A little beggar
(Antoinette Cécile Hortense, Mme Haudebourt Lescot)


The metal pins hanging from a bar attached to the leather strap from which the boy’s bag is suspended, identify him as a poacher. He touches his hat in a respectful manner, hoping that the viewer, a passers-by, will perhaps place a few coins in his extended right hand, the grimy nails, torn clothes and rough coat suggesting a desperate plight. He was probably typical of the thousands of young children and other marginalised people living on the streets whom visitors to Paris might have encountered, their lives far removed from the elegant Salons occupied by finely dressed men and women who are so often the subject of 18th century French paintings of every day life.

The Little Beggar is one of the earliest known works by the artist, who arrived in Rome a few months after her professor, Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, had been appointed director of the Academy of France in its new home in the Villa Medici. The subject is exceptional in showing a beggar in such a compassionate light; while he is clearly asking the viewer for money he is a sympathetic, not a threatening figure, reflecting a notable change of attitude towards the less fortunate. This may have been inspired by the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, most notably in Émile, ou de l’Éducation, which had led to a revolution in the upbringing and education of children. Now we extend our “pitié” to this boy, who despite being a poacher, is the victim of circumstances which have forced him to turn to begging. While beggars and the indigent had been portrayed in paintings since the later 16th century, the viewer has only ever been invited to observe them, not to engage directly, as here and in a way not usually seen until the second half of the 19th century.

The recent identification of the artist broadens our knowledge of the early work of Hortense Lescot, who came to be better known during the Restoration period, thanks in no small part to the support of the duchess of Angoulême, future Dauphine, the only surviving daughter of the unfortunate Queen Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and her Neapolitan born sister-in-law, the duchess of Berry, who appointed her to the position of official painter.

At the end of 1809, the Roman Consulta, the Napoleonic administration of Rome under the direction of General François de Miollis, organised an exhibition of international artists in the halls of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in the Capitol. This would have been her first public exhibition and Hortense Lescot presented portraits of several representatives of the French régime (the architect Pierre-Adrien Pâris, General Jean-Antoine Garabuau and Constantin Stamaty, a Greek born French agent) and Cardinal Francesco Pignatelli, as well as three genre scenes: A Neapolitan woman playing the guitar; Pifferari; and A beggar wrapped in his coat. The exhibition committee offered prizes at the close of the event and Hortense Lescot, one of the winners, was awarded a crown.

Several of the paintings exhibited in Rome were exhibited by Mlle Lescot the following year in Paris, at the 1810 Salon, including our painting, now given the shorter title of A little beggar. This painting was particularly noticed by the critics who give it a laudatory notice: “No. 516 represents a little half-naked Beggar, which seems to me a masterpiece of grace, of naivety without insignificance, truth without caricature” (Guizot, 1810); while a second critic wrote: “here’s one young Beggar all alone in the middle of an aerial vapour so celestial, that in spite of his rags he seems to believe that nature has awakened for him” (Gueffier, 1811).

The particularly vigorous touch is reminiscent of the artist’s portrait of Pierre-Adrien Pâris executed in 1809 and given by the artist to the Academy of Saint Luke as her reception submission. Several common attributes of the paintings she exhibited in 1809 and 1810 are characteristic of the artist’s manner: The hair, treated in sometimes very fine individual locks; broad and lively brushstrokes that can be found in the handling of textures (the jabot of M. Pâris and the fur of the coat over the shoulder of the beggar); a very similar modeling of the flesh (lighting, shadows and redness are blended with a certain brilliance); and similar modeling of anatomy, particularly in the facial features of nostrils and eyelids, with the mouth slightly open. Her portrait of Camille de Tournon,6 executed at the request of the prefect in March 1810, also offers several elements of comparison, in particular in the treatment of flesh and her clear brushstrokes.

As for the exceptional subject, Lescot may have followed the example of her friend and fellow student in Rome, the Swiss born artist (Anna) Barbara Bansi, who had painted an engaging portrait of a boy beggar seated by a Parisian bridge, dated 1800.7 Bansi had likely brought this painting with her to Rome, where she had come as a student (and possibly lover) of the Flemish born painter Joseph-Benoit Suvée who, after opening a school for young women artists in the Louvre, had in 1801 taken up his position as director at the French Academy in Rome. Bansi moved to join Suvée there in 1802, at the same time being appointed an unofficial companion to the First Consul General Bonaparte’s mother, Letizia Ramolino, then living in the city. Bansi was still living there in 1807 when Suvée died unexpectedly and, when the following year, Hortense Lescot arrived as a student at the academy. As two young women artists in the very masculine environment of the academy, it is likely that the thirty year old Bansi, who knew the city well, might have become friends with the twenty-four year old Hortense Lescot. That Lescot exhibited a second painting of a beggar in the 1810 Salon suggests an interest in such subjects that is more than coincidental.

99 x 68.3 cm
Oil on Canvas

Christie’s, Online Auction 20056 ended December 8, 2021;

Stair Sainty Gallery.


François Guizot, De l’état des Beaux-Arts en France et du Salon de 1810, Paris, Maradan, 1810, p. 99;

Pierre François Gueffier, Entretiens sur les ouvrages de painting, sculpture and engraving, exposed to the Napoleon Museum in 1810, Paris, Gueffier jeune, 1811, p. 157.


Capitoline Exhibition, Rome, 1809, n° 67 : “Un mendico inviluppato nel suo mantello”;

Salon des Artistes Vivants, Paris, 1810, n° 516: “Un petit mendiant.

Where is It?
Stair Sainty
Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820 & Romanticism - 1810-1870