Prince Ferdinand-Philippe-Louis-Charles-Henri d’Orléans (3 September 1810-13 July 1842) was the eldest son of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, duc d’Orléans and future King Louis-Philippe I, and Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily. Born in 1810 in the Royal Palace of Palermo, where his parents were exiled, he was heir to the House of Orléans, the cadet branch of the House of Bourbon. He first visited France at the age of four during the First Restoration, settling there permanently in 1817. Educated in France, he joined the army at an early age and was made colonel by Charles X in September 1824. In 1830, he led his regiment in support of the uprising in Paris, and watched in satisfaction as Charles X (his uncle) abdicated and his father accepted the French crown. With his father’s ascension, Ferdinand-Philippe received the titles of duc d’Orléans and Prince Royal, heir apparent to the throne. Throughout the 1830s, Ferdinand-Philippe distinguished himself in a series of military campaigns in Flanders and Algeria, and his brilliant military career increased his public popularity and prestige.
Concerned with the stability of the July Monarchy and worried about issues of succession, the king determined that his eldest son marry and produce an heir. A lengthy search was made for an appropriate – and politically advantageous – match; after numerous unsatisfactory or thwarted efforts to arrange a strategic alliance for Ferdinand-Philippe, the choice finally came to rest on Duchess Hélène-Luise-Elisabeth of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1814-1858), daughter of the late prince Frederick Louis, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his wife Princess Caroline Louise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The marriage took place on 30 May 1837 at the Château de Fontainebleau, since the Archbishop of Paris had denounced Hélène’s Protestant faith and forbade the wedding from being consecrated in Nôtre Dame de Paris. Despite Ferdinand-Philippe’s initial lack of enthusiasm for his less than glamorous bride, the marriage would prove happy and produced two children: Prince Philippe, comte de Paris and Prince Royale (1838-1894), and Prince Robert, duc de Chartres (1840-1910).
Both a courageous military man and an astute politician of liberal bent, Ferdinand-Philippe was also an enthusiastic lover of the arts and an active patron. Every year he spent up to 150,000 francs from his royal allowance on art and cultural patronage, and he filled his apartments at the Tuileries Palace with medieval and Renaissance objects, Chinese and Japanese porcelains, 18th-century French furniture and modern paintings. He himself had studied painting with Ary Scheffer and was an avid collector of contemporary canvases by Delacroix, Decamps, Delaroche and Lami, as well as Barbizon landscapes by Corot, Rousseau and Paul Huet. But he was especially drawn to the art of Ingres, from whom the twenty-three year old prince commissioned Antiochus and Stratonice (Musée Condé, Chantilly) in 1833, shortly before the artist’s departure for Rome. It took Ingres six long years to fulfill the commission, but Ferdinand-Philippe was delighted with the painting when it was finally delivered to him in Paris in May 1840. The duke wrote to Ingres to “express my admiration for a work so complete, and my joy to have before my eyes a picture of which the French School will be so justly proud.” So pleased was he with the Stratonice that he resolved to commission Ingres to paint his portrait, eliciting the artist’s usual complaints to his friends about having to undertake the genre in which he was so accomplished, but which took him away from his preferred History painting: “…another portrait! You know how far removed I am at present from this genre of painting; but in the end I will do everything for this gracious person.” Ingres returned to Paris in May 1841 and the Journal des artistes reported on 21 November 1841 that he had begun work on the portrait. By December, the duke had posed for seven sessions.
From the beginning, Ferdinand-Philippe was to be dressed in the uniform of an army lieutenant general wearing his decorations and sword and holding a bicorne. Ingres asked that his sitter replace his brass buttons with fabric buttons, which would be more chic, amusing the duke with his ignorance of military regulations. (The request was rebuffed with a laugh.) A series of preparatory drawings – some surviving (Musée Ingres, Montauban), others lost and known through photographs – demonstrates that the duke’s pose was quickly settled upon. In the principal version of the portrait (fig. 1 Louvre, Paris), the duke is presented at three-quarters length, in a civilian setting, standing in his salon at the Tuileries Palace. Despite its opulent setting and high level of finish, the portrait progressed quickly and it was completed and exhibited by Ingres in his studio in the spring of 1842, alongside the allegorical portrait of the composer Luigi Cherubini (1842; Louvre, Paris) and The Virgin with the Host (1841; State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow).
As Gary Tinterow has noted in the most thorough study of the painting and its replicas (1999), the reaction of the press and public was largely enthusiastic but fell along predictable lines – supporters of Ingres and the royal family admired the work; critics of the artist and ardent republicans expressed reservations. The critic Théophile Thoré, who was hostile to both the monarchy and the painter, called the figure of the duke “effeminate” and mocked his long chin, “soft gaze” and “beautiful soft hair, curled with care and apparently coming from the fingers of a capable coiffeur.” On the other hand, Charles Lenormant praised the painting in L’Artiste, writing: “…All the nuances of the moral conception of the portrait are supported and nourished by an imitation of nature that is faithful and full of charm. Never has unity of complexion been better captured; never has the brush reproduced with more intelligence and suppleness the delicacy of forms and the purity of lines; the modelling of the forehead surpasses everything.”
The portrait was delivered to the Tuileries on 6 May 1842. The duke’s secretary wrote to Ingres that same day “to say how much [the duke] congratulates himself on having his portrait from your hand. It will be not only a precious family monument but a work of art of national importance, which His Royal Highness will always regard with pleasure, even when the years have altered the resemblance.” Just over two months later, on 13 July 1842, Ferdinand-Philippe was killed in an accident, aged 32. While travelling in an open carriage from Paris to Neuilly, his horses bolted; the carriage overturned and as the duke jumped out, he broke his skull on the pavement, dying a few hours later. The displays of public grief for the dashing and popular heir to the throne whose life was cut shockingly short were unprecedented. Privately, his father was inconsolable, and Ingres – who wrote friends that the death “has torn my heart, to the point that I cry continuously…” – observed the king “sobbing on his throne” and declared that “neither Aeschylus nor Shakespeare ever drew a more terrible scene.” Queen Maria Amalia quickly commissioned a funerary monument to be erected on the site of her son’s accident and asked Ingres to provide designs for its stained-glass windows. A full-length version of the original portrait was ordered for the memorial chapel a week after the duke’s death (fig. 2). The first version of Ingres’s portrait was then traced by assistants and transferred to the canvas on which the replica would be executed, and Ingres made drawings for the feet and drapery that were original to the full-length copy; he was paid 10,000 francs on 23 July 1844.
The portrait of the duc d’Orléans acquired the status of a national icon and, in the years that followed, at least eighteen or nineteen replicas, with variations, were made in Ingres’s studio. According to his account books, five versions were executed by Ingres himself: in addition to the principal version of 1842 (Louvre); two autograph replicas are recorded the next year – one of which is the three-quarter length version with a landscape setting (fig 3; 1843; Versailles); and another two are recorded in 1844. The present oval, bust-length portrait of the duc d’Orléans – signed and dated 1844 -- is an especially beautiful work, both exquisitely preserved and painted with a creamy luminosity found in the artist’s finest autograph productions. This important rediscovery also has an unimpeachable provenance: the portrait was the personal property of the widow of the sitter and friend and patron of the artist, Hélène of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, duchesse d’Orléans, and has passed in an unbroken line of descent through her heirs to this day.
The painting was no doubt commissioned by the duchess in the early part of 1843, even if it was not signed and delivered until the next year. The royal archives conserve the order of payment, signed by the duchess, and received with the signature of the artist, for a “portrait of S.A.R. Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans commissioned by Madame la Duchess d’Orléans” and dated 2 August 1844. A payment of 1,500 francs – far more than Ingres charged for studio replicas – was authorized by M. de Boismilon, Secrétaire des Commandements, to Ingres on 13 August 1844, “in payment for a sketch, by this artist, of the late Monseigneur le duc d’Orléans” (Maison du Prince Royal, Mandat de Paiement, Archives de la Maison de France, no. 348). Tellingly, a letter of 1856 from the administrator of the Biens et Affaires de la Maison d’Orléans to Asseline, former secrétaire des commandements to the duchesse d’Orléans, suggests the original function of the present portrait. In the letter, the administrator reminds M. Asseline to ask Ingres “whatever has happened to the portrait of Mgr le Duc d’Orléans, that was in the Saint Ferdinand Chapel (…) and which in 1848 had been returned to him at his request. This portrait was the reproduction done in full length by M. Ingres of that of the bust-length portrait of the prince that belonged to Madame la duchesse d’Orléans” (Archives de la Maison de France, no. 341). In fact, the full-length portrait of the duke, which had been installed in the salon next to the chapel of Nôtre-Dame de la Compassion-Saint Ferdinand in Neuilly in 1844, had been removed for its protection during the Revolution of 1848 and – as this letter makes clear for the first time –returned to the artist. (It was given to Versailles sometime before 1878.) The letter also clarifies what M. de Boismilon meant when he authorized the payment of 1,500 francs to Ingres for the present portrait and referred to it as “a sketch”: in fact, this small oval portrait had served as the modello for the head of the duke as he appears in the famous full-length made for the duke’s memorial chapel completed in the same year.
After Louis-Philippe was deposed and the Orléans regime fell in 1848, the duchess went into exile, first in Germany, where she lived in the castle of her mother in Eisenach, then in Great Britain, dying nearly sixteen years after her husband, in Richmond, Surrey on 18 May 1858. Her testamentary will records two paintings in her estate by Ingres: the first, the original three-quarter length masterpiece today in the Louvre, she bequeathed to her eldest son, the comte de Paris; the second, less important painting – the present portrait of the duc d’Orléans – she left to her second son, the duc d’Chartres (1840-1910). The painting had followed her into exile and hung in the Grand Salon of Eisenach Castle, where it appears in a watercolor dated 1859 by the duc d’Orléans youngest brother, the prince de Joinville.