Wallace Collection's press release for our Madame de Pompadour exhibition.


The Art of Love: Madame de Pompadour and The Wallace Collection

10 October 2002-5 January 2003
Admission Free

With its unrivalled collection of 18th-century French fine and decorative arts, the Wallace Collection is uniquely placed to examine the fact and fiction behind one of the greatest 18th-century icons: Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764). Born to doubtful parentage as Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, this highly intelligent and beautiful girl single-handedly pursued her ambition to become the first mistress to King Louis XV. Exercising all the determination of a modern career woman she achieved her aim at the age of 23, and entered the courtly scene at the palace of Versailles as the ‘Marquise de Pompadour’. With a new identity and immense spending-power she was set on course to becoming one of the greatest art patrons of all time. This exhibition will feature a range of exceptional works of art associated with Madame de Pompadour both during and after her lifetime, and will explore the legacy of this most famous of royal mistresses.

Madame de Pompadour caused a sensation on her appearance at court in 1745 and aroused envy and admiration in equal measure. Fearful of losing the King’s favour she constantly sought to amuse him and both shared and encouraged his passion for the arts. Striving to always be at the cutting edge of fashion and taste, Madame de Pompadour took delight in the decoration of her many residences, employing the best of the country’s artists and designers. The interiors were sharp indicators of current taste, with paintings, lacquer furniture, Sèvres porcelain, sculpture and precious gold boxes displayed against pale wall silks and satins. In the exhibition the principal gallery will display examples of such objects and examine the story of her life and interests. A ravishing gold snuff box with enamelled miniatures serves as a microcosm of her world and of those she loved. The four painted scenes each depict the Arts: her daughter Alexandrine represents Painting; a bust of Louis XV, Sculpture; a design for her château at Bellevue, Architecture; and a representation of Madame de Pompadour playing the harpsichord illustrates Music. Also on display is a striking rock crystal ewer and basin, which Madame de Pompadour displayed in her Paris home, the Hôtel Pompadour, and startlingly bold Sèvres porcelain tea services and elephant-shaped vases.

As a celebrity during her lifetime Madame de Pompadour was subjected to immense scrutiny and the details of her daily life were greatly embellished by myth. The second gallery of the exhibition will discuss the myths that were created and retold in the 18th and 19th centuries. This period will be addressed through the figure of the 4th Marquess of Hertford, one of the principal founders of the Wallace Collection. Like many collectors of the 19th century, he was attracted to acquiring works of art reputed to have belonged to Madame de Pompadour. A magnificent example of such taste is the pair of grand mythological paintings of the Rising and Setting of the Sun by François Boucher, which depict Louis XV as the god Apollo and Madame de Pompadour as the sea nymph Tethys. Commissioned by her these exceptional paintings are themselves a fitting testament to the legacy of Madame de Pompadour and her extraordinary life, which has been the subject of intrigue for over 200 years.

The exhibition is curated by Rosalind Savill, Director of the Wallace Collection and Jo Hedley, Curator of Pictures pre-1800. Running concurrently is the National Gallery exhibition entitled Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress.

For further information and transparencies please contact:

Krista Goodman
Town House Publicity
020 7226 7450