anecdote is perhaps one of the ones which honor the character and life of Louis XIV the most. It is touching to see this superb king be welcoming […] Here in just one stroke is a prince who is grand enough to avenge genius for the stupidity [of others] and compensate him for his work,” wrote the editor of the Mémoires de Mme Campan in a note.
Not allowed to celebrate the Napoleonic epic, but used to finding their subjects in recent and national history, Restoration painters soon latched onto this account. In the Salon of 1824, two versions could be admired, that of Françis-Jean Garneray (no 701) which we present here and that of Edouard Pingret (No 1360). The theme returned during the Second Empire, where it was handled by Ingres in 1857 (oeuvre destroyed in the Tuileries fire, sketch in the Comédie Française), Gerome (no 769 in the Salon, Malden Public Library) and Jacques-Edmond Leman in 1863 (no 1176, location unknown), followed by Jean Hégésippe Vetter in 1864 (Salon, no 1916).
Garneray’s Preference for the Age of Louis XIV
François-Jean Garneray, or to be exact, Garnerey, was born in Paris. Thanks to the protection of his father, a naturalist, he was able to enter David’s studio as one of the first students. Little concerned with political change, Garneray appeared in almost all the Salons from 1791 until 1835. First a miniature painter and portraitist, the artist then specialized in depictions in the “Flemish genre,” that is, a subtle mix of meticulously rendered portraits and genre scenes. Starting in the 1810 Salon, he stood out for his historical compositions which dramatized famous people from the Ancien Régime in no less famous settings. Although, thanks to his son Auguste-Simeon, drawing professor to the Duchess of Berry, Garneray was close to the troubadour movement which began in this princess’ circles, he was able to set himself apart by displaying his preference for Louis XIV’s reign whereas the first troubadours privileged the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The subject of the painting exhibited in 1810 thus was Madame de Maintenon in Retirement in the Oratory of the Chapel of her Château (location unknown), while in 1812, all that figured in the Salon was the first of three views of the gilt Gallery painted for the Bank of France, the one showing places under Louis XIV (Banque de France collection). The artist continued to be interested in the Grand Century during the Restoration, with Molière Honored by Louis XIV in 1824 which was noticed a lot, and three years later, The Duke of Montausier Leading the Crown Prince into a Thatched Roof Cottage (Le Duc de Montausier conduisant le Grand Dauphin dans une chaumière.)
Art and Theater in our Painting
Louis-Gabriel Michaud, in his Biographie Universelle, emphasizes that Garneray’s “correct drawing” was ideally adapted to “anecdotal” history painting which required wit and perfect reproduction of “inanimate objects, such as monuments and costumes.” Our picture admirably illustrates these remarks, as it is presented precisely as a spirited work which achieves a fine balance between careful execution and theatrical liveliness, through very poised characters.
Garneray provides the king and his guest with a real theater set, stripped of everything that might be superfluous. Madame Campan gave no details either on the date of this improvised meal or where Louis XIV was staying, thus the painter could take the liberty of imagining an interior which would best become his composition. On the other hand, the account was very precise on the circumstances of the encounter, that is, the informal or familiar entry during which the barely awakened sovereign still in his bed, received members of the royal family and certain grand officers of the Crown. Nonetheless, the artist chose not to depict the bed, and displays Louis XIV completely dressed as he transforms an improvised snack into a sort of official repast.
Garneray situates the scene in the king’s inner apartment in Versailles, and more precisely, in the Dogs’ Antechamber which was only created in 1738, well after any possible date for the event. The cornice relief is a reminder that Louis XV’s favorite dogs slept here. Furthermore, the artist imagines a dog on each side of Louis XIV. Below the cornice, the 1685 gilt woodwork from the former billiard room is almost exactly reproduced, but the religious paintings which decorated the room under Louis XV have been removed. Thus, in place of Antoine Coypel’s Eliezer and Rebecca on the central trumeau, Garneray has installed another of Coypel’s works, Aegle Smearing Silenus with Blackberries, which was painted in 1700 for the antechamber of the Grand Dauphin’s apartments in the Château of Meudon (Louvre, inv. 3509). As for the overdoors, Garneray embellished them with portraits depicting Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.
A Pictorial Human Comedy
Elegantly attired in pink silk jerkin embroidered with golden fleurs de lys and matching long dressing gown, Louis XIV already has his wig done and wears the ribbon of the Holy Spirit. He is seated at an improvised table copiously garnished with fruit and other refined delicacies. An amused servant in blue and red livery sets a large pie in front of an incredulous and grateful Molière, while a second valet offers him wine. The features of the artist’s face come directly from Garneray’s portrait painted after Houdon’s bust and engraved by Alix in 1796.
The playwright’s expression is echoed in those of the courtesans whom the ushers have just allowed to enter the room. Here the artist composes a real human comedy while avoiding all exaggeration, as opposed to his colleagues from Ingres to Gerome, who preferred to depict the members of the court bowing deeply with their eyes lowered, as they didn’t dare contradict the king’s will nor manifest their disapproval or surprise.
None of the figures near the door is really recognizeable, even if the artist took care to depict the women’s rich costumes, prelates’ cassocks and solemn dress of the grand officers and commensals. This bedizened clothing in the style of 1660’s fashions, with glittering silks, fine embroidery, ribbons and bows even down to the shoes, lets the artist demonstrate his talent as a colorist. Garneray plays with the juxtaposition of light violet, orangey, indigo, and blue sapphire hues. Throughout are interspersed delicate vaporous white, crimson, and emerald green touches.
Bibliography of the Work
Alfred DANTES, Dictionnaire biographique et bibliographique, alphabétique et méthodique des hommes les plus remarquables dans les lettres, les sciences et les arts, Paris, Boyer et Cie., 1875, p. 368 (Molière et Louis XIV).
Louis-Gabriel MICHAUD, Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, Paris, 1856, vol. XV, p. 583 (Molière déjeunant avec Louis XIV).
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Pierre MOLLIER, "Portraits secrets: les œuvres maçonniques du frère François-Jean Garneray," Revue des musées de France-Revue du Louvre, no 2011-3, June 2011, pp. 43-51.