Madame la Comtesse d'Argenson
(Jean-Marc Nattier)


The master of what has come to be regarded as the archetypal eighteenth century French portrait, Nattier’s reputation has suffered from the attribution of many of the pictures from his studio to his own hand. Enormously popular with the Court, the aristocracy and the haute-bourgeoisie, Nattier painted all the members of King Louis XV’s family, many of the leading courtiers as well as the wives of Councillors at the Paris Parlement. In this particularly beautiful portrait from the height of his career, he has avoided the allegorical format of many of his best-known pictures, concentrating instead on achieving a highly realistic characterisation of an elegant society matron.

The sitter, Anne Larcher, Countess d’Argenson, was the daughter of an enormously wealthy Councillor of the Paris Parlement, Pierre Larcher, Seigneur de Pocancy, from one of the most ancient and distinguished of the noblesse de robe families, the Larchers. The Larchers traced themselves back to a minor official of the Parisian bureaucracy living in 1427. Within three generations they had established themselves in the bourgeois nobility, one Larcher daughter married the son of the great Colbert while others married into the higher nobility. Anne’s father, Pierre, Seigneur de Polancy had married Anne-Thérèse Hebert du Buc and died just three weeks before his daughter and only child’s birth in March 1706. A great heiress, she was married shortly after her eleventh birthday to the scion of one of the most ancient noble families of Touraine, Marc-Pierre de Voyer, Comte d’Argenson, Viscomte de Paulmy, Baron de la Haye (1696-1764). Although the men of his family had historically pursued military careers, his great-grandfather had become a lawyer, then a Councillor of the Paris Parlement and eventually Intendant of the Royal Armies (only to renounce all his worldly achievements to enter the priesthood).

Both his father and grandfather chose to pursue careers in the Magistrature and Marc-Pierre followed in their footsteps. A Paris Councillor in 1719 he became Lieutenant-General of Police of Paris in 1720, Chancellor of the Order of St Louis in 1721, Chancellor of the Duke of Orléans, Regent of France in 1723 and in 1742 a Minister of State. The following year he was Minister of War in succession to the Marquis de Breteuil and in 1744 Superintendant of the Posts while he was elected an Honorary member of the Academy of Sciences (1726) and the Academy of Inscriptions (1749). During his tenure of office, France won the battles of Fontenoy (in 1745) and Lawfeld (in 1747) while he was responsible for the foundation of the École Militaire. His extremely ambitious elder brother had been Minister of Foreign Affairs but had never really had the King’s trust. The Count d’Argenson, however, was one of Louis XV’s longest serving Ministers (holding his post at the War Ministry for a little more than thirteen years), and might have served longer had he not incurred the enmity of Madame de Pompadour. Shortly before his wife’s death he took as mistress the Pompadour’s cousin, Mme. d’Entrades, who was jealous of the favorite and wished to arrange her downfall. Argenson survived one more year but after the King recovered his health and reinstalled the Marquise de Pompadour, who had been temporarily dismissed, he received a curt note ordering him ‘to resign your offices as Secretary of State for War, along with your other offices and to withdraw to your estate of Les Ormes’ (Jan 17th, 1757). He and his wife had two sons, the elder of whom succeeded him in the family estates while the younger became a Knight of Malta.

Seated in a fine carved and gilded bergère of the period, the Countess, a stately but beautiful woman of thirty-seven, wears a magnificent décolleté off-white satin gown held by a pearl belt and arm bracelets. She wears no other jewelry and is holding in her lap a small, clipped spaniel (incorrectly described as a poodle in the entry in the Salon livret). The artist has placed a curtain immediately behind her chair to define the space opening through a pillared embrasure into a wild and mountainous landscape (a pentiment shows the artist had originally painted a large tree which he subsequently removed). The compositional technique was employed frequently by Nattier in the portraits of Madame de Lambesc, The Marquise de la Ferté-Imbault and Queen Marie Leczinska, among others. The portrait was exhibited at the Paris Salon with that of her husband (which was engraved twice), but for reasons we have been unable to determine not until seven years after the painting was completed. Nolhac (op cit.) mentions the existence of a reduced replica in the collection of the Marquis de Valfons.

This painting will be included in the forthcoming Nattier exhibition to be held by the Réunion des Musées de France at the Château of Versailles, 26 Oct 1999 – 30 Jan 2000.

54 3/4 x 41 1/2 in. 139 x 105.5 cm.
Oil on canvas

PROVENANCE: Mme. la Comtesse d’Argenson, 1754; Marc, Comte d’Argenson, 1765; Marc-René, Marquis de Voyer, Comte d’Argenson; At the Château of Les Ormes, by descent until 1985.


LITERATURE: P. de Nolhac, J. M. Nattier, peintre de la Cour de Louis XV, Paris, 1905, p. 109; P. de Nolhac, J.M. Nattier, Paris, 1910, pp. 177 and 250; G. Huard, Nattier in L. Dimier, Les peintres français du XVIII siècle, Paris/Brussels, 1930, p. 123, no. 51.


EXHIBITED: Paris, Salon, 1750, no. 66, Madame la Comtesse d’Argenson, tenant un petit caniche (sic); Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd, London, French Paintings 1700-1840, 1989, cat. no. 11, pp. 43-46, colour pl. 13.
Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘

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Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
1993-Fifty Paintings 1535 - 1825.
To celebrate Ten Years of Collaboration between The Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York. 216 pages, 50 colour plates, numerous black and white text illustrations £20 or $32 inc. p.& p.

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