Madame de Pompadour 1721-1764
She was fortunate in having for her Godfather, Jean Pâris de Montmartel (1690-1760), the youngest of the fabulously wealthy banking brothers who virtually ran the economy of France and second only to the King in wealth. Born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (meaning fish!) she was very early on taken on, along with her brother Abel (later the Marquis de Marigny) by Charles François le Normant de Tournehem. Very unusually for a girl, she was exceptionally well taught. By the time she was of marriageable age ‘Reinette’ as she was known, was finding it difficult to be married, as her bourgeois parents had little money. De Tournehem offered an enormous dowry to his nephew, Monsieur Normont d’Etioles to persuade him to marry her. The young couple were to live with him in his house in Paris and the pretty Château d’Etioles in the forest of Sénart. He agreed, too, to pay all their bills.
Madame d’Etioles was blessed with great talents; she could dance, act and sing beautifully and play the clavichord perfectly. She liked natural history and was an enthusiastic gardener and botanist. Her knowledgeable interest in the famous philosophes of her day such as Voltaire, made her a sort-after guest at the salons in Paris. She had a famously intelligent wit and her charm and good nature were legendary. Very soon she had her own salon and acted as hostess to M. de Tournhem. She was a superb housekeeper and endowed with the most exquisite taste. She quickly came to know members of the Court, including the Comtesse de Mailly who spoke to the King about her attributes.
The King knew her by sight as he loved to hunt in the Forest of Sénart, close to the favourite of his houses, The Château de Choisy, an old hunting lodge which had been altered by his architect, Jacques Ange IV Gabriel. Here the King could relax with a small group of friends without being disturbed even by servants; a remarkable mechanical table saw to that.[i]Although only the oldest noble families, dating from before 1400, could hunt with the King, neighbours could follow in fast calèches. The King thus knew her by sight from 1741 until the fateful Ball in early 1745. The attraction was instant and although hesitant at first to install her as his mistress, she was quickly given the small former apartment of Madame de Mailly at Versailles. Very soon these became ever more palatial; Madame de Châteauroux’s large apartments at Versailles and Fontainebleau came next.
The Marquise de Pompadour, as she quickly became, was given the estate of Pompadour which carried with it a Marquisate, long in abeyance.[ii] She was thus now an aristocrat and able to be presented at Court. The King showered money on her which enabled her to acquire and decorate her houses in her faultless taste; she hated anything banal. She often advised the King in the decoration of his own Châteaux. Until he met her, this shy, intelligent man occupied his time with politics and hunting. He had an innate naturally good taste and a thirst for knowledge. Madame de Pompadour brought all of this to him. Houses became something of a hobby for them both. Too private and reserved to approach the Marchands Mercier himself, she acted as his go-between. Her principal Marchand Mercier was Lazare Duvaux (1703-1758).
Most of the houses she owned had already been built. Crécy was the first of her own homes though considerably enlarged by her favourite architect, Jean II Lassurance. All the houses were fairly close to each other; the roads were too poor to enable the Court to travel long distances. An itinerary was set by the King at Christmas which only death could interrupt or alter: Choisy, Marly, La Muette, Trianon and, later Bellevue, Crécy, St. Hubert and the Petit Trianon. The longer journeys to Compiègne and Fontainebleau required considerable expense. She also liked small Hermitages in both these places (as well as Versailles) where she created exquisitely scented gardens and in which the King could spend days alone with her. The one at Versailles is altered almost beyond all recognition; that at Compiègne is completely gone; only that at Fontainebleau has survived with an interior which she would have recognised (see below). This is a blue and white interior painted with garlands of flowers and birds designed by Alexis Peyrotte and also certainly painted by him. Having drawn designs for the silk manufactories of Lyons, he came to the attention of the Controleur Générale des Meubles de la Couronne, the Marquis de Fontanieu who invited him to join the workshops of the Crown in 1747 (see below).
Another small Château de Brinborion was followed rapidly by Montretout near Saint Cloud. She must have known the small Château de Celle, so called because of its proximity to the ancient monastery of Saint Cloud. This was a Château belonging to François Gabriel Bachelier, a First Gentlemen of the Bedchamber and a close confidant of Louis XV. What had been a series of Medieval monastic buildings were pulled down and a new house, designed and built by Robert de Cotte, was put in its place.