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Jean Antoine Théodore Giroust (Bussy-St-Georges 1753-1817 Mitry-Mory)
Jean Antoine Théodore Giroust (Bussy-St-Georges 1753-1817 Mitry-Mory)

Mademoiselle d'Orléans Taking a Harp Lesson

Jean Antoine Théodore Giroust (Bussy-St-Georges 1753-1817 Mitry-Mory)
Mademoiselle d'Orléans Taking a Harp Lesson
oil on canvas
99 x 72¾ in. (250 x 185 cm.)
Louis Philippe Joseph de Bourbon, Duc d'Orléans (1747-1793), Palais Royal, Paris;
presumably by inheritance to his son,
Louis Philippe de Bourbon Orléans (1773-1850), reigned as Louis-Phillippe Ier, King of
France (1830-1848); by descent to his son,
Louis-Charles-Philippe-Raphaël de Bourbon Orléans, Duc de Nemours (1814-1896); by descent to his son,
Ferdinand-Philippe-Marie de Bourbon Orléans, Duc d’Alençon (1844-1910); by descent to his son,
Philippe-Emmanuel-Maximilien-Marie-Eudes de Bourbon Orléans, Duc de Vendôme
(1872-1931), Wimbledon, Surrey; (†) sale, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, December 11, 1937, lot 124, as “École de Louis David”, pl. VIII, where acquired by
Baron Robert Gendebien, Brussels; and by inheritance.
Anonymous sale; Monaco, Christie’s, June 16, 1989, lot 57.
[P. Chéry], Explication et critique impartiale de toutes les peintures, sculptures,
gravures, dessins, etc. exposés au Louvre, Paris, 1791, p. 5.
La Béquille de Voltaire au Salon, première promenade..., Paris, 1791, p. 5.
Lettres analitiques, critiques et philosophiques sur les tableaux du Sallon, Paris, 1791,
pp. 26-27.
Salon de peinture, Paris, 1791, p. 13.
Lettre de l'Inconstant sur les tableaux exposés au Salon, Paris, 1791, p. 511.
Abbé de Fontenay, “Observations tirées du Journal Général de France,” 1791.
(Collection Deloynes, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, XVII, pièce 450, mspp.
J. Vatout, Notice historique sur les tableaux de la galerie de Son Altesse Royale
Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans, III, Paris, 1826, n.p., no. 260 (5).
E. Soulié, Notice du Musée National de Versailles (2nd ed.), Paris, 1861, III, p. 392,
cited under no. 4531.
E.S., Antoine Giroust, peintre d'histoire de l'ancienne Académie, étude biographique,
Paris, 1888, p. 50 (author incorrectly presumes that Giroust's original was destroyed
at the Palais Royal during the Revolution of 1848).
P. Dorbec, “Les Influences de la peinture anglaise sur le portrait en France (1750-
1850),” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 4e pér., X, No. 674, August 1913, pp. 90-92.
P. Bautier, “Madame de Genlis et les princes d'Orléans,” Apollo: Chronique des Beaux-
Arts, no. 24, August-September 1943, pp. 11-14.
A.P. de Mirimonde, “Musiciens isolés et portraits de l'école francaise du XVIIIe siècle
dans les collections nationales,” La Revue du Louvre, XVII, no. 2, 1967, pp. 85-86.
Paris, Archives Nationales, Hôtel de Rohan, Louis-Philippe; l’homme et le roi 1773-
1850, 1974-1975, pp. 36-37, under no. 60.
A.P. de Mirimonde, L'Iconographie musicale sous les rois Bourbons, la musique dans
les arts plastiques (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles), Paris, 1977, II, pp. 42-43.
C. Constans, Musée national du château de Versailles: catalogue des peintures, Paris,
1980, p. 95, under no. 3255.
P. Arizzoli-Clémentel, “Les Arts du décor,” in Aux Armes & aux Arts!: les arts de la
Révolution 1789-1799, Paris, 1988, pp. 302-303; 311, note 135.
J.-F. Heim, C. Béraud and P. Heim, Les Salons de peintures de la Révolution française,
1789-1799, Paris, 1989, pp. 37-38, 229.
J. Baillio, “De Voltaire à Bonaparte: révolution et réaction,” L'Oeil, No. 412, November
1989, p. 33, fig. 11.
C. Constans, Musée national du château de Versailles: les peintures, Paris, 1995, II, p.
634, under no. 3576.
P. Sanchez, Dictionnaire des artistes exposant dans les Salons des XVII et XVIIIEME
siècles à Paris et en province, 1673-1800, Dijon, 2004, II, p. 760.
H. Wine, “A Test for Connoisseurs [review of Paris exhibition, cited below],” Apollo,
CLXIII, no. 527, January 2006, p. 75 and note 2.
V. Di Giuseppe Di Paolo, “Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust (1753-1817), peintre
d’histoire et portraiture,” Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français, 2009, pp.
223-225; 231, note 62, fig. 13.
Paris, Salon, 1791, no. 34 (handbook of the Académie Royale); no. 16 (handbook of
the Assemblée Nationale)
New York, Wildenstein, The Winds of Revolution, 14 November
1989-19 January 1990, pp. 9, 61, 65, 70, no. 54 (catalogue by J. Baillio).
New York, Wildenstein, The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier: A
Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein’s Presence in New York, 26 October 2005-
6 January 2006, pp. 323-24, 382, no. 144.

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Lot Essay

Giroust’s large and elegant conversation piece à l’anglaise is a masterpiece of portraiture at the start of the French Revolution. It depicts the daughter of Louise Philippe Joseph de Bourbon, Duc d’Orléans (1747-1793), the future ‘Philippe Égalité’, taking a music lesson from her governess Madame de Genlis, while her English companion, Mademoiselle Paméla, looks on. The portrait was undoubtedly painted just prior to its exhibition in September 1791 at the newly democratized Salon, where its presence was far from fortuitous. The political atmosphere in Paris at the time was so charged against the monarchy – two months previously, Louis XVI and his family had been caught trying to escape the country and were forcibly brought back to Paris – that the ambitious Orléans, by then a prominent member of the Jacobin party, saw an opportunity to have himself declared regent. With this goal in mind, his propaganda strategists at the Palais Royal availed themselves of all the media, including the arts, to promote his cause.

Antoine Giroust had been a full member of the Académie since 1789 and, like Jacques-Louis David, was an outspoken critic of its membership’s conservative policies. By 1791 he had become official painter to the Orléans court and was even attached to the Duc’s household. In his professional career he had followed a traditional course as a pupil of Joseph Marie Vien in Paris, and he later acquired a reputation as a history painter during his student years in Rome. He was adept at conveying moral and political meaning through his compositions.

The fourteen-year-old Eugene Louise Adelaïde de Bourbon Orléans (1777-1847), who was the daughter of the Duc d’Orléans and Louise Marie Adelaide de Bourbon Penthièvre, herself descended from Louis XIV by his legitimized bastard son, the Comte de Toulouse, and was heiress to the largest private fortune in France. She had a twin sister who died in 1782, as well as three brothers, the oldest of whom later ruled France as King Louis-Philippe. Unconventionally, the rearing of the Orléans children had been entrusted to a woman, the talented aristocrat, Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin (1746-1830), wife of the military chief of staff, Charles Bruslart, Comte de Genlis, and Marquis de Sillery (1737-1793). From her position as Duchesse d’Orléans’s lady-in-waiting, Madame de Genlis had been for a time the Duc’s mistress and henceforth wielded considerable influence.

A tireless novelist, Madame de Genlis was also a brilliant and innovative teacher. She and her assistants provided their princely charges with an encyclopedic education, instructing them in modern and classical languages, history, geography, politics, mathematics, sciences and mechanical arts, drawing and music. Orléans was famously anglophile and to please him, in 1780, Madame de Genlis had brought to France as a companion for his offspring, a dark-haired girl born four years earlier in Newfoundland, who grew to be the handsome young woman standing at left in Giroust’s painting. She was the illegitimate daughter of an English gentleman, William de Birxey, and a certain Mary Sims. Her true name appears to have been Anne Stephanie Caroline Sims, but her new guardians chose to call her “Paméla” in honor of the heroine of Richardson’s novel of the same name. She grew up with Mademoiselle d’Orléans and Madame de Genlis’s children in a pavilion on the grounds of the Couvent des Dames de Bellechasse. A beautiful adolescent, she became a main attraction in the Orléans-Genlis political salon.

Madame de Genlis, depicted playing the harp in Giroust’s painting was, by all accounts, a virtuoso on the instrument. Her dedication to it was much celebrated; she was said to have practiced the harp for eight or nine hours a day, an image which raised the hackles of her (many) enemies, such as the Baronne d’Oberkirch, who proclaimed: “an immensely ridiculous feature of this unfeminine woman is her harp. She carries it about everywhere, talks about it when she is without it, she with strum on a crust of bread and goes at it with a string.”

Giroust’s painting is set in a room decorated with Neoclassical moldings and exquisite furniture. (Madame de Genlis’s chair is certainly from Georges Jacob’s menuiserie.) It is a temple of reason and civic virtue over which presides a bronze statue of a warlike Minerva wearing a Phrygian bonnet and holding a pike, already regarded as symbols of the Revolution. Madame de Genlis and her pupil are playing a duet on a pair of elaborately carved harps with gilt-bronze mountings, while the eighteen-year-old Paméla, in Grecian profile, turns the pages of a score on the music stand.

Giroust’s portrait is a veritable conspectus of elegant women’s fashion of the early 1790s. Madame de Genlis is attired in a gray and gold-striped day dress complemented by a gauze fichu, and on her head she wears a leghorn adorned with a ribbons and a large bow. Mademoiselle d’Orléans wears a plumed coiffure and an ivory-white satin wrapper with gold fringing, while Paméla, costumed à l’antique, has ribbons in her lightly powdered curls and wears a loose-fitting muslin sheath, belted at the waist with a cashmere shawl knotted at the back. In the lower right corner a carefully arranged still life of drawing paper, portfolio, and chalk holder on a velvet footstool indicate that an art lesson is about to begin. Beyond the open door and archway is a view of a park, probably that of the Château de Saint-Leu, where the Duc d’Orléans had a model farm built for his children.

In a publicity stunt, Madame de Genlis visited the Salon where Giroust’s portrait was on exhibition, accompanied by Mademoiselle d’Orléans and Paméla, and all three sporting Phrygian bonnets. A republican critic remarked: “Among the portraits, I noticed that of Madamoiselle d’Orléans. She is represented in the foreground of the painting playing a harp. Mademoiselle Paméla, dressed like a Greek maiden, opens the part books. Madame Sillery accompanies her…. When all three arrived in front of the painting, the portrait was forsaken, and people had eyes only for the subjects themselves. They were wearing Liberty bonnets, which are becoming even on the heads of the enemies of our liberties.”

All three of Giroust’s sitters emigrated in 1792. The same year, at Tournai, Paméla married the famous Irish patriot Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798), by whom she would have three children. After his death, she wed a Mr. Pitcairn, the American consul at Hamburg, but after the birth of a child they separated. In 1812, she went back to France, traveling from place to place and living on an annuity provided by Louis-Philippe, who refused to meet with her. She died destitute in Paris in November 1831. Madame de Genlis survived by her wits in various parts of Germany until she was able to return to France in 1800. Bonaparte pensioned her and gave her lodgings at the Arsenal, where she continued to write. Madamoiselle d’Orléans led a peripatetic existence in Switzerland, Germany, Spain, England and Italy until the Bourbon Restoration, when she was allowed to return to France. During the July Monarchy, she was the most trusted confidant of her brother, King Louis-Philippe. She died at the Tuileries Palace shortly before he fell from power.

In 1842, Louis-Philippe commissioned Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844) to paint a copy of the present painting (then in the French King’s collection) for the historical gallery at Versailles, where it remains.

Our thanks to Joseph Baillio for permitting us to reprint an edited version of his original entry for this lot.

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