Some Painters To The Queen

L0t 353: Jacques Barthélémy DeLamarre, “Portrait of a small poodle, said to be ‘Pompon,’ a beloved dog of Marie Antoinette”, 9.5×12.5 in., sold yesterday for USD 279,400

Let’s stipulate that this and all other portraits of the dog said to be “‘Pompon, a beloved dog of Marie Antoinette,” are beyond reproach as sublime objects whose puppily gaze pierces the viewer—and the artist before them, the ur-viewer—to the very soul, and that the muses attend them, shining their divine rays from the upper left corner to light up that shaved ass at least a dozen times. Let’s stipulate, too, that while there is no explanation under the sun or the Sun King for why these paintings should be $4-11,000 one day, and $279,400 the next, the buyer of this painting yesterday, and all their fierce but unsuccessful rivals, are all connoisseurs of the most sophisticated taste and judgment.

All that can be true, and yet when you look at this painting—surely a masterpiece of its own singular genre—alongside paintings made by artists whose careers in service to the queen and the court of Versailles are long and widely known, it just don’t add up. It just don’t add up.

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Nature morte,1783, 43×35 in., in original frame, selling next month at Christie’s Paris, est. EUR 600k-1m [update: it sold for EUR 2.58 million]

Above is the best painting ever made by Anne Vallayer-Coster, a still life artist brought into the Royal Academy by Chardin and granted a studio in the Louvre and a stipend by Marie Antoinette, which she exhibited once to universal praise and kept for herself until her death.

Vigée le Brun, Portrait de Joseph Hyacinthe François-de-Paule de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil, 51×38 in., sold at Christie’s last year for EUR592,000, or roughly half the price of the Pompon

Above is the portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée le Brun of the Comte de Vaudreuil, her hard-partying patron and her and her art dealer husband’s biggest client, who slept his way to the top of Versailles and took Vigée le Brun with her, making her famous.

Does Delamarre’s painting seem to inhabit the same artistic sphere? Do the clients commissioning and buying these paintings seem like the same ones to have handheld pictures of this wide-eyed poodle? Surely Pompon is beloved, but by whom, really?

This week I’ve combed through the history I can find, and there is mention of Marie Antoinette’s dog, and acknowledgement of her cats and farm and menagerie. But there is no Pompon. The dog story is about a loyal dog that sat outside The Temple where she was imprisoned, and waited faithfully and futilely after she was beheaded. If this dog existed, it was not Pompon.

Pedigreed Painting’s presumed provenance promises premium pricing: “parfois dit ‘Pompon'”

I still can’t shake the bafflement in the 1987 Art & Antiques article about the appearance at auction of three, then four, identical dog paintings by an unknown artist Delamarre, that was taped to the back of yesterday’s painting. Things get lost and rediscovered all the time. That Vallayer-Coster painting was unseen for 200 years until now. But I can’t shake the suspicion that Pompon is some 1980s antique dealer’s manifestation of the undying passion his customers have for objects associated with France’s most famous queen.

[Bonus image update: I really didn’t have anywhere to put this great image of the framed Vigée le Brun portrait. I thought I’d just downloaded it from Christie’s too quickly, twice, before realizing it is what it is. And I love it.]

ÉLISABETH LOUISE VIGÉE LE BRUN (PARIS 1755-1842) Portrait de Joseph Hyacinthe François-de-Paule de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil (1740-1817), assis dans un fauteuil, 18 May 2022, Christie’s

Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre Facsimile Object (D1) ‘Pompon’