DAVID, Jacques-Louis (1748-1825)

Autograph letter signed « David » to M. de Bausset
[Paris, beginning of 1808], 1 p in-4to, slight wrinkles

« I can’t express my surprise enough […] of the visit of which Her Majesty the Empress deigned to honor my workshop »

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DAVID, Jacques-Louis (1748-1825)

Autograph letter signed « David » to M. de Bausset
[Paris, beginning of 1808], 1 p in-4to, slight wrinkles

Scarce letter from the First Painter of the Emperor recounting the satisfaction of the Empress at the discovery of the Sacrament, and organizing some posing sessions for the last retouching of his masterpiece


« Monsieur,
Je ne puis trop vous exprimer ma surprise, je dirais plus ma juste indignation en lisant ce matin l’article du journal de l’Empire où il rend compte de la visite dont Sa Majesté lImpératrice a daigné honorer mon atelier. Dans la note que j’avais envoyée, je n’y parlais d’aucune autre personne que de Sa Majesté lImpératrice et de la satisfaction quelle mavait témoignée à la vue de mon ouvrage. Dans le cas, Monsieur, où Sa Majesté voudrait s’en convaincre, j’aurai l’honneur de vous envoyer la note que j’ai soumise aux journalistes et qu’il [le journal de l’Empire] a complètement dénaturée. Elle était rédigée et signée par M. Lenoir administrateur du Musée des Augustins.
Quant à la manière délicate, et pas assez prisée par vous, avec laquelle vous louez mon tableau mon tableau [sic], nous n’en pensons pas de même, Monsieur, j’en fais grand cas, votre cœur et votre visage expriment naturellement ce quils sentent. On n’en dirait pas également de tous les hommes.(1)
Choisissez dans la semaine prochaine ou le mardi ou mercredi, devant travailler lundi avec M. de Beaumont. (2)
Agréez l’assurance de la haute considération, Monsieur, de votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur.
David »


1/ We know that Mr. de Bausset actually posed for the painting of the Coronation during the last retouching. However, he does not appear on the final version of the masterpiece
2/ General Marc-Antoine de Beaumont, chamberlain of Madame Mère, who actually appears on the painting of the Coronation, right next to Madame Mère

The painting of the Coronation was commissioned by Napoleon to David, appointed First Painter of the Emperor, a few weeks before the ceremony. It is part of a commission of four paintings, of which only two will see the light of day: The Coronation and The Distribution of eagles. The painting of the Coronation was begun at the end of 1805. David worked there for 2 years and took some liberties with reality. In particular, the anecdote is well known, it represents Madame Mère at the center of the composition while she did not attend the ceremony because of family quarrels. Napoleon was grateful to David for taking this initiative.

David retouched the painting at the beginning of 1808, the most likely date of writing our letter.

We know, from an excerpt from the Journal de l’Empire, that on January 4, 1808, a visit of Napoleon and Josephine to the painter’s studio took place. The article refers to the Emperor’s compliments to David and states: “S.M. the Empress often united her voice with that of her husband, to address the artist with the most flattering praise.” It is most likely this visit that is referred to in our letter.

The painting was exhibited publicly from February to March 1808. It remained david’s property until 1819, when it was ceded to the royal museums. Installed at the Palace of Versailles for fifty years, it is then hung in the Louvre from 1889, where it still stands.