In 1872, Eugénie Bonaparte, later Princesse de la Moskowa, was born in Italy as the youngest daughter of Napoléon Charles Bonaparte, 5th Prince of Canino and Princess Maria Cristina Ruspoli. As such, she was the granddaughter of Charles Bonaparte (1803-1857), who had married his cousin Zénaïde Bonaparte (1801-1854) in 1822 in Brussels. Charles’s father, Lucien Bonaparte, and Zénaïde s father, Joseph Bonaparte, were both brothers of Napoléon I, Emperor of the French, meaning their grandparents were Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino. Portrait miniatures set into snuff boxes, intended as tokens of family affection and as a private memory, were often passed down through generations, such as this example with the portrait of Madame Mère de l'Empereur, owned by her great-great-great granddaughter Eugénie Bonaparte. Eugénie had received the title Princesse de la Moskowa in 1898 through marriage with Léon Napoléon Ney, 4th Prince de La Moskowa. This victory title had been created by Napoléon I for the Marshal Ney after the Battle of Borodino, which was fought during the French invasion of Russia on 7 September 1812 and was recorded as the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars.
Malmaison 2006, Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767–1855) portraitiste de l’Europe, Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau, 2006
In this miniature Isabey has faithfully replicated the Gérard portrait save in editing the pearl earrings and necklace, a modification fitting for a miniature intended for private contemplation rather than public display. It was also more in keeping with her identity as Madame Mère - as she was generally known - rather than her formal title ‘Son Altesse Impériale, Madame Mère de l’Empereur’, which was conferred on her in 1805. Although showered with luxury by Napoléon, she, unlike most of her children, remained unchanged by it, preferring to live quietly and modestly. Having endured severe financial difficulties after the early death of her husband Carlo Buonaparte (see the previous lot), she was well aware of the fickleness of fortune. Perhaps with some sense of foreboding about the fate of the Empire she commented ‘Pourvu que ça dure!’ (‘Let’s hope it lasts!’). The mounting of this miniature in a simple tortoiseshell snuff box is in keeping with the sitter’s style and also the private taste of her son Napoléon who had two plain tortoiseshell snuff boxes set with miniatures of his mother among the 33 snuff boxes which accompanied him to St Helena.
Another version of the portrait by Isabey, of almost identical size (5.8 x 4.6 cm), set in pearl and gold necklace, is in the collection of the Châteaux de Malmaison de Bois-Préau (MM 2004.10.1, see Malmaison 2006, cat. no. 70).
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