Talleyrand, a brilliant political figure who served under every French ruler from Louis XVI to Louis-Philippe, commissioned this portrait from Prud'hon in 1817. For Napoléon Prud'hon had already painted two full-length portraits of Talleyrand: one in 1806 for the Château de Compiègne (Château de Valençay, Indre) and another in 1807 (Musée Carnavalet, Paris). The pose for this portrait was based on the 1807 painting and the costume was changed and updated.
This lifesize portrait of Talleyrand, a brilliant political figure who served under every French ruler from Louis XVI (reigned 1774–92) to Louis-Philippe (reigned 1830–48), is the latest of three full-length portraits painted by Prud’hon. The first two were ordered simultaneously by Dominique Vivant Denon (1747–1825), de facto minister of the arts, by command of Napoleon in April 1806, as part of a wider commission for portraits of the current imperial ministers destined for the Palais de Fontainebleau. The first, which depicts Talleyrand wearing the blue ceremonial costume of the minister of foreign affairs (the position he held from 1799 to 1807), was completed by the end of 1806 (Château de Valençay); the second, which shows him in the red robes of grand chamberlain (the position he held from 1804 to 1809), was completed in 1807 (Musée Carnavalet, Paris). The pictures were, in fact, installed at the Palais des Tuileries, Galerie de Diane, in August 1807 and then transferred to the Palais de Compiègne, Salon des Grands Officiers, in May 1808. They remained there until the 1815 Bourbon Restoration made the imperial costumes embarrassingly out-of-date. Both were offered to Talleyrand, who received them in 1817.
Talleyrand was primarily responsible for persuading the allies who occupied Paris in 1814 to return the Bourbon dynasty to the French throne. As a matter of course, Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, reappointed him to the position of minister of foreign affairs. Hence Talleyrand kept his portrait as minister (in blue robes), eventually sending it to his estate in the Touraine. Using as an intermediary Dorothée de Courlande, duchesse de Dino (1793–1862), the wife of his nephew and his official hostess, Talleyrand asked Prud’hon to repaint the second portrait, replacing the red robes with modern civil dress. Because time had already transformed the paint surface with the alligator-like craquelure that has compromised many works by the artist, Prud’hon could not paint out the old costume. Talleyrand insisted, and not wishing to anger him, Prud’hon decided to keep the portrait in red and to paint a new one, the present work, which was delivered to the duchesse de Dino in April 1817. About this time, Prud’hon executed a small portrait of Talleyrand’s head, nearly identical to that in the Museum's canvas. The 1807 portrait in red was inherited by the artist’s student and heir, Charles-Pompée Le Boulanger de Boisfrémont (1773–1838), and eventually purchased by the city of Paris in 1867.
This third canvas of Talleyrand is one of the most imposing of Prud’hon’s formal portraits of the great personalities of the imperial court. Showing Talleyrand not as an administrator but as an extraordinary intellect, Prud’hon presents the witty and treacherous ambassador in a richly appointed room, leaning on the pedestal of one bust (Marcus Aurelius) while another looks on, evoking association with the heroic orators and philosophers of antiquity.
[Katharine Baetjer 2015]
Inscription: Signed (lower left, on plinth): P. P. Prud'hon pinxit.
the sitter (until d. 1838); ?his nephew, Edmond, 2nd duc de Talleyrand Périgord (from 1838); Napoléon-Louis, 3rd duc Talleyrand Périgord, château de Valençay (until d. 1898; his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 29–June 1, 1899, no. 21, for Fr 25,000 to Castellane); his daughter, comtesse Jean de Castellane (1899–d. 1948); by family descent (1948–91); [A. Moatti and Didier Aaron, Paris and New York, 1991–94; sold to MMA]
Paris. École des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition des œuvres de Prud'hon au profit de sa fille," May 1874, no. 37 (as "Portrait de Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Bénévent, vice-grand électeur de l'empire," lent by M. le duc de Valençay).
Paris. Palais du Trocadéro. "Première exposition française des portraits nationaux [Exposition universelle de 1878]," 1878, no. 774 (lent by M. le duc de Talleyrand et de Valençay).
Paris. Palais des Beaux-Arts. "P.-P. Prud'hon," May–June 1922, no. 57 (lent by Mme la comtesse Jean de Castellane).
Paris. Palais National des Arts. "Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français," July–September 1937, no. 210 (lent by comtesse Jean de Castellane).
Paris. Galerie Charpentier. "Cent portraits d'hommes du XIVe siècle à nos jours," 1952, no. 73.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pierre-Paul Prud'hon," March 10–June 7, 1998, no. 135.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Exposition des œuvres de Prud'hon au profit de sa fille. Exh. cat., École des Beaux-Arts. Paris, May 1874, p. 23, no. 37, dates it 1809.
Edmond de Goncourt. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, dessiné et gravé de P. P. Prud'hon. Paris, 1876, p. 39, dates this portrait 1809 and states that it has suffered; mentions a portrait of Talleyrand by Prud'hon dated 1807 and a study and drawing for it, and another portrait dated 1809.
Étienne Bricon. Prud'hon. Paris, , ill. p. 85.
Jean Guiffrey. "L'œuvre de Pierre-Paul Prud'hon." Archives de l'art français 13 (1924), pp. 240–41, no. 631, pl. XX, transcribes the inscription at the top with the date 1809; provides provenance and exhibition history.
Charles Sterling inChefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, p. 105, no. 210.
Didier Aaron: Catalogue. Exh. cat.1992, unpaginated, no. 20, dates it 1809; discusses the two earlier portraits by Prud'hon; gives provenance, exhibition history, and bibliography.
Gary Tinterow. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1993–1994." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 52 (Fall 1994), pp. 5, 40–41, ill. (color), dates it 1817, based on documentation interpreted by Laveissière; notes that Prud'hon presents Talleyrand flanked by antique busts (Marcus Aurelius and ?Demosthenes).
Sylvain Laveissière. Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 25, 176, 193, 195–96, 277–78, no. 135, colorpl. 135, explains how he came to paint this work in 1817.
Emmanuel de Waresquiel. Talleyrand: Le prince immobile. [Paris], 2003, colorpl. XX (second plate section), identifies the busts as Pythagoras and Demosthenes.
Gary Tinterow inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 272–75, no. 74, ill. (color).
Sylvain Laveissière inTalleyrand ou le miroir trompeur. Ed. Emmanuel de Waresquiel. Exh. cat., Musée Rolin, Autun. Paris, 2005, pp. 70–71, under no. 50, ill. (color).
Katherine Brinson inCitizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1830. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 2007, p. 364.
Everett Fahy inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 33.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. "François Gérard: Portraiture, Scandal, and the Art of Power in Napoleonic France." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 71 (Summer 2013), p. 41, fig. 43 (color).
The inscription (top, in a later hand)—CHARLES MAURICE DE TALLEYRAND PÉRIGORD PRINCE DE BÉNÉVENT— / VICE GRAND ÉLECTEUR DE L'EMPIRE + 1838. (underlined, TALLEYRAND through 1838) (PEINT PAR PRUD'HON EN 1809.)—was painted over in 1994 by Hubert von Sonnenberg.