Marie d’Orléans. Princess and Romantic artist. 1813-1839

Marie d’Orléans. Princesse et artiste romantique. 1813-1839. _ Paris, Musée du Louvre, from 18 April to 31 July 2008
Chantilly, Musée Condé, from 9 April to 31 July 2008.

1. Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)
Portrait of Marie d’Orléans
Oil on canvas - 155 x 73 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : Musée Condé

Marie d’Orléans (ill. 1), daughter of a king, holds an ambiguous place in art history. Many see only the whims of a rich young girl in her sculpting activities. Dead at the age of twenty-five, her obviously reduced body of work was soon forgotten with the exception of one piece, Joan of Arc Standing, reproduced to the point of nausea in every imaginable type of matter and size. The rest of her production has been until now ignored. The double retrospective which the Louvre and the Musée Condé have recently inaugurated, shortly after the Triqueti exhibition, in fact reveals a true artist.

Learning how to draw was one of the basics in a prince’s education and this tradition dates back much further than just the 19th century. Louis XIII, for instance, knew how to draw well [1]. The Prince of Joinville, Marie’s brother, left some fine watercolours.
Marie d’Orléans therefore, just like her brothers and sisters, took drawing lessons from Ary Scheffer, who was close to Louis-Philippe. As a matter of fact, the painter despaired at her apparent lack of talent. Although he admitted she had a wonderful imagination, the quality of her line left much to be desired and he stated that he was “tired of correcting broken arms and twisted legs every day”. So, nothing seemed to predispose Marie towards becoming an artist until her sister Louise left for Belgium after marrying Léopold. The princess was so affected by her sister’s departure that she fell into a deep depression. Sculpture, which Scheffer took up in her company, quickly filled the void and she sought refuge from her pain in it. There was no longer cause to criticize her drawing. The few works she produced in her short career were no doubt executed under the guidance and supervision of Ary Scheffer. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that they are original, and contemporary statements, such as that of Scheffer himself, prove that Marie is indeed the author of the compositions attributed to her, despite the rumors and gossip spread by those who were always eager to criticize the Orléans family.

2. Marie d’Orléans (1813-1839)
Joan of Arc on Horseback Crying at
the Sight of a Wounded Englishman

Bronze - 53 x 52 x 37 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : Musée Condé

The few drawings by Marie d’Orléans presented in the exhibition are, it is true, of an average quality. Thus, it is a shame that her painted self-portrait, held in Dordrechts [2] and reproduced on p. 32 of the catalogue, could not make it either to Paris or to Chantilly, as it would give a better idea of the artist in a two-dimensional work. This portrait — very close to the style of Ary Scheffer — is remarkable, a quality which is not really found in her watercolours nor even in the cycle of drawings after Byron (from the Dordrechts Museum and shown at the Louvre).
Marie is therefore and above all a sculptor. To have a fully representative idea of her art, visitors should see both exhibitions but museum goers with little time can nonetheless limit themselves to one as a version of each of her major works is present in both places thanks to the multiple nature of statuary art.

There is of course, Joan of Arc Standing which we mentioned earlier. The final marble, from Versailles, is shown at the Louvre [3]. Some might prefer the magnificent Joan of Arc on Horseback Crying at the Sight of a Wounded Englishman (ill. 2) which is presented in several versions including an exceptional cire perdue casting by Honoré Gonon (Chantilly). Here, the artist is close to Barye in whom she finds her inspiration also for her Knights in Combat which recalls the sculpted battlescenes by Théodore Gechter as well.
Gechter, Barye, the names show that Marie is familiar with these sculptors which are favorites of her brother Ferdinand although they are barely noticed at the Salons from which they are often excluded. The name of another woman sculptor, Félicie de Fauveau a supporter of the “legitimist” party for the throne, also comes to mind with a model for a sword hilt (cat. 63).

3. Marie d’Orléans (1813-1839)
Resurrection of the Poet, 1834
Plaster - 54.2 x 86.5 x 7 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : Musée Condé

Amateurs of Romantic sculpture will no doubt discover for the first time the two reliefs inspired by Ahasvérus, a prose poem by Edgar Quinet. As is the case for most of the other compositions, several plaster examples are known since the artist had several editions produced in order to make gifts to her family or friends. Those in Chantilly from the Duke of Aumale are set in neo-gothic wooden frames. Probably among some of her earliest attempts at sculpture by Marie, they are in any case the first (and only ?) reliefs ever made by her. Scheffer attributed their conception entirely to Marie. The Resurrection of the Poet (ill. 3) reveals nonetheless the master’s influence on the student. This very poetic scene already evokes, as pointed out by Isabelle Lemaître in the entry, a fine sense of relief work. This piece also shows a close parallel to the art of another great Romantic sculptor, Antonin Moine.

4. Marie d’Orléans (1813-1839)
Angel of Resignation
Terracotta - 29 x 9 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : D. Rykner

A few years ago, the Louvre acquired some neo-gothic furniture designed by the architect Louis Charles Théodore Charpentier which decorated Marie’s workshop at the Tuileries palace allowing for the reconstruction of the atmosphere there-illustrated in several paintings by Prosper Lafaye. The original atelier was respectfully preserved until the Revolution of 1848.
An eminently Romantic figure, Marie personified it even in her death. In 1837, she left for Germany with Alexandre de Wurtemberg whom she had just married. In January 1838, a fire destroyed her workshop and she caught cold escaping into the winter night. With her health weakened and after giving birth to a baby boy in July, she died of pulmonary consumption in Pisa, Italy where she had gone to rest on her doctor’s recommendation. Three years later, another member of the Orléans family would join her in a precocious death, her brother Ferdinand. Louis-Philippe’s two most promising children, one on the artistic level, the other politically, had thus disappeared. They were reunited one last time at the Chapelle de la Compassion in Paris : at the head of the Prince’s recumbent figure sculpted by Triqueti, an Angel designed by Marie [4] (executed by Auguste Trouchaud) raises his soul to heaven.

Anne Dion-Tenenbaum (ed.), Marie d’Orléans. Princesse et artiste romantique, Somogy Editions d’Art, 256 p., 32 €. ISBN : 978-2-7572-0165-7.

The catalogue is remarkable in every way, with a perfect balance between the essays, devoted to different aspects of Marie d’Orléans’ career as well as her relationship with artists of the time, and entries on the works shown.

Visitor Information:Paris, Musée du Louvre. Open Wednesday through Monday, 9.00 - 18.00, Wednesday and Friday to 22.00.

Louvre Website

Chantilly, Musée Condé, BP 70243, 60631 Chantilly Cédex. Phone : +33 (0)3 44 27 31 80. Open Wednesday to Monday, 10.30 - 18.00.

Site du Musée Condé

Didier Rykner, dimanche 6 juillet 2008


[1] Interestingly, the Louvre recently acquired one of his pastels : see news item of 20/4/07 in French on La Tribune de l’Art.

[2] The Dordrechts museum has an extensive holding of works by Marie d’Orléans, thanks to the bequest in 1899 by Cornélia Marjolin-Scheffer, Ary Scheffer’s only child.

[3] The catalogue attributes it to Auguste Trouchaud, the sculpting assistant in charge of its transcription in this material. This attribution in fact raises the question of who is the actual author of such a sculpture. It is well known, and this is particularly true in the 19th century, that many sculptors entrusted assistants with the task of making marble productions of works they had executed in terracotta or plaster. Notably, Rodin never, or almost never, touched a piece of marble. Even if, in the Versailles inventory, the final sculpture is listed under the name of the assistant, it is nevertheless a real work by Marie. Louis-Philippe himself considered it as such when he inaugurated it.

[4] There does not seem to be any model of this angel left today. We reproduce here (ill. 4) a very beautiful study in terracotta for another angelical figure, The Angel of Resignation.

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