The Louvre in Paris, where some of the most famous works of art are on display, may be the most visited museum in the world, with around 9.3 million visitors each year. However, a recent discovery shows that a former mistress of the French monarchy could have given some of the Louvre’s most prominent artists a run for their money.
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, more famously known as Madame De Pompadour, was King Louis XV’s Chief Mistress during the 1740s.
Not much is known about her. However, she’s renowned as the originator of the classic hairstyle, the pompadour.
Columbia University art historian Susan Wagner recently found a portfolio of ink drawings done by Pompadour from when she was living at the Palace of Versailles.
This portfolio — quite different from those of freelance artists today — has not been seen in over a century, as Wagner found it with other miscellaneous items at Walter Act Museum in Baltimore, MD. It was brought over from Europe by museum founder Henry Walters in 1895.
A rarity at the time, Pompadour was a well educated woman who included intellectuals Voltaire and Diderot in her social circle. She was a patron of the arts and amassed dozens of paintings throughout her apartments in the palace.
The recent discovery shows that Pompadour made art as well. She employed a gem carver to live with her at Versailles and soon was carving cameos and other little scenes into semi precious stones to make jewelry.
Additionally, she would give out mini sketches to her friends and family. She kept copies for herself in a yellow portfolio, the one Wagner recently discovered.
She had such an influence over King Louis XV that she was able to stay as the official mistress long after the king and queen’s physical relationship played out. Known for her reliability and acute awareness of the government, Pompadour is described to NPR by University of Pennsylvania professor Joan deJean as “one of the smartest women associated with the French crown.”
A collection of these stones, sketches, and etchings are on display, along with a few items from Pompadour’s personal art collection, in their first ever public appearance at the Walters Museum.