(Baltimore, MD)—Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) is known for being the influential mistress of King Louis XV of France and an enthusiastic patron of the arts, but few know that she was also a printmaker. An unexpected finding in the Rare Books Collection of the Walters Art Museum’s uncovered an extremely rare first-edition set of etchings she created in the early 1750s. Her intellectual and artistic prowess are highlighted in the exhibition Madame de Pompadour, Patron and Printmaker, on view at the Walters Art Museum from February 28 through May 29, 2016. Admission for this exhibition is free for everyone.
On display are seven selections from the Suite of Prints Engraved by Madame the Marquise de Pompadour after the Carved Gems of Jacques Guay. Museum founder Henry Walters acquired the Suite in 1895 from a Parisian book dealer. The set comprises more than 50 detailed etchings of gems carved with diverse images, including portraits of the crown prince and the royal mistress’s spaniel, Bébé. About 20 of these rare first-edition sets were produced around 1755, and the Walters’ copy is the only complete set to survive.
Complementing the selection of prints are 18 objects that touch on aspects of Pompadour’s wide-ranging patronage. Over time, she accumulated paintings, sculpture, porcelain, tapestries, metalwork and other sumptuous objects for her many personal residences. Included are works she likely owned, such as two pairs of Sèvres vases and a pair of French-mounted Asian porcelains.
“The works on view show that she was thinking about these objects and images in a very sophisticated way,” says Susan Wager, curator of the exhibition. “I hope that comes through when visitors see her prints and the objects that she was drawn to as a collector.”
Formerly the Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral curatorial fellow in the Department of 18th and 19th Century Art, Wager discovered the volume after an object listed in the museum’s database as a late posthumous edition caught her eye. The etchings had remained unrecognized for more than a century. The Walters’ Suite is contained in an 18th-century leather portfolio emblazoned with Pompadour’s coat of arms and, unlike other editions, contains a handwritten table of contents.
This exhibition is generously supported by members and contributors to the annual fund.
About the Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum, located in downtown Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre Streets, is free and open to the public. At the time of his death in 1931, museum founder Henry Walters left his entire collection of art to the city of Baltimore. Its collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art, and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. The Museum Store offers distinctive gifts, jewelry and books based on the museum’s collections.
Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible by the combined generosity of individual members, friends and benefactors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.