Trivia ‘Toinette #15: Face-to-Face with the Real Deal?

In late August of 1785 the French court was at St. Cloud, unlike her guarded Trianon, Marie Antoinette allowed the public to meander about her gardens. The “commoners” were amused to see the royal family just there in front of them, meandering just like they were! Wow, royalty, they’re just like us! I meander, I should be a Queen! I have to put quarters in parking meters, I should be Madame Élisabeth! [And so-on with the US Weekly gag…next week we’ll do ‘Who wore it best?’.] 

Silvestre grotto at Saint Cloud

credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Word spread that the Royal Family was on display (animated this time!) and the crowds were so large that they gave rise to outdoor cafés and dance halls along the Seine. These new pleasure dens attracted “a mob that included unsavory individuals intensely disliked by the King,”. Doesn’t sound like your dad on vacation? I wonder if Louis used any dad-isms, like honky-tonk, riff-raff, or hoodlums…Comment dités-vous ‘malarkey’ en français, Majesté? (How droll! We amuse Us.)

Well, what would you do if you saw M@ in the flesh? No, I don’t mean get sauced at a Seine-side roadhouse! I’d feel a bit like those yokels gawking on the lawns of St. Cloud: equal parts curiosity, voyeurism and the chills. It would be freaky, non? That and the pressure of what I would say. Wow, your Majesty looks-em–so…so different than in your Vigée-LeBruns. Three-dimensional and, uh…yeah. Why is it I always come off like a bumbling idiot to the famous in a significant number of my daydreams? 

Submitted for review, We have 3 candidates for “Best Likeness of M@”.  We debate whether to present the candidates chronologically, in order of creepiness, or which one We find most visually assuaging…hmm.

Madame Tussaud

Yes, of the kitschy wax museums now in every city like Hard Rock Cafés. Mme. Marie Tussaud (birth name: Anna Maria Grosholtz) sculpted the Queen’s newly “sleeping” face.  The gravediggers at the rue d’Anjou decided that digging and burying monarch is best on a full stomach and took their lunch break.  (They left the recently-delivered head and body on the grass unattended.) Unlike Tussaud’s wax sculpture of the Princesse de Lamballe, the Queen’s had never been displayed until recently. Don’t worry, I’m not showing you that here. Honestly I have no idea who created the various Marie Antoinettes on display at the various Madame Tussauds across the globe. my bad!

madame tussaud's marie antoinette sculptures

L to R: Marie Antoinette Hot Springs Arkansas, Washington DC, and London

Did having that original impression help them recreate these in any way? What do you think? At first I thought they all looked completely different, then I thought the nose was different in the last one. It’s like they tried the hardest to make her look motherly and comforting in the third picture…and I’m so not buying it! But wait, let’s back up and take it all in. *That’s what she said* Sorry, I had to…

madame tussaud's wax marie antoinetteUnlike the DC bust, the other two wax Maries are stuck into these ridiculous pastiches. What’s with the matched yellow outfits? Who are they, the von Trapps? Yeesh. And YES! I intentionally used a picture with an off-kilter poof. Call wardrobe and make-up! Actually, they do play with her hair like they’re playing Barbies in the backyard by the sandbox. Check out the difference in style (and angle) compared with the triptych above. Oh, I cut off her hair. Hold on. Bam! marie antoinette tussauds londonThere you go. See? She’s rockin’ the plumes over there to the right.

As for Hot Springs M@, is she in deep meditation? Why she’s so focused on that pear on the table is beyond me. And who’s the guy hovering over her? A footman or whatever you called them in Versailles? His gaze is too low to be reverential, is he looking at her ass? You know, they never address M@’s ass in any biography or memoir. They talk about the T but not the A. the mind reels.

The portrait nobody liked

wermuller marie antoinetteAdolph Ulrich von  Wertmüller’s 1785 portrait of the Queen, Madame Royale and the dauphin went over like a lead balloon with the French public. The general consensus–nicely phrased–thought the likeness inappropriately casual for a queen and plain old unflattering. Painted for the King of Sweden, he thought it did her no justice either. I swear I’ve read the word “doughy” used as well. Strangely, Marie Antoinette herself seemed just fine with it and used Wertmüller again in 1788.

Madam Campan’s memoirs relate, “There is no good portrait of the Queen, save that by Werthmuller,* chief painter to the King of Sweden…and that by Madame LeBrun in 1787,” (pp. 162-3).  C.A.E. Moberly–of the famed pair of women who, in 1901, claimed to have wandered through a ‘time warp’ in Petit Trianon and ended up in the late 18th Century–wrote about this portrait as well. It seems that she saw Marie Antoinette sitting in a lawn chair, sketching, on the lawn next to Petit Trianon.  “I thought [the lady] was a tourist, but that her dress was old-fashioned,” (23). Later on, while doing research into their ‘incident,’ Ms. Moberly writes, “I found Wertmüller’s portrait of the Queen, and exclaimed that it was the first of all the pictures I had seen which at all brought back the face of the lady,” (31).  She asserts that weeks later she read Campan’s memoirs and found the aforementioned passage about this being the truest likeness of the Queen. On this subject, We run dry of quippy similes and barbs as your Blog Hostess doesn’t have much experience with time-travel.

Fun side note! The other portrait by Vigée-LeBrun Vigee-Lebrun-Marie-Antoinette-&-childrenthat Campan claims to be true to M@’s appearance didn’t go over well with the King of Sweden either. Apparently after seeing it Gustavus III declared, “Holy cow! The Queen of France has really let herself go!” Okay, fine I added the ‘holy cow,’ but it was a exclamation in Swedish.

the stuff you can’t hide in Sculptures

Okay, in case you haven’t noticed, We seem to be leaning in the direction of likenesses taken from life. A painted portrait was the Photoshop of the last millennium: the least flattering features were always “corrected.” It’s probably not too much of an extrapolation to assume artists flattered their royal subjects even more. They pay more, right? (At least theyd better be paying more.) The general consensus is that the busts of Marie Antoinette are more authentic than her paintings. The big question remains, what can you hide in a painting that can’t be hidden in a sculpture? M@’s aquiline nose and Hapsburg lip, her two features the French loved to harp on, simply cannot be played down in profile.

marie antoinette bust

front-and-side comparisons. busts by Boizot (1781) and Lecompte (1784), respectively

It’s a real eye-opener, huh? I guess I haven’t spent much time around busts or studying them appropriately, but I was amazed by the 365 degrees of detail. This looks like much more work than portraits. There’s two profiles, the back of the head, not to mention the detail in the hair. Oh, BTW, if you’ve got four grand lying around to drop on a reproduction bust of Marie Antoinette, do click here! [Seriously. If this is your biggest concern in life is finding an adequate M@-repro-bust to put in your home, then We think you have much deeper issues.]

marie antoinette bust

photo credit: François Hallard

I guess I see similarities between sculpted-from-life busts and the sculpted-after-life wax statues. The nose in the DC M@ is certainly aquiline…though not the same as the sculptures. Don’t take my word for it, I’ve been staring at this screen for ages and am most likely hallucinating by this point. Can we say that there is no true-to-life art? Then again, We of the Digital Age know that a person doesn’t necessarily look like their photographs either.

In the end, it comes down to which representation is the least creepy when you look it dead in the eyes. For me it’s the above bust from 1775, also done by Louis-Simon Boizot. Try looking the 1781 Boizot in the eyes. *chills chills chills* ahhh! don’t turn around! Those fixed pupils are boring holes right into the back of your head!


Frasier, Antonia. “Marie Antoinette: the Journey.” Anchor Books, 2001.

Lever, Evelyne. “Marie Antoinette.” Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000.

Moberly, CAE and Jourdain, EF. “The Ghosts of the Trianon.” Aquarian Press, 1988.

About ♔ la dauphiine ♔

Connecticut-based jewelry monger, history buff, Mets fan. On the hum-drum side, call me a lauded poet, novelist and ghost-writer. (That's right, I haunt prose.)
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12 Responses to Trivia ‘Toinette #15: Face-to-Face with the Real Deal?

  1. stonebiscuit says:

    I’m willing to bet Louis was a super embarrassing father-type.


  2. I can’t wait to start reading your posts


  3. Susan Ardelie says:

    Boizot’s 1781 bust is freaky. It reminds me of Medusa with possessing eyes and coiling hair. Not flattering.

    This post was really interesting. It is incredible how the “real” Antoinette emerges when you’ve an assortment of likenesses to study. The uniformly flattering facial traits tend to fall away in favor of a more accurate composite.


  4. aubrey says:

    The busts are quite formidable. I can’t help but see these faces on the prow of a ship. This isn’t quite the thing one should say to a queen, however; I’d probably say something like, “Don’t worry, majesty, I’ve made a vow to smack Sophia Coppola for including a pair a lavender Converse sneakers in her movie bearing your name.”


  5. Pingback: Theme Week: Gaulle Edition! | tiaras and trianon

  6. Pingback: Remembering Marie Antoinette | tiaras and trianon

it's not just a love-affair with my own voice

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