A Duchess Of All Trades

October 14 2011, 11:30am

Carlton Hobbs LLC   This painting, by the French artist Adolphe Demange, depicts the Duchess d’Uzès working on a monumental sculpture of Joan of Arc in the workshop of her mentor, the painter and sculptor Jean-Alexandre-Josef Falguière. Demange (1857- after 1927) was a portraitist who was inducted into the Society of French Artists after 1901, and appeared in the Society’s expositions between 1896 and 1926. He signed the painting at the upper right: “To the valiant artist-sculptor Mme La Duchesse d’Uzès, tribute of the painter A.D. Demange.” Detail of signature   Born 10 February 1847 in Paris, Marie Adrienne Anne Victurnienne Clémentine de Rochechouart de Mortemart was the daughter of Louis de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Count of Mortemart, and Marie-Clementine Chevigne; and the great-granddaughter of Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the famed “Grand Dame of Champagne,” also called “Veuve Cliquot” (Widow Cliquot), proprietress of the eponymous champagne house. Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart became the Duchess d’Uzès in 1872, upon her marriage to Emmanuel de Crussol Uzès (1840-1878), Duke of Crussol and 12th Duke of Uzès. The Duchess d’Uzès was an immensely wealthy, talented and independent woman who was, “by turns, a sportswoman, an author, an artist, a sculptor, a chauffeuse, a ministering angel to the poor, a grande mondaine, and an industrious mother.” She was greatly involved in Parisian social life and humanitarian efforts, for which she had numerous charities. The Duchess was also concerned with the politics of France, including feminist and suffragist causes. Her leisurely pursuits encompassed a broad range of interests. Sadly, she was well known for her taste for sport hunting, in which she led the premier hunt, the Rallye Bonnelles, in the Rambouillet forest from the 1880s until her death in 1933. As an automobile enthusiast, she became the first woman in France to receive her driver’s license in 1898, and the first person to be issued a speeding ticket the following year for driving in the Bois de Boulogne at 15 km/h,3 rather than the statutory 12 km/h limit. The Duchess preparing to pass her driving exam.   The Duchess’ artistic talents included writing, painting and sculpture. As an author the Duchess published poems, plays, novels and histories beginning in 1890. In her artistic career she sculpted under the pseudonym “Manuela.” She took part in the expositions of the Société des Artistes Français where she received an honorable mention in the Salon of 1887, and she was president of the Union of Female Painters. Her notable works include three sculptures of Diana, Émile Augier (Valence), Nicolas Gilbert (Fontenoy-le-Château), Notre-Dame-de-France (Sainte-Clotilde church, Reims),  Saint-Hubert (Montmartre basilica) and the statue of Jeanne d’Arc at Mehun-sur-Yèvre—the same sculpture the Duchess is depicted completing in the present painting. The Duchess’ clay sculpture of Joan of Arc served as the model for a cast iron and bronze statue which stood in the Place du Château at Mehun-sur-Yèvre (figure 1). Mehun-sur-Yèvre is a small town in central France through which Joan of Arc passed in late October of 1429, where she stayed with the king’s surgeon, Renaud Thierry. There she participated in King Charles VII’s council and on December 29, 1429 he provided her with letters of nobility. In the Spring of 1430 Joan left Mehun-sur-Yèvre to pursue other battles. The Duchess' sculpture of Jeanne d'Arc, in situ in the Place du Château at Mehun-sur-Yèvre. The statue was commissioned in 1896 by a town committee, the head of which was the mayor, Dr. Camille Meraut. He asked several artists to produce models of Joan of Arc, and it was the Duchess d’Uzès’ sculpture that won. She executed the sculpture in the workshop of Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguière (1831-1900), viewed as one of the founders of realism in French sculpture. The statue of Joan of Arc was ceremoniously unveiled on June 30, 1091 in the presence of dignitaries, including the Russian ambassador, and was visited by future artists on their tours of France. The statue stood in the square beside the ruins of Charles VII’s castle until it was destroyed by German troops in 1944.