A Portrait of Talleyrand by François Gérard Joins the Metropolitan Museum

8/10/12 - Acquisitions - New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art - What a masterpiece ! The expression might sound a bit trite but is the first to come to mind when looking at the Portrait of Talleyrand by François Gérard (ill.) just acquired by the Metropolitan Museum from the Wildenstein Gallery in New York. The second is naturally : how did France let such a painting leave the country ? It is immensely important both for its quality as well as the personality it represents. The work was still in France in 2003 after making a detour via Poland (Sagan) and the national museum in Warsaw where it joined the collections in 1947 before being returned in 1969 to the Duke of Sagan’s sister, Hélène Violette de Talleyrand Périgord. She had married a descendant of the famous collector, the Count of Pourtalès. The painting resided at the time at the château de Bandeville in Saint-Cyr-sous-Dourdan, the count’s estate.

1. François Gérard (1770-1837)
Portrait of Charles-Maurice de
, 1808
Oil on Canvas - 213 x 147 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : The Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. François Gérard (1770-1837)
Portrait of Charles-Maurice de

Oil on Canvas - 32 x 24 cm
Versailles, Musée national du Château
Photo : RMN/GP

The Metropolitan’s gain is our loss. Given the acquisition budgets looming ahead, we can be sure that this will be repeated many times over, diminishing French heritage in the future. We can always see the work in New York, except those who are unable or cannot afford to travel. There is nothing so elitist as lowering funds for museums which are a source of enrichment and pleasure for everyone, rich or poor, unlike what many uneducated persons think.

This is all the more deplorable since there is a reduced version of this work in Versailles (ill. 2). Much more sketchy, much smaller also, it does not present the exceptional qualities of the large portrait.
The latter was exhibited at the Salon of 1808 and we know that Talleyrand was close to François Gérard, in fact was one of his patrons. This was a private commission which the "Devil who Limped" kept with him until he died. It is hard to know which we should admire the most : the elegant pose, the delicate colors, the refinement of the gilt bronze on the armchair and the desk....
The work was acquired thanks to a donation by Mrs. Charles Wrightsman.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 9 octobre 2012

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