This refined and evocative portrait is thought to depict Mademoiselle Christine-Antoinette-Charlotte Desmares (1682-1753), niece and student of the celebrated Parisian actress, Mademoiselle de Champmeslé (1642-1698). Desmares, known as Lolotte
, made her stage debut at Comédie Française, Paris at the age of six and enjoyed instant success. She soon became a permanent member of the theater troupe and succeeded her aunt as lead comedienne. A number of versions of the portrait are known; the prime version, entitled La femme au billet doux (Lady with a love letter)
was bought by Francois Tronchin (1704-1798), Councilor of the State of Geneva in the eighteenth century and remained in the Tronchin family thereafter, though its present whereabouts are unknown and another version is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Art (inv. no. 47.245.).1
The portrait was engraved in 1708 by Nicolas Chasteau (circa
1680-1750) and a copy of the engraving is housed in the Comédie Française today, accompanied by a poem, inscribed below the image:
A me voir, j’ai les traits d’une beauté divine
Les yeuz noirs et brillants, un teinte vif e charmant
Mai j’ai l’espirit d’une étoffe si fine
Que j’en donne à garder au plus subtil amant
To look at, I have the qualities of a beauty divine
Eyes shining and black, a bright and lovely complexion
But I have the wit of sweet conversation
Which I give for only the subtlest lover to keep.
Jean-Baptiste Santerre trained under François Lemaire and later Bon Boullogne and was accepted at the Académie Royale in 1704, presenting a Susannah and the Elders
now in the Louvre, Paris (inv. no. 7836). He was employed under the patronage of King Louis XIV of France who paid the artist a stipend and gave him lodgings in the Louvre. He continued to receive prestigious commissions following the king’s death, and worked as peintre ordinaire
to the Regent for the remainder of his career.
1. C. Lesné and F. Waro, Jean Baptiste Santerre, 1651-1717
, exhibition catalogue, Valhermeil 2011, p. 81, reproduced.