Marie-Antoinette’s best likeness

This portrait shows Marie-Antoinette in 1788, when she was 33. It was painted by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, a Swede who was a member of the Royal Academy in Paris.

Marie Antoinette Wertmuller

Marie Antoinette Wertmuller

Indeed, according to Madame Campan‘s Memoirs, this is, along with the more famous portrait of the Queen with her children by Madame Vigee-Lebrun, the best likeness of Marie-Antoinette.

Madame Campan, as the Queen’s Premiere Femme de Chambre, or First Chambermaid, saw Marie-Antoinette on a daily basis. I trust her judgment on the matter of the likeness.

You can see a shift in the manner in which Marie-Antoinette chose to be depicted, one short year  before the Revolution. For one thing, the emphasis is no longer on ornate dresses, giant paniers or shimmering fabrics. Neither is the Queen dressed “en gaulle,” in a simple white linen gown. That portrait, beautiful as it is, was the
subject of much derision. People remarked jokingly that the Queen had  been painted in her chemise.

Here Marie-Antoinette seems to be wearing a simple riding habit. No accusations of immodesty can be made because her kerchief comes up to her chin.

The sobriety and dark colors of the clothing shift the attention to the Queen’s face. The features are also different from earlier images. The nose is less small and straight, the lips are thicker, the eyes more prominent than in Madame Lebrun’s idealized portraits.

But I read a lot of energy and determination in these eyes, no longer dreamy, in the manner in which the head is proudly held backwards. This is the Queen who will assume a foremost political role during the Revolution. I believe that Madame Campan is right. Here at last we get a glimpse of the real Marie-Antoinette.

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9 Comments to “Marie-Antoinette’s best likeness”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    I believe there is no doubt of it. Love can exist without romance. Marie-Antoinette grew to love Louis and was devastated by his death.

  2. Penny says:

    Thank You for this. It is a much better picture than the one on the Lever English translation biography. She looks like a proud woman here. I like it better than the one on the ECW blog. More mature and that begs the question, did her relationship with Louis change over the years because of her maturing? I don’t suggest that romance ever entered into it but possibly a partnership/friendship of sorts?

  3. Catherine Delors says:

    Who painted it, James? I must say I never thought of the mother-daughter resemblance, maybe because the resemblance between Marie-Antoinette and her sisters was so striking as to eclipse anything else. I have to look into this…

  4. james a. sullivan says:

    catherine…this image reminds me of maria theresa’s portrait from the fly leaf of Cruikshank’s biography.

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  6. Catherine Delors says:

    I am deeply honored, Elena! As for Madame Lebrun, I agree. A post on her and her Memoirs is overdue.

  7. I read somehwere that although Madame Lebrun was a charming artist, because she became popular and successful while still rather young, she probably never reached her full potential the way many other struggling artists were forced to do.

    Catherine, I hope you do not mind me linking to your articles almost everyday, but your posts are so beautiful and well-researched and about all the things I find so interesting. Thank you!

  8. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Elena! Indeed this one is less glamorous, but far more alive.

  9. Excellent post, Catherine! Yes, as much as I love the “en gaulle” portrait, it is not the most accurate likeness of the Queen, as Madame Campan herself said.

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