Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Mistaken Portraits of Sophie Hélène Béatrix de France [Updated June 2023]

A pastel portrait of the child of Louise Hyacinthe de Montesquiou and Anne-François V de Lastic by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, circa 1780-1783.  In the collection of the Chateau de Parentignat.

Note: This post has been updated as of June 2023

This charming pastel portrait has long been identified as Sophie Hélène Béatrix, the second daughter and last child born to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.  This identification was first made in a Vigee-Lebrun exhibition catalog published in the 1980s by Joseph Baillio, an expert whose specialty is the work of Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. Baillio also identified another Vigee-Lebrun work, a sketch, as depicting the infant Sophie in this same publication.  

“Sleeping Baby” by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, circa 1780s. According to Joseph Baillio, this may be a sketch of Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac, whom the artist also depicted in a pastel.     

However, after decades of being known as portraits of Sophie Hélène Béatrix, the real identity of the children in the above portraits has become clarified: neither child is Sophie de France.

According to the chateau de Parentignat website, the archives of the Montesquiou-Lastic family indicate that the pastel portrait depicts the first child born to Louise Hyacinthe de Montesquiou and Anne-François V de Lastic.

The couple had three children: Amédée, François and Octavie. Only Octavie (Gertrude Charlotte Marie Octavie) would live past childhood; she was a dame d'honneur to Empress Josephine and had several children of her own.

If it does indeed depict their first child, then the infant in the above portrait would be Amédée. There are conflicting reports regarding his birth and death date; Geneanet.org indicates that he was born in 1782 and died in 1788; according to Baillo, he was born in 1780 and died in 1788. Various books reporting on the genealogy of the Lastic family give differing information: one indicates that Amédée  merely “died young,” and another says “died in infancy.”

The above pastel portrait is remarkably similar to another infant portrait by Vigee-Lebrun, done for the Montesquiou-Fézensac family. This portrait depicts Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1782-1810).

Image: Portrait of Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, circa 1782-1783.

Perhaps both portraits were painted around the same time; or perhaps they requested the artist to paint them in a complementary style. Regardless of whether the "not-Sophie" misidentified portrait is Amédée, François or Octavie, the children in both pastel portraits were cousins. 

Image: Eugène de Montesquiou Fezensac, at the age of five months, asleep on a cushion by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, circa 1783.

The above image is actually featured on the Wikipedia page for Sophie,  and has been shared online interchangeably as either Sophie or an infant Louis Charles. However, like the other portrait, it is depicting someone else entirely: in this case, an infant Eugène de Montesquiou Fezensac

With three of the previous “Sophie” portraits now given the correct identifications, we are left with precious little tangible portraiture of Sophie.

The only absolutely confirmed contemporary depiction of Sophie comes from a series of engravings of the royal family, something @tiny-librarian​ discovered and shared. Unfortunately, the image itself is rather small--but it does at least indicate that there was some contemporary portraiture of her, and perhaps a larger version will one day make an appearance.


Image: a contemporary illustration of Sophie; from an engraving featuring portraits of the French royal family.

There is also an alleged portrait of all four of Marie Antoinette’s children, attributed to Jean Pierre Chasselat. However, in 2023, this miniature resufurfaced with a new identification and even a new artist: the work has been re-identified as a portrait of the children with Madame Leclerc, along with the son of Bernard, by Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin. It does not depict the children of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and thus, the infant depicted here is not Madame Sophie.


Image: An alleged portrait of the royal children by Jean Pierre Chasselat,

We may have another faint glimpse of Sophie in this alleged allegorical portrait of Marie Antoinette looking at her children, attributed to Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty.


Looking closely at the profiles, one can see the faintest outline in the front. Was this meant to represent Madame Sophie? But there is a catch here: Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty died in 1786, before the death of Madame Sophie. 

The work does look incomplete, is it possible that the artist died before it was completed, thus leaving Sophie vague and unfinished? 

If this is indeed an allegorical portrait of Marie Antoinette done by Gautier-Dagoty, it is the only practical explanation. But as we’ve seen, there are quite a few portraits of the queen formerly attributed to Gautier-Dagoty which have been later attributed to someone else, so it is possible that it is not his work after all.

Truly, the title of the chapter focusing on Sophie in Philippe Delorme’s Les Princes du Malheur is more apt than ever:

L'éphémère Madame Sophie. The ephemeral Madame Sophie.

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