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Queen Marie Antoinette of France and two of her Children Walking in The Park of Trianon

Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller1785

Nationalmuseum Sweden

Nationalmuseum Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

Adolf Fredrik Wertmüller was commissioned by King Gustav III to paint this portrait of Marie Antoinette and two of her children. The painting was displayed at the Salon in Paris in 1785, four years before the French Revolution. Wertmüller’s autobiography explains how the portrait came about:

“I travelled […] to Versailles and from there to Petit Trianon, where she spent her summers. That is where I painted portraits of her and the Princess, who was six years old at the time. The Queen welcomed me with the greatest of kindness and distinction, and gave the order that I should paint His Highness The Dauphin at La Muette [the residence of the French Crown Prince] while I was here.” […] “I then headed back to Paris and painted a large canvas of natural size and the full length of the person[s].”

From Art in Focus 4, Marie-Antoinette. Portrait of a Queen. Nationalmuseum, 1989. p. 23

Wertmüller ordered two mannequins for his studio in Paris – one for the Dauphin’s portrait and one for the Princess. It was common to lend the portraitist the clothing that you wanted to be depicted in. It is therefore assumed that the costumes in which the mannequins were dressed actually belonged to the Royal children. Wertmüller also ordered a special coiffure from the Queen’s wigmaker Monsieur Léonard, and he is likely to have had access to the robe à la turque (Turkish dress) that Marie Antoinette is wearing in the portrait.

Wertmüller portrays the Queen in an environment where she spent much of her time: the gardens surrounding her palace Petit Trianon, near Versailles. It is the Queen’s role as a mother that is highlighted in the portrait, in the spirit of Rousseau. This is a conscious choice, part of a strategy to change the official image of Marie Antoinette from a frivolous foreigner who loved life’s luxuries to the mother of all France. Princess Marie-Thérèse Charlotte has dropped a rose on the ground. Perhaps she pricked herself on a thorn? The dress does have small flecks of blood on it. The Dauphin is holding tightly onto his mother’s dress.

Marie Antoinette was 30 years old when the portrait was painted. Louis-Joseph was four. He died three years later of tuberculosis. Marie-Thérèse Charlotte was the only member of the family to survive the Revolution.

Details

  • Title: Queen Marie Antoinette of France and two of her Children Walking in The Park of Trianon
  • Creator: Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller
  • Date Created: 1785
  • Title in Swedish: Drottning Marie Antoinette av Frankrike med två av sina barn promenerande i Trianons park
  • Signature: A: Wertmüller. Svedois. à Paris 1785
  • Physical Dimensions: w1940 x h2760 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Wertmüller was born in Sweden, where he received his initial artistic training. He studied first under the sculptor Pierre Hubert L’Archevêque, but soon switched to painting as a pupil of the portrait painter Lorens Pasch the Younger. In 1772 Wertmüller moved to Paris, where he studied under Joseph Marie Vien and then later at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. However, his future path took on a more cosmopolitan tone. In 1775 he travelled to Rome, where Vien had become the director of the French Academy. He returned to Paris in 1780 and in the same year was appointed court painter to Sweden’s King Gustav III. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, he moved to Spain and in 1794 he sailed from there to America on a Swedish ship. Later in the 1790s he returned to Paris and Stockholm, before finally settling in the USA. In 1800, he became a US citizen, married Elisabet Henderson, whose family had Swedish roots, and purchased an estate in Delaware where he lived until his death in 1811. Schooled in Paris and Rome, Wertmüller was a confirmed Neoclassicist, drawing on its plasticity, clear lines and distinct colour palette in his own paintings. His historical paintings primarily depicted mythological subjects, often with a pronounced erotic tone. As a portraitist, he painted a large number of Swedes whom he had met on his travels in Europe and in Stockholm. However, he also received a wide range of international commissions, many from prominent clients – he painted a portrait of France’s Queen Marie-Antoinette walking with her two children in the gardens of Trianon in Versailles, for example. During his first visit to the USA, he was also commissioned to paint President George Washington.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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