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Work Full-length portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Portrait en pied de la marquise de Pompadour

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Chabod Christine

This pastel portrait depicts one of the rare women to play a decisive role in the political, intellectual, and artistic life of the 18th century. First mistress and later friend of King Louis XV, she also aspired to be his counselor. Commissioned from the most famous and gifted pastelist of the period, Maurice-Quentin Delatour, this masterpiece sheds light on the intentions of the Marquise de Pompadour, created as it was throughout the evolving relationship of an exceptional couple.

A "program" work

The marquise is seated in a collector's cabinet decorated with blue-green paneling accented in gold. The sumptuousness of her clothing - a spectacular French-style dress in fashion around 1750 - shows a tendency to ostentation, while the absence of jewelry and the simplicity of her coiffure underscore the portrait's personal nature. She is shown as a protector of the arts, surrounded by attributes symbolizing literature, music, astronomy and engraving. Arranged on a table next to her in a splendid still life are Guarini's Pastor Fido, the Encyclopédie, Montesquieu's De l'esprit des lois, Voltaire's La Henriade, a globe, and Le Traité des pierres gravées by Pierre-Jean Mariette. Lastly, there is an engraving by the Count de Caylus, which, however, Delatour has signed "Pompadour sculpsit": an allusion to the marquise's fondness for engraving and her own creations in this art form. The presence of references to the arts and literature should be read here as an educational program. Still in love with Louis XV, she hoped to bring about in him a transformation through exposure to the extraordinary intellectual, moral, and philosophical developments which animated Paris at that time but which failed to reach the court, frozen as it was in principles and codes of etiquette.
It is certain that the king saw this portrait; but did he grasp the double meaning of the works the marquise selected? While what was said between the two friends will always remain a mystery, the king clearly did not implement the liberal program suggested by his mistress.

A difficult commission

The project for this portrait dates back to 1748 and its commission to 1749. In creating her portrait, Delatour knew that he would have to place his technical mastery and sense of psychological analysis in the service of the woman who dominated France. The artist and his subject already knew one another when the work was commissioned; they had met during the preparation of the pastel portrait of Louis XV, which was exhibited in the Salon of 1748 (Louvre, INV 2761). Despite this connection, the project met problems getting underway. Delatour tried with difficulty, resorting to diversions and alternating between legitimate excuses and bad faith, to comply with the marquise's shifting demands. There followed a long epistolary communication between Delatour and the Marquis de Marigny, who mediated on behalf of his sister in order to hasten the completion of a portrait that the artist seemed undecided about undertaking. It was completed, but didn't appear in the Salon until 1755.

A turning point in portraiture

Delatour knew how to satisfy the demands of his patron: create an image that would correspond to her role and ambitions. Using only pastel pencils delicately heightened with gouache, he succeeded in evoking, through this official portrait, an air of intimacy. The marquise is presented in her home, surrounded by familiar and meaningful objects. This work signals the end of the fashion in codified official portraits, giving way, thanks to Delatour, to depictions as psychologically accurate as they were charged with meaning.

Bibliography

Gallet Danielle, Madame de Pompadour ou le pouvoir féminin, Paris, Éditions Fayard, 1985.Jones Colin, Salmon Xavier (sous la dir. de), Madame de Pompadour et les arts, Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et du Trianon, 14 février-19 mai 2002, Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, 14 juin-15 septembre 2002, Londres, National Gallery, 16 octobre 2002-12 janvier 2003, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002.Méjanès Jean-François, Maurice-Quentin Delatour. La Marquise de Pompadour, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, collection "Solo", n 19, 2002.

Technical description

  • Maurice-Quentin Delatour(Saint-Quentin, 1704-Saint-Quentin, 1788)

    Full-length portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour

    1748-55

  • Pastel on gray-blue paper with gouache highlights, the face is cut out and mounted on the paper

    H. 1.77 m; W. 1.3 m

  • Offered by Lespinasse d'Arlet to the Museum central des arts which refused it; sold publicly July 11, 1803; purchased by Paillet and sent to the Musée spécial de l'École française in Versailles, 1804

    3927614

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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