An identical miniature mounted on a gold box was successively in the collections of Prince Demidoff and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, sold Sotheby's, London, 22 November 1956, lot 52. Other miniatures by this unidentified but highly talented artist are in the Louvre (mounted on a gold box of 1766/1767 by Charles-Barnabé Sageret, illustrated in S. Grandjean, Les tabatières du musée du Louvre, Paris, 1981, no. 189), in the Victoria and Albert Museum (see C. Truman, French Gold Boxes, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1977, front cover illustration) and in the Portland Art Museum, Oregon.
Marie-Jeanne Bécu, daughter of a dressmaker in Vaucouleurs, became a shopgirl in Paris and soon gained popularity in the demi-monde as Jean du Barry's mistress. Presented at court in 1768, she caught the fancy of the ageing king Louis XV who married her off to Jean du Barry's brother comte Guillaume du Barry, in order to qualify her as his official court mistress. She wielded considerable influence on the king, often with disastrous political consequences such as the downfall of finance minister Choiseul and the rise of the triumvirate of her favorites Maupeou, d'Aiguillon and Terray. An important patron of the arts and of the jewellery trade, she squandered vast sums of state money. On the king's death in 1774, she was immediately banished from court by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette. At the French Revolution, she emigrated to London but returned to Paris in order to retrieve her hidden jewels and was caught by the Revolutionaries, tried and guillotined in 1793. For a miniature of one of her numerous lovers, the ill-fated Duc de Brissac, see lot 139.