“This princess had had much influence over the King...'

This miniature by the artist de Mirbel is based on Jean-Marc’s Nattier’s oil portrait of the princess, the original of which is in the collection of the Palace of Versailles, Anne Henriette’s childhood home. Although Mirbel largely painted portraits from life, here she has copied a painting that she likely had first hand access to. A professional artist (studying with the renowned miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin), she was also a nominal mistress of Louis XVIII, painting the king’s portrait from life.

In 1824 she married the king’s choice of husband for her, a widower called François Brisseau de Mirbel. Unusually for the time, her professional career continued apace after her marriage. She was awarded the first class gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1827 for her miniatures and watercolors, just a few years before the present work was completed. Her work won awards in all the subsequent exhibitions apart from those of 1836, 1838 and 1843. She competed at...

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This miniature by the artist de Mirbel is based on Jean-Marc’s Nattier’s oil portrait of the princess, the original of which is in the collection of the Palace of Versailles, Anne Henriette’s childhood home. Although Mirbel largely painted portraits from life, here she has copied a painting that she likely had first hand access to. A professional artist (studying with the renowned miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin), she was also a nominal mistress of Louis XVIII, painting the king’s portrait from life.

In 1824 she married the king’s choice of husband for her, a widower called François Brisseau de Mirbel. Unusually for the time, her professional career continued apace after her marriage. She was awarded the first class gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1827 for her miniatures and watercolors, just a few years before the present work was completed. Her work won awards in all the subsequent exhibitions apart from those of 1836, 1838 and 1843. She competed at the 1849 exhibition, where she won a second class medal. She painted elite and important sitters, including king Charles X, the Duke of Fitz-James (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Queen of the Belgians, Duke of Orleans and Marshal de Reggio.

The subject of this miniature, Princess Anne Henriette of France, was the second child of Louis XV and Queen Maria Leszczyńska, and twin sister to Louise Élisabeth of France. She was consequently known as Madame Seconde throughout her childhood. Born at Versailles in 1727, she was raised with the ostentatious trappings of a royal youth, and educated by the Governess of the Children of France, Marie Isabelle de Rohan (known as Duchesse de Tallard), entering the court at the age of 12. This was a true privilege for the princess, considering her younger siblings had been relegated to the Abbey of Fontevraud, as Cardinal Fleury, the king’s chief advisor, believed the royal existence to be too expensive to cater to nine children. Historian Hélène Bécquet highlights the increasing number of women present in the French court at this time: fourteen princesses were born between 1727 and 1787. Indeed, Princess Henriette was one of eight daughters to the king and queen. This seemingly ever-increasing number of royal women would change the dynamic of the Parisian court, redefining women’s position within the monarchy and in French society as a whole.

It was clear that from a young age, Henriette was a favourite amongst the king’s offspring. From 1744, Henriette and her sister Adelaide began to accompany their father to the opera in Paris, and from 1746, they hunted with him five days a week. As this portrait shows, she was also musical, contributing to the Unlike her twin, however, Henriette remained opposed to her father’s favourite mistress, Madame de Pompadour. She found solace in her music and took lessons in the viola da gamba from Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray, the leading cellist of the time. Her passion for this instrument was indeed immortalised by the present work after a portrait by Nattier. Despite her opposition to Madame de Pompadour, Henriette was popular at court, owing to her composure, charm and beauty. It may come as a surprise, therefore, that, despite her good looks, Henriette never married. No serious negotiations were undertaken on the matter, and her only serious proposal, from the Duc de Chartres, the king refused. It is believed that she fell mutually in love with her cousin Louis Philippe, but matrimony did not result.

In 1752, at only twenty-four years of age, Henriette caught a sudden and aggressive bout of smallpox from which she never recovered. Louis XV was absolutely distraught at his daughter’s passing; he apparently reacted with ‘violent’ despair and ordered the highest honours for her funeral. Madame Campan, governess to Henriette’s younger sisters, notes the persistence of the memory of the princess at Versailles, decades after her death:

“This princess had had much influence over the King […] people would say that, had she lived, she would have taken pains to entertain him within his family, that she would have followed the King in his little journeys, and would have presided over the suppers he liked to give in his private apartments.”

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