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Louis XVIII, King of France and Navarre.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - El Meliani
Publication date: March 2016
The restored king
The defeat inflicted on Napoleon by the armies of the allied powers ended up causing his abdication in April 1814. Aware of his rights (1815 was for him the twentieth year of his reign), he was also in history: if he always defended the rights of the monarch, he also sought to practice a policy of reconciliation and, after 1815, detached himself from the “ultras”, the most intransigent faction of the royalist party.
The monarch at work
The portrait painted by Gérard is a scaled-down replica of a composition originally intended for the Countess du Cayla, the sovereign's favorite, presented at the Salon of 1824 where it was a great success. Louis XVIII is represented in his study and, according to the libretto, "at the time of his arrival in 1814, meditating on the charter he will give to the French". This cabinet had been that of the Emperor, and the decor has not fundamentally changed. The king is in uniform because he officially commands the armies. It wears the decorations of the old monarchy (in particular the blue cordon of the order of the Holy Spirit), but also of the new France (the Legion of Honor). He was mostly seated at a small white wooden table, the same one he had used during all his years in exile. On the table, the Charter of 1814, "granted" by the king, which is in fact the constitution of the restored monarchy. However, the scene represented never took place as such: the Charter was not "meditated" by the king, but drafted by others following numerous discussions in which he had little part, and then approved by him. . But the accumulation of realistic elements and the political philosophy it asserts (the Charter "granted" by the sovereign) give the scene a plausible character.
The heir to tradition, the ruler of modern France
Gérard was able, in this painting, to renew in depth the traditional iconography, notably illustrated in France by Rigaud, and thereby give his work a political meaning that all contemporaries understood. Louis XVIII is not represented in the vestments of the coronation, with the insignia of his office, the scepter, the hand of justice and the crown, in an imaginary palace. Here he is in his usual surroundings, a place where only familiars and great servants of the state could enter. The spectator thus enters directly into royal intimacy. The realism of the painting accentuates this trait and at the same time makes it possible to skillfully evoke recent history: the legacy of the Empire, thanks to the decor of the cabinet, the memory of exile with the white wooden table which stands out the luxury of furnishings, the foundations of the restored monarchy with the Charter. Louis XVIII could not be satisfied with returning to occupy the throne of his fathers: he assumed, without forgetting anything, the years of the Revolution and of the Empire. So he is a modern, good-natured and familiar sovereign whom Gérard offers here the image.
- Constitutional Charter
- Louis XVIII
- official portrait
Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles: Paintings , 2 vol.Paris, RMN, 1995.Francis DEMIER 19th century France Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 2000.François FURET The Revolution, 1780-1880 Paris, Hachette, 1988, re-ed. "Plural", 1992.Evelyne LEVER Louis XVIII Paris, Fayard, 1988.Emmanuel de WARESQUIEL, Benoît YVERT History of the Restoration: birth of modern France Paris, Perrin, 1996 Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles: Paintings , 2 vol.Paris, RMN, 1995.Francis DEMIER 19th century France Paris, Seuil, coll. "Plural", 1992.Evelyne LEVER Louis XVIII Paris, Fayard, 1988.Emmanuel de WARESQUIEL, Benoît YVERT History of the Restoration: birth of modern France Paris, Perrin, 1996.
To cite this article
Pascal TORRÈS, "Louis XVIII, the image of a modern sovereign"