PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF MR. AND MRS. STEPHEN HILBERT
oil on canvas
François de Troy was born in Toulouse on the 9th of January, 1645. The younger brother of the painter Jean de Troy and trained by his father in his native city, he settled in Paris in 1665 where he spent time in the studio of Nicolas Loir, and later in that of Claude Lefebvre. He started his career as a portraitist. In 1668, he married Jeanne Cotelle, sister of the painter of decorative interiors Jean II Cotelle, with whom he nourished a profound friendship. Agreé to Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture in 1671, François de Troy was reçu on October 6, 1674 with his painting Mercury and Argus (Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts, Paris). Chosen by Louis XIV in 1679 to paint Marie-Anne Christine Victoire de Bavière, who was to marry the Grand Dauphin in 1680, François de Troy became the most sought after French portraitist of his time, as much by the court and royal family as by the Parisian bourgeoisie. Notably, by the end of 1680, among other things, the painter concentrated his activity on executing portraits of the legitimized children of the King, by his favorite Madame de Montespan: the Duc du Maine (1670-1736) (for these portaits, see below), Mademoiselle de Nantes (1673-1743), the second Mademoiselle de Blois (1677-1749) and the Comte de Toulouse (1678-1737). In 1696, hoping to offer their portraits as a gift to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Bossuet commissioned him to paint the three sons of the Grand Dauphin: the Duc de Bourgogne (1682-1712), the Duc d'Anjou, later Philippe V of Spain (1683-1746), and the Duc de Berry (1686-1714). This intensive work for the French court was in addition to his ongoing activity at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where from 1688 the exiled court of James II of England was in residence. There, on many occasions, François de Troy painted the King, the Queen, the young Prince of Wales and the numerous aristocrats who had remained faithful to them.
The municipal body of the city of Paris also recognized his merits as an artist and in 1682 they commissioned a large group portrait with an allegorical subject on the occasion of the birth of the Duc de Bourgogne, grandson of Louis XIV (since destroyed). The magistrates of the city called upon François de Troy again in 1709, 1716 and twice in 1725 for the realization of very large portraits of the same type of which only the ex-voto of 1725, painted with Jean François de Troy, son of the artist, has survived and is today preserved in the Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris.
Recognized by the court and the city, François de Troy was destined to have a brilliant career within the Académie. As previously mentioned he was admitted in 1674 and elected adjunct professor in 1692, professor in 1693 and director from 1708 until 1711, and finally adjunct rector in 1722. Very well received at the Salon of 1699, he participated at the Salon of 1704 where he presented this painting of Dido and Aeneas.
Together with Nicolas de Largilliere and Hyacinthe Rigaud, François de Troy epitomizes the Golden Age of portraiture at the French Court. Abandoning the stiffness of the effigies produced at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV (Beaubrun, Nocret, Elle), he succeeded in transgressing the rules of classical theory and to open himself to the influence of Flemish portraiture, originating with Rubens, and particularly with the elegant aesthetic of Van Dyck. Dynamic compositions, an encompassing clair-obscur, warm coloring, fluid application of impasto, a preference for delicate glazes and a free touch are characteristic of this artist, whose role is comparable in the evolution of French painting to Charles de La Fosse or Jean Jouvenet in the genre of history painting.
The Court at Sceaux
Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duc du Maine, was born in 1670 from the union of Louis XIV and the Marquise de Montespan. Legitimized in 1673, he married, on the 19th of March, 1692, Louise-Bénédicte de Bourbon, called Mademoiselle de Charolais (1676 – 1753), daughter of Henri-Jules de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, and of Anne de Bavière. Some years later, in 1700, the Duc and the Duchesse acquired the domain of Sceaux from Catherine- Thérèse de Goyon de Matignon Thorigny, widow of Jean- Baptiste Colbert de Siegnelay, himself son of the great Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the minister of finance for King Louis XIV. Today, only the park, the Pavillon de l’Aurore (decorated by Charles Le Brun) and a château entirely rebuilt in the 19th century (which now houses the Musée de l’Ile de France) are all that remain of this magnificent estate, for which Colbert had engaged the leading artists of the day.
Under the Duchesse, Sceaux became a place of grand parties which achieved notoriety. Well educated, interested in sciences and a keen lover of the arts and other intellectual matters, she surrounded herself with a veritable court made up of poets, comedians, musicians, dancers and intellectuals of all kinds who were expected to be there around the clock. Nicolas de Malézieu (1650 -1729), tutor of the Duc du Maine and the Duc de Bourgogne, a member of the Académie des Sciences (1694) and the Académie Française (1701), and party to all the Duchesse's caprices and extravagances, compared Sceaux to a "galères du bel esprit" (prison boats for the witty). This “hive of activity” gave birth, in 1703, to the creation of an imaginary order of chivalry by the Duchesse called the Ordre de la "Mouche à Miel" (the order of flies to honey), constituted – like the French academy- of forty members, presided over by Louise-Bénédicte, who took the title Reine des Abeilles, “Queen Bee”. Intellectual games were followed by entertainment and parties. The whole of Paris talked about the Nuits de Sceaux. No less than sixteen Grandes Nuits were organized between April 1714 and May 1715. Voltaire, who wrote Zadig at Sceaux, wrote about the Duchesse even in 1770 : “Her court was charming, one could amuse oneself there as much as one could be bored at Versailles ; she animated all pleasures through her wit, her imagination and her fantasies”. Then he added with delicate irony: “one could not ruin one’s husband more gaily”. Saint- Simon, who cultivated a deep dislike towards the Duc du Maine, made an acerbic comment about these same events: “Sceaux was more than anything a theater of the Duchesse du Maine’s folly, of the shame, of the embarrassment, of the ruin of her husband by the enormity of her spending, and was the laughing stock of the court and of the city, who, there in great numbers, mocked it. She herself performed with actors and actresses in Athalie and other plays, several times a week. All night parties with lotteries, games, feasts, illuminations, and fireworks--in one word, parties and fantasies, of all sorts, and every day. She was swimming in the joy of her new greatness; and redoubled her extravagance…” This was 1714, and the party was in full swing.
Beside Nicolas de Malézieu, already mentioned, the ring leaders of the festivities were the Abbé Charles – Claude Genest (1639 – 1719), the Abbé Guillaume Amfrye de Chaulieu (1639-1720), called the “Anacréon du temple”, François-Joseph de Beaupoil, Marquis de Saint-Aulaire (1643-1742), called by the Duchesses “Apollon” or “mon berger”, Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, Comte d'Avaux (1661-1723), first President of the Parliament of Paris, Joseph La Grande-Chancel (1677-1758) and Philippe Néricault-Destouches (1680-1754). A great number of illustrious figures who also attended these evenings should be mentioned: from the Duc de La Force to the Duchesse de Nevers, from the President Hénault to the Duchesse de Brassac, as well as Fontenelle, Montesquieu, Houdar de la Motte, Jean-Baptiste Rousseau and Voltaire already mentioned.
Composing and directing the music of the Duchesse were Jean – Joseph Mouret (1682 – 1738), Nicolas Bernier (1664 – 1734), Louis Marchand (1669 – 1732), François Colin Blamont (1690 – 1760) and Thomas – Louis Bourgeois (1676 – 1750).
François de Troy, Painter of the Duc and Duchesse du Maine
Already attached to the legitimized princes of France through their mother, the Marquise de Montespan, François de Troy was naturally sought after by the Duc du Maine when he hoped to give added luster to the court of Sceaux. It started off with individual portraits: one of the Duc himself, in 1692 (previously in Dresden, destroyed but known through a workshop version, bust length, in the Museé de l'Île-de-France), another of 1693 (known through a print of Pierre Drevet) and yet another of 1715 (where he was portrayed as Grand Maître de l’Artillerie, a title with which Louis XIV had honored him with in 1694; today in the Museé de l'Île-de-France). For the Duchesse, of whom portraits are extremely rare, de Troy created an image of a woman curious about astronomical science, in conversation with Nicolas de Malézieu, who appears to enumerate for her a list of constellations. The Astronomy Lesson of the Duchesse du Maine, painted in circa 1705-1710, was acquired by the Château de Sceaux a few years ago (fig. 1). The intimate character of this representation and the freedom of the exchange between Malézieu – mocked by the Abbé Genest, shown at the door – and the Duchesse fully reveal the studious, but also festive atmosphere, which reigned at the court of Sceaux. Painted in a harmonious palette of warm colors in thick impasto, and with a soft brush, the scene takes place in a vestibule, at the entrance of a library shown in perspective, where some of the 3,000 volumes amassed by the sitter’s husband, are visible.
De Troy also painted the elder son of the Duc and the Duchesse du Maine, Louis Auguste II de Bourbon, Prince de Dombes, circa 1712 – 1713 (Versailles, Museé National de Château) as well as many members of the court of Sceaux : Nicolas de Malézieu (circa 1710, known through a print of Gérard Edelinck); as well as his son, also named Nicolas, the Bishop of Lavur (1713, Mâcon, Musée des Ursulines engraved by Simon Thomassin), the Abbé Chaulieu (engraved by François Hubert) and the Comte d’Avaux (1713, engraved by Simon Thomassin). Testament to the strong ties that united de Troy to the court of Sceaux, the artist exhibited a portrait of the Duc du Maine, a portrait du Prince de Dombes, one of Malézieu and, of course, this large picture of The Feast of Dido and Aeneas at the Salon of 1704.
The Feast of Dido and Aeneas
The status of this painting, in the panorama of French painting at the end of the reign of Louis the XIV, is completely unique. Never had a portraitist united in a single painting such a considerable number of models all depicted with the greatest care, with their own physiognomy. At this level of high society no painter would have risked mixing up in a crowd a Princess of Royal Blood and a lady’s companion or a simple servant. When Nocret painted The Family of Louis XIV in Mythological Guise, 1670, (Versailles, Museé National de Château), he restricted himself to the depiction of close relatives of the King, about fifteen figures of the royal blood, clearly singularized in a simple and readable space and not leaving any room for any outsider. Instead de Troy doesn’t set himself any limits in the description of the courtiers of Sceaux and mixes all the figures in a general arrangement from which the Duc and Duchesse are clearly set apart, but only so much that their princely rank is symbolized by no other means than a mythological pretext. It is therefore necessary that the viewer know the story of the meeting of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, a Trojan prince, for each sitter in the painting to be put in their proper social position.
The episode is taken from Virgil’s Aeneid (I, 657 – 722): Aeneas, son of Venus and the mortal Anchises, had fled a burning Troy, sailed away and washed ashore with his companions on the coast of Carthage. Favored by his mother, the goddess of love, during his wanderings, Aeneas received a warm welcome in Carthage by its queen, Dido, whom Venus had caused to fall in love with him. In order to provoke this turn of events, Venus had disguised Ascanius, son of Aeneas, as Cupid and when the boy embraced Dido she fell immediately under the charms of the Aeneas. The lovers spent a long winter together living carefree in their love, until Mercury, sent by Jupiter, came and ordered Aeneas to set sail. Just as the ships of the Trojan fleet left the harbor of Carthage, Dido ordered a pyre to be built in the courtyard of her palace and out of despair she burnt herself to death.
It is obviously not this tragic ending that led the Duc and Duchesse to choose this episode. The divine and royal origins of Aeneas and Dido respectively (he was the son of a goddess, she was the daughter of Belus, king of Tyre), the celebration of their love and their taste for extravagant entertainment were sufficient reasons. The foundation of Carthage by Dido, comparable perhaps to the creation of the court of Sceaux by the Duchesse, and similarly the military career–in truth quite mediocre- of the Duc du Maine, who was always on the eve of departure on some campaign (and who had been Général des Galères since 1688), probably added a more immediate meaning to this representation.
The great difficulty here is to identify all the portraits represented, along with the roles assigned to them by the artist (see figure 2). At the center of the composition, wearing a plumed helmet, a golden cuirass and a long blue cloak, the Duc du Maine (1) plays the role of the Trojan prince, and addresses the Duchesse, Queen of Carthage (2), laying down on a day bed, on the right of the composition. Dido appears surprised, and literally delighted by the sight of Ascanius (3), son of Aeneas, in the guise of Cupid, who enters on the left. This young boy is the Prince de Dombes, Louis-Auguste II de Bourbon (1700-1755), fourth child of the Duc and Duchesse du Maine but the first to survive. In the foreground, on the right, a wet-nurse takes care of Louis-Charles de Bourbon, Comte d'Eu (1701-1775) (4) and of the very young Duc d'Aumale (1704-1708) (5), last child of the princely couple. The features of the officer, holding Ascanius by the arm, are totally recognizable: they are those of Nicolas de Malézieu (6), who had the role of Master of Ceremonies for the Duchesse. The Abbé Genest, famous for his long nose, is possibly identifable as the figure slightly behind Malézieu (7), who points to the son of Aeneas.
We wouldn’t be able to be as accurate about this painting without the very old description of it from Claude-Marin Saugrain, who saw the painting in the Palais de Tuileries (1716), at the time when the Duc du Maine was living there as a tutor to Louis XV:
“Coming into the room, you will pass into a grand cabinet which is next to it… One could see, here in front, a remarkable thing; it is a painting of approximately six feet in height and of a quarter wider, which represents the Duc and Duchesse du Maine, under the guise of Aeneas and Dido, in the feast Virgil describes; The whole family, and most of their friends, officers and servants of the Prince, are represented as in nature, under the guise of Trojans and Carthaginians of one and the other sex [respectively]. The Prince de Dombes, at the time a child, is presented to Dido (or the Duchesse du Maine) in the guise of Ascanius, by M. Malézieu, Chancelier de Dombes, dressed in Greek fashion, with a helmet on his head, as the tutor of Ascanius. The Comte d’Eu and the late Duc d’Aumale are in the hands of their nurses [sic], also painted from life, to the left of Dido, and behind this heroine of the painting, are Madame de Malézieu and Madame de Chambonas, her the attendants of Dido; the Duchesse d’Estrées, also dressed in the antique fashion, is on her side, the first from her [right] shoulder, in order to see the assembly; the Maréchale de Villars is placed directly behind her, holding in one hand the edge of her veil in order to see the bearers of gifts and dishes better, of whom nearly all are the servants of the Duc and Duchesse du Maine: finally, in the distance, there is a music concert; the first President de Mesmes is listening and is placed amongst the musicians. The subject comprises a painting of more than fifty figures, many of which are portraits as I’ve already mentioned: the main figures are nearly two feet high[;] the painter, who is the skillful de Troy, painted himself in the guise of a drafstman.”
Françoise Faudel (1650-1741) wife of Nicolas de Malézieu, and tutor of the children of the Duc and the Duchesse du Maine, is shown leaning against the bedside of her mistress (9). At her side, with her hand put to her breast, is Marie-Charlotte de Fontanges d'Auberoque, Comtesse de Chambonas (8), since 1702 the maid of honor to the Duchesse, to whom she stayed faithful, even in her worst moments of disgrace. Her husband, Henri-Joseph de La Garde, Comte de Chambonas, Lieutenant Captain of the French Guards, was to be named first gentleman of the chamber of the Duc du Maine in 1706. Lucie-Félicité de Noailles (11), daughter of the very famous Maréchal de France, married Victor-Marie Comte d'Estrées, himself becoming Maréchal de France (1703), and later made a duke (1723). The theatrical talents of the Comtesse d’Estrées—very valued at the court of Sceaux—were noted, slightly before, in 1702, by the Princess Palatine, at the time of an entertainment given at the home of Madame de Maintenon; the Duc de Berry had acted there with the young Comte de Noailles and the Duchesse de Bourgogne with the Comtesse [d’Estrées] who played “fort bien”. Finally, Jeanne-Angélique Roque de Varengeville (10) married, on the 1st of February, 1702 Louis-Hector, Marquis de Villars, who became Maréchal de France in October of that same year.
The print of Thomassin, mentioned earlier, allows us to identify with certainty Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, Comte d’Avaux (12), as the head that emerges among the musicians. He would become the Premier Président of the Parliament of Paris in 1712 and was nastily taunted by Saint-Simon, who, while recalling his participation in the parties at Sceaux, also appears to describe this painting, and declared that Avaux “devoted himself, up until his last indecency, to please all the fantasies of Madame du Maine. He introduced, there [at the court], his brother the Chevalier; they were at every party at Sceaux, all the nuits blanches. The Chevalier wasn’t ashamed to play in comedies, nor the President to play an entertainer, behind closed doors with a group of about twenty people. Risking everything, [the Comte] let himself be painted in fancy dress in a history painting standing beside a suisse en livrée (a uniformed attendant), and gave himself up to the “gentillesses” of the Sceaux valets. Because of this behavior, he was ridiculed by everyone, and not well regarded in parliament. Even if we don’t see the suisse en livrée next to the Comte (was it Saint-Simon’s imagination?), nonetheless it seems certain that the memoirist was referring to this painting by François de Troy.
Proud of his painting, the artist represented himself (13), at the foot of the monumental column which is wrapped in drapery. A full member of the court of Sceaux, de Troy is also dressed in antique costume, holding a portfolio of drawings and a porte-mine, and is looking at the viewer with an accomplice’s gaze. The painter must have done quite a few drawings to prepare what was to become his masterpiece. At present, there are four drawings extant: the first one, a study for the three women visible behind the bed of the Duchesse (Galippe Sale, Amsterdam, 27-28 March 1923, lot 437, reproduced, as by Nicolas de Largillierre)(fig 3); the second, in private hands, is a very simple drawing for the figure of the Marquise de Villars lifting her veil; the third, is a preparation for two of figures behind the set table (present location unknown) (fig 4); finally, the fourth, is sheet of very strongly executed studies for the musicians in the gallery (anonymous sale, Geneva, Hôtel des Bergues, 24-30 November 1985, lot 148, reproduced).
The date of execution of this work must be 1704, a few weeks after the birth, in March of that year of the last of the three children represented in the painting. The picture was exhibited at the Salon du Louvre of the same year, which had taken place between the 12th of September and the 8th of November, thus suggesting the painting was executed between April and August of 1704.
In the absence of critical texts, it is unknown how the painting was received by the art-loving public. It must have, however, made an impact. Because, in addition to the testimony already mentioned by Saugrain, the Mercure de France of May 1730, reporting the death of François de Troy, wrote in very eloquent terms about it: “He joined, thereafter, the two talents of history painting and portraiture in several family paintings of an unparalleled taste, among which we have to mention the one painted for the Duc du Maine. [It was] a work of astonishing composition due to the staggering amount of figures he included in it. It represented the meal which Dido presented to Aeneas during which this hero told her of his adventures. All the figures are of the most accurate resemblance, all placed and adjusted with the greatest grace and decency and in accordance their different ranks and characters. [This is] a painting that one can call the ultimate endeavor in painting and a masterpiece of art.”
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale