Portrait of the Count of Nieuwerkerke

Portrait of the Count of Nieuwerkerke

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  • Portrait of Count Emilien de Nieuwerkerke.

  • The Imperial Menagerie, portrait-charge n ° 26 of Nieuwerkerke, "the poodle".

    HADOL, known as WHITE Paul (1835 - 1875)

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Title: Portrait of Count Emilien de Nieuwerkerke.

Author :

Creation date : 1856

Date shown: 1856

Dimensions: Height 38 - Width 26

Technique and other indications: Watercolor

Storage place: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet web site

Picture reference: 97-017642 / C.55.121

Portrait of Count Emilien de Nieuwerkerke.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

To close

Title: The Imperial Menagerie, portrait-charge n ° 26 of Nieuwerkerke, "the poodle".

Author : HADOL, known as WHITE Paul (1835 - 1875)

Creation date : 1870

Date shown: 1870

Dimensions: Height 27.2 - Width 17.4

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph

Storage place: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Picture reference: 97-011082 / C.63.105 / 27

The Imperial Menagerie, portrait-charge n ° 26 of Nieuwerkerke, "the poodle".

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: May 2005

Historical context

The brilliant career of Count Emilien de Nieuwerkerke accompanied the sumptuous years of the Second Empire: it began in 1849, under the ephemeral presidency of the Republic of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, and ended with the fall of the regime on September 4, 1870. Figure Emblematic of the “imperial festival”, the “handsome Emilien” assumed the active and efficient management of the imperial museums for more than twenty years.

In the exercise of his high office, Nieuwerkerke is primarily concerned with the Louvre. He increased the number of exhibition rooms: there were 19 under Napoleon I, 89 under Louis-Philippe; there are 132 under Napoleon III. To ensure that the collections are constantly visible to the public, the Salons are no longer held in the Louvre: they take place first at the Tuileries, then at the Palais-Royal, then in the Salle des Menus-Plaisirs, until Napoleon III had the Palais des Beaux-Arts built from 1855. It was the first building to be built to serve as a museum as such.

In artistic matters, the tastes of the Count of Nieuwerkerke are marked by a marked conservatism. He weighs with all his influence on the jury of the Salons and imposes the "fireman" style. On the other hand, he is a determined follower of the neo-medieval current which triumphs.

Emilien de Nieuwerkerke undoubtedly owed his meteoric rise in the imperial administration to Princess Mathilde, the Emperor's first cousin. The "handsome Batavian" immediately won her over. As for the princess, Horace de Viel-Castel notes that she "does not conceal her affair under any circumstances. Everyone knows that they live in the same main building, and when the Princess receives, Nieuwerkerke appears in the living room without his hat ". Be that as it may, at the end of the Second Empire, the count's numerous female successes got the better of this long extramarital affair which had helped to lead him to high responsibilities.

Image Analysis

Protector of writers and artists whom she received in her living room, Princess Mathilde - who was called Notre-Dame-des-Arts - herself had real artistic gifts. Under the direction of the painter Eugène Giraud (1806-1881), she had acquired a real talent as a watercolourist and etcher, but hardly appreciated oil painting. From 1859, she exhibited at the Salon every year beautiful copies of masterpieces from the Louvre. She obtained an honorable mention from the jury in 1861 and a medal in 1865.

This watercolor study was obviously inspired for face and pose by a pastel portrait of the Earl of Nieuwerkerke by Eugène Giraud in 1851 and held today in Boston in a private collection.

The princess represented the count at the waist, seated in an armchair, seen from three quarters. The left hand is partly engaged in the vest and the right arm is resting on the armrest of the seat. He is in full maturity, proud and self-confident, aware of the power he wields.

Shortly after the fall of the Second Empire, a series of thirty-one extremely ferocious cartoons, which stigmatized the main figures of the imperial regime, were printed by Coulboeuf in Paris. At that time, caricature was one of the most dynamic weapons and political languages. These thirty-one color lithographs were simply signed "H". The ensemble bears a significant title: The Imperial Menagerie made up of ruminants, amphibians, carnivores and other budget eaters that devoured France for 20 years.

Caricature n ° 26 is dedicated to Count Emilien de Nieuwerkerke. He is represented there in the guise of a dressed poodle, allusion to his servile loyalty to the fallen monarch and probable reference to the many small dogs owned by his mistress, Princess Mathilde, whose monogram is also tattooed on the thigh of the 'animal. The works of art - paintings, statuette - attached to his tail represent the mistakes and wrongdoing he committed in the performance of his high office. One of these paintings depicts a "crowned fish," evidently a mackerel, a trivial and unequivocal evocation of how he allegedly used the Emperor's cousin to satisfy his personal ambitions.


A prominent figure in the imperial regime, Emilien de Nieuwerkerke nourished the inspiration of artists of the time. Many of them painted his portrait: Édouard Dubufe (1820-1883), Henri Lehmann (1814-1882), Ernest Boetzel (1830-around 1920), François-Joseph Heim (1787-1865), Eugène Giraud (1806- 1881), François Dien (1787-1865)… Most of these painters saw in him only the official character, invested with high responsibilities and generously decorated.

The portrait of him by Princess Mathilde rather highlights the power of seduction that some agree to recognize in the "handsome Emilien" whose magnetism is exerted on both women and men. "He has the shoulders of Hercules Farnese and the torso of a Michelangelo", observes Louis Hautecœur. For the sculptor Marcello - pseudonym of Adèle d´Affry, Duchess of Castiglione-Colonna - the count is "handsome as Leonardo da Vinci, intelligent".

The cartoonists took a bite out of it, but they were less tender. If the portrait-charge that Eugène Giraud brushes during one of the famous "Fridays of the Louvre" is relatively obliging, that of Paul Hadol is imbued with a ferocity which would have drawn the wrath of the imperial censorship to him, but , after the Second Empire, it is fashionable to stigmatize the errors of a regime deemed responsible for the French defeat against Prussia and unanimously reviled. The cartoonist thus presents Emilien de Nieuwerkerke as a director reigning unchallenged over an administration of the Imperial Museums with oligarchic functioning, and using the national heritage as he pleases. Indeed, in August 1855, at the request of Empress Eugenie, he sent paintings from the Louvre to the Château de Saint-Cloud, to adorn the apartments of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who had come to visit the Universal Exhibition. . Likewise, in 1866, he loaned paintings by Van der Meulen to the Imperial Circle of which he was vice-president. However, at the time, the senatus-consultum of November 12, 1852 placed the collections of imperial museums in the Crown's endowment, and the line between public heritage and imperial property was not clearly defined. Moreover, Nieuwerkerke has been criticized for certain hazardous acquisitions, such as in 1867 that of a supposed bust of the Italian Renaissance which turned out to be a forgery made by the sculptor Giovanni Bastianini. This quickly discovered deception earned the count the sarcasm of an indignant press. These unfortunate errors highlighted by the caricature cannot, however, obliterate a generally positive record of twenty years of activity.

  • Nieuwerkerke (Emilien de)
  • imperial menagerie
  • patrimony
  • Second Empire
  • court life
  • Napoleon III
  • Empress Eugenie (Montijo de)


Philippe CHENNEVIERES, Memories of a Director of Fine Arts, Paris, Athena, reissue 1979. Marguerite CASTILLON DU PERRON, Princess Mathilde, a female reign under the Second Empire, Paris, Amiot Dumont, 1953.Fernande GOLDSCHMIDT, Nieuwerkerke, the handsome Emilien, prestigious director of the Louvre under Napoleon III, Paris, Art International Publishers, 1997 Jean TULARD (dir.), Dictionary of the Second Empire, Paris, Fayard, 1995.The Count of Nieuwerkerke. Art and power under Napoleon III, catalog of the exhibition at the Musée national du Château de Compiègne, Paris, RMN, 2000.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, “Portrait of the Count of Nieuwerkerke”

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