© Julien de Rose / AFP
A stunning portrait of a 16-year-old Marie-Antoinette – the ever-famous former queen of France – that has been missing in action for a century has finally resurfaced and is returning to its rightful place in the Château de Versailles.
Its story begins in 1775, when the original artwork was painted by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis, the official artist to the kings and nobility of France. The portrait of the young teenage Dauphine Marie-Antoinette was intended for her mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, but Duplessis also made an identical version for his own studio. It has yet to be uncovered exactly what events transpired that lead to both of the paintings disappearances; all that is known is that by the beginning of the 20th century, there was no trace of either – only a humble black and white photograph of the original.
It was only this past November 2021, 100 years later, that Duplessis’ copy reappeared in Essonne, a department in the region of Île-de-France named after the Essonne river (a left tributary of the Seine).
The family in possession of the rare find brought it to the attention of Grégoire Lacroix, the director of the Old Paintings and Drawings department at Aguttes auction house. An historical art expert, he instantly recognized the youthful glow, rosy cheeks and knowing gaze of the La Petite Marquise (The Little Marchioness), who was, at the time of its creation, the “future” queen of France. Since its extraordinary unearthing, the painting has been officially renamed: Portrait of the Dauphine of France, Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg (1755-1793) and has been purchased by the Château de Versailles for €175,500 euros (fives times the highest estimation price), marking its grand return to its origins.
But only half of this story’s mystery has been solved… The original painting, which was last known to be in the collection of the mysterious Marquise de Ganay (who famously disappeared), has never been found. A royal “who-dunnit” for the history books!