Portrait of Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello (1782-1856), bust-length, in a yellow shawl and a lace bonnet signed 'P.P.Prud'hon' (lower right) oil on canvas 55.2 x 48cm (21 3/4 x 18 7/8in).
PROVENANCE Marquise Alfred de Montebello, Paris, by 1874, thence by descent to Louis Lannes, marquis de Montebello, Paris, by 1878, thence by descent to Comtesse de Roydeville, by 1902, thence by descent to Marquis de Montebello, by 1924. Sale, Christie's, Monaco, 20 June 1992, lot 92 (sold for £350,000 to Dr. Rau).
EXHIBITED Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Exposition des oeuvres de Prud'hon au profit de sa fille, 4 May4 July, 1874, no. 25. Paris, Palais du Trocadéro, Première exposition française des portraits nationaux, Exposition Universelle, 1878, no. 854. Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Portraits du siècle, April 1883, no. 180. Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 23 September 19975 January 1998, no. 154. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 10 March7 June 1998, no. 154. Remagen, Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Superfranzösisch: Kunstkammer Rau, 16 September 201027 February 2012.
LITERATURE G. Duplessis, Les Oeuvres de Prud'hon à L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 9 (June 1, 1874), p. 574. E. de Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre de P. P. Prud'hon, Paris, 1876, p. 44. J. Guiffrey, L'Oeuvre de P. P. Prud'hon, Paris, 1924, p. 207, no. 555. S. Laveissière, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (published in conjunction with the exhibition 'Pierre- Paul Prud'hon' held at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, from September 23 1997 through January 5 1998, and at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from March 10 through June 7 1998), New York, 1998, p. 209, fig. 154. S. Laveissière, Prud'hon ou le rêve du bonheur, exh. cat., Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, p. 209, no. 154. Musée National du Château de Compiègne, 1810: La politique de l'amour: Napoléon et Marie-Louise à Compiègne, exh. cat., Paris, 28 March-19 July 2010, no. 58 (illustrated. fig. 105).
'Prud'hon succeeded in combining the grace of Leonardo and Correggio with the noble spirit of antiquity.'
Delacroix said of Prud'hon that he 'succeeded in combining the grace of Leonardo and Correggio with the noble spirit of antiquity.' It is particularly apt, therefore, that Prud'hon's present masterpiece should portray a sitter who was described by her contemporary, Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantès, as 'really handsome....In person she might have formed a model for the most beautiful of Madonnas of Raphael or Correggio; such was the symmetry of her features, the calmness of her countenance, the serenity of her smile. (Memoirs of Napoleon, his court and his family, Duchesse d'Abrantès, London, 1836, p. 398), Louise-Antoinette-Scholastique Guéhéneuc, the maréchale de Lannes, duchesse de Montebello, was famed not only for her beauty but also for her gentle and motherly nature. The daughter of senator and financier François-Scholastique Guéhéneuc in 1800 she became the second wife of General Jean Lannes at the age of 18. By the time the couple met, General Jean Lannes, who joined the army at a young age, had risen through the ranks and was already known for his heroism on the field of battle during both the Italian and Egyptian campaigns. He was highly regarded as a soldier and was rewarded with the title of Duke of Montebello in 1808 after acquitting himself admirably at the battle of the same name in 1800. Four years later he was created a Maréchal d'Empire, the highest military rank, and went on to become one of Napoleon's most trusted generals and closest friends; one of the few permitted to address him with 'tu'. General Jean Lannes died of wounds inflicted during the battle of Aspern-Essling on 31 May, 1809. Whilst in exile on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon later said of Lannes that 'I found him a pygmy and left him a giant'.
The marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Montebello was a happy one and they produced five children during their relatively short time together. In 1814, the maréchale sat to François Pascal Simon Gérard, called Baron Gérard, surrounded by her children (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, see fig. 1) in which the memory of her late husband is still felt through the presence of a statue with a canon ball at his feet (the means by which he was wounded and later died). After her husband's death, she continued to play an active role at the imperial court. Chosen for her irreproachable character, she became Dame d'honneurs (lady-in-waiting) to the Empress Marie-Louise, second wife of Napoleon, and the two women went on to form a close friendship that was to survive the fall of the Empire.
The present work was probably painted between 1810 and 1814 at a time when the artist was at the height of his powers. Following his portrait of Napoleon's first Empress, Josephine, in 1805 (now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris), Prud'hon was rewarded with portrait commissions from figures at the highest level of the state including Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord in 1807, and in 1811 the second Empress, Marie-Louise. The latter portrait, however, was never completed as the artist took so much trouble over it that the commission was eventually given to François Gérard and Robert Lefèvre (both portraits were exhibited at the Salon of 1812). It was not just in the field of portraiture that Prud'hon was achieving great success at this time: the salon of 1808 saw him exhibit both his painting for the Palais de Justice, Justice and Divine Vengeance pursuing Crime, and his Psyche Carried off by the Zephyrs. It was during this very productive period that the maréchale de Lannes would have come into contact with Prud'hon, particuarly as in April of 1810, Prud'hon was chosen to be the new Empress's drawing master on a monthly salary of 500 francs. Prud'hon has clearly delighted in painting the portrait of the handsome and graceful maréchale: there is a lightness of touch in the detail of the lace bonnet and flowers and in the beautifully observed detail of her shawl.
The comparison of Prud'hon's work with that of Correggio is inevitable, particularly after his exhibition of Psyche Carried Off by the Zephyrs at the Salon of 1808. As a young artist, he may have seen Correggio's Danaë in the Galerie d'Orléans but Prud'hon certainly knew his Leda and the Swan (now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) and the composition of Jupiter and Io (a copy destroyed in the Second World War) as he was asked to repaint the heads of both in 1808/9 after they were mutilated by the son of the duc d'Orléans. Prud'hon was first described as 'the French Correggio' as early as about 1801. Although it is not known who coined the epithet (see S. Lavessière, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, p.13) it may have originated within the circle of François-Ambroise Didot who was an early patron and keen promoter of the artist. The comparison thus becomes all the more remarkable in the present painting given the duchesse's said resemblance to a Correggio Madonna. Prud'hon's delicate, soft modelling ran contrary to Jacques-Louis David and his school's emphasis on line, silhouette and drawing. He depicted his sitters with a warmth, intimacy and familiarity unusual at the time but present in all of his portraits of this period, particularly those of his closer associates in the art world, such as that of Louis-Antoine Lavallée, known as Athanase Lavallée, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans. In the present portrait, the duchesse, known for her modesty and gentle nature, is shown with great tenderness. Whilst the sitter's gaze is direct, the painter's delicate handling of her lace bonnet and his use of warm light to create volume in her shawl and face lend the painting an air of calmness and gentleness reflecting the maréchale's known character.
'he gazed at the world with the eyes of a poet. His means of persuasion were his gentleness, his own special humor, his unabashed and delicate sensuality, and his appealing and touching ideal of beauty and youth.'
Prud'hon has long appealed to connoisseurs of French art, which is reflected in the fact that his works feature prominently in the Louvre, in the Wallace Collection and in the collection formed by the duc d'Aumale at Chantilly. The artist's paintings and drawings have also been sought by American collectors and museums for over one hundred years. His study for The Glorification of Burgundy was given by Thomas Jefferson Bryan to the New-York Historical Society as early as 1867 and since then major works have been acquired by the museums in Baltimore, Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Cleveland, Malibu, New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, Providence, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Williamstown. In the introduction to the 1997/8 exhibition Laveissière wrote that Prud'hon 'gazed at the world with the eyes of a poet. His means of persuasion were his gentleness, his own special humor, his unabashed and delicate sensuality, and his appealing and touching ideal of beauty and youth.' As a crucial participant in the Neoclassical revival Prud'hon was neither a disciple nor rival of its most famous exponent at the time, Jacques-Louis David, but his own master. 'His unorthodoxy made him an outsider at the beginning, later a success, and finally an original.' (op. cit. p. 11).