Une Collection pour l’Histoire Importants tableaux, dessins, meubles et souvenirs historiques appartenant à la Famille de France
'Une collection dans l’histoire' by Vincent Meylan
by| 07 Aug 2015
1788! The kingdom of France finds itself caught in a transition between two worlds, in one of these terrible and exhalting moments in history when one world collapses in order to be born again.
On the one hand, Versailles, the King, divine right and the Ancien Régime, and on the other,the rights of man, the Constitution and the Third Estate with in between these two, the Revolution which is taking hold .
Adélaïde de Bourbon Penthièvre, duchesse de Chartres, later d’Orléans (1753-1821), embodies the duality of the period: everything she is comes from the Old World. Yet, everything about her announces the New. Born in the Royal family of France, she will be wed to a prince welcoming revolutionary ideas, and will be mother to a democratic king. Her portrait by Madame Vigée-Lebrun is one of the most precious pieces of her descendants’, Monseigneur le Comte de Paris and Madame la Comtesse de Paris’s collection. Classified asTrésor National, the painting is not a formal portrait but an intimate representation of her, as a woman, full of charm, beauty, delicacy, even fragility, as an embodiment of her time.
Portrait of the Duchesse d’Orléans, born Marie-Andelaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre (1753-1821)
Adélaïde is ‘la première princesse du sang de France’ and daughter to the duc de Penthièvre (1725-1793), grand-daughter to the comte de Toulouse (1678-1737), and great-grand-daughter to Louis XIV. Louis XIV makes up for the branch’s absence of legitimacy by offering castles, domains, and other countless riches to his natural children. Thanks to his generosity, the duc de Penthièvre’s daughter is the richest heir of the realm.
Bourbon by blood, she becomes even more so by marrying Louis-Philippe de Bourbon-Orléans, duc de Chartres in 1769. The duc de Penthièvre was not fond of the alliance at first, given the well-known lifestyle of the duc de Chartres, but he had always suffered from his exclusion to the crown’s succession.
Thanks to his daughter’s wedding, the red mark of his illegitimacy would soon disappear from his arms to be replaced by the silver label above the Orléans lily flowers.
The duchesse de Chartres’ new Parisian residence, the Palais royal, is magnificent and the Carmontelle watercolors (from the collection and presented in the sale) are a great witness to the quality of this high society: Mesdames de Blot, d’Egmont and de Brionne, their dresses are all indicators of the ambiance. The marquise de Créquy states in her mémoires that the comtesse de Blot used to refuse to eat meat and chicken, and would never drink red wine as she found it humiliating – she would rather eat a quarter orange, a dariole (small cream pastry), half-a-dozen strawberries, and then drink a little bit of milk. Not any kind of milk: milk that would be diluted with water from the Ville-d’Avray fountain. To render the potion more perfect, she even asked the naturalist Buffon if he could obtain milk from doves!
Adélaïde gave her husband six children. Only four lived on and ensured the dynasty to this day. Louis-Philippe’s birth on October 6th 1773 was celebrated in grandeur.
The future king’s first moments were depicted by Lépicié in a painting (lot 11). The baby prince lies in his crib, while a cat scratches the bedspread’s fine lace. His father, the duc de Chartres, watches over him, as does the duchesse de Chartres’ young black slave, Scipion.
When the duc d’Orléans died in 1787, his son, Adélaïde’s husband, inherited both his throne, and fortune – but not for long. The new duc d’Orléans lost a great deal of his goods when the Revolution suppressed privileges and feudal rights. After having adopted the new ideas and accepting a new name, Philippe Egalité (Philippe Equality), the king is sentenced to die on November 6th 1793, just a few weeks after Marie-Antoinette.
His widow, the Veuve Egalité (Equality Widow) was about to live an adventure that would last twenty years. Imprisoned during the Terreur, she escaped death a few times.
The Directoire was harsher as she was forced into exile in 1797, and all her property was confiscated. She moved to Spain with financial help from her friend, the empress of Russia. In 1809, she left for Sicily to attend her son’s wedding with the king of Naples’ daughter, Marie-Amélie de Bourbon.
As she braced herself to move to Minorca for the rest of her life, the Restauration in 1814 allowed her to move back to France. She was rich again! Louis XVIII gave her back what remained of her father’s fortune and several important pieces of furniture and paintings – the most spectacular one being the portrait of Louis XVIII by Philippe de Champaigne, which is also classified as Trésor National.
Full-lenght Portrait of Louis XIII
When she died in 1821, Adélaïde gave two thirds of her estate to her son, and a third to her daughter, Eugène Adélaïde.
Louis-Philippe welcomed his share as a blessing as he only received debts from his father. His new means allowed him to decorate his many residences.
Historical paintings would thus be installed at the Eu castle: the portrait of Louis XIII by Champaigne, as well as the portrait of Henri II by Quesnel (lot 158).
Once he became king in 1830, Louis-Philippe Ist decided to enrich the Louvre museum’s collection and to save the Versailles castle which was about to collapse. No particular finances were given to him and the Civil List from which he now benefited was diminished by a third compared to the amount that Charles X received. He was about to be covered in debts.
The most famous example of his patronage is his project to enrich French collections in Spanish paintings. Baron Taylor was put in charge of putting together an ensemble of Spanish master pieces in 1835. Three years later, 450 paintings by El Greco, Zurbaran, Velasquez, Murillo and Goya entered the Louvre, where they would stay for ten years. But the 1848 revolution put an end to the process. Louis-Philippe lost his crown and was forced into exile to England - while covered in debt. Meanwhile, his agents in France signed a 20 million loan to calm his creditors. The furniture and paintings inherited from his family or bought during his reign were now considered as his own. Thousands of items were thus returned to the Royal family exiled in England.
When Louis-Philippe died in 1850, his heirs had to sell everything. Moreover, their heritage was threatened. Napoleon III, who had become emperor, established a decree ordering the members of the Orléans family to sell their property in France within a year, and all that was left would be confiscated by the State. Barely a third of their domains were sold before the deadline. Many works of art were moved to England, and sold in London in 1853. By the time of queen Marie-Amelie’s death in 1866, what was left of the royal heritage was split between the children and grand-children.
In 1870, the fall of the Empire brought the Orléans back to France. What wasn’t sold was returned to them. The head of family was now Louis-Philippe, Ist Comte de Paris (1839-1894). He moved into the Hotel Matignon and to the Eu castle in Normandy. A photograph was taken in the Comtesse de Paris’ bedroom at Eu, where one can recognize the paintingWar Counsel in Courtray on June 26th (lot 81).
Ten years later, in 1886, the Orléans were once more forced into exile. The comte de Chambord, Charles X’s grandson and heir to the elder branch of the House of France, died in 1883, childless. His right to inherit the crown passed on to his Orléans cousins and the IIIrdRepublic felt threatened by the popular Orléans princes. The family decided to move to England. The Comte de Paris died in 1894 and his son Philippe, duc d’Orléans, was about to succeed him. He inherited most of the family treasures. Another photograph taken around 1895 in one of his Wood Norton mansion’s living rooms shows the portrait of the duchesse d’Orléans by Madame Vigée-Lebrun hanging above a dresser.
At the beginning of the 20th century, before the First World War, the duc d’Orléans moved to Brussels, where life was cheaper than in London. His expensive way of living cost him most of his father’s fortune as well as that of his great-uncle’s, the duc d’Aumale.
When he died in 1926, little was left: mainly his Anjou mansion in Brussels and the Orléans Palace in Palermo, and their content. The duc d’Orléans died childless. He bequeathed his estate to his sister, queen Marie-Amélie of Portugal (1865-1951), instead of to his dynastic successor, the duc de Guise (1874-1940). In exile as well, Marie-Amélie’s means were very limited and she gladly gave the duc de Guise the souvenirs and residences her brother left her, in exchange for an annuity.
Unlike his cousin, the duc de Guise remained discreet and realistic. He did not really believe in a return of the monarchy in France but still, he moved to the Anjou mansion with his family and played his role of pretender to the crown. He brought his grand-father, the Prince de Joinville’s succession into the royal collection: the prince de Joinville (1818-1900) was the third son to Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie. Called Hadji by his brothers and sisters, the prince de Joinville was the marine-adventurer of the Orléans family. All his life, he painted watercolors, full of freshness, recording numerous historical episodes that he witnessed during his existence. They were given to his daughter, the duchesse de Chartres (1845-1925), who bequeathed them to her son, the duc de Guise. About thirty of these works are presented in the sale (lots 187 to 221).
The royal collection came very close to disappearing during World War II. The Anjou mansion was emptied in 1938. The family paintings were sent to London, to be kept in the Coutts Bank’s safe, which the Orléans family was in the habit of using since the time of Louis-Philippe. “When I heard London was bombed by the Germans, recalls the Comte de Paris (1908-1999), son of the duc de Guise, I thought I had made the worst decision of my life”. Luckily, the Bank was spared by the Blitz.
Its return to France in the beginning of the 50’s was the last move of the collection. The duc de Guise died in 1940. His son, Henri, 2nd comte de Paris, became the head of the House of France. In 1931, he married a ravishing capetian princess in Palermo: Isabelle d’Orléans Bragance (1911-2003), descendant of the Brazil emperors.
Once the exile law was abrogated, the Comte de Paris bought the mansion of Le Coeur Volant in Louveciennes, near Paris. There, Philippe de Champaigne’s Portrait of Louis XIII hung above the stairs, and was one of the first paintings people saw when coming in. The watercolors by Carmontelle were placed in the dining room. The painting by Lépicié representing Louis-Philippe’s birth, hung in the grand living room. The Comte de Paris’ office was decorated with the portrait of Henri IV by Pourbus.
These works are now reunited for the last time in this catalogue. The portraits of Louis XIII and of Adélaïde de Bourbon Penthièvre, duchesse d’Orléans, will remain forever in France as they were classified Trésors Nationaux. However, the other objects and paintings presented in the sale will keep moving all around Europe and around the world. They will tell their story to new collectors, and perhaps to museums… And they will also tell the story of the Orléans family, of the kings, and of France.