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Pierre-Joseph Redouté: “The Raphael of flowers”

Who was Pierre-Jospeh Redouté?

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
-Robert Burns, 1794

redoubteRobert Burns might compare his love to a beautiful rose, but when it comes to flowers of the Regency era, no painter could compare to Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759 –1840). A painter and botanist from the Southern Netherlands, known for his watercolours of roses, lilies and other flowers at Malmaison, he has been called “the Raphael of flowers”.

Redouté was an official court artist of Queen Marie Antoinette, and he continued painting through the French Revolution and Reign of Terror. Redouté survived the turbulent political upheaval to gain international recognition for his precise renderings of plants, which remain as fresh in the early 21st century as when first painted. He collaborated with the greatest botanists of his day and participated in nearly fifty publications depicting both the familiar flowers of the French court and plants from places as distant as Japan, America, South Africa, and Australia. He was painting during a period in botanical illustration (1798 – 1837) that is noted for the publication of outstanding folio editions with coloured plates. Redouté produced over 2,100 published plates depicting over 1,800 different species, many never rendered before. Today he is seen as an important heir to the tradition of the Flemish and Dutch flower painters Brueghel, Ruysch, van Huysum and de Heem.

Flowers by the artist (Rosa centifolia, anemone, and clematis)
Flowers by the artist (Rosa centifolia, anemone, and clematis)

Redouté was born July 10, 1759, in Saint-Hubert, in the present-day Belgian Province of Luxembourg. Both his father and grandfather were painters, and his elder brother, Antoine Ferdinand, was an interior decorator and scenery designer. He would never gain much in the way of formal education, instead leaving home at the age of 13 to earn his living as an itinerant painter, doing interior decoration, portraits and religious commissions. Eventually, in 1782, he made his way to Paris to join his brother in painting scenery for theaters.

In Paris, Redouté met the botanists Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle and René Desfontaines, who steered him towards botanical illustration, a rapidly growing discipline. L’Héritier became his instructor, teaching him to dissect flowers and portray their specific characteristics with precision. L’Heritier also introduced Redouté to members of the court at Versailles, following which Marie Antoinette became his patron. Redouté eventually received the title of Draughtsman and Painter to the Queen’s Cabinet.

botanical illustration of Lilium superbum
botanical illustration of Lilium superbum

Cheveau, a Parisian dealer, brought the young artist to the attention of the botanical artist Gerard van Spaendonck at the Jardin du Roi, which would become the Jardin des Plantes of the National Museum of Natural History in 1793, after the Revolution. Van Spaendonck became another of Redouté’s teachers, especially influencing his handling of watercolor.

Rosa moschata (musk rose)
Rosa moschata (musk rose)

In 1786, Redouté began to work at the National Museum of Natural History cataloguing the collections of flora and fauna and participating in botanical expeditions. In 1787, he left France to study plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew near London, returning the following year. In 1792 he was employed by the French Academy of Sciences. In 1798, Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, became his patron and, some years later, he became her official artist. In 1809, Redouté taught painting to Empress Marie-Louise of Austria.

Rosa_centifolia_foliacea_17

After Empress Joséphine’s death (1814), Redouté had some difficult years until he was appointed a master of draughtsmanship for the National Museum of Natural History in 1822. In 1824, he gave some drawing classes at the museum. Many of his pupils were aristocrats or royalty. He became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1825. Although particularly renowned for his botanical exploration of roses and lilies, he thereafter produced paintings purely for aesthetic value.

The fountain erected in honor of Pierre-Joseph Redouté in Saint-Hubert, Belgium
The fountain erected in honor of Pierre-Joseph Redouté in Saint-Hubert, Belgium

Redouté died suddenly on June 19 or 20, 1840, and was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery. A Brussels school bears his name: the Institut Redouté-Peiffer in Anderlecht.

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Madame Marie Tussaud

Anna Maria “Marie” Tussaud (née Grosholtz; 1 December 1761 – 16 April 1850) was a French born artist of German descent, who became known for her wax sculptures and Madame Tussauds, the wax museum that she founded in London.

Madame Tussaud's self portait in wax, aged 42.
Madame Tussaud “at the age of 42, when she left France for Great Britain”. Portrait study (1921) by John Theodore Tussaud.

Marie Tussaud was born 1 December 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Her father, Joseph Grosholtz, was killed in the Seven Years’ War just two months before Marie was born. Her mother, Anne-Marie Walder, took her to Bern where she worked as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius (1741–1794), a physician and wax sculptor who Marie would call her uncle. Curtius initially used his talent for wax modeling to illustrate anatomy. Later, he did portraits.

The oldest display is that of "Sleeping Beauty", Madame DuBarry.
The oldest waxwork on display is that of the “Sleeping Beauty”, Madame Du Barry.

Curtius moved to Paris in 1765 to establish a cabinet de portraits en cire (wax portrait exhibition). In that year, he made a waxwork of Louis XV’s last mistress, Madame du Barry, a cast that is the oldest work currently on display. A year later, Tussaud and her mother joined Curtius in Paris. The first exhibition of Curtius’ waxworks was shown in 1770 and attracted a large crowd. In 1776, the exhibition was moved to the Palais Royal and, in 1782, Curtius opened a second exhibit, the Caverne des Grands Voleurs, a precursor to the later chamber of horrors, on Boulevard du Temple.

The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.
The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.

It was Curtius who taught Tussaud the art of wax modeling. She showed talent for the technique and began working for him as an artist. In 1777, she created her first wax figure, that of Voltaire. From 1780 until the Revolution in 1789, Tussaud created many of her most famous portraits of celebrities such as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. At the same time, she remained on good terms with the French royal family. She claimed in later years to have been employed to teach “votive” making to Élisabeth the sister of Louis XVI. Elisabeth, it is said, enjoyed making wax dolls to represent various religious figures.

In her memoirs (a some what unreliable source), Tussaud claimed that it was in this capacity that she was frequently privy to private conversations between the princess and her brother and members of his court. She also claimed that members of the royal family were so pleased with her work that she was invited to live at Versailles.

In Paris, Tussaud became involved in the French Revolution and met many of its important figures including Napoleon Bonaparte and Robespierre.

On 12 July 1789, wax heads of Jacques Necker and the duc d’Orléans made by Curtius were carried in a protest march two days before the attack on the Bastille.

The French Royal family, as modeled by Madame Tussaud.
The French Royal family, as modeled by Madame Tussaud.

Tussaud was arrested during the Reign of Terror together with Joséphine de Beauharnais; her head was shaved in preparation for execution by guillotine. However, thanks to Collot d’Herbois’ support for Curtius and his household, she was released. Tussaud was then employed to make death masks of the victims of the time, including some of the Revolution’s most infamous dead such as Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre. Her death masks were held up as revolutionary flags and paraded through the streets of Paris. Soon, Tussaud was searching through sanitaries collecting the most illustrious heads she could find.

When Curtius died in 1794, he left his collection of wax works to Tussaud. In 1795, she married François Tussaud. The couple had two children, Joseph and François.

In 1802, after the Treaty of Amiens, Tussaud went to London with her son Joseph, then four years old, to present her collection of portraits having accepted an invitation from Paul Philidor, a magic lantern and phantasmagoria pioneer, to exhibit her work alongside his show at the Lyceum Theatre, London. She did not fare particularly well financially, with Philidor taking half of her profits.

When Marie Tussaud moved to London in 1802 to set up her own exhibition at the Lyceum Theatre she brought some of these figures with her and set them up in a separate gallery; and when later she toured her exhibits around the country she maintained this division in her exhibition using a ‘Separate Room’ to display them in. The exhibits at this time included the heads of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as well as Madame du Barry, Marat, Robespierre, Hébert, Carrier and Fouquier-Tinville in addition to models of a guillotine and the Bastille and the Egyptian mummy from Curtuis’ collection.

An advertisement for Madame Tussaud's exhibition.
An advertisement for Madame Tussaud’s exhibition.

As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Tussaud was unable to return to France so she traveled with her collection throughout Great Britain and Ireland. In 1822, probably during Chateaubriand’s ambassadorship, her other son, François, joined her. In 1835, she established her first permanent exhibition in Baker Street, on the upper floor of the “Baker Street Bazaar”. Here the ‘Separate Room’ became the ‘Chamber of Horrors’. At this time her exhibits included Colonel Despard, Arthur Thistlewood, William Corder and Burke and Hare, in addition to those listed above. The name ‘Chamber of Horrors’ is often credited to a contributor to Punch in 1845, but Marie Tussaud appears to have originated it herself, using it in advertising as early as 1843. Visitors were charged an extra sixpence to enter the ‘Separate Room’.

 

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Chamber of Horrors, 1849 by Richard Doyle 1824–1883)

In 1838, she wrote her memoirs. In 1842, she made a self-portrait which is now on display at the entrance of her museum. Some of the sculptures done by Tussaud herself still exist.

Madame Tussaud, herself, greets visitors at her epoymous museum.
Madame Tussauds own self portrait greets visitors at her eponymous museum.

She died in her sleep in London on 16 April 1850 at the age of 88. There is a memorial tablet to Madame Marie Tussaud on the right side of the nave of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, London.

tussaud
Madame Tussaud’s sons, from “The Romance of Madame Tussauds“, written by her great-grandson, John Theodore Tussaud.

 

Upon Marie Tussaud’s retirement, her son François (or Francis) became chief artist for the Exhibition. He was succeeded in turn by his son Joseph, who was succeeded by his son John Theodore Tussaud.

Madame Tussauds, London
Madame Tussauds, London

Madame Tussaud’s wax museum has now grown to become one of the major tourist attractions in London, and has expanded with branches in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Sydney, Madame Tussauds Hong Kong (Victoria Peak), Las Vegas, Shanghai, Berlin, Washington D.C., New York City, and Hollywood. The current owner is Merlin Entertainments Group,[3] a company owned by Blackstone Group.

 

Information and photos from Wikipedia.com

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Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks in London

The making of life-size wax figures wearing real clothes grew out of the funeral practices of European royalty. In the Middle Ages it was the habit to carry the corpse, fully dressed, on top of the coffin at royal funerals, but this sometimes had unfortunate consequences in hot weather, and the custom of making an effigy in wax for this role grew, again wearing actual clothes so that only the head and hands needed wax models. After the funeral these were often displayed by the tomb or elsewhere in the church, and became a popular attraction for visitors, which it was often necessary to pay to view.

"Elizabeth of york - funeral effigy" by lisby1 -
“Elizabeth of York”, funeral effigy” by lisby1 –

The museum of Westminster Abbey in London has a collection of British royal wax effigies going back to that of Edward III of England (died 1377), as well as those of figures such as the naval hero Horatio Nelson, and Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond, who also had her parrot stuffed and displayed. From the funeral of Charles II in 1680 they were no longer placed on the coffin but were still made for later display. The effigy of Charles II, open-eyed and standing, was displayed over his tomb until the early 19th century, when all the Westminster effigies were removed from the abbey itself. Nelson’s effigy was a pure tourist attraction, commissioned the year after his death in 1805, and his burial not in the Abbey but in St Paul’s Cathedral after a government decision that major public figures should in future be buried there. Concerned for their revenue from visitors, the Abbey decided it needed a rival attraction for admirers of Nelson.

In European courts including that of France the making of posed wax figures became popular. Antoine Benoist (1632–1717) was a French court painter and sculptor in wax to King Louis XIV. He exhibited forty-three wax figures of the French Royal Circle at his residence in Paris. Thereafter, the king authorized the figurines to be shown throughout France. His work became so highly regarded that James II of England invited him to visit England in 1684. There he executed works of the English king and members of his court. A seated figure of Peter the Great of Russia survives, made by an Italian artist, after the Tsar was impressed by the figures he saw at the Chateau of Versailles. The Danish court painter Johann Salomon Wahl executed figures of the Danish king and queen in about 1740.

The ‘Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England’, a museum or exhibition of 140 life-size figures, some apparently with clockwork moving parts, opened by Mrs Mary in Fleet Street in London was doing excellent business in 1711. Philippe Curtius, waxwork modeller to the French court, opened his Cabinet de Cire as a tourist attraction in Paris in 1770, which remained open until 1802. In 1783 this added a Caverne des Grandes Voleurs (“Cave of the Great Thieves”), an early “Chamber of Horrors”. He bequeathed his collection to his protegé Marie Tussaud, who during the French Revolution made death masks of the executed royals. Later she would bring her collection and expertise to London and open one of the most successful waxworks in history.

An advertisement for Madame Tussaud's exhibition.
A french advertisement for Madame Tussaud’s London exhibition.

Tussaud created her first wax sculpture, of Voltaire, in 1777. Other famous people she modelled at that time include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin.

The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.
The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.

In 1802 she went to London, having accepted an invitation from Paul Philidor, a magic lantern and phantasmagoria pioneer, to exhibit her work alongside his show at the Lyceum Theatre, London. She did not fare particularly well financially, with Philidor taking half of her profits. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, she was unable to return to France, so she traveled throughout Great Britain and Ireland exhibiting her collection. From 1831 she took a series of short leases on the upper floor of “Baker Street Bazaar” (on the west side of Baker Street, Dorset Street and King Street). This became Tussaud’s first permanent home in 1836. One of the main attractions of her museum was the Chamber of Horrors.

hamber-of-Horrors-1849-by-Richard-Doyle-1824–1883-httpwww.gutenberg.orgfiles3774537745-h37745-h.htm.-Licensed-under-PD-US-via-Wikipedia-httpen.wikipedia.orgwikiFileChamber_of_Horrors_1849.jpgmediavie
Chamber of Horrors, 1849 by Richard Doyle (1824–1883)

The name ‘Chamber of Horrors’ is often credited to a contributor to Punch in 1845, but Marie Tussaud appears to have originated it herself, using it in advertising as early as 1843. Visitors were charged an extra sixpence to enter the ‘Separate Room’.

The French Royal family, as modeled by Madame Tussaud.
The French Royal family, as modeled by Madame Tussaud.

This part of the exhibition is in the basement of the building and includes wax heads made from the death masks of victims of the French Revolution including Marat, Robespierre, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were modeled by Marie Tussaud herself at the time of their deaths or execution, and more recent figures of murderers and other notorious criminals.

The oldest display is that of "Sleeping Beauty", Madame DuBarry.
The oldest figure on display is that of the “Sleeping Beauty”, Madame Du Barry.

Other famous people were added to the exhibition, including Horatio Nelson, and Sir Walter Scott. Some of the sculptures done by Marie Tussaud herself still exist. The gallery originally contained some 400 different figures, but fire damage in 1925, coupled with German bombs in 1941, has rendered most of these older models defunct. The casts themselves have survived (allowing the historical waxworks to be remade), and these can be seen in the museum’s history exhibit. The oldest figure on display is that of Madame du Barry. Other faces from the time of Tussaud include Robespierre and George III. In 1842, she made a self portrait which is now on display at the entrance of her museum. She died in her sleep on 15 April 1850.

By 1883 the restricted space and rising cost of the Baker Street site prompted her grandson (Joseph Randall) to commission the building at its current location on Marylebone Road. The new exhibition galleries were opened on 14 July 1884 and were a great success.

Madame Tussauds, London
Madame Tussauds, London

Madame Tussaud’s wax museum has now grown to become a major tourist attraction in London. It has expanded and will expand with branches in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Berlin, Blackpool, Hollywood, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, New York City, Shanghai, Sydney, Vienna, Washington, D.C., Wuhan, Tokyo and a temporary museum in Busan (Korea) with locations coming to Beijing, Prague, Singapore, Orlando and San Francisco. Today’s wax figures at Tussauds include historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and famous murderers. Known as “Madame Tussauds” museums (no apostrophe), they are owned by a leisure company called Merlin Entertainments, following the acquisition of The Tussauds Group in May 2007.

Information and images provided by Wikipedia.com

 

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Mad about Mob Caps

Caps of all shapes and sizes had long been in use by men and women as fashion accessories and protection from the elements. There was an added benefit to the Regency miss, which Jane Austen wrote about to her sister,

“I have made myself two or three caps to wear of evenings since I came home, and they save me a world of torment as to hairdressing which at present gives me no trouble beyond washing and brushing, for my long hair is always plaited up out of sight, and my short hair curls well enough to want no papering.”

The mob cap or mob-cap is a round, gathered or pleated cloth (usually linen) bonnet consisting of a caul to cover the hair, a frilled or ruffled brim, and (often) a ribbon band, worn by married women in the Georgian period, when it was called a “bonnet”. Originally an informal style, the bonnet became a high-fashion item as part of the adoption of simple “country” clothing in the later 18th century. It was an indoor fashion, and was worn under a hat for outdoor wear. During the French Revolution, the name “Mob Cap” caught on because the poorer women who were involved in the riots wore them, but they had been in style for middle class and even aristocracy since the century began.

Marie Antoinette c. 1792
Marie Antoinette in an oversized mob cap, c. 1792

By the Victorian period, mob caps lingered as the head covering of servants and nurses, and small mob caps, not covering the hair, remained part of these uniforms into the early 20th century.

Raimundo_Madrazo_-_La_Toilette
Note the cap on the lady’s maid, as well as her misteress’s fancier cap on the toilette table, in this painting, by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta (1841–1920) La Toilette, painted between 1890 and 1900 (but showing a scene from the Georgian era, based on the clothing)

 

Historical information and photos from Wikipedia.com

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The Hope Diamond-The most famous diamond in the world

The Hope Diamond, also known as “Le Bijou du Roi” (“the King’s Jewel”), “Le bleu de France” (“the Blue of France”), and the Tavernier Blue, is a large, 45.52-carat (9.104 g), deep-blue diamond, and now housed in the National Gem and Mineral collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. It is blue to the naked eye because of trace amounts of boron within its crystal structure, and exhibits red phosphorescence after exposure to ultraviolet light. It is classified as a Type IIb diamond, and is notorious for supposedly being cursed. It has a long recorded history, with few gaps, in which it changed hands numerous times on its way from India to France to Britain and eventually to the United States, where it has been regularly on public display since. It has been described as the “most famous diamond in the world”.

The_Hope_Diamond_-_SIA
The Hope Diamond in 1974

Several accounts, based on remarks written by the gem’s first known owner, French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, suggest that the gemstone originated in India, in the Kollur mine in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh (which at the time was part of the Golconda kingdom), in the seventeenth century. It is unclear who had initially owned the gemstone, where it had been found, by whom, and in what condition. But the first historical records suggest that a French merchant-traveler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier obtained the stone in the mid-1600s, possibly by purchase or by theft. Tavernier brought to Paris a large uncut stone which was the first known precursor to the Hope Diamond. This large stone became known as the Tavernier Blue diamond. It was a crudely cut triangular shaped stone of 115 carats (23.0 g). Another estimate is that it weighed 112.23 carats (22.446 g) before it was cut. Tavernier’s book, the Six Voyages (French: Les Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier), contains sketches of several large diamonds that he sold to Louis XIV in possibly 1668 or 1669; while the blue diamond is shown among these, Tavernier mentions the mines at “Gani” Kollur as a source of colored diamonds, but made no direct mention of the stone. Historian Richard Kurin builds a highly speculative case for 1653 as the year of acquisition, but the most that can be said with certainty is that Tavernier obtained the blue diamond during one of his five voyages to India between the years 1640 and 1667. One report suggests he took 25 diamonds to Paris, including the large rock which became the Hope, and sold all of them to King Louis XIV. Another report suggested that in 1669, Tavernier sold this large blue diamond along with approximately one thousand other diamonds to King Louis XIV of France for 220,000 livres, the equivalent of 147 kilograms of pure gold. In a newly published historical novel, The French Blue, gemologist and historian Richard W. Wise proposed that the patent of nobility granted Tavernier by Louis XIV was a part of the payment for the Tavernier Blue. According to the theory, during that period Colbert, the King’s Finance Minister, regularly sold offices and noble titles for cash, and an outright patent of nobility, according to Wise, was worth approximately 500,000 livres making a total of 720,000 livres, a price about half Tavernier’s estimate of the gem’s true value. There has been some controversy regarding the actual weight of the stone; Morel believed that the 112316 carats stated in Tavernier’s invoice would be in old French carats, thus 115.28 metric carats.

Tavernier's original sketch of the Tavernier Blue
Tavernier’s original sketch of the Tavernier Blue

 

In 1678, Louis XIV commissioned the court jeweller, Sieur Pitau, to recut the Tavernier Blue, resulting in a 67.125-carat (13.4250 g) stone which royal inventories thereafter listed as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France (French: diamant bleu de la Couronne de France). Later English-speaking historians have simply called it the French Blue. The king had the stone set on a cravat-pin. According to one report, Louis ordered Pitau to “make him a piece to remember”, and Pitau took two years on the piece, resulting in a “triangular-shaped 69-carat gem the size of a pigeon’s egg that took the breath away as it snared the light, reflecting it back in bluish-grey rays.” It was set in gold and was supported by a ribbon for the neck which was worn by the king during ceremonies.

At the diamond’s dazzling heart was a sun with seven facets – the sun being Louis’ emblem, and seven being a number rich in meaning in biblical cosmology, indicating divinity and spirituality.
—report in Agence France-Presse, 2008

Louis XV wearing the
Louis XV wearing the “Order of the Golden Fleece”

In 1749, Louis’ descendant, King Louis XV, had the French Blue set into a more elaborate jewelled pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece by court jeweler André Jacquemin. The assembled piece included a red spinel of 107 carats shaped as a dragon breathing “covetous flames”, as well as 83 red-painted diamonds and 112 yellow-painted diamonds to suggest a fleece shape. The piece fell into disuse after the death of Louis XV. The diamond became the property of his grandson King Louis XVI. During the reign of her husband, Marie Antoinette used many of the French Crown Jewels for personal adornment by having the individual gems placed in new settings and combinations, but the French Blue remained in this pendant except for a brief time in 1787, when the stone was removed for scientific study by Mathurin Jacques Brisson, and returned to its setting soon thereafter. On September 11, 1792, while Louis XVI and his family were confined in the Palais des Tuileries near the Place de la Concorde during the early stages of the French Revolution, a group of thieves broke into the Garde-Meuble (Royal Storehouse) and stole most of the Crown Jewels during a five-day looting spree. While many jewels were later recovered, including other pieces of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the French Blue was not among them and it disappeared temporarily from history. In 1793, Louis was guillotined in January and Marie was guillotined in October, and these beheadings are commonly cited as a result of the diamond’s “curse”, but the historical record suggests that Marie Antoinette had never worn the Golden Fleece pendant because it had been reserved for the exclusive use of the king.

Marie Antoinette before her public execution by guillotine in 1793.
Marie Antoinette before her public execution by guillotine in 1793.

A likely scenario is that the French Blue or sometimes also known as the Blue Diamond was “swiftly smuggled to London” after being seized in 1792 in Paris. But the exact rock known as the French Blue was never seen again, since it almost certainly was recut during this decades-long period of anonymity, probably into two pieces, and the larger one became the Hope Diamond. One report suggested that the cut was a “butchered job” because it sheared off 23.5 carats from the larger rock as well as hurting its “extraordinary lustre.” It had long been believed that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue until confirmation finally happened when a three-dimensional leaden model of the latter was rediscovered in the archives of the French Natural History Museum in Paris in 2005.

Historians suggested that one robber, Cadet Guillot, took several jewels, including the French Blue and the Côte-de-Bretagne spinel, to Le Havre and then to London, where the French Blue was cut in two pieces. Morel adds that in 1796, Guillot attempted to resell the Côte-de-Bretagne in France but was forced to relinquish it to fellow thief Lancry de la Loyelle, who put Guillot into debtors’ prison.

There is speculation that George's wife, Caroline of Brunswick, may have helped procure the diamond for the British monarch, but records are lacking.
There is speculation that George’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick, may have helped procure the diamond for the British monarch, but records are lacking.

In a contrasting report, historian Richard Kurin speculated that the “theft” of the French Crown Jewels was in fact engineered by the revolutionary leader Georges Danton as part of a plan to bribe an opposing military commander, Duke Karl Wilhelm of Brunswick. When under attack by Napoleon in 1805, Karl Wilhelm may have had the French Blue recut to disguise its identity; in this form, the stone could have come to Britain in 1806, when his family fled there to join his daughter Caroline of Brunswick. Although Caroline was the wife of the Prince Regent George (later George IV of the United Kingdom), she lived apart from her husband, and financial straits sometimes forced her to quietly sell her own jewels to support her household. Caroline’s nephew, Duke Karl Friedrich, was later known to possess a 13.75-carat (2.750 g) blue diamond which was widely thought to be another piece of the French Blue. This smaller diamond’s present whereabouts are unknown, and the recent CAD reconstruction of the French Blue fits too tightly around the Hope Diamond to allow for the existence of a sister stone of that size.

A blue diamond with the same shape, size, and color as the Hope Diamond was recorded by John Francillon in the possession of the London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason in September 1812, the earliest point when the history of the Hope Diamond can be definitively fixed, although a second less definitive report claims that the Hope Diamond’s “authentic history” can only be traced back to 1830. The jewel was a “massive blue stone of 45.54 carats” and weighed 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat). It is often pointed out that the 1812 date was almost exactly twenty years after the theft of the French Blue, just as the statute of limitations for the crime had taken effect. While the diamond had disappeared for two decades, there were questions whether this diamond now in Great Britain was exactly the same one as had belonged to the French kings, but scientific investigation in 2008 confirmed “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Hope Diamond and that owned by the kings of France were, indeed, the same gemstone, in the sense that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue.

King George IV
King George IV

There are conflicting reports about what happened to the diamond during these years. Eliason’s diamond may have been acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom, possibly through Caroline of Brunswick; however, there is no record of the ownership in the Royal Archives at Windsor, although some secondary evidence exists in the form of contemporary writings and artwork, and George IV tended to mix up the Crown property of the Crown Jewels with family heirlooms and his own personal property. A source at the Smithsonian suggested there were “several references” suggesting that King George had, indeed, owned the diamond. After his death in 1830, it has been alleged that some of this mixed collection was stolen by George’s last mistress, Lady Conyngham, and some of his personal effects were discreetly liquidated to cover the many debts he had left behind him. Another report states that the king’s debts were “so enormous” that the diamond was probably sold through “private channels”. In either case, the blue diamond was not retained by the British royal family.

Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey.
Thomas Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey.

The stone was later reported to have been acquired by a rich London banker named Thomas Hope, for either $65,000 or $90,000. It has been suggested that Eliason may have been a “front” for Hope, acting not as a diamond merchant venturing money on his own account, but rather as an agent to acquire the diamond for the banker. In 1839, the Hope Diamond appeared in a published catalog of the gem collection of Henry Philip Hope, who was a member of the same Anglo-Dutch banking family. The stone was set in a fairly simple medallion surrounded by many smaller white diamonds, which he sometimes lent to Louisa de la Poer Beresford, the widow of his brother, Thomas Hope, for society balls. After falling into the ownership of the Hope family, the stone came to be known as the “Hope Diamond”.

Henry Philip Hope died in 1839, the same year as the publication of his collection catalog. His three nephews, the sons of Thomas and Louisa, fought in court for ten years over his inheritance, and ultimately the collection was split up. The oldest nephew, Henry Thomas Hope, received eight of the most valuable gems, including the Hope Diamond. It was displayed in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855, but was usually kept in a bank vault. In 1861, Henry Thomas Hope’s only child, Henrietta, married Henry Pelham-Clinton, Earl of Lincoln (and later Duke of Newcastle). When Hope died on December 4, 1862, his wife Anne Adele inherited the gem, but she feared that the profligate lifestyle of her son-in-law might cause him to sell the Hope properties. Upon Adele’s death in 1884, the entire Hope estate, including the Hope Diamond, was entrusted to Henrietta’s younger son, Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton, on the condition that he add the name of “Hope” to his own surnames when he reached the age of legal majority. As Lord Francis Hope, this grandson received his legacy in 1887. However, he had only a life interest in his inheritance, meaning that he could not sell any part of it without court permission.

Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894.
Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894.

In 1894, Lord Francis Hope met the American concert hall singer May Yohé, who has been described as “the sensation of two continents”, and they were married the same year; one account suggests that Yohé wore the Hope Diamond on at least one occasion. She later claimed that she had worn it at social gatherings and had an exact replica made for her performances, but her husband claimed otherwise. Lord Francis lived beyond his means, and this eventually caught up with him, leading to marriage troubles and financial reverses, and he found that he had to sell the diamond. In 1896, his bankruptcy was discharged, but, as he could not sell the Hope Diamond without the court’s permission, he was supported financially by his wife during these intervening years. In 1901, the financial situation had changed, and after a “long legal fight,” he was given permission to sell the Hope Diamond by an order of the Master in Chancery to “pay off debts”. But May Yohé ran off with a gentleman friend named Putnam Strong, who was a son of the former New York City mayor William L. Strong. Francis Hope and May Yohé were divorced in 1902.

Lord Francis sold the diamond for £29,000 (£2,641,880 as of 2015), to Adolph Weil, a London jewel merchant. Weil later sold the stone to the diamond dealer Simon Frankel, based in New York and/or London who took it to New York. One report stated that he had paid $250,000.[27] However, in New York it was evaluated to be worth $141,032 (equal to £28,206 at the time).

Accounts vary about what happened to the diamond during the years 1902–1907; one account suggested that it lay in the William & Theodore safe during these years while the jewelers took it out periodically to show it to wealthy Americans; a rival account, probably invented to help add “mystery” to the Hope Diamond story, suggested that some persons had bought it but apparently sold it back to Frankel. There were reports in one story in The New York Times of several owners of the gem, perhaps who had bought it from Frankel and owned it temporarily who met with ill-fortune, but this report conflicts with the more likely possibility that the gem remained in the hands of the Frankel jewelry firm during these years. Like many jewelry firms, the Frankel business ran into financial difficulties during the depression of 1907 and referred to the gem as the “hoodoo diamond.”

In 1908, Frankel sold the diamond for $400,000 to a Salomon or Selim Habib, a wealthy Turkish diamond collector, reportedly in behalf of Sultan Abdulhamid of Ottoman Empire; however, on June 24, 1909, the stone was included in an auction of Habib’s assets to settle his own debts, and the auction catalog explicitly stated that the Hope Diamond was one of only two gems in the collection which had never been owned by the Sultan. A contrary report, however, suggested that Sultan Abdul Hamid did own the gem but ordered Habib to sell it when his throne “began to totter.” Habib reportedly sold the stone in Paris in 1909 for $80,000. The Parisian jewel merchant Simon Rosenau bought the Hope Diamond for 400,000 francs and resold it in 1910 to Pierre Cartier for 550,000 francs. In 1910, it was offered for $150,000, according to one report.

Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.
Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.

Pierre Cartier tried to sell the Hope Diamond to Washington D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband in 1910. Cartier was a consummate salesman who used an understated presentation to entice Mrs. McLean. He described the gem’s illustrious history to her while keeping it concealed underneath special wrapping paper. The suspense worked: McLean became impatient to the point where she suddenly requested to see the stone. She recalled later that Cartier “held before our eyes the Hope Diamond.” Nevertheless, she initially rejected the offer. Cartier had it reset. She found the stone much more appealing in this new modern style. There were conflicting reports about the sale in the New York Times; one account suggested that the young McLean couple had agreed to purchase the diamond, but after having learned about its unfortunate supposed history, the couple had wanted to back out of the deal since they knew nothing of the “history of misfortunes that have beset its various owners.”

Both Ned McLean and his pretty wife are quite young, and in a way unsophisticated, although they were born and reared in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. All their lives they have known more of jewelry, finery, banquets, automobiles, horses, and other articles of pleasure than they have of books, with their wealth of knowledge.
—report in The New York Times, March 1911

The brouhaha over the diamond’s supposed “ill luck” prompted a worried editor of The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly to write:

No mention of any ill luck having befalled Eliason, Hope, or any of their descendants was ever made. The Frankels surely were very prosperous while the stone was in their possession, as were the dealers who held it in Europe. Habib’s misfortune referred to in the newspaper accounts occurred long after he had sold the stone… As Francis Hope never had the stone and May Yohe probably never saw it … the newspaper accounts at the time mentioned were laughed at, but since then it has been the custom not only to revive these stories every time mention of the stone appears in the public press, but to add to them fictitious incidents of misfortune as to alleged possessors of the stone at various times.
—T. Edgar Willson, in an editorial in The New York Times, 1911

The tenuous deal involved wrangling among attorneys for both Cartier and the McLeans, but finally, in 1911, the couple bought the gem for over $300,000, although there are differing estimates of the sales price at $150,000 and $180,000. An alternative scenario is that the McLeans may have fabricated concern about the supposed “curse” to generate publicity to increase the value of their investment.

Evalyn Walsh McClean wears a reset version of the Hope Diamond in this photograph “with the diamond mounted as a headpiece on a three-tiered circlet of large white diamonds” -Smithsonian (Photo: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Evalyn Walsh McClean wears a reset version of the Hope Diamond in this photograph  (Photo: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

A description was that the gemstone “lay on a bed of white silk and surrounded by many small white diamonds cut pear shaped”. The new setting was the current platinum framework surrounded by a row of sixteen diamonds which alternated between Old Mine Cut and pear-shaped variants. Mrs. McLean wore it to a “brilliant reception” in February 1912 when it was reported that it was the first time it had been worn in public since it had “changed owners.” She would “sport the diamond at social events” and wore it numerous social occasions that she had organized.

The Hope Diamond in its original pendant must have looked fantastic at parties circa the 1920s, when it hung around the neck of owner Evalyn Walsh McLean’s Great Dane, Mike.
—report in The Wall Street Journal, 2010

There were reports that she misplaced it at parties, deliberately and frequently, and then make a children’s game out of “finding the Hope”, and times when she hid the diamond somewhere on her estate during the “lavish parties she threw and invite guests to find it.” The stone prompted elaborate security precautions:

William Schindele, a former Secret Service man, has been engaged to guard the stone. He in turn will be guarded by Leo Costello and Simeon Blake, private detectives. The stone will be kept at the McLean mansion during the day and each night will be deposited in a safe deposit vault. When Mrs. McLean wears the gem at balls and receptions arrangements have been made to keep the safe deposit building open until after the function that the stone may be safely stored away. A special automobile has been purchased to convey the guards to and from the house to the trust company’s building.
—report in The New York Times, 1911

But the stone was not stolen during their ownership. When Mrs. McLean died in 1947, she bequeathed the diamond to her grandchildren through a will which insisted that her former property would remain in the custody of trustees until the eldest child had reached 25 years of age. This requirement would have prevented any sale for the next two decades. However, the trustees gained permission to sell her jewels to settle her debts, and in 1949 sold them to New York diamond merchant Harry Winston. He purchased McLean’s “entire jewelry collection”. Over the next decade, Winston exhibited McLean’s necklace in his “Court of Jewels,” a tour of jewels around the United States, as well as various promotional events and charity balls. The diamond appeared on the television quiz show The Name’s the Same, in an episode which first aired on August 16, 1955, when a teenaged contestant with the actual name Hope Diamond was one of the mystery guests, as well as at the August 1958 Canadian National Exhibition. At some point, Winston also had the Hope Diamond’s bottom facet slightly recut to increase its brilliance.

Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History.
Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian mineralogist George Switzer is credited with persuading jeweler Harry Winston to donate the Hope Diamond Institution for a proposed national gem collection to be housed at the National Museum of Natural History. On November 10, 1958, Winston acquiesced, sending it through U.S. Mail in a box wrapped in brown paper as simple registered mail insured for $1 million at a cost of $145.29, of which $2.44 was for postage and the balance insurance. Upon its arrival it became Specimen #217868.

Hope_Diamond_US_Mail_parcel-1958
Registered Mail package used to deliver the Hope Diamond to the National Museum of Natural History.

Winston had never believed in any of the tales about the curse; he donated the diamond with the hope that it would help the United States “establish a gem collection.” Winston died many years later, in 1978, of a heart attack. Winston’s gift, according to Smithsonian curator Dr. Jeffrey Post, indeed helped spur additional gifts to the museum.

For its first four decades in the National Museum of Natural History, the Hope Diamond lay in its necklace inside a glass-fronted safe as part of the gems and jewelry gallery, except for a few brief excursions: a 1962 exhibition to the Louvre; the 1965 Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg, South Africa; and two visits back to Harry Winston’s premises in New York City, once in 1984, and once for a 50th anniversary celebration in 1996. To guard against theft during the diamond’s trip to the 1962 Louvre exhibition, Switzer traveled to Paris with the Hope Diamond tucked inside a velvet pouch sewn by his wife. The Hope Diamond was placed into the pouch, which was pinned inside Switzer’s pants pocket for the flight.

When the Smithsonian’s gallery was renovated in 1997, the necklace was moved onto a rotating pedestal inside a cylinder made of 3-inch (76 mm) thick bulletproof glass in its own display room, adjacent to the main exhibit of the National Gem Collection, in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. The Hope Diamond is the most popular jewel on display and the collection’s centerpiece.

There is evidence of several newspaper accounts which helped spread the curse story. A New Zealand newspaper article in 1888 described the supposedly lurid history of the Hope Diamond, including a claim that it was “said once to have formed the single eye of a great idol”, as part of a confused description that also claimed that its namesake owner had personally “brought it from India”, and that the diamond’s true color was “white, [although] when held to the light, it emits the most superb and dazzling blue rays.” An article entitled “Hope Diamond Has Brought Trouble To All Who Have Owned It” appeared in the Washington Post in 1908. An additional account of the Hope Diamond’s “cursed origins” was a fanciful and anonymously written newspaper article in 1909. It was followed by another article in 1911 which detailed a rather lengthy list of supposed cases of ill-fortune but with few confirmations from other sources:

  • Jacques Colet bought the Hope Diamond from Simon Frankel and committed suicide.
  • Prince Ivan Kanitovski bought it from Colet but was killed by Russian revolutionists.
  • Kanitovski loaned it to Mlle Ladue who was “murdered by her sweetheart.”
  • Simon Mencharides, who had once sold it to the Turkish sultan, was thrown from a precipice along with his wife and young child.
  • Sultan Hamid gave it to Abu Sabir to “polish” but later Sabir was imprisoned and tortured.
  • Stone guardian Kulub Bey was hanged by a mob in Turkey.
  • A Turkish attendant named Hehver Agha was hanged for having it in his possession.
  • Tavernier, who brought the stone from India to Paris was “torn to pieces by wild dogs in Constantinople.”
  • King Louis gave it to Madame de Montespan whom later he abandoned.
  • Nicholas Fouquet, an “Intendant of France”, borrowed it temporarily to wear it but was “disgraced and died in prison.”
  • A temporary wearer, Princess de Lamballe, was “torn to pieces by a French mob.”
  • Jeweler William Fals who recut the stone “died a ruined man.”
  • William Fals’ son Hendrik stole the jewel from his father and later “committed suicide.”
  • Some years (after Hendrik) “it was sold to Francis Deaulieu, who died in misery and want.”
Source: The New York Times, January 29, 1911

The mainstream academic view is that these accounts are specious and speculative since there are few, if any, independent confirmations or historical scholarship to back them up. A few months later, perhaps compounded by inaccurate reports in The New York Times on November 17, 1909, it was incorrectly reported that the diamond’s former owner, Selim Habib, had drowned in a shipwreck of the steamer Seyne near Singapore; in fact, it was a different person with the same name, not the owner of the diamond. There was also speculation that jeweler Pierre Cartier further embroidered the lurid tales to intrigue Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the Hope Diamond in 1911.

The theme of greedy robbers stealing a valuable metal from the tomb or shrine of an ancient god or ruler, and then being punished by it, is one which repeats in many different forms of literature. A likely source of inspiration for the fabrications was the Wilkie Collins’ 1868 novel The Moonstone, which created a coherent narrative from vague and largely disregarded legends which had been attached to other diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor and the Orloff diamond. The theme can be seen in the stories about the curse of Egyptian king Tutankhamun and in more recent films such as the Indiana Jones films. In keeping with these scripts, according to the legend, Tavernier did not buy the Hope diamond but stole it from a Hindu temple where it had been set as one of two matching eyes of an idol, and the temple priests then laid a curse on whoever might possess the missing stone. Largely because the other blue diamond “eye” never surfaced, historians dismissed the fantastical story. The stories generally do not bear up to more pointed examination; for example, the legend that Tavernier’s body was “torn apart by wolves” is inconsistent with historical evidence which shows that he lived to 84 and died of natural causes.

It is possible that the overblown story of the curse, possibly fueled by Cartier and others, may have caused some hesitation on the part of the prospective buyers, the McLeans, around 1911. When a lawsuit between buyer and seller erupted about the terms of the deal, newspapers kept alive reports of the diamond’s “malevolent influence” with reports like this one, which blamed the stone’s “curse” on having caused, of all things, the lawsuit itself:

The malevolent influence that has for centuries dogged with discord and disaster the owners of the famous Hope diamond has started again and without waste of time, despite special precautions against ill-luck taken at the time of its last sale, according to John S. Wise, Jr., of 20 Broad Street, attorney for Cartiers, the Fifth Avenue jewelers, who are suing Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. McLean for $180,000, its alleged purchase price.—report in The New York Times, March 1911

The Hope Diamond was also blamed for the unhappy fates of other historical figures vaguely linked to its ownership, such as the falls of Madame Athenais de Montespan and French finance minister Nicolas Fouquet during the reign of Louis XIV of France; the beheadings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the rape and mutilation of the Princesse de Lamballe during the French Revolution; and the forced abdication of Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid who had supposedly killed various members of his court for the stone (despite the annotation in Habib’s auction catalog). Even jewelers who may have handled the Hope Diamond were not spared from its reputed malice: the insanity and suicide of Jacques Colot, who supposedly bought it from Eliason, and the financial ruin of the jeweler Simon Frankel, who bought it from the Hope family, were linked to the stone. But although he is documented as a French diamond dealer of the correct era, Colot has no recorded connection with the stone, and Frankel’s misfortunes were in the midst of economic straits that also ruined many of his peers. The legend includes deaths of numerous other characters who had been previously unknown: Diamond cutter Wilhelm Fals, killed by his son Hendrik, who stole it and later committed suicide; Francois Beaulieu, who received the stone from Hendrik but starved to death after selling it to Daniel Eliason; a Russian prince named Kanitowski, who lent it to French actress Lorens Ladue and promptly shot her dead on the stage, and was himself stabbed to death by revolutionaries; Simon Montharides, hurled over a precipice with his family. However, the existence of only a few of these characters has been verified historically, leading researchers to conclude that most of these persons are fictitious.

Poster of the movie The Hope Diamond Mystery
Poster of the movie The Hope Diamond Mystery

The actress May Yohe made repeated attempts to capitalize on her identity as the former wife of the last Hope to own the diamond, and sometimes blamed the gemstone for her misfortunes. In July 1902, months after Lord Francis divorced her, she told police in Australia that her lover, Putnam Strong, had abandoned her and taken her jewels. In fact, the couple reconciled, married later that year, but divorced in 1910. On her third marriage in 1920, she persuaded film producer George Kleine to back a 15-episode serial The Hope Diamond Mystery, which added fictitious characters to the tale, but the project was not successful. In 1921, she hired Henry Leyford Gates to help her write The Mystery of the Hope Diamond, in which she starred as Lady Francis Hope. The film added more characters, including a fictionalized Tavernier, and added Marat among the diamond’s “victims”. She also wore her copy of the Hope, trying to generate more publicity to further her career.

Evalyn Walsh McLean added her own narrative to the story behind the blue jewel, including that one of the owners had been Catherine the Great, although there are no confirmations that the Russian ruler ever owned the diamond. McLean would bring the Diamond out for friends to try on, including Warren G. Harding and Florence Harding.

Since the Smithsonian acquired the gemstone, the “curse appears to have gone dormant.” Owning the diamond has brought “nothing but good luck” for the nonprofit national museum, according to a Smithsonian curator, and has helped it build a “world-class gem collection” with rising attendance levels.

Hope Diamond in the "Embracing Hope" setting.
The Hope Diamond displayed at the Smithsonian in the “Embracing Hope” setting, a temporary design created by jewelers at Harry Winston.

In 2007, an important discovery was made which enabled a slew of activity to help scientists, historians and gemologists further explore the history of the Hope Diamond, as well as create replicas of the larger pieces, from which it had been cut, believed to have been owned by eighteenth-century French monarchs. A lead cast of the French Blue diamond was discovered in the gemmological collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, reported in a bilingual French–English press release, and the unique finding triggered an investigation by an international team of researchers into the stone’s history.

The lead cast of the French Blue, itself, has a history. It had been catalogued at the French museum in 1850 and was provided by a prominent Parisian jeweler named Charles Archard who lived during the same generation as René Just Haüy, who died in 1822. Most likely, the lead cast was made near 1815, since that was the year that similar entries from the 1850 catalogue had been made. The model was accompanied by a label stating that the French Blue was in the possession of a person known as “Mr. Hope of London”. Other archives at the Muséum suggests that Achard had Mr. Hope as a good customer for many long years, particularly for blue gems.

Gouache of the great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France, version 1 of 2008, painted by Pascal Monney
Gouache of the great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France, version 1 of 2008, painted by Pascal Monney

These findings have helped investigators piece together what may have happened during the rock’s anonymous years during the several decades following 1792. According to one line of reasoning, the first “Hope” to have the “Hope Diamond”—Henry Phillip Hope—might have possessed the French Blue that he had acquired some time after the 1792 robbery in Paris, perhaps around 1794-1795, when the Hopes were believed to have left Holland for London to escape Napoleon’s armies. At about the same time, Cadet Guillot, who may have been one of the thieves to have stolen the Golden Fleece, arrived in London.This places Mr. Hope and Mr. Guillot in London at the same time. According to a late nineteenth century historian named Bapts, a contract was made between Cadet Guillot and a French aristocrat named Lancry de la Loyelle, in 1796, to sell the 107-carat (21.4 g) spinel-dragon of the Golden Fleece. According to this line of reasoning, in 1802 Hope sold his assets, and the continental blockade by Napoleon led the Hope’s bank into a serious financial crisis by 1808, and the crisis peaked during the winter of 1811–1812. This put Mr. Hope in a financial bind. There is a possibility that, given his financial predicament, Hope pawned the French Blue to jewel merchant Daniel Eliason to get much-needed cash when the British currency, sterling, was highly depreciated. This is consistent with the entry in Eliason’s records about having the stone in 1812. However, the diamond’s owners may have felt pressure to recut the stone quickly to disguise its identity, since if the French government had learned of its existence, it may have sued the owners for repossession. Regardless of whether Mr. Hope had lost possession or kept it during these years, by 1824 it was again in his possession. It was around this time that Eliason died; Hope’s financial situation has been restored thanks to efforts by the Barings, who saved the Hope bank in the difficult financial years of 1812-1820. Accordingly, if this is correct, then the lead cast of the French Blue and the “Hope” diamond are likely to have been created in the same workshop, possibly in London, and probably a little before 1812.

Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France. Below the 107 carats (21.4 g) spinel Côte de Bretagne hangs the French Blue diamond and the fleece itself, set with hundreds of yellow diamond replicas.
Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France. Below the 107 carats (21.4 g) spinel Côte de Bretagne hangs the French Blue diamond and the fleece itself, set with hundreds of yellow diamond replicas.

The lead cast had important ramifications since it gave enough information to curators at the French museum to commission the first exact replicas of both the Tavernier and French Blue diamonds using a material which simulates diamonds called cubic zirconia, with the help of artisans who work with gems known as lapidaries, led by Scott Sucher. These replicas have been completed and displayed with the French Crown Jewels and the Great Sapphire of Louis XIV, a Moghul-cut sapphire of 135.7 carats (27.14 g). Artisans recreated the elaborate parure of different-colored gems known as the Golden Fleece of King Louis XV of France, which is arguably the most fabulous work in the history of French jewelry; this happened from 2007–2010. The original parure, created in 1749 by royal jeweler Pierre-André Jacqumin, was stolen and broken in 1792. The reassembled jewel contained the French Blue and the Bazu diamonds, as well as the Côte de Bretagne spinel and hundreds of smaller diamonds. Three years of work were needed to recreate this jewel, and it required exacting and precise skill which revealed not only the skill of today’s lapidaries, but the skill of its original eighteenth-century designers. The reconstructed jewel was presented by Herbert Horovitz, with François Farges of the French museum in attendance, at the former Royal Storehouse in Paris on June 30, 2010, which was the same site where the original had been stolen 218 years before.

Information and images from Wikipedia.com

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Louis XVI: Last King of France

Louis XVI, born Louis-Auguste de France (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) ruled as King of France and Navarre from 1774 until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792. Suspended and arrested during the Insurrection of 10 August 1792, he was tried by the National Convention, found guilty of treason, and executed on 21 January 1793. His execution signaled the end of absolute monarchy in France and would eventually bring about the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Although he was beloved at first, his indecisiveness and conservatism led some elements of the people of France to eventually hate him as a symbol of the perceived tyranny of the Ancien Régime. After the abolition of the monarchy in 1792, the new republican government gave him the surname Capet (a reference to the nickname of Hugh Capet, founder of the Capetian dynasty, which the Revolutionaries wrongly interpreted as a family name), and forced him to be called Louis Capet in an attempt to discredit his status as king. He was also informally nicknamed Louis le Dernier (Louis the Last), a derisive use of the traditional nicknaming of French kings. Today, historians and Frenchmen in general have a more nuanced view of Louis XVI, who is seen as an honest man with good intentions but who was probably unfit for the Herculean task of reforming the monarchy, and who was used as a scapegoat by the Revolutionaries.

Early Life

The future king Louis XVI was born Louis-Auguste at the Palace of Versailles on 23 August 1754 to the heir to the French throne, the dauphin Louis (1729–65), who was the only son of the King Louis XV and his consort, Queen Maria Leszczynska. Louis-Auguste’s father died at the age of thirty-five and never ascended the French throne. Louis-Auguste’s mother was Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, the Dauphin’s second wife, and the daughter of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

Louis-Auguste was the oldest surviving son out of eight children, three of whom died young. He had a difficult childhood because his parents for the most part neglected him, favoring his older brother Louis Duc de Bourgogne, who died at the age of ten in 1761. This caused his parents to turn their back on Louis-Auguste even more. A strong and healthy boy, despite being very shy, Louis-Auguste excelled in the school room and had a strong taste for English history and astronomy. He enjoyed working on locks and hunting with his grandfather King Louis XV and playing with his younger brothers Louis-Stanislas, Comte de Provence (the future King Louis XVIII) and Charles-Philip, Comte d’Artois (the future King Charles X). The boys’ father died on 20 December 1765, which dealt their mother, Marie-Josèphe, a devastating blow from which she never recovered, sinking into a deep depression for the rest of her life. With his father dead, eleven-year-old Louis-Auguste was now the Dauphin of France and next-in-line to the French throne, which at the time was known as the “Finest” kingdom in Europe; but it was a job his grandfather, Louis XV, failed to prepare him for, a job which he himself did not feel capable of doing. Louis Auguste’s mother died two years after his father on 13 March 1767, leaving young Louis-Auguste and his younger siblings orphans. For the first year after the death of his mother he was cared for by his grandmother, Queen Maria Leszczynska, who died the next year, in 1768; and after that he was taken into the care of his spinster aunts Adélaïde, Victoire, Sophie, and Louise-Marie, known collectively as Mesdames Tantes.


Family Life

On 16 May 1770, at the age of fifteen, Louis-Auguste married the fourteen-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria (better known by the French form of her name, Marie Antoinette), the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife, the formidable Empress Maria Theresa. The marriage was initially amiable but distant – Louis-Auguste’s shyness meant that he failed to consummate the union, much to his wife’s distress, whilst his fear of being manipulated by her for Imperial purposes caused him to behave coldly towards her in public. Over time, the couple became closer, and the marriage was consummated in July 1773.Subsequently, the Royal couple had four children:

  • Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte (19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851)
  • Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789)
  • Louis-Charles (the future titular King Louis XVII of France) (27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795)
  • Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix (9 July 1786 – 19 June 1787)

Personality
Louis XVI was characterized for a long time as a little simpleton, handled by his advisers, with crazes for iron work and hunting. This image is partly due to his attitude towards the court.

The “thoughtlessness” that was sometimes attributed to him is explained partly by a strong myopia which isolated him from the world, and in particular, enabled him only with difficulty to recognize his interlocutors. Louis XVI was a studious prince and scholar. In addition to his known passion for iron work, he was set on history, geography, navy and sciences. He made the navy a priority of France’s foreign politics, and was anxious to thwart the British projections overseas, and to take revenge for the disastrous Treaty of Paris. This powerful navy strongly contributed to the success of the American Revolutionary War. He had moreover a theoretical knowledge of the navy so pointed that he was likely, when he saw the sea for the first time, to make remarks whose relevance astounded his interlocutors.

Since Louis XIV, the nobility had been “mainly domesticated” by the structure of the royal court. The configuration of the court governed the life of the nobles by making the king the center of a very strict and complex set of ceremonies in which he was attended by the nobles in a way regimented by rigid etiquette. By constructing this system, Louis XIV aimed to eliminate the effect of the often rebellious, and always threatening, nobility toward the royal power. Within the court, the nobility saw its participation in the life of the king organized as if in a vase, enclosed in a subtle system of dependencies, hierarchies, and rewards, so that its inclinations for autonomy with respect to the royal authority definitely became much reduced.

Louis XVI inherited this system: nobility was seen as being in service to the king, and nobles judged their status upon the rewards and honours derived from him. Even if the majority of the nobility did not have the means of living at the court, the texts show an attachment of provincial noblemen to the role of the court, and the importance with which they attached a “presentation” at court.

Like Louis XV, Louis XVI entered this system with great sadness. This was not for lack of education: he was the first French monarch who spoke fluent English, and nourished philosophers of the Enlightenment. He sought to divorce himself from the royally authoritarian image of Louis XIV. To do this, he tried to develop an image for himself as a simple man, an image more in keeping with that of the “enlightened despots” of Europe, like Frederick II of Prussia.

Louis’s refusal to fully immerse himself in the court system explains the bad reputation that he eventually gained with the nobles. By depriving the nobility of its ceremonial role, the king deprived it of its accepted social role and protections. Initially created to control the nobility, the court system gradually ended up controlling the king as well.

Gradually, the image of the king during Louis’s reign became degraded. Poor management by Louis of the royal court, the refusal of the parlements (where the nobility and a part of the upper middle classes expressed themselves) to pass any meaningful reforms, and the often frivolous and capricious image of the Queen combined to tarnish the image of the king and monarchy. Many lampooners ridiculing Louis came from a part of the nobility that had a lot to lose, describing him not as “simply the king”, but as a “simpleton king.”


Absolute Monarch of France: 1774-1789

When Louis XVI succeeded to the throne in 1774 he was 20, as his father, the son of the previous king, Louis XV, had died in 1765. He had an enormous responsibility, as the government was deeply in debt, and resentment towards ‘despotic’ monarchy was on the rise. Louis therefore appointed an experienced advisor, Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas who, until his death in 1781 would take charge on many important ministerial decisions.

Radical financial reforms by Turgot and Malesherbes disaffected the nobles and were blocked by the parlements who insisted that the King did not have the legal right to levy new taxes. So Turgot was dismissed in 1776 and Malesherbes resigned in 1776 to be replaced by Jacques Necker. Necker supported the American Revolution, and progressed upon a policy of taking out large international loans instead of raising taxes. This, Louis hoped, would reduce France’s deficit and fund the American Revolutionary War, in which France participated from 1778 onward. When this policy failed miserably, Louis dismissed him, and replaced him with Charles Alexandre de Calonne, in 1783, who increased public spending to ‘buy’ the country’s way out of debt. Again this failed, so Louis convoked the Assembly of Notables in 1787 to discuss a revolutionary new fiscal reform of Calonne’s. When the nobles were told the extent of the debt, they were shocked into rejecting the plan. This signalled that Louis had lost his legitimacy to rule as an absolute monarch, and he fell into depression.

As power drifted from him, there were increasingly loud calls for him to convoke the Estates-General, and in May 1789 he did so, bringing it together for the first time since 1614 in a last-ditch attempt to get new monetary reforms approved. This convocation was one of the events that transformed the general economic and political malaise of the country into the French Revolution, which began in June 1789, when the Third Estate declared itself the National Assembly; Louis’ attempts to control it resulted in the Tennis Court Oath (serment du jeu de paume, 20 June), and the declaration of the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July. Hence, the legitimate power of King Louis had been undermined and became transferred to the elected representatives of the people’s nation. The storming of the Bastille on 14 July symbolised the victory of democratic constitutional monarchy over King Louis XVI’s absolute power.

Revolutionary Constitutional Reign: 1789-1792

On 5 October 1789, an angry mob of women from the Parisian underclass who had been incited by revolutionaries marched on the Palace of Versailles, where the royal family lived. During the night, they infiltrated the palace and attempted to kill the Queen, who was associated with a frivolous lifestyle that symbolized much that was despised about the Ancient Regime. After the situation had been diffused, the King and his family were brought back by the crowd to Paris to live in the Tuileries Palace.

Initially, after the removal of the royal family to Paris, Louis maintained a high popularity and was obliging to the social, political, and economic reforms of the Revolution. Unbeknownst to the public, however, recent scholarship has concluded that Louis began to suffer at the time from severe bouts of clinical depression, which left him prone to paralyzing indecisiveness. During these indecisive moments, his wife, the unpopular Queen, was essentially forced into assuming the role of decision-maker for the Crown.

The Revolution’s principles of popular sovereignty, though central to democratic principles of later eras, marked a decisive break from the absolute monarchical principle of throne and altar that was at the heart of traditional French government. As a result, the Revolution was opposed by many of the rural people of France and by practically all the governments of France’s neighbors. As the Revolution became more radical, several leading figures in the initial revolutionary movement themselves eventually began questioning the principles of popular control of government. Some, notably Honoré Mirabeau, secretly plotted to restore the power of the Crown in a new constitutional form.

However, Mirabeau’s sudden death, and Louis’s depression, fatally weakened developments in that area. Louis was nowhere near as reactionary as his right-wing brothers, the Comte de Provence and the Comte d’Artois, and he sent repeated messages publicly and privately calling on them to halt their attempts to launch counter-coups (often through his secretly nominated regent, former minister de Brienne). However, he was alienated from the new democratic government both by its negative reaction to the traditional role of the monarch and in its treatment of him and his family. He was particularly irked by being kept essentially as a prisoner in the Tuileries, where his wife was forced humiliatingly to have revolutionary soldiers in her private bedroom watching her as she slept, and by the refusal of the new regime to allow him to have Catholic confessors and priests of his choice rather than ‘constitutional priests’ created by the Revolution.

On 21 June 1791, Louis attempted to flee secretly with his family from Paris to the royalist fortress town of Montmédy on the northeastern border of France in the hope of forcing a more moderate swing in the Revolution than was deemed possible in radical Paris. However, flaws in the escape plan caused sufficient delays to enable the royal refugees to be recognized and captured along the way at Varennes. Supposedly Louis was captured while trying to make a purchase at a store, where the clerk recognized him. According to the legend, Louis was recognized because the coin used as payment featured an accurate portrait of him. He was returned to Paris, where he remained indubitably as constitutional king, though under effective house-arrest.

The other monarchies of Europe looked with concern at the developments in France, and considered whether they should intervene, either in support of Louis or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The key figure was Marie Antoinette’s brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, who had initially looked on the Revolution with equanimity, but became more and more disturbed as the Revolution became more radical, although he still hoped to avoid war. On 27 August, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia, in consultation with émigré French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pilnitz, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in the well-being of Louis and his family, and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Although Leopold saw the Pillnitz Declaration as a way of taking action that would enable him to avoid actually doing anything about France, at least for the moment, it was seen in France as a serious threat and was denounced by the revolutionary leaders.

In addition to the ideological differences between France and the monarchical powers of Europe, there were continuing disputes over the status of Austrian estates in Alsace, and the concern of members of the National Constituent Assembly about the agitation of emigré nobles abroad, especially in the Austrian Netherlands and the minor states of Germany.

In the end, the Legislative Assembly, supported by Louis, declared war on the Holy Roman Empire first, voting for war on 20 April 1792, after a long list of grievances were presented to it by the foreign minister, Charles François Dumouriez. Dumouriez prepared an immediate invasion of the Austrian Netherlands, where he expected the local population to rise against Austrian rule. However, the Revolution had thoroughly disorganized the army, and the forces raised were insufficient for the invasion. The soldiers fled at the first sign of battle, deserting en masse and in one case, murdering their general.

While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganized its armies, a mostly Prussian allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Koblenz on the Rhine. In July, the invasion commenced, with Brunswick’s army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. Brunswick then issued on 25 July a proclamation, written by Louis’ émigré cousin, the Prince of Condé, declaring the intent of the Austrians and Prussians to restore the King to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial-law.

Contrary to its intended purpose of strengthening the position of the King against the revolutionaries, the Brunswick Manifesto had the opposite effect of greatly undermining Louis’ already highly tenuous position in Paris. It was taken by many to be the final proof of a collusion between Louis and foreign powers in a conspiracy against his own country. The anger of the populace boiled over on 10 August when a mob — with the backing of a new municipal government of Paris that came to be known as the “insurrectionary” Paris Commune — besieged the Tuileries Palace. The King and the royal family took shelter with the Legislative Assembly.

Arrest and Execution: 1792-1793

Louis was officially arrested on 13 August and sent to the Temple, an ancient Paris fortress used as a prison. On 21 September, the National Convention declared France to be a republic.

Louis was tried (from 11 December 1792) and convicted of high treason before the National Convention. He was sentenced to death (21 January 1793) by guillotine by a very tight vote of 361 to 360, of which 72 effective abstentions.

Stripped of all titles and honorifics by the egalitarian, republican government, Citizen Louis Capet was guillotined in front of a cheering crowd on 21 January 1793. Executioner Charles Henri Sanson testified that the former King had bravely met his fate.

Historical information supplied by Wikipedia.

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Marie Antoinette: Last Queen of France

Born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Antonia was the daughter of Francis Stephen and Empress Maria Theresa; she was described as “a small, but completely healthy Archduchess.” Known at court as “Madame Antoine”, a French variation of her name, she was the fifteenth child, and the last daughter, born in the family.

The laxity of Vienese court life was compounded by the “private” life which was developed by the Habsburgs, which centered around certain castles (mainly Schönbrunn Palace) that were almost entirely off-limits to the rest of the court. In their “private” life, the family could dress in bourgeois attire with no reproach, played games with “normal” (non-royal) children, had their schooling, and were treated to gardens and menageries. Marie would later attempt to “re-create” this atmosphere through her renovation of the Petit Trianon.

Marriage to Louis Auguste; 1767-1770

The events leading to her eventual betrothal to the Dauphin of France began in 1765, when Francis I died of a stroke in August of that year, leaving Maria Theresa to co-rule with her son and heir, Emperor Joseph. By that time, marriage arrangements for several of Marie Antoinette’s sisters had been started, with Archduchess Maria Josepha to King Ferdinand of Naples, and Don Ferdinand of Parma was to tentatively marry one of the remaining eligible females. This was done to begin the cementing of various complex alliances that Maria Theresa had entered into in the 1750s, climaxing with the Seven Years’ War, which included Parma, Naples, Russia, and more importantly Austria’s traditional enemy, France. (Maria Christina, who had successfully lobbied with her mother for a love match, had married Prince Albert of Saxony by this time; the eldest surviving daughter, Archduchess Maria Anna was crippled and considered unsuitable for marriage.)

Then, in 1767, a smallpox outbreak hit the family; Antoine was one of the few who were immune due to already having it at a young age. Emperor Joseph’s wife, Josephe, died first; Maria Theresa herself caught it and nearly died. Maria Josepha then caught it from her sister-in-law’s improperly-sealed tomb , dying quickly afterwards; Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, another older sister, caught it, and though she did not die her looks were destroyed and she was rendered ineligible for marriage. To compensate for the loss, Maria Theresa replaced Maria Josepha in the Naples marriage with another daughter, Marie Caroline. Archduchess Maria Amalia, the eldest remaining candidate for marriage, was then married to Don Ferdinand of Parma.

This ultimately left twelve-year-old Antoine as the potential bride for the fourteen-year-old Dauphin of France, Louis Auguste. Working painstakingly to process the marriage between the respective governments of France and Austria, the dowry was set at 200,000 crowns; portraits and rings were eventually exchanged as was custom. Finally, Antoine was married by proxy on April 19, 1770, in the Church of the Augustine Friars; her brother Ferdinand stood in as the bridegroom. She was also officially restyled as Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France. Before leaving Maria Theresa reminded her of her duty to her home country; that she shouldn’t forget she was Austrian, and thus had to promote the interests of Austria even as she was to be the future Queen of France.

The ceremonial wedding of the Dauphin and Dauphine took place on May 16, 1770, in the palace of Versailles.

Life as Dauphine: 1770-1774

The inital reaction concerning the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste was decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine herself was popular among the people at large; her first official appearance in Paris on June 8, 1773 at Tuileries was considered by many royal watchers a resounding success, with a reported 50,000 people crying out to see her. A visit to the opera for a court performance was also reported a success, with the Dauphine herself leading the applause. She was also widely commemorated for her acts of charity; in one incident, she personally attended to a dying man and arranged for his family to receive an income in his wake.

In the court, however, the match was not so popular, due to the long-standing tensions between Austria and France, which had only so recently been mollified. Many courtiers had promoted a match with various Saxon princesses; while others accused her of trying to sway the king to Austria’s thrall, destroying long-standing traditions (such as appointing people to posts due to friendship and not to peerage) and laughing at the influence of older women in court. Many other courtiers, such as the Comtesse du Barry, had a more or less tenuous relationship with the Dauphine.

Marie Antoinette also still had to contend with her mother, who wrote to her daughter regularly and who received secret reports from the Mercy d’Argenteau on her daughter’s behavior. The Dauphine was constantly criticized for her inability to “inspire passion” in her husband, who rarely slept with her and had no interest in doing so, and was told again to promote the interests of Austria and the House of Lorraine, which Marie Antoinette was a member of through her late father. The Empress also criticized the Dauphine’s pastime of horseback riding, though paradoxically the Empress’s favorite portrait of her daughter was one of her in riding garb. The Empress would even go so far as to insult her daughter directly, telling her she was no longer pretty and had no talent, and was thus a failure.

To make up for the lack of affection from her husband and the endless criticism of her mother, Marie Antoinette began to spend more on gambling, with cards and horse-betting, as well as trips to the city and new clothing, shoes, pomade and rouge; the purchase of which, while extravagant (causing her to go into debt) and somewhat neglectful of her royal duties (a portion of the Dauphine’s allowance was supposed to go to charities), was not as much as critics accused her of spending. She was also expected by tradition to spend money on her attire, so as to outshine other women in the court, being the leading example of fashion in Versailles (the previous queen, Maria Leszczyska, having died several years prior to Antoinette’s arrival).

Marie Antoinette also began to form deep friendships with various ladies in her retinue. Most noted were the sensitive and “pure” widow Princesse de Lamballe, whom she appointed as Superintendent of the Household, and the fun-loving Gabrielle, Comtesse de Polignac, who would eventually form the cornerstone of the Queen’s Private Society (Société Particulière de la Reine). Polignac later became the Royal Governess, and was liked as a friend by Louis Auguste. Others taken into her confidence at this time included the Comte d’Artois; a younger sister of Louis Auguste, Madame Elisabeth; the Comtesse de Provence; and Christoph Willibald Gluck, her former music teacher, who fell under her patronage upon his arrival in France and supported his new work.

It was a week after the première of Gluck’s opera, Iphigénie en Aulide, which had secured the Dauphine’s position as a patron of the arts, that Louis XV began to fall ill on April 27, 1774. After several days of sickness, he sent Comtesse du Barry to a castle in Rueil on May 4; on May 10, at 3 pm, the king died of smallpox at the age of sixty-four.

Coronation and Reign: 1775-1793

Louis Auguste (re-styled Louis XVI) was officially crowned on June 11, 1775 at Rheims Cathedral. Marie Antoinette was not crowned alongside him, instead merely accompanying him during the coronation.

1775-1778: The Early Years From the outset, despite how she was portrayed by contemporary libellistes, the new queen had very little political influence with her husband. Louis, who had been influenced as a child by anti-Austrian sentiments in the court, blocked many of her candidates, including the Duc de Choiseul, from taking important positions, aided and abetted by his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Count of Maurepas and Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. All three were anti-Austrian, and were wary of the potential repercussions of allowing the queen – and, through her, the Austrian empire – to have any say in French policy.

Marie Antoinette’s situation became more precarious when, on August 6, 1775, her sister-in-law, Marie Thérèse, the wife of the Comte d’Artois, gave birth to a son, Louis Antoine, immediately titled the Duc d’Angoulême. He would be the heir to the French throne for seven years. This caused the queen to plunge further into the costly diversions of buying her dresses from Rose Bertin and gambling, simply to enjoy herself. On one famed occasion, she played for three days straight with players from Paris, straight up until her 21st birthday. She also began to attract various male admirers whom she accepted into her inner circles, including the Baron de Besenval, the Duc de Choigny, and Count Valentin Esterhazy.

She was given free reign to renovate the Petit Trianon, which was given to her as a gift by Louis XVI on August 27 1775; she concentrated mainly on horticulture, redesigning the garden in the English mode. Though the castle was built in Louis XV’s reign, the Petit Trianon became associated with Marie Antoinette’s perceived extravagance; rumors circulated that she plastered the walls with gold and diamonds.[

Though the queen was criticized for her expenditures, in truth, her spending amounted to little in comparison to the debt incurred by France during the Seven Years’ War, still unpaid. It would be further exacerbated by Vergennes’ prodding Louis XVI to get involved in Great Britain’s war with its North American colonies, due to France’s traditional hatred of England.

In the midst of preparations for sending aid to France, and in the atmosphere of first wave of libelles, Emperor Joseph came to call on his sister and brother-in-law on April 18, 1777, the subsequent six-week visit a part of the attempt to figure out why their marriage had not been consummated. It was due to Joseph’s intervention that on August 30, 1777, that the marriage was officially consummated. Eight months later, in April, it was suspected that the queen was finally pregnant; this was confirmed on May 16, 1778.

Motherhood and Modes: 1778-1781

In the middle of her pregnancy, two events which would mark the queen’s later life occurred; the return of the Swedish ladykiller and the Queen’s eventual reputed lover, Count Axel von Fersen to Versailles for the subsequent two years, and the disgrace of the Duc de Chartres in the wake of his questionable conduct during the Battle of Ouessant against the British.

The emperor Joseph also began to make succession claims for Bavaria through his late second wife, and Marie Antoinette’s pleading for the French to help intercede on behalf of Austria was rebuffed by the king and his ministers. The Peace of Teschen, signed on May 13, 1779, would later end the brief conflict, but the incident once more showed the limited influence that the queen had in politics.

Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie Thérèse Charlotte, known affectionately as “Madame Royale” (Madame Fille du Roi) was finally born at Versailles after a particularly difficult labor on December 19, 1778, followed by an ordeal in the afterbirth where the Queen literally collapsed from suffocation and hemorrhaging; the room was packed with courtiers watching the birth and the doctor aiding her supposedly caused the excessive bleeding by accident. The windows had to be torn out to revive her; just as it had been forbidden at the Austrian court, the queen banned most courtiers from entering her bedchamber for subsequent labors.

The baby’s paternity was contested in the libelles and most notably by the Comte de Provence, who had always been open about his desire to become King through various means; however, it was never contested by the king himself, who was close to his daughter. However, the pressure to have a male heir continued to be applied, and Antoinette wrote about her worrisome health, which might have contributed to a miscarriage in the summer of 1779.

Meanwhile, the queen began to institute changes in the modes of court, with the approval of the king. Some changes, such as the abolition of segregated dining spaces, had already been instituted for some time and had been met with disapproval from the older generation; more importantly was the abandonment of the wide-hooped panniers and heavy make-up for less make-up and plainer clothing, such as polonaises and, more famously, the muslin dresses which were captured by a 1783 Lebrun portrait of the queen. She also began to participate in amateur theatrics, starting in 1780, in a theatre built for her and other courtiers who wished to indulge in singing and acting.

Later that year, Empress Maria Theresa’s health began to give way due to dropsy and an unnamed respiratory problem; she died on November 29, 1780, aged sixty-three in Vienna; she was mourned throughout Europe. Though Marie Antoinette was worried that the death of her mother would jeopardize the Franco-Austrian alliance (as well as, ultimately, herself), Emperor Joseph reassured her through his own letters (as the empress had not stopped writing to Marie Antoinette until shortly before her death) that he had no intention of breaking the alliance.

Three months after the empress’ death, it was rumored that Marie Antoinette was pregnant again, which was confirmed in March of 1781. Another royal visit from Joseph II in July, partially to reaffirm the Franco-Austrian alliance and also a means of seeing his sister again, was tainted with rumors that Marie Antoinette was siphoning treasury money off to him, which were false.

The queen would give birth to Louis Joseph Xavier François, titled the Duc de Bretagne, on October 22, 1781. The reaction to finally giving birth to an heir was best summed up by the words of Louis XVI himself, as he wrote them down in his hunting journal: “Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of Dauphin”. He would, according to courtiers, try to frame sentences to put in the phrase “my son the Dauphin” in the weeks to come. It also helped that, three days before the birth, the fighting in the conflict in America had been concluded with the surrender of General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Declining Popularity: 1782-1785

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette’s political influence, such as it was, did not increase to the benefit of Austria, as it had been hoped. When accused of being a “dupe” by her brother for her supposed inactivity, Marie Antoinette responded that she had little power; the king rarely talked to her about policy, and his anti-Austrian-tinted education as a child fortified his refusals in allowing his wife any participation in his cabals; as a result, she had to pretend he told her in order to get information from his ministers, and so that the public believed she had more power than she did. As she wrote,”Would it be wise of me to have scenes with his (Louis XVI’s) ministers over matters on which it is practically certain the King would not support me?”.

Marie Antoinette’s temperament was more suited to her children, whose education and upbringing she personally saw to. This was against the mode of Versailles, where the queen usually had little say over the “Children of France”, as royal children were called, and they were instead handed over to various courtiers who fought over the privilege. In particular, after the Royal Governess at the time of the Dauphin’s birth, the Princesse de Rohan-Guéméné, went bankrupt and was forced to resign, and Marie Antoinette appointed the Duchess de Polignac to replace her. This met with disapproval from the court, as the duchess was considered to be of too “immodest” a birth to occupy the position; on the other hand, both the king and queen trusted her entirely, and the duchess had children of her own to whom the queen had become attached.

In 1784, the queen was occupied with the creation of a “model village” of twelve cottages and a mill at the Petit Trianon (nine cottages of which still stand today); this caused another uproar, and the actual price of the hameau were once again inflated by her critics. In truth, it was copied from another, far grander “model village” from the Prince de Condé; the Comtesse de Provence’s version even included windmills and a marble dairyhouse. She became an avid reader of historical novels, was also a witness to the launching of hot air balloons, and briefly had in her confidence various personages such as William Pitt and the Duke of Dorset.

Despite the many things which she did in her time, the primary concern at the time was the health of the Dauphin, which was beginning to fail. The possibility of the Dauphin not lasting through his childhood was commonly accepted, and it was rumored that the king and queen were attempting to have another child as a result. During this time, also, The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in Paris; after having banned it due to its portrayal of the nobility, it was ironically allowed because of its overwhelming popularity in secret readings with the nobility.[48]

On March 27, 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who was created the Duc de Normandie. He was noticeably stronger in constitution, even at birth, in comparison with the sickly Dauphin, and was affectionately nicknamed the queen’s chou d’amour. This naturally led to suspicions of illegitimacy once more, and this time – due to the combination of years of continued publications of the libelles, court intrigues, the actions of Joseph II in the unresolved “Scheldt Affair”, and the purchase of St. Cloud – the queen’s enemies were beginning to shape popular opinion towards the queen, and the image of a licentious, spendthrift, empty-headed Habsburg queen who ruled France was emerging in the French psyche.

Real Political Influence: 1786-June 1789

The continuing dissipation of the financial situation in France, though cutbacks in the royal retinue had been made, ultimately forced the king, in collaboration with his current Minister of Finance, Charles Alexandre Calonne, to call the Assembly of Notables, after an absence of 160 years, to try and pass some of the reforms needed to alleviate the situation when the Parlements refused to cooperate. The first meeting of the Assembly took place on February 22, 1787, at which Marie Antoinette was not present and was afterwards accused of trying to undermine the process.

However, the Assembly was a failure with or without the queen, as they did not pass any reforms and instead fell into a pattern of defying the king, demanding other reforms and for the acquicence of the Parlements. As a result, the king to dismiss Calonne on April 8, 1787; Vergennes died on February 13 and the king, once more ignoring the queen’s pro-Austrian candidate (which she had half-heartedly endorsed) appointing a childhood friend, the Comte de Montmorin, to replace him as Foreign Minister.

The Assembly of Notables was then dissolved on May 25 because of their inability to get things done. The lack of solutions, as a result, would cause the blame of the entire situation – which was really a result of successive wars, a too-large royal family who were given astronomical allowances (as every individual royal had their own household, and some, for example the Comte de Provence and Mesdames Tantes, spent far more frivolously than the queen ever had), and the unwillingness of ministers and other non-royal nobles to help defray the costs – to fall on the queen. She would earn her famous nickname of “Madame Deficit” in the summer of 1787 as a result of her perceived destroying of the French government.

The queen attempted to fight back with her own propaganda that portrayed her as the mother of the Children of France, most notably with the portrait of her and her children done by Vigée-Lebrun, which was to premiere at the Royal Académie Salon de Paris in August 1787. It was eventually dropped, however, due to the death of Sophie, the youngest child, due to convulsions from her baby teeth coming in, and also due to the unpopularity of the queen.

The political situation in 1787 began to worsen when Parlement was exiled and culminated on November 11, when the king used a lit de justice to try and force legislation through. He was unexpectedly challenged by the Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc de Chartres, now the Duc d’Orléans, who publicly protested the move, and was subsequently exiled. The May Edicts issued on May 8, 1788, also a lit de justice, were also opposed by the public. Finally, on July 8 and August 8, the king announced a preliminary hearing, and then his official intentions, respectively, to bring back the Estates General, an elected government body that had not been convened since 1614.

The queen was not directly involved with the exile of Parlement, the May Edicts or with the announcement regarding the Estates General. Her primary concern of late 1787 and 1788 was the betterment of Louis Joseph, who suffered from tuberculosis, which in his case twisted and curved his spinal column severely. He was sent to the castle at Meudon in hopes that he would be able to recover; unfortunately, the move did little to alleviate the Dauphin’s condition, which gradually continued to deteriorate. She was, however, present with Madame Royalle, when Tippu Sahib of Mysore visited Versailles for help against the British; more importantly she was the reason for the recall of Jacques Necker as Finance Minister on August 26, a popular move, even though she herself was worried that the recall would again go against her if Necker was unsuccessful.

Her prediction began to come true when the bread prices began to rise due to the severe 1788-1789 winter. The Dauphin’s condition worsened even more, riots broke out in Paris in April, and on March 26, Louis XVI himself almost died from a fall off the roof. “Come, Léonard, dress my hair, I must go like an actress, exhibit myself to a public that may hiss me” was her line to her hairdresser when she was preparing for the Mass celebrating the return of the Estates General on May 4, 1789 in which the Duc d’Orleans, flaunting that he had given money and bread to the people during the winter, was popularly acclaimed by the crowd. The Estates General convened the next day.

During the month of May, as the Estates General began to fissure between the more radical Third Estate comprised of the bourgeois and radical nobility) and the nobility of the Second Estate, while the king’s brothers began to become more hardline and the queen’s influence once more gave way to nothing. Instead, she turned to the care of the dying Dauphin, who finally passed at Meudon, with the queen at his side, on June 4, aged seven. His death, which would have normally been nationally mourned, was virtually ignored by the French people, who were instead preparing for the next meeting of the Estates General and the solution to the bread prices. As the Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath, and others listened to rumors that their queen wished to bathe in their blood, as she went into mourning.

The French Revolution: July 1789-1792

The situation began to escalate violently in July as the National Assembly began to demand more rights and Louis XVI began to lean back towards the nobility’s demands to suppress the Third Estate. Then, on July 11, Necker was dismissed. Paris was besieged by riots at the news, which culminated in the famous Storming of the Bastille on July 14.

In the weeks that followed, many of the influential conservative aristocrats, including the Comte d’Artois and the Duchesse de Polignac (who had briefly returned to France several months prior), fled France. Marie Antoinette, who was probably most in danger and plagued with threats of immurement and the exclusion of her as the Queen Regent should her husband die, stayed behind in order to help the king promote stability, even as his power was gradually taken away by the National Assembly, who now ruled Paris, and were conscripting men to serve in the National Guard.

By the end of August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man (La Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen) was adapted, which officially created the beginning of a constitutional monarchy in France. Despite this, the king was still required to perform court ceremonies, even as the situation in Paris started to worsen due to the bread shortage in September. In October, a dinner conducted for the royal bodyguards was turned into an orgy by revolutionary newspapers, and on October 5, on the beliefs that the king and queen were withholding bread, a bevy of market- women marched on Versailles to demand their voices be heard. The next day, they stormed the castle, killing several bodyguards in lieu of meeting the king, threatening Marie Antoinette’s life in the process.

The riot prompted the royal family – who also consisted of the Comte and Comtesse de Provence and the king’s sister Madame Elisabeth – to move to Paris under guard of the National Guard; they stayed at the Tuileries under a lax house arrest. After this Marie Antoinette conveyed to her friends that she did not intend to involve herself any further in French politics, as everything, whether or not she was involved, would inevitably be attributed to her anyway and she feared the repercussions of further involvement.

Despite the situation, Marie Antoinette was still required to perform charitable functions and certain religious ceremonies, which she did, though outside of this most of her time was dedicated to her children once more. Meanwhile, she was not privy to the creation of the French Constitution, which was further weakening the king’s authority, creating a constitutional monarchy. She nevertheless hoped for a future where her son would be able to rule, convinced that the violence would soon pass.

She was, however, subjected to several different confidences that involved her fleeing France on her own, which she rejected because she wished to stay with the king. Other attempts to rescue the king in the early days of their residence in the Tuileries were ultimately rejected by the king through his indeciciveness. The king’s indecisiveness also played an important role in the poor execution of an elaborate attempt to escape from Paris to the fortress town of Montmédy conducted in 1791 with the aide of Count von Fersen. Initially, the queen rejected the plan because it required her to leave with only her son. She wished instead for the rest of the royal family to accompany her. The king ended up blundering on the subject of accompaniment, the date of departure, and also the route of the escape. The escape ultimately occurred on June 21, 1791, and was a failure; the entire family was captured twenty-four hours later at Varennes and taken back to Paris within the week.

The result was a decline in popularity for both the king and queen, which correlated with the rise of the Jacobin party in French politics, who called for the end to all monarchy in France. Though the Constitution was accepted on September 14, Marie Antoinette hoped through the end of 1791 that the Constitution would prove unworkable and, also, that perhaps her brother, Leopold (who had succeeded Emperor Joseph upon his death from tuberculosis on February 20, 1790) would send an armed congress to liberate them, as opposed to the king’s brothers, who she felt would cause trouble. However, she was unaware that Leopold was more interested in taking advantage of France’s state of chaos for his own personal gain rather than help her or her family.

The result of Leopold’s aggressive tendencies – and those of his son Francis II, who succeeded him in March – was that war was declared between France and Austria on April 20, 1792. This caused the queen to be viewed as an enemy, even though she was personally against Austrian claims on French lands. The situation became compounded in the summer when French armies were continually defeated and the king vetoed several measures that would have restricted his power even further, which caused Marie Antoinette to receive the nickname “Madame Veto”. On June 20, a mob broke into the Tuileries and demanded the king wear the tricolor to show his loyalty to France. On July 31, the king’s unpopularity was so great that the National Assembly officially suspended his power with the words, “Louis XVI is no longer the King of the French”.

The vulnerability of the abolished king was exposed on August 10, when a clash between Swiss Guards and republican forces forced the royal family to take refuge with the Assembly; several hundred died in the standoff. The royal family was moved to the tower of the Marais Temple on August 13, which was considerably harsher than their previous conditions. A week later, many of the family’s attendants were taken in for interrogation by the Paris Commune; the Princesse de Lamballe was among them, and was found guilty and executed on September 2, her head affixed on a pike that was paraded around the city (Marie Antoinette did not see the head, but fainted upon learning what had happened). Then, on September 21, the monarchy was officially ended, and the National Convention was installed as the legal authority of France, and the royal family was re-styled as the non-royal “Capets”; preparations for trying the king also went underway.

Charged with undermining the republic, Louis was separated from his family and tried in December. He was found guilty by the Convention, lead by the Jacobins who rejected the idea of keeping him as a hostage. However, the sentence would not come until a month later, when he was condemned to execution by the guillotine.

“Widow Capet”; Death 1793

Louis was executed on January 21, 1793, aged thirty-eight. The result was that Antoinette Capet, as the former queen was called after the abolition of the monarchy, plunged into deep mourning; she refused to eat or take any exercise. Nor did she proclaim her son as Louis XVII, unlike the Comte de Provence, who in exile proclaimed himself regent for the boy. Her health rapidly deteriorated in the following months. By this time she suffered from tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer, which caused her to hemorrhage frequently.

Despite her condition, the debate as to her fate was the central question of the National Convention after Louis’s death. There were those who had been advocating her death for some time, while some had the idea of exchanging her for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor. Thomas Paine advocated exile to America. Starting in April, however, a Committee of Public Safety was formed, and men such as Jacques Hébert were beginning to call for Antoinette’s trial; by the end of May the Girondins had been chased out of power and arrested.Other calls were made to “retrain” the Dauphin, to make him more pliant to revolutionary ideas. This was carried out when Louis Charles was separated from Antoinette on July 3, and given to the care of a cobbler. On August 1, she herself was taken out of the Tower and entered into the Conciergerie as Prisoner No. 280. Despite various attempts to get her out, such as the Carnation Plot in September, Capet refused when the plots to free her were brought to her attention.

She was finally tried by revolutionary tribunal on October 14. Unlike the king, who had been given time to prepare a defense, the queen’s trial was far more of a sham, considering the time she was given (less than one day) and the Jacobin’s misogynistic view of women in general. Among the things she was accused of (most, if not all, the accusations were untrue and probably lifted from rumors began by libelles) included orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria, plotting to kill the Duc d’Orleans, declaring her son to be the new King of France and orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792.

The most serious charge, however, was that she had abused her son. This was according to Louis Charles, who, through his coaching by Hebert and his guardian, accused his mother. The accusation caused Antoinette to protest so emotionally that the females present in the courtroom – the market women who had stormed the palace for her entrails in 1789 – ironically also began to support her. However, in reality the outcome of the trial had already been decided by the Committee of Public Safety around the time the Carnation Plot was uncovered, and she was declared guilty in the early morning of October 16, after two days of proceedings. She was executed later that day, at 12:15 pm, two and a half weeks before her thirty-ninth birthday. Though initially buried in an unmarked grave in the rue d’Anjou, her body was recovered in 1815 and re-buried at St. Denis Cathedral.

From Wikipedia the online encyclopedia.

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Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

“So prettily done! Just as your drawings always are, my dear. I do not know any body who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders — and it makes one think she must catch cold.”
-Emma

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (Marie Élisabeth Louise; 16 April 1755 – 30 March 1842) was a French painter, and is recognized as the most famous woman painter of the 18th century. Her style is generally considered Rococo and shows interest in the subject of neoclassical painting. Vigée Le Brun cannot be considered a pure Neoclassist, however, in that she creates mostly portraits in Neoclassical dress rather than the History painting. In her choice of color and style while serving as the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette, Vigée Le Brun is purely Rococo.

Early Life

Born in Paris on 16 April 1755, Marie Élisabeth Louise Vigée was the daughter of a portraitist and fan painter, Louis Vigée, from whom she received her first instruction. Her mother was a hairdresser. She was sent to live with relatives in Épernon until the age of 6 when she entered a convent where she remained for five years. Her father died when she was 12 years old following an infection from surgery to remove a fish bone lodged in his throat. In 1768, her mother married a wealthy jeweler, Jacques-Francois Le Sèvre and the family moved to the rue Saint-Honoré close to the Palais Royal. She was later patronised by the wealthy heiress Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, wife of Philippe Égalité. During this period Louise Élisabeth benefited by the advice of Gabriel François Doyen, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Joseph Vernet, and other masters of the period.

By the time she was in her early teens, Louise Élisabeth was painting portraits professionally. After her studio was seized, for practising without a license, she applied to the Académie de Saint Luc, which unwittingly exhibited her works in their Salon. On 25 October 1783, she was made a member of the Académie.

 

Marie Antoinette

On 12 February 1780, Vigée Le Brun gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Julie Louise, whom she called “Julie”.On 7 August 1775 she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, a painter and art dealer. (Her husband’s great uncle was Charles Le Brun, first Director of the French Academy under Louis XIV.) Vigée Le Brun painted portraits of many of the nobility of the day and as her career blossomed, she was invited to the Palace of Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette.

So pleased was the queen that during a period of six years, Vigée Le Brun would paint more than thirty portraits of the queen and her family, leading to her being commonly viewed as the official portraitist of Marie Antoinette. While beneficial during the reign of the Bourbon royals, this label was to prove problematic later.

In 1781 she and her husband toured Flanders and the Netherlands where seeing the works of the Flemish masters inspired her to try new techniques. There, she painted portraits of some of the nobility, including the Prince of Nassau.

On 31 May 1783, Vigée Le Brun was accepted as a member of France’s Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. She submitted numerous portraits along with an allegorical history painting which she considered her morceau de réception—La Paix qui ramène l’Abondance (Peace Bringing Back Prosperity). The Academy did not place her work within an academic category of type of painting—history or portraiture.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard also was admitted on the same day. The admission of Vigée Le Brun was opposed on the grounds that her husband was an art dealer, but eventually they were overruled by an order from Louis XVI because Marie Antoinette put considerable pressure on her husband on behalf of her painter. The admission of more than one woman on the same day to the Académie encouraged comparisons among the works of the women instead of one woman contrasted with the existing members, who were men.

In 1789, she was succeeded as court painter to Marie Antoinette by Alexander Kucharsky.

French Revolution

After the arrest of the royal family during the French Revolution Vigée Le Brun fled France with her young daughter Julie. She lived and worked for some years in Italy, Austria, and Russia, where her experience in dealing with an aristocratic clientele was still useful. In Rome, her paintings met with great critical acclaim and she was elected to the Roman Accademia di San Luca.

In Russia, she was received by the nobility and painted numerous aristocrats including members of the family of Catherine the Great. Although the French aesthetic was widely admired in Russia there remained some cultural differences in what was deemed acceptable. Catherine was not initially happy with Vigée Le Brun’s portrait of her granddaughters, Elena and Alaxandra Pavlovna, due to the area of bare skin the short sleeved gowns revealed. In order to please the Empress, Vigée Le Brun added sleeves giving the work its characteristic look. This tactic seemed effective in pleasing Catherine as she agreed to sit herself for Vigée Le Brun (although Catherine died of a stroke before this work was due to begin).

While in Saint Petersburg, Vigée Le Brun was made a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg.

Much to Vigée Le Brun’s dismay, her daughter Julie married a Russian nobleman.

After a sustained campaign by her ex-husband and other family members to have her name removed from the list of counter-revolutionary émigrés, Vigée Le Brun was finally able to return to France during the reign of Emperor Napoleon I. In spite of being no longer labeled as émigrée, her relationship with the new regime was never totally harmonious, as might be expected given that she was a strong royalist and the former portraitist of Marie Antoinette.

Much in demand by the élite of Europe, she visited England at the beginning of the 19th century and painted the portrait of several British notables including Lord Byron. In 1807 she traveled to Switzerland and was made an honorary member of the Société pour l’Avancement des Beaux-Arts of Geneva.

She published her memoirs in 1835 and 1837, which provide an interesting view of the training of artists at the end of the period dominated by royal academies. Her portrait of fellow neoclassical painter, Hubert Robert, is in Paris at Musée National du Louvre.

Still very active with her painting in her fifties, she purchased a house in Louveciennes, Île-de-France, and lived there until the house was seized by the Prussian Army during the war in 1814. She stayed in Paris until her death on 30 March 1842 when her body was taken back to Louveciennes and buried in the Cimetière de Louveciennes near her old home.

Her tombstone epitaph states “Ici, enfin, je reposé…” (Here, at last, I rest…).

Vigée Le Brun left a legacy of 660 portraits and 200 landscapes. In addition to private collections, her works may be found at major museums in Europe and the United States.


From Wikipedia.