La belle Grecque

imageSeveral months ago we spotted this beautiful miniature painted on ivory in an antique shop in Connecticut. I suggested that it would make a perfect birthday present for someone named Patricia and that I would agree to forget about it until it was the right time. We hadn’t brought our check book with us and the shop owner didn’t take credit cards. He suggested that we just send him a check when we got home. Wow! That was incredibly trusting of him.

imageWhen I got home, and before I started to forget about it, I worked on deciphering the handwriting on the back of the miniature. I learned that the miniature was a copy of a portrait of Pauline Borghese, the younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. The original was painted by Salomon-Guillaume Counis in 1810 and today hangs in the Uffizi in Florence.

imageCounis was born in Geneva and came to Paris to train. It was there that his met and painted Pauline Borghese. When she moved to Florence, she brought Counis with her. The painting was named “La belle Greque” (lah bel grek), but I can’t find out why as Borghese was born in Corsica and never lived in Greece. This is just supposition on my part, but paintings of classical antiquity were highly prized in 19th century France. Some of the other paintings by Counis have names that also refer to the classical era and the gown that Borghese is wearing is draped in the manner of a Grecian robe.

While the fortunes of the Napoleon family fell, rose, and then definitively fell, Counis must have found happiness in Florence, as he remained there until his death in 1859. While there’s no way of knowing who painted my copy, or when it was done, now that my birthday has come and gone, I treasure my miniature piece of French history. And maybe I need to go visit the original in Florence for my next birthday!

imageNapoleon’s Family: The Notorious Bonaparte’s and their Ascent to the Throne’s of Europe

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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5 Responses to La belle Grecque

  1. Ellen A. says:

    An exceptionally long-lived painter! (You may want to make a correction in your dates).
    And a lovely copy to treasure. Bon anniversaire from your grateful readers!

    • Thank you for your sharp eye and best wishes. My birthday was actually in March, right before I took a group of students to France, so I just got around to this topic now.

  2. Bronte Woods says:

    Hi Patricia, My name is Bronte Woods and I live in Adelaide, Australia. Back in May this year i also was liking 2 miniatures that were for sale in an Adelaide antique auction. The names of the ladies were not mentioned and I managed to buy them for $300Aus. I have just this day noticed on the edge of the miniatures the names of the subjects. Your La Belle Grecque is one of them. It was hand painted in Italy, and has a signature “Mary”. The painting is similar to your miniature, and obviously a copy of the original. There are probably many of these miniatures maybe by different artists scattered around the world. The subject matter is all important when estimating a value for miniatures. Thankyou for posting this article as I now can list her as the younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Although my copy is not dated it says that it was made in Italy. Could have been painted elsewhere. The other miniature is signed by “Weber”, framed the same, but not quite as well painted. Could not identify the lady “Caroline Theer”. All the best from down under. Regards, Bronte (male, in case you think Bronte is a female).

    • Thanks so much for your comment. It makes me wonder how many miniature copies of this painting exist. It would be fun to see all of them together and compare each artist’s interpretation.

      • Bronte Woods says:

        Yes. Between our copies I can see a difference in the eyes. My copy has blue eyes whereas yours appear darker. They may be blue but perhaps a darker shade than mine. Can you try sending me a reply by email then I could send you a photo of my La Belle Greque.

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