Marguerite-Françoise-Bernard de Reims, Madame Dupleix de Bacquencourt was born in Nancy on 11 June 1719, daughter of Antoine-Bernard de Reims, Baron of the Holy Roman Empire and Chamberlain to Duke Leopold of Lorraine. Her mother was Elisabeth-Marthe-Christine de Lenoncourt, who had been canoness of the Abbey of Remiremont. Prior to her marriage, Marguerite-Françoise was herself briefly canoness of the Abbey of Lons-le-Saunier. On her 20th birthday, 11 June 1739, she became the second wife of an immensely wealthy fermier-général twenty-three years her senior: Charles-Claude-Ange Dupleix (1696-1750), a member of Louis XV's financial advisory council who was ennobled by the king in 1734, held title over numerous landed estates, among them Bacquencourt, Perle, Cigne, Bussy, Pernant and Montrouge. (Dupleix's portrait had been painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1738; Private Collection.) To distinguish himself from his younger and more famous brother, the colonial administrator Joseph-François Dupleix, he became known as Dupleix de Bacquencourt. (Brief accounts of his life and career are to be found in R. d'Amat, et al., Dictionnaire de biographie française, 1968, Paris, LXVII, p. 390 and H. Thirion, La Vie privée des financiers au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1895, pp. 74-5.) Madame Dupleix de Bacquencourt died prematurely on 25 November 1742, the very year this portrait was painted, aged 23 years old. She left two sons, Pierre-François-Denis Dupleix de Perle and Marc-Antoine-Charles Dupleix de Pernant. Ironically, seven years earlier, in 1735, Charles-Claude-Ange Dupleix de Bacquencourt had commissioned Nattier to paint a portrait of his first wife as a Vestal, the 26 year-old Jeanne-Henriette de Lalleu (1709-1736), who also died shortly after it was completed (Private Collection; see Salmon, no. 16).
In the present work, Madame Dupleix is dressed in a creamy white silk robe, with strings of pearls around her upper arms and about her waist. She holds a garland of flowers which associates her with the Roman goddess of flowers, Flora. This was a favourite guise in which Nattier might paint his sitters: he had painted the young Marquise d'Antin (Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André) in 1738 wearing similar fanciful attire and a decade later would repeat Madame Dupleix's pose and costume with little variation in his portrait of Madame de La Porte (Lisbon, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian).
Nattier had been elected to the Académie in 1718 as a history painter - his diploma piece is Perseus Changing Phineas to Stone in Tours - but he soon turned to the practice of portraiture. His particular innovation lay in employing the traditional formula of the allegorical or mythological portrait to portray princesses and noblewomen in poses and costumes hitherto reserved for actresses: offering them the vicarious pleasures of dressing up - or down, as it were - and playing a role. As evident in the present lot, no artist of his time was better able to convey the delicacy and charm of feminine beauty without sacrificing the grandeur and physical presence required in portraits of great ladies. In Madame Dupleix, Nattier found an ideal sitter: young, fresh-faced and genuinely lovely looking, with no need for 'improvement' on her considerable charms, and apparently delighted to be sitting for the portrait, which exudes contentment and good humour. She seems as unspoiled as the blossoms she holds and as natural as the landscape she inhabits, despite the artifice of her pose and opulence of her costume. Nattier's gift for evoking an authentic likeness while elevating his sitter to the airy realm of the deities of ancient mythology was widely celebrated. As his eldest daughter would write: 'He utilized these two great genres so well in his work that the enlightened public often did not know what to admire most in him: the history painter or the portraitist.'
A bust-length copy of the present painting is known only from a photograph. A half-length pastiche, probably dating from the 19th century, was sold at Christie's, Glasgow, 25 April 1985, lot 52. Jacques Aved also painted a portrait of our sitter, seated before her dressing table, and exhibited it in the Paris Salon of 1739 (Jerusalem, The Israel Museum).
The present lot is to be included in the Wildenstein Institute's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Nattier.