Chapter 1: Introduction
In eighteenth century court life, it was common for the king to have a mistress, a woman who was publicly presented to the queen and court. One of Louis VX's mistresses, Madame de Pompadour, served not only as the king's mistress, even after her five year sexual relationship ended, she maintained a significant public role in aristocratic court life for another fourteen years, a role seen to encompass that of the king's prime minister. During her life at court, she also became known as a ‘patron of the arts' and was declared the godmother and queen of the Rococo by the Goncourt brothers in the nineteenth century (Lajer-Burcharth (2003: 3).
For a bourgeois woman to enter aristocratic life and maintain her powerful position in eighteenth century France is striking in two respects: first, the class you were born into marked your position in society; and second, it was typically men who held positions of power and were patrons of the arts.
This dissertation will explore how Pompadour, from her bourgeois background, firmly established herself from mistress to counsel to the king. Specifically, it focuses on how her relationship to the arts, both in terms of how the works she commissioned and her portraits played a central role. While more recent scholarship has questioned her role as ‘patron of the arts' and regard her as an ‘accumulator,' this dissertation does not focus as much on the merits of this debate, but instead addresses how this debate highlights the varied ways she used art to create and solidify her relationship with the king.
Chapter Two will consider how her early life prepared her for court, from being called ‘Queeny,' to a fortune teller predicting she would become the king's mistress, and to the art influences she received during her upbringing, due to her position in the rising bourgeoisie. Chapter Three will examine how she used art for her advantage, in particular considering works she commissioned on the theme of friendship. Chapter Four explores her self-portrayal in her portraits, and considers five of her many portraits. Chapter Five discusses the topical debate of whether Pompadour was a patron or an ‘accumulator' in order to highlight her complex relationship with the arts in solidifying her relationship with the king. Finally, Chapter Six draws some conclusions about Madame de Pompadour's unique role and impact at court, as mediated through her relationship to art.
Chapter 2: Bourgeoisie to Royal Mistress
Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, later to become Madame de Pompadour, was born in December 1721 in Paris to a modest but comfortable living. At her birth, her father Francois Poisson, had recently been employed by the Paris Brothers, prominent s in the French financial system. Her mother, Madame Poisson, was known for her sexual promiscuity, which was later used by Jeanne-Antoinette's enemies at court in their attempts to remove her.
In 1726, when Jeanne-Antoinette was five, Francois Poisson was accused of speculating in wheat and for partly holding responsibility for the famine which occurred that year. In response to this charge he fled and only returned ten years later in 1736. During her father's absence Jeanne-Antoinette was sent to a convent for four years to receive her education. In response to her seemingly ‘queenly' disposition, she acquired the nickname Reinette (Queeny), which remained with her even after she left the convent.
In 1730, at the age of nine, she returned to her mother's care and was promptly taken to a fortune teller. In an auspicious reading, the fortune teller predicted that she would become the King's mistress. This prediction became a turning point in her education, which Jeanne-Antoinette later recognised by leaving the fortune teller money in her will. Madame Poisson began grooming her daughter for the role of royal mistress enlisting the help, and finances from Monsieur Lenormand de Tourneham who paid for her education and exposed her to cultured Parisian society. As a result, she evolved into an accomplished young woman whose unlikely interests included botany, natural history and painting. Together with her brother, Abel, she learnt about the arts and arts patronage, growing up among people who were knowledgeable about art, had respect for many different art forms and had excellent taste, qualities that were associated with their class background of the “honest bourgeois who paid for what they ordered” Mitford (1988: 21).
In 1741, when she reached marriageable age, she was already declared by those around her as fit for a king. Tourneham found her a husband, his nephew, which allowed her to venture into and be fully accepted by Parisian society. Upon the union Jeanne-Antoinette took the name of d'Etioles after her uncle's estate where they lived. McInnes (1965: 77-78) cites that Madame d'Etioles joked “I would never leave my husband – except, of course, for the king,” showing the profound effect the fortune tellers prophesy had had on her.
As she established contacts in the arts world, she was well liked. One of her contacts in the art world became Boucher, a popular painter at court who had recently completed a portrait of the king's current mistress, the Duchesse de Chateauroux. Boucher's increased attendance as a painter at court coincided with frequent visits to Madame d'Etioles' salon which she had established in 1744 (Marcia 2007: 9). Her passion for literature and her social charm developed, standing as a good foundation for her time at court. People were pleased with her charm, elegance and wit allowing her to be fully accepted; resulting in her receiving invitations everywhere (Mitford 1988: 27).
Pevitt Algrant (2002: 11) states “she excelled in everything. She was designed for society. Endowed with great natural gifts, she also learned the importance of discretion, discipline, and self control.” While out in society she struck up relationships with artists, intellectuals and philosophers whom she later patronised, enjoying this interaction for its own merits.
As she became better known, the king first came to learn her name from the Comtesse de Mailly, sister of the Duchesse de Chateauroux, who is said to be the first to mention her name before the king describing how she had been moved to hug Madame d'Etioles after she had played the clavichord and sung so beautifully. It could be argued that her involvement in the arts was a way to help her achieve her ambition to win the King's affection. REFERENCE
The Chateau d'Etioles was in the Senart forest where the king went hunting. Although only noble families were allowed to accompany the king on hunts; those living close by were allowed to follow in carriages. When Madame d'Etioles went out in her carriage, she dressed brightly to catch the king's attention (McInnes, 1965:92); as a result the king began to send presents of game to her house. However the king was not the only one to have noticed her and she received a letter from the king's current mistress, the Duchesse de Chateauroux, warning her to stay away from the hunt. It could be argued that it is a sign of the power of the mistress that it was not until the death of the Duchesse in 1744 that Madame d'Etioles and the King Louis XV met.
The date of their meeting, although disputed, is believed to be in February 1745 where they are believed to have danced together at a masked ball at Versailles (Shennan, 1997: 318). Following this Madame d'Etioles received an invitation to another Ball, celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin's wedding to the Spanish princess Marie-Therese. Rumours of their affair are said to have begun after this Ball. Pevitt Algrant cites the Duc de Luynes talking of the court gossip, “If it is true, it would not realistically be more than a flirtation and the lady not a mistress” (Pevitt Algrant, 2002: 36-37). It was inconceivable to the court that the king would allow a woman of bourgeois decent to be installed at court, the relationship therefore was seen as a passing fancy. However after only three months he was ready to present her at court, making make her his maitresse declaree. There is no record, but it might be surmised that it was her artistic accomplishments combined with her success in keeping the king amused which allowed her to reach this position. To be presented at court however she needed a title, an estate and an aristocratic coat of arms.
McInnes (1965: 113) writes that the title Marquise de Pompadour, a name which was extinct due to lack of heirs, was given to her along with the Pompadour estate and coat of arms ( 1) in 1745. The coat of arms, depicting three towers on an azure oval shield appeared in simplified forms in her later commissioned portraits to remind the viewer of her title and position. Hence the famous Madame de Pompadour, the king's favourite, was born and remained till her early death almost two decades later in 1764.
The strict etiquette of the court, a unique environment, meant that before the presentation, she had to undertake lessons in court etiquette, for Louis XV was worried she would embarrass him. Pompadour therefore retired to the Chateau d'Etioles with two courtiers who were to teach her, the Abbé de Bernis and the Marquis de Gontaut.
Her presentation at Court was in early September 1745, Pompadour was a bourgeoisie “camouflaged as a person of high rank” (Jones 2002: 40). During the presentation which included introductions to the king, the queen and the dauphin, watched by the rest of the court; the Queen greeted her kindly suggesting her apparent acceptance of this Bourgeoisie at court. This led to Pompadour declaring her allegiance to the Queen helping, throughout her reign, to bridge the void which had developed between the king and queen resulting from the behaviour and attitudes of previous mistresses. This helped to consolidate Pompadour's position as court.
Upon her arrival at court Pompadour had to make acquaintances, learning friend from foe. Of the King's most trusted courtiers, two supported her and the third despised her, setting out to make her life difficult. It could be argued that one reason for her difficulty in gaining acceptance was that coming from a bourgeoisie background broke the norms of court as she was socially inferior. Birenbaum and Sagarin (1976: 5) argue that society needs norms to function. However breaking the norms can cause conforming members to hold together in rejection of the irregularity.
People questioned how long she would be able to hold the position (Mitford, 1954: 64). The courtiers were always looking for signs of the king's waning affection, expecting him to get bored, but things were quite to the contrary, she had many ways of keeping him amused. Her early and continued passion for theatre stood her in good stead. She was able to use it to keep the king entertained and focusing his attention on her. She never adopted the manners of a courtier and was a breath of fresh air for the king. Despite this non-conformist attitude she was accepted by many due to her polite and amusing nature and possibly due to the recognition of her power and influence within the court, yet she would always have enemies. She was seen as part of the rising bourgeoisie whose wealth was increasing, while the courtiers' wealth was deteriorating, as they spent too much on clothes and carriages to display their social rank at court. This jealousy fuelled those against her. Within the court therefore two kinds of nobles: nobility of the robe, which was passed through blood lines; and nobility of the sword, which could be given by the king or bought. There was often tension between the two as the latter nobles had risen from the bourgeoisie.
Despite the snobbery at court, Pompadour established herself. Delpierre (1996: 1) wrote that women in the eighteenth century were “the governing principle, the guiding reason, the commanding voice…women kept the court in order…no catastrophe, no sweeping changes occurred that did not emanate from the action of women.” The power of the Royal Favourite was especially great. Despite holding the role of the King's mistress for almost two decades, their sexual relationship lasted only for five, ending in 1750, but her influence continued. Madame de Pompadour expanded the role to include; lover, close friend, personal confidant, policy consultant, government aide, ministerial adviser, patron and cultural impresario. Goodman (2000: 11) cites the Abbe de Bernis describing their relationship in 1757 and 1758:
“The king knew that the marquise was only his friend…she was the depository of secrets of his soul; she knew intimately all his affairs; she was the centre of his ministers; she was not a mistress to be sent away; she was a friend, whom no one could replace…Mme de Pompadour was, in point of fact, the King's prime-minister, without the title.”
It could be argued that by increasing the scope of her role and acting as friend and confident rather than lover, she made herself indispensable to the king. It was unheard of at the time for the king to have a retiring mistress as this was the role of the queen; the function of the mistress was to fill his sexual appetite. Sex therefore was treated like a commodity, pretty lower class girls were kept for him at a small villa near Versailles where he visited, unknown to them as the king. Her power in the role of mistress allowed her to bestow other positions of power on those close to her, often of Bourgeoisie descent. Her uncle, Tourneham, assumed the role of Directeur General des Batiments (Director-General of Buildings) in 1745 which encompassed both government policy and expenditure on the arts. This role was then given to her brother, with the newly created title Marquis de Marigny in 1751 (Posner 1990: 74). Their support from this influential position helped Pompadour in her patronage of the arts, Posner (1990: 75) recounts a 1758 biographer suggesting that Pompadour was the power behind the Directeur General des Batiments while her brother officially held the position. La Font de Saint-Yenne's, a contemporary art critic, believed that the power that this gave Pompadour was “an unholy alliance between Crown and finance” (Gutwirth, 1992: 19). Although Pompadour has been linked with the Rococo style which has been called ‘trivial,' Crow claims that Tourneham's installation was “to introduce a new seriousness and sobriety” into the arts (cited in Gutwirth, 1992: 19).
The growing prominence of women in both the political and commercial arenas was becoming a cause of anxiety (De Grazia, 1996: 11), men feared that if women became too involved with activities outside their traditional role it would result in a great social disturbance. De Grazia notes under the Old Regime the monarchy's power lay in control of the hierarchies of taste and obvious displays of social distinction.
Mansel (2005: 2) cites Nicolas Delamare explaining how “splendour is necessary to maintain the rank of birth, to teach respect to the Peoples and to uphold commerce and the Arts.” This offers an explanation as to why Pompadour's influence on the arts was so great. Social rank was an outward display and initiated from the monarchy. Therefore as royal mistress Pompadour was always on show and presented as an icon to be copied. Not only did Pompadour exercise “sovereign power over the arts” it is also suggested that “it was only [her] influence…which managed to ensure that the arts were fostered” (Posner, 1990: 76). Haskell (1987: 65) suggested that social, political, moral and religious health can be determined by the art of a certain period and Pompadour in her role was ideally placed to have influence and opinions on many of these areas.
It seems clear that Pompadour's early life helped her to develop her position at court, she understood the importance of visual distinctions and began to apply this to art, especially in her portraits in which she manipulated to present her crafted public persona. She also used themes to state messages. This use of art helped her achieve her ambitions at court, a position which she held for nineteen years, only ending due to her early death.
Chapter 3: Commissions and Ambition
Pompadour's commissions will be examine in this chapter in order to realise how they supported her ambitions. Likely due to her early exposure to the arts Madame de Pompadour saw the importance of art and its interrelation with the court and monarchy. Traditionally patrons were men, women did have portraits painted but they did not have much disposable income as they were not directly responsible for their wealth. Pompadour however refuted this traditional gender restriction and joined other (male) patrons of the arts for example Colbert, Louis XIV's minister, who used art patronage to display the grandeur of France. Trout (1978: 179) notes that Colbert had a “longing for grandeur and prestige,” resulting in his support of projects that promoted the French nation.
Although living the generation before Pompadour, Colbert's attitude shows the importance of the arts which she used to her advantage while holding the position of the king's favourite. It is also interesting to observe their financial commitment to art. Colbert was parsimonious when it came to other areas of spending but when it came to the arts he was more liberal, believing in its importance of furthering France's power. Until the outbreak of the Seven Year War (1756 – 63), for which Pompadour was blamed, she had unlimited credit. It is estimated that Pompadour cost the King 36 million livres on art (the Seven Year War cost 1350 million livres).  Despite the amount she spent on art she died with very little money but had enough works of art to fill several museums, it took eight months to catalogue her collection and a further year to sell.
It is also interesting to note that Pompadour seems to have used some of the Louis XIV's methods of patronage to represent herself for her own means which Louis the XV did not do, modelling herself on male methods of representation. Louis XIV's self representation was copied by many monarchs but Pompadour was unique in adapting it for creating images for her own purpose. The idea of creating a dual existence, the real physical existence and that portrayed through art has been called ‘the king's two bodies' (West, 2004: 72). It could be suggested that Pompadour's success at court, of climbing the hierarchy despite her background, was due to her ability to reinvent her public self through specific images, thus removing herself from the Bourgeoisie. She not only used her portraits to make statements, she also adopted certain themes, such as the theme of friendship, to affirm her position to court.
The change in the nature of her relationship with the king in 1750 from mistress to friend led to a change in the art Pompadour commissioned (Goodman, 2000: 11). It is worth noting that the major pieces associated with Pompadour are all dated after this change in relationship; it can therefore be argued that she used art to secure her position at court. Her first portrait was completed by Nattier in 1748, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour ( 3) and has none of the self projection that would enter into her later portraits rendering her indistinguishable from other courtly beauties.
It is worth considering whether she used her patronage and commissions after 1750 to help sustain her place in the king's favour or whether it was due to a more superficial reason. She certainly used art to state her new position and authority (Posner, 1990: 77). Between 1750 and 1754 she focused on creating a new symbolism, that of friendship, these works were critical for both her personal morale and her public reputation. Gordon (1968: 249) suggests that it was these commissions that helped to establish this friendship with the king as one of “respectable purity and enviable dignity.” This new symbolism became irrevocably linked with Pompadour; many artists used it to make memorial tributes to her after her death.
During the 1750s Pompadour commissioned several sculptures by Pigalle on this theme, L'Education de L'Amour, Amitié ( 4), Amour et L'Amitié. Although the theme became common, many pieces of which can be linked to Pompadour, Pigalle's group L'Education de L'Amour, commissioned for the Chateau of Muette was never finished, yet it would have been the only significant sculptured version connected to the theme (Gordon 1968: 250). It was to include the s, Mercury (representing the king), Venus (representing Pompadour) and Cupid (representing their love). It is possible, although highly improbable, that there was no particular meaning in this group piece. The circumstances and timing of its commission however make it very unlikely.
The commission for L'Education de L'Amour and L'Amitié were given to be carved from the same marble block. The latter's significance has always been understood to represent its patroness' private life whereas the former has had no such suggestion had it been completed, Gordon believes however that its representation would have been to celebrate her new and platonic love with Louis XV. The impact of the group would have been to distance their relationship from the frivolous love affairs so common in courtly circles, presenting it as a more permanent friendship. Gordon () suggests that this sculpture was never completed because Pompadour lost interest. This might raise the question about her seriousness as a patron of the arts.
As L'Education de L'Amour was never finished L'Amitié was left to make the intended statement, platonic love. It was commissioned for Bellevue, to take the place of the statue of Amour standing in the garden. L'Amitié depicts Friendship, recognisable by the 's simple clothing which exposes her left breast. With her left hand outstretched, she offers her heart to Louis VX, whose statue stood opposite. The gesture is very human and the scene is presented with dignity. It could be argued that the intended placement of the sculpture adds greatly to the statement the sculpture is portraying, not only is Pompadour depicted as Friendship but the image is taking the place of love both physically in the grounds and in their relationship.
Sculpture was not the only medium this theme was commissioned in. Pompadour commissioned Boucher to further establish the desired image of herself. It was in his final painting of his patron, Madame de Pompadour ( 5), painted in 1759, that the theme of friendship was given its most lyrical twist (Goodman, 2000: 16). It depicts Pompadour standing alone before Pigalle's sculpture Amour et L'Amitié which she reclines against. Pigalle's Amour et L'Amitié was completed the previous year in 1758 and depicts Amour (love) and Amitié (friendship), sculpted with Pompadour's features, embracing each other with great tenderness and is reminiscent of images of Venus and Cupid. In the painting the sculpture is surrounded by foliage while her dress á la française picks up its colour from the roses near her right foot. The rose colour used had by 1751 been associated with Pompadour, it was officially titled Pompadour Pink and had become part of the French palette, due to her particular fondness of the colour pink which was well known, it was also linked with feminine and fashionable society (Hyde 2006:88). The painting also includes her dog, Inès, sitting on the garden seat to her right, the dog was also known as ‘Fidelity,' and represents the unquestioning devotion and obedience which Pompadour had for the King (Jones, 2002: 70).
The painting is an example of Pompadour's self-image management depicting her as a beautiful young woman despite her sickly disposition at the time. The inclusion of Pigalle's sculpture and Inès add greater significance, signifying to the viewer the strength of her friendship with the king several years after their intimate relationship had finished.
Chapter 4: Portraits and Self Portrayal
Pompadour certainly used her self image manipulated through art for her own personal gain. The way in which she used her own image was one of her greatest successes, effectively creating and managing her chosen persona (Marcia, 2007: 5).
She commissioned many portraits, second in number only to the king, each depicting her with all her early assets, seductive charm and pristine beauty. As mentioned above the majority of her portraits were commissioned after 1750 when her relationship with the king had become a friendship. Jones (2002: 68) has suggested that this was her way of compensating for her exile from the kings bed and it could be argued that it helped establish her continued presence in court.
Portraits continued even after age began to show yet her image was manipulated to hide this. It is interesting to look at how West (2004: 21) defines portraiture. She notes that a portrait can be concerned with a person's ‘inner life' as well as their physical appearance; Pompadour's portraits reveal many things about her ‘inner life' and her power and influence at court. She is often surrounded by objects that represent her intelligence and as mentioned above her friendship and relationship with the king. West also notes that when looking at portraits there are three factors which should be considered: firstly is the portrait based more on the likeness of the sitter or does it show more generic qualities of the social milieu? Secondly, is the portrait more of an expression of the inner virtues of a person or of their physical attributes? Finally, what negotiations were made before the portrait was begun, and are there any implications from the relationship of the sitter and the artist? As previously mentioned Pompadour used portraiture as a tool to further herself at court by presenting her image in a certain way, making a predefined impact. She also had a close relationship with Boucher, her preferred portrait artist, which would have allowed her a greater influence on the outcome. It is worth considering whether Pompadour's image was manipulated to fit in with the social milieu at court due to the fact that her bourgeois background was seen as a great fault and used against her by her enemies.
In 1748 Pompadour's residence at Bellevue was finished, it was the only one of her estates of her own conception. It was an “opportunity not only to demonstrate her taste, but also, through a purposeful and explicit program, to extol her virtues, talents and status” (Marcia, 2007: 26-7). She commissioned Carle Van Loo to paint three harem themed panels for the Turkish bedroom in the early 1750s.
The Turkish harem theme was not an uncommon one since the publication of One Thousand and One Nights and a visit from the Turkish Ambassador in 1721. Pompadour owned a copy of the publication and although it is unlikely that she herself identified with the main character Scheherazade, Jones (2002: 142) has noted a strong similarity between the two women, both spinning a web of enchantment around their ruler. Van Loo at the time was a favourite with collectors and was already associated with the theme, having already painted a Turkish genre scene in Louis XV's private apartment at Versailles. Typically the theme of the harem depicted male domination and female submission however Van Loo's painting for Pompadour depicts female power strongly suggesting that its patron had an influence in its message and outcome.
Van Loo's painting A Sultana Taking her Coffee ( 6), completed in 1752 is an example of Pompadour's early use of self promotion through her own image, highlighting the unique relationship between herself and the King. The other two paintings for the room were An Odalisque Playing a Stringed Instrument and Two Odalisques Embroidering which add to its significance. Stein (Marcia, 2007: 24) confirmed the Sultana's resemblance to Pompadour is unmistakable through her profile, recognisable from her other portraits. She is also depicted wearing oriental trousers which Pompadour was known to have had in her wardrobe, and the black slave serving the sultana her coffee is reminiscent of the two black slaves that were part of Pompadour's staff (Jones, 2002:74-5).
The painting depicts the sultana reclining while a black servant kneels to her right offering her coffee, as the sultana reaches out to take the coffee they make eye contact. The sultana is the focal of the painting as she alone is lit by the light streaming through the barred window. In her left hand she holds a Turkish pipe which she rests on a small stool next to her. The sultana is also depicted in lavish surroundings and elaborately dressed, with jewels and a rose atop her headpiece, the scene is painted with rich tones, all combining to refer to the high position of this particular sultana. Although the sultana is in a passive pose, she is depicted sitting upright with posture that commands presence, in a state of aristocratic relaxation. The other two paintings Van Loo painted for the room depict the odalisques busy with menial
Carle Vanloo The Sultana Drinking Coffee, circa 1754 Oil on canvas H. 1.20 m; L. 1.27 m Inv. 7489 Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum tasks, entertaining and embroidering, comparative with the sultana's inactive leisure it stands to draw attention to the distinctions in rank within the harem.
Upon the stool next to her lies a white handkerchief which looks as if it was casually thrown into the room. The white handkerchief had great significance referring to the Sultan's selection process; he would toss a handkerchief at the chosen odalisque's feet. This had become a quintessential expression “of the central moment of exotic romance fantasized by French audiences” to such an extent as to invoke an indication of the King's moment of selection (Marcia, 2007: 25), an account of Pompadour and Louis XV's meeting at the masked ball by Angerville states that:
“She had a handkerchief in her hand and, by accident or by design, she dropped it Louis eagerly picked it up, and, being too far away to hand it to her, tossed it to her as politely as he could…A vague murmur arose in the room, ‘The handkerchief is thrown!'”
Pompadour's role at court allowed for the courtiers to imagine her as the chosen sultana from Louis' harem, making the painting significant to the analogy of Versailles and confirming her influence over the king despite their cooling sexual relationship. Like the theme of friendship previously discussed, the harem imagery allowed Pompadour to use her patronage to separate herself from Bourgeoisie background and define her role as mistress.
In 1756 Pompadour was made lady-in-waiting to the Queen, a position traditionally reserved for the nobility of the sword; Pompadour's appointment therefore was very surprising and was met with disapproval, yet it serves to further support the level of power she held at court. The role called for her to dress more humbly and to give up her make up, emphasising her role serving the Queen. The Queen, by this time, had stopped wearing make-up due to religious reasons. Prior to Pompadour's appointment she had begun to use her toilette as a time to discuss business and further her political ambition. Therefore she refused to give up these luxuries and stated this through a portrait to commemorate the appointment by Boucher, known as the Munich portrait due to its current location at Alte Pinakothek. Portrait of Madame de Pompadour ( 8) depicts her as a femme savante (learned woman), a common depiction in her portraits; this is an exemplary image of this. The Munich portrait depicts her in full formal court dress resembling coronation robes (Goncourt, 1948: 80), representing her status and authority. She did however stop receiving people at her toilette, instead receiving them at her embroidery frame.
The painting depicts Pompadour relaxing, alone, upon a chaise longue. The scene appears to capture her in an intimate space which she has withdrawn to either to be alone or to be joined by intimate company. The room in which she is depicted suggests a cabinet, which Scott (2005: 250) describes as “the most interior of interior spaces.” The golden drapery has two representations, firstly suggesting reference to Pompadour's love of the theatre and performing and secondly standing as a metaphor for revelation, which Scott (2004: 251) refers to as “the veil of formality momentarily drawn aside.” Although at first glance it may appear that Pompadour sits before a wall, yet behind her is a mirror reflecting the back of her head. The rest of the reflection however does not seem to correspond with the rest of the room. The large fluted stone column in the reflection was used in the eighteenth century to divide space and represents the chamber de parade where the rituals for rising and retiring to bed were performed. Scott notes that this is not a mistake; it is a purposeful contradiction allowing the viewer to see that Pompadour's interest in the arts was a personal attachment rather than simply a convention or a formality. This suggests her role as a serious patron of the arts.
The space surrounding her is filled with her possessions, confirming that the room was hers. Some objects her coat of arms ( 3) such as the red leather bound books in the foreground on the right and carved into the bookcase behind her. This incorporation of her cost of arms is a reference to the king and her dependence on him. The coat of arms represented Pompadour's new identity which was given to her by Louis XV and allowed her to be presented at court. The pearl bracelet on her left wrist, it has been suggested, is based on a cameo bracelet Pompadour owned which was engraved with the king's head (Marica, 2007: 42). Marica suggests that the fact that his face has been turned inwards represents both his presence and his absence. It was not unusual for paintings of mistresses at the time to allude to their lover.
Surrounding her are also things she has evidently used such as the book in her hand and a paperback under her writing desk which looks well read. In the foreground on the left we can see a disorganised portfolio of prints, upon which the both Boucher's and Pompadour's names can be distinguished. Boucher here refers to Pompadour herself as an image-maker by incorporating some of her own etchings in the work. Her writing desk to her left also appears to have been recently used; sitting upon it is an open letter and near by is a pen, ink, sealing wax and a candle. Boucher also draws attention to Pompadour's exquisite taste of interiors; everything looks well cared for, the interior is defined by its contents rather than its geometric space. Bachelard (cited in Scott, 2004: 251) comments that “it appears rebuilt from within.”
It is worth noting that the painting was sent several times to Versailles while Boucher was working on it so Pompadour could check the progress and have input into the outcome, thus showing her power in the management of her own image. The Goncourt brothers (1948: 81) noted that Boucher was the artist which Pompadour trusted the most going so far as to call him “her private artist.” This was the only of Boucher's portrait of Pompadour to be displayed publically; it was shown in the salon of 1757 ( 7). It shows the viewer both her ‘public face,' through her elaborate dress, and her ‘private face' implied by her intimate surroundings (Marcia 2007: 46).
The following year Boucher was commissioned to paint another portrait of the royal favourite, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour at her Toilette ( 8), on display in the Fogg Museum of Art, and referred to as the Fogg portrait, again this shows how Pompadour used art for her political advantage. It is interesting to note however that the painting was given to her brother so would not have been widely seen. It therefore begs consideration into the reason for Pompadour's portraits, this will be discussed later.
Painting women at their toilette was not an uncommon depiction, as wearing make-up was a sign of status, linking the wearer to the aristocracy. During Pompadour's reign as mistress she wore heavier make-up as time went on, possibly as a way of distancing herself from her former life as bourgeoisie (Hyde 2000: 458). Bourgeois women did wear make-up but it tended to be for a natural look as shown in Nattier's Portrait of Madame de Pompadour ( 1).
The Fogg portrait presents Pompadour sitting at her toilette, looking out at the viewer as if interrupted in her routine of applying rouge. The perspective used in the painting brings the viewer into Pompadour's space; almost as if the viewer is on the table before her. Pompadour sits upon a lavish brocade chair leaning forward wearing a white négligé du matin which ties with a pink bow around her throat, parting to reveal her ornate dressing gown. This gives an impression of informality at her ‘public toilette' (Marcia 2007: 52). Her left hand is raised; delicately holding a make-up brush readyto apply her rouge. Albinson (2008: 297) suggests that this, combined with the pot of rouge in her hand, implies that Boucher gave her the tools to fabricate her own image. The depiction of the brush in her left hand is unusual, as the eighteenth century norm was to portray people as right handed (Hyde 2000: 468). The use of make-up has also been linked to painting, presenting Pompadour as an image maker. This is further presented through her pose of “making herself up” leading to the question “who for example has painted her lips?” (Hyde 2000: 464). The nearness of the loaded brush to the pink bow around her neck is also indicative of Pompadour's authorisation of the image. In fact the Fogg portrait has unmistakable characteristics of a self portrait; the half length format, brush in hand and the back of the mirror positioned as if a canvas. This would also help to explain the close angle from which she is viewed and her left handed make-up application, the mirror image of her right hand.
On her left wrist is the cameo bracelet bearing the image of Louis XV which sits directly below her eyes. Jones (2002: 81) suggests that the image was copied from an engraving Pompadour herself had done and therefore a sign of her power over him confirming her power at court.
Hyde (2000: 465) reveals an allegorical meaning to the Fogg portrait by stating that Pompadour's image was based on a 1754 pastel Boucher had previously completed of her, Madame de Pompadour ( 9). The facial features and expression are almost identical. This is especially significant due to the numerous portraits Boucher completed of her. Surrounding Pompadour's bust in the pastel is a garland of roses held by three amorini presented above a collection of emblems including items such as books, sheet music and a palette with brushes. These emblems refer to Pompadour's attributes or, as Hyde notes, attributes of her taste. The Fogg portrait recons the pastel presenting Pompadour as both artist and artwork and therefore patron.
Although Pompadour did not give up her rouge she stopped receiving visitors at her toilette and instead began to receive them at her embroidery frame, as previously mentioned, and as Drouais' portrait Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame ( 10) displays. It was begun in 1763 and finished after her death in 1764 meaning that Drouais finished the painting from memory, which perhaps explains Pompadour's most matronly depiction. It displays Pompadour sitting at her Tambour frame at the height of her power. Jones (2002: 148) suggests that her work at the tapestry frame is a pretext for her larger efforts, that in politics, patronage and distancing herself from her roots.
As in her other portraits she is surrounded by emblems referring to this and her dog, Ines, signifies her fidelity and obedience to the king, while light falls on her face suggesting her place in the Enlightenment (Jones 2002: 148). The addition of a lace cap gives the painting an interesting twist, it is not unlike that which the Queen wore in a 1748 portrait by Nattier and therefore refers to her queenly attributes. Favour at court was more important from Pompadour than the Queen, “the courtiers understood that there were now two Queens of France…and that it was not the wife of the king who reigned” (Mitford 1954: 128).
Despite the many portraits her brother believed that she was never successfully recorded, commenting many times “that not one of her…portraits was really like her” (Mitford, 1988: 21). Each artist captured her differently so it is difficult to know which is the best likeness, “her eyes are sometimes gray, or blue, or green; her features shift” (Pepper, 2002). The differences between her images by a variety of artists is likely to be due to Pompadour's manipulation of her image; discussing the outcome and impact of the image before and during its completion.
Forrest (2005: 49) recalls the Goncourt brothers' belief that when looking at a portrait of Madame de Pompadour, no matter how idealised, “the viewer nevertheless takes away…a profound understanding of the real woman.” This emphasises West's (2004: 12) view that no matter how idealised or distorted, a portrait will, in some way engage with the identity of the sitter. It is interesting to consider whether Drouais' portrait is the closest likeness to Pompadour towards the end of her role, as it only had limited input due to its completion after her death.
Upon considering why Pompadour commissioned so many portraits and for what purpose where they done. ?McInnes? (1965) suggests that the reason for them was for the king, to hold his interest and portray herself to him as she wished to be seen. This is the mostly likely reason as so few of her portraits were exhibited; the rest therefore would only have been seen by a select audience. It is likely that many would have been seen by those at court so the secondary function may also have been to state her role to them.
Chapter 4: Patron or Accumulator?
Reflection on Pompadour's life it is interesting to look at whether or not she is a patron or an accumulator as she used to her advantage during her life time. It is a topic in which there has been begun to be debated in recent years. Jones (2002: 150) writes that “Pompadour was more accumulator than collector or connoisseur, and was merely fortunate to have the cultural capital and the financial means to profit from the high quality of the artistic field on which she drew.” Steele (1998: 24-25) suggests that at this time, the bourgeoisie were developing a more powerful position to influence both fashion and politics. Thus fashions did not emanate from court alone.
Campbell Orr (2003: 245) also suggests that “Pompadour's role [as mistress] had less to do with sex than with shopping, and even more to do … with exercising power as a filter for royal patronage.” Her power over royal patronage can be seen through her influence on her uncle and then brother in their role as Directeur General des Batiments, discussed in chapter 2 and greatly allowed her to exercise her taste.
Posner (1990: 76) states that as a result of his study he believes that the significance of Pompadour's role in patronage is “vastly exaggerated and often entirely wrong” and that it is only Sèvres porcelain which she truly patronised, see below, the money spent on art otherwise was due to good taste and as a result of trying to achieve other goals. It cannot be denied that Pompadour used art for her advantage, using it to state messages about her position. Yet does this use of art and the use of her patronage to help her achieve greater ambitions take away from her being a patron?
Cabanne (1963: viii) offers a psychological analysis of a collector stating that they must have four key factors: a possessive instinct; a necessity for spontaneous activity; a desire to surpass oneself and a need for social standing. Pompadour certainly used art to help her social standing and commissioned several works upon the same theme by several artists but as for a possessive instinct and a necessity for spontaneous activity it is hard to draw a solid conclusion.
When thinking about The French Sultana, discussed in chapter 3, it is interesting to note that the harem imagery was not new; she was simply repeating a known theme. Traditionally the theme was used to depict “male fetishization of the exotic (female) ‘other,'” but Pompadour used the imagery for her own ‘female' advantage, asserting her power (Marcia, 2007: 35). The message portrayed gave the harem imagery a new dimension and showing her innovation.
In the 1800s the term ‘Pompadour Style' was coined to describe the fashions during the reign of Louis XV, with the Goncourt brothers declaring her the ‘godmother and queen of the Rococo' (Lajer-Burcharth, 2003: 3). Yet there has still been much debate upon Pompadours' role in the arts. There is no doubt that she commissioned pieces yet the amount of time it took to catalogue the pieces suggest an “acquisitional impulse of their owner rather than her discernment and capacity to envision the effect of the rooms they were to decorate and define”.
A touring exhibition about Pompadour was put together in 2002 to exhibit in Versailles, Munich and London called Madame de Pompadour and the Arts. The curators' view was that Pompadour was not a patron but “an exigent mistress of the house whose taste developed according to the newest fashion while reflecting the milieu of financiers and the tax farmers who had educated her” (Lajer-Burcharth, 2003: 4). However the layout of the exhibition misrepresented the collection. The exhibition was split into categories rather than shown in their intended groupings. When the exhibition came to London its name was changed to Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress suggesting the exhibition would focus around a more central theme. However the curators structured the display chronologically rather than by themes and put great effort into linking her images to political changes in France at the time. Lajer-Burcharth also notes that the exhibition portrays Pompadour as “latter-day celebrity rather than an eighteenth century woman of means and ambition, both personal and artistic.” Rather than producing a catalogue to accompany the exhibition a historian was commissioned to complete a biography of her life, in this publication images were used solely for illustrative purposes and no art historical information were given. This highlights their view that Pompadour's paintings “ did not deliver any message except pleasing the owner of the places [where they hung] and demonstrating that she knew how to recognize the best painters” (Lajer-Burcharth, 2003: 7).
In Crossland's (2000: xi-xii) opinion “Pompadour has been appreciated as a patron of the arts…[but] not widely enough.” Posner (1990: 96) states that the majority of artists whom she patronised were already well known and successful in their own right before she gave them commissions. However she did on occasion encourage new talent such as Falconet, her patronage in this case greatly boosted his career. It is also worth noting that her patronage encouraged those artists who were already successful, an example of this is Boucher. Initially he was commissioned to create two tapestry designs recreating a theme often used by Louis XIV; The Rising of the Sun ( 10) and The Setting of the Sun ( 11) for one of Pompadour's chateaus. Upon seeing the initial design for the former painted in lime and monochrome she changed her plan for them and had them completed as paintings. They are Boucher's most ambitious works and he believed them to be his masterpieces (Kloss, 2005). The central nymph in The Setting of the Sun, although not a portrait, is suspected to have been based on Pompadour and Appollo on Louis XV standing to draw a comparison between Pompadour and to both France and Louis XIV's famous mistress. In the eighteenth century many great works of art were originally designated tapestry designs but completed as paintings once their potential was realised in their early designs. Pompadour “decision [in this matter]…showed her excellent taste” (Kloss, ibid)
Despite the numerous paintings that Pompadour owned, she had no select place, such as a gallery, to display them (Posner 1990:98). They were distributed throughout her many residences leading to her being remembered for her “legendary talent for creating spaces that overflowed with novel styles, colour and materials” (Anon, 2002: 82). She commissioned work for a specific purpose, to deliberately fill a specific space, not just for the sake of collection. This explains why she did not display them together and emphasising further the misrepresentation of the exhibitions. It is worth noting however that Pompadour was not interested in paintings by the Old Masters, her primary interest lay in pieces made and painted in contemporary France. This highlights her interest in supporting the French economy whilst indulging her passion for the arts, showing her to be an intelligent woman and highlighting her interest in the politics of the time. It could be speculated that a contributory factor in Pompadour's support of contemporary French artists may be due to the fact that her artistic passion was funded by the French crown who was perhaps happier to support, promote and encourage contemporary French artists.
When thinking about Pompadour as a patron or an accumulator another area which must be considered is Sèvres porcelain for which Pompadour has been given much credit. Upon her death she owned over two thousand pieces; she was the first private purchaser of a complete Vincennes porcelain dining service in 1753. The company gifted her nineteen statuettes in 1755 as a sign of recognition and gratitude for her support (Posner, 1990: 86). Pompadour has also been associated with the factory's relocation from Vincennes to Sèvres, near Bellevue. She was also well placed to suggest artists for employment at the company such as Falconet and Boucher which were taken up. Sèvres porcelain is famous for its use of royal blue and pompadour rose, both reminiscent of its early patronage.
Coates (2004: 51) in a discussion on class and language argues that the lower middle class as a group use “hypercorrection” in pronunciation as a result of the social insecurity of being on the borderline between middle and working class. Taking this into consideration, it could be argued that Pompadour used her image management through patronage of the arts a similar way to language management. The UK Arts Sponsorship Database emphasises the impact of art sponsorship in the 21st century as a “marketing vehicle” which says more about the company than conventional advertising. There is nothing to suggest that it was very different 300 years ago, art although open to interpretation, can be a powerful tool in stating a desired message and creating a relevant impact.
Whether she was a patron or an accumulator is still up for debate, yet it raises interesting questions about how she used art to sustain her position at court. It could be argued that Pompadour used art patronage to promote herself in a similar way to commercial enterprises today.
Chapter 5: Conclusion
Based on the research for this dissertation, Madame de Pompadour's position as a Bourgeoisie woman shaped her patronage and role at court. It could be argued that coming from a lowly background, she needed to prove herself at court, especially after her sexual relationship with the king ended. In fact it is when her relationship with the king became platonic, and with the king filling his sexual appetite with non-threatening girls away from the court, that she showed greater interest and involvement in the arts and politics. Although art may have been used as a tool to achieve her other ambitions, as some have suggested (), it is evident therefore that Pompadour's influence in the arts was not merely for her pleasure but was strategic, it distanced her from her bourgeois origin, supported the French economy, and demonstrated her intelligence as patron and politician.
The fortune teller's early prediction as being the king's mistress clearly left a mark on her upbringing which Pompadour recognised by leaving her money in her will to this fortune teller. Family ambition then prepared her for her life at court. Growing up in the rising bourgeoisie, she learnt about patronage from her family who patronised artists themselves. This social position became critical for her, allowing her to meet people who would later be useful to her, such as Boucher, who helped her to fabricate a public image.
As shown in Chapter Three, post 1750, Pompadour's portraits all had a common message and depictions as a femme savante, a learned woman in the kings affection and in a position of power, particularly evident in the Munich portrait. The fact that she commissioned this portrait and disregarded traditional etiquette in its depiction of her declared her power and status at court.
Her incorporation of the theme of friendship when bestowing her patronage can be interpreted as a clear declaration of how platonic love endured even though her sexual relationship with the king had ended. This can be seen as a clever and strategic image management allowing, guiding courtiers' perception of her relationship and removing it from a frivolous love affair.
Madame de Pompadour's life and relationship to the arts is complex, not unlike the relationships that women even in the twenty first century have with the arts. She highlights strategic vision for contemporary times, as a remarkable woman who rose, against the odds to become the most powerful woman in France during her reign. Despite her early death she is remembered for her patronage, leaving a legacy behind her and it is this legacy of art that speaks of her creative ability to gain and maintain unexpected power and influence, both in terms of her class and gender, in the court of eighteenth century aristocracy.
 The Livre was the same as the Franc, becoming the Franc during the Revolution (Lefebure 1967: 11)
 Pompadour had two dogs which were represented in her paintings; Inès, sometimes called ‘Fidelity' and Mimi sometimes called ‘Constancy.' The two dogs also had their own portraits painted by Jean Baptiste Oudry.