The son of the sculptor Charles-Jean-Baptiste Duchesne, Jean-Baptiste may have trained initially as a sculptor with his father, working in watercolour on ivory from 1794. It is clear from his technique that one of his tutors was Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin, a favourite artist of the Duke of Berry.
This important portrait of the courageous and independent Marie Caroline, duchess of Berry (1798-1870), was likely painted in the year of husband’s assassination. When leaving the Opera House on the Rue de Richelieu on the 13th February 1820, a fanatic named Louis Pierre Louvel stabbed and mortally wounded her husband, the Duke of Berry. His death marked a turning point in the history of the Restoration monarchy, hastening polarisation in the political parties and the downfall of the Decazes government. His wife gave birth, seven months after his death, to a ‘miracle child’, a son Henri, who received the title of Duc de Bordeaux, known as the Comte de Chambord. He became the focus and last hope for the Bourbon dynasty...
The son of the sculptor Charles-Jean-Baptiste Duchesne, Jean-Baptiste may have trained initially as a sculptor with his father, working in watercolour on ivory from 1794. It is clear from his technique that one of his tutors was Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin, a favourite artist of the Duke of Berry. Duchesne’s rise as an artist was rapid, exhibiting at the Salon 1802 – 42, and appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1814.
Duchesne’s most influential patron at this period was Marie Caroline and he would have been the obvious choice to portray her at this time of conflicting grief and happiness – the grief of losing her husband in such a violent manner contrasted with the forthcoming birth of her child. There is little doubt that this portrait miniature would have been part of her political campaign to ensure that she remained visible as the mother of the child who would ensure that the crown remained within the Bourbon family. The Italian inscription on the reverse of the frame may date to after 1831, when she returned to her family in Naples. A portrait of the duchess painted in 1827 by Duchesne was sold from the Albion Collection, Bonhams, London, lot 152 [sold for £ 71,700 inc. premium].
Louis XVIII described the Duchess as ‘Yeux, nez bouche, rien est jolie, tout est charmant’ and she was known by her supporters as the ‘Royal Angel’. In 1824, when her father-in-law Charles X became King, she became an icon of Parisian life. This life ended on Charles’s abdication in 1830, when the French Royal family was forced into exile and the Duchess committed herself to ensuring that her son assume his rightful seat on the throne. The same year the King appointed his cousin, Louis-Phillipe d’Orléans as the legal guardian of Henri leaving the Duchess with no responsibility for the upbringing of her son.
In 1832, the Duchess tried in vain to persuade the people of the South of Franceto rise against Louis-Phillipe. When this attempt failed, she fled to the country disguised as a male peasant. After seeking refuge in Nantes, she was eventually betrayed by a servant and held in the Fortress de Blaye. Whilst imprisoned it became obvious to onlookers that the Duchess was pregnant, and she admitted to secretly marrying Count Hector Lucchesi-Palli (1805-1864) whilst living in exile in Italy. She subsequently gave birth to a daughter in prison. In doing so she lost credit to her cause and was ridiculed by the public and ousted by the Royalists. Upon her release the Duchess returned to Italy and continued to request the legal guardianship of her son, her pleas being continuously rejected by the King.
Duchesne’s career extended beyond France when he was recommended to Queen Victoria in September 1841 by her aunt, Queen Louise of the Belgians. He produced a number of enamels for Queen Victoria during the following decade, until his advancing age brought his work for her to a close.
 This is based on comparison with another version of the present portrait, probably from the same sitting, at the Musée Condé [OA1588], showing the Duchess wearing a hat decorated with ostrich feathers.
 The miniatures of Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Duchesne de Gisors form an important part of the iconography of the Duchess of Berry. For further information cf. B. Hofstetter, ‘Les miniatures de la duchesse de Berry’ in Marie Caroline de Berry, Paris, 2002, pp. 138-159.