Talleyrand commissioned this elegant informal portrait after he resigned from his position as minister of foreign affairs to protest Napoleon’s continuing military ambitions. Gérard knew and received him personally in his studio: the imposing presence and unrevealing expression are typical. The insignia of the Legion d’honneur is embroidered on Talleyrand's coat and across his waistcoat is the red sash of the Grand Cordon of the order, awarded in 1805. He also wears the emblem of the Golden Fleece, presented to him at the Congress of Vienna, and added to the picture by Gérard in or after 1815.
The sitter, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord (1754–1838), prince de Bénévent, was arguably the greatest politician and diplomat in modern French history. As Foreign Minister and Grand Chamberlain of the Empire, he was one of the most trusted advisors of Napoleon’s inner circle. In 1807 he resigned his ministerial position to protest Napoleon’s continuing military ambitions, assuming instead the title of Vice Grand Elector. Yet his skills were such that he retained significant authority and his power grew inexorably: he accompanied Napoleon to the Congress of Erfurt in 1808, represented France at the Congress of Vienna following Napoleon’s defeat in 1814–15, and served every subsequent sovereign for the remainder of his life.
Talleyrand was personally acquainted with Gérard and often visited his studio. The painter’s career paralleled that of his patron: his services were highly regarded under every French government from the Ancien Régime onward. He even managed to outlast his teacher Jacques Louis David, the leading Neoclassical painter of the Revolution and Empire who became persona non grata under the Restoration for having participated in the execution of Louis XVI in 1793.
In this informal full-length portrait, Talleyrand keeps his own counsel: his expression is self-contained, close-lipped, and private. He is shown seated in an armchair with legs crossed and his left arm resting on a writing desk, his hair lightly powdered. He wears black satin breeches with white silk stockings, black slippers, a court sword, and a coat and waistcoat of blue velvet, both with very high collars and lined in white satin. His costume is relatively informal, as the coat, with wide cuffs and large buttons, is unembroidered except for the order on his left breast, the insignia of the Legion of Honor, which he wears with a red moiré sash, the Grand Cordon of the order, awarded by Napoleon on February 1, 1805. The background, shadowy and relatively little defined, includes a divan upon which the sitter’s hat rests, a parquet floor, a bear rug, a curtain, and a mirrored door reflecting a pedestal which must support a bust of the emperor (only the chin is visible). The armchair probably dates from the 1770s and is by Georges Jacob (1739–1814): an exactly similar pair, signed by Jacob, was once owned by Ruth T. Costantino (see How to Know French Antiques, New York, 1961). The inkwell is a little earlier and the writing desk a little later, suggesting that these furnishings, all in the Louis XVI style, may have been personal possessions. Notice is not taken here (or in any other portrait) of Talleyrand’s club foot, which caused him to limp and for which he was obliged to wear a corrective shoe rather than these elegant black buckled slippers.
When this portrait and seven others were exhibited for the first time in the Salon of 1808, Gérard was at the height of his powers. He was the artist of choice for the greatest figures of the day, including Napoleon as First Consul and Emperor, Empress Josephine, Madame Recamier, the Duke of Wellington, and the Emperor of Russia. Gérard’s state portraits differed from the present work in two important respects: the sitters wore full court dress and were presented in interiors on a colossal scale with modern Neoclassical, Imperial furnishings. An example is the state portrait of the emperor’s brother Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, painted when he became king of Holland in 1806 (Musée national du château de Fontainebleau).
This picture is not a state likeness but a grand, informal image intended for the private collection of Talleyrand. An independent work, it was evidently commissioned privately in Paris and seems to have cost the very considerable sum of 6,000 francs. It must have been painted well enough before the Congress of Erfurt to have been ready for the Salon, which opened the day the congress concluded on October 14, 1808. Sometime later, Gérard added a few details: Ferdinand of Spain awarded Talleyrand the emblem of the Order of the Golden Fleece—seen suspended from a ribbon—at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15. Moreover, the embroidered star of the Legion of Honor shows modifications in its design that were introduced under Louis XVIII (r. 1814–24, except during the Hundred Days).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2014]
the sitter (until d. 1838; possibly commissioned for Fr 6,000); his nephew, Edmond de Talleyrand Périgord, duc de Dino, Paris and Zagán (Sagan), Lower Silesia (1838–d. 1872); by descent (1872–1910) to Louis Hélie de Talleyrand Périgord, duc de Sagan (1910–d. 1937), Zagán, where it remained throughout World War II and until 1947; Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw (1947–67; by treaty to the duc de Sagan's daughter); his daughter, Hélène-Violette de Talleyrand Périgord, duchesse de Sagan, comtesse de Pourtalès, Mme Gaston Palewski, Château du Marais, Saint-Chéron (1969–d. 2003); her son, comte Hélie Alfred Gérard de Pourtalès de Talleyrand, duc de Sagan, Château de Bandeville, Saint-Cyr-sous-Dourdain (2003–12; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, New York, 2012; sold to MMA]
Paris. Salon. 1808, no. 245.
Vienna. Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie. "Wiener-Kongress-Ausstellung," 1896, no. 1910 (lent by Louis Herzog von Talleyrand-Périgord-Valençay, Herzog zu Sagan).
Königlichen Haupt- und Residenzstadt Breslau. "Historische Ausstellung zur Jahrhundertfeier der Freiheitskriege Breslau," 1913, no. 77.
Joachim Le Breton. Rapport sur les beaux-arts. n.p., 1808, p. 79 [reprinted (including edits made between 1810 and 1815) in "Rapports à l'Empereur sur le progrès des sciences, des lettres et des arts depuis 1789," vol. 5, "Beaux-arts," Paris, 1989, p. 124].
Charles-Paul Landon. Annales du Musée et de l'école moderne des beaux-arts: Salon de 1808. Paris, 1808, vol. 2, p. 53 (McWilliam 1991, no. 0993).
A. P. Suite de l'exposition de tableaux en 1808. 1808, p. 31 (Collection Deloynes, vol. 44, no. 1144; McWilliam 1991, no. 0934).
M. Ro . . . "Salon des Tableaux." Journal des Petites Affiches de Paris (1808), p. 29 (Collection Deloynes, vol. 44, no. 1149; McWilliam 1991, no. 0982).
Dominique Vivant Denon. Letter to Napoléon Bonaparte. October 13, 1808 [published in Marie-Anne Dupuy et al., "Vivant Denon, Directeur des Musées sous le Consulat et L'Empire: Correspondance (1802–1815)," Paris, 1999, vol. 2, p. 1345, letter no. AN 75], as the most important Gérard portrait at the Salon of 1808.
A. M. G. "Beaux-Arts: Salon de 1808 (Quatrième article)." Le Publiciste (October 28, 1808), p. 4 (McWilliam 1991, no. 0932).
Journal du commerce, de politique et de littérature no. 317 (November 13, 1808), p. 1258.
Vict[orin]. F[abre]. "Salon de Peinture (sixième article)." Mercure de France 34 (December 10, 1808), p. 520 (McWilliam 1991, no. 0985).
Fabien Pillet. "Gerard (François)." Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne: Supplément. Paris, 1838, pp. 289–90.
Ch. Lenormant. François Gérard, peintre d'histoire. Paris, 1847, p. 182, lists it among full-length portraits of 1805, as engraved by Desnoyers.
H[enri]. G[érard]. Œuvre du baron François Gérard, 1789–1836. Vol. 1, Gravures à l'eau-forte: Collection des 83 portraits historiques en pied. Paris, 1852–53, unpaginated, ill. (etching by Adam), dates it 1808.
Mme [Marguerite-Louise Virginie] Ancelot. Les Salons de Paris: foyers éteints. Paris, 1858, p. 51.
[Jacques-]F[romental]. Halévy. "L'Art et les artistes français: Le baron Desnoyers, graveur." Musée des familles: Lectures du Soir 29 (March 1862), p. 164.
Charles Blanc. Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: École française. Vol. 3, 1863, p. 11.
Henri Delaborde. Études sur les beaux-arts en France et en Italie. Paris, 1864, vol. 2, pp. 239–40 [first published as "La peinture de portrait en France: François Gérard," Revue des deux mondes, 2e pér., 5 (October 15, 1856)].
Henri Gérard and Adolphe Viollet-Le-Duc. Correspondance de François Gérard, peintre d’histoire avec les artistes et les personnages célèbres de son temps publiée par M. Henri Gérard, son neveu et précédée d’une notice sur la vie et les œuvres de Gérard par M. Adolphe Viollet-Le-Duc. Paris, 1867, pp. 16, 216 n. 1.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Conversations de Goethe pendant les dernières années de sa vie, 1822–1832. Ed. [Johann Peter] Eckermann. Paris, 1883, vol. 2, pp. 478–79.
baron [Henri] Gérard, ed. Lettres adressées au baron François Gérard peintre d'histoire par les artistes et les personnages célèbres de son temps. 2nd ed. Paris, 1886, vol. 2, p. 119 n. 1, pp. 405, 417.
Charles Ephrussi. "François Gérard, d'après les lettres publiées par M. le baron Gérard (premier article.)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 4 (December 1, 1890), p. 460.
Charles Ephrussi. "François Gérard, d'après les lettres publiées par M. le baron Gérard (deuxième article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 5 (January 1, 1891), ill. p. 65 (Adam engraving).
G[eorges]. Lacour-Gayet. Talleyrand, 1754–1838. Paris, 1930, vol. 2, pp. 262–63.
[Alice Garrigoux et al.]. Talleyrand. Exh. cat., Bibliothèque nationale. Paris, 1965, pp. 56–57, under nos. 202 and 204 and possibly 203.
Alain Latreille. "François Gérard (1770–1837): catalogue raisonné des portraits peints par le baron François Gérard." PhD diss., École du Louvre, Paris, 1973, pp. 25, 59, 110–11, no. 49, dates it 1808.
Catherine Loisel-Legrand. Autour de David et Delacroix: Dessins français du XIXe siècle. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie. Besançon, , unpaginated, under no. 82, reproduces a preparatory drawing for the painting.
Les Vues de Sagan. Sotheby's, Monaco. March 4, 1989, p. 18, under no. 25, ill. (color, hanging in château de Sagan).
Claire Constans. Musée national du château de Versailles: Les peintures. Paris, 1995, vol. 1, pp. 364 (under no. 2067), 368 (under no. 2089), 403 (under no. 2280).
Alain Pougetoux inDominique-Vivant Denon: L'œil de Napoléon. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1999, p. 374, under no. 394.
Yveline Cantarel-Besson inNapoléon, Images et histoire: peintures du château de Versailles (1789–1815). Paris, 2001, p. 73, under no. 43.
Emmanuel de Waresquiel. Talleyrand: Le prince immobile. [Paris], 2003, pp. 766–68, colorpl. I (first plate section).
Gary Tinterow inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 276, 279–80, under no. 75, fig. 3 (etching by Adam).
Emmanuel de Waresquiel inTalleyrand ou le miroir trompeur. Ed. Emmanuel de Waresquiel. Exh. cat., Musée Rolin, Autun. Paris, 2005, pp. 11, 82–84, under nos. 60–61, ill. pp. 10 (color, hanging in château de Sagan), 82 (color, overall).
Clotilde Schwab-Pourbaix. "Marie-Éléonore Godefroid et ses portraits conservés au musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon." Revue des Musées de France: Revue du Louvre 57 (December 2008), pp. 65, 67, 71 n. 29, reproduces the ricordo by Gérard and the replica by Godefroid (both Versailles); erroneously refers to the canvas at Valençay as the original.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. "François Gérard: Portraiture, Scandal, and the Art of Power in Napoleonic France." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 71 (Summer 2013), pp. 5, 39, 41–42, 46, 48 n. 84, figs. 2, 40, 45, 46 (color, overall and details), ill. on back cover (color, detail), reproduces the gouache of about 1850 by E. Hackert showing the picture at Sagan, the writing table (one in Talleyrand's collection) made by Pierre Garnier between 1762 and 1765, and an inkstand of about 1770 attributed to Philippe Claude Montigny, seemingly identical to the one in the painting (2013.20).
Jonny Yarker inBritish Art. Exh. cat., Lowell Libson Ltd at Stellan Holm, New York. London, 2015, ill. p. 106 (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 426, no. 311, ill. pp. 325, 426 (color).
There are four prints after the picture:  by Auguste Boucher Desnoyers (1779–1857), exhibited at the Salon of 1814 (MMA 24.63.1051);  anonymous, made in Milan, ca. 1814–15;  by J. M. N. Frémy, published in 1815;  by Pierre Adam (b. 1799), dating to 1825 (see Gérard 1852–53).
There are four copies:  an autograph replica at Versailles, measuring 12 5/8 x 9 in. (32 x 22 cm);  a large three-quarter-length by Gérard’s studio assistant Marie Éléonore Godefroid (1778–1849), commissioned by King Louis-Philippe, belonging to Versailles but on loan to the French Embassy, London;  an anonymous full-size copy at the château de Valençay;  a miniature of 1816 (location unknown).
At the time Gérard made this portrait, Prud’hon had just painted two official portraits of Talleyrand standing: the first, of 1806, depicts him in the (blue) costume of minister of foreign affairs and the second, of 1807, in that of grand chamberlain (red). Both were commissioned by Dominique Vivant Denon (1747–1825), Director-General of Museums—and first director of the Musée Napoléon, precursor of the Musée du Louvre—in response to Napoleon’s request for portraits representing current ministers to be installed at Fontainebleau. Under the Bourbon restoration, both were given to Talleyrand. One is at Valençay and the other at the Musée Carnavalet, Paris; neither survives in good condition. A third portrait of Talleyrand by Prud’hon, showing him as a private citizen (MMA 1994.190), was painted in 1817 for his niece the duchesse de Dino, to replace one of the damaged originals.
Talleyrand’s estranged wife also sat for Gérard (MMA 2002.31) in or before 1805. The two portraits, like the spouses they portray, are quite independent of each other. The Museum also owns a portrait of the lady painted by Vigée Le Brun in 1783, when she was Madame Grand (50.135.2).