Portrait of Félicité-Louise-Julie-Constance de Durfort, Maréchale de Beurnonville (10 June 1782 7 February 1870)
(Merry Joseph Blondel)



Paris 1781 – 1853 Paris

Portrait of Félicité-Louise-Julie-Constance de Durfort,
Maréchale de Beurnonville

In this elegant, but unpretentious life-sized portrait Merry-Joseph Blondel  depicts Félicité-Louise de Durfort (1782-1872), the young wife of Pierre Riel, standing upon a garden terrace. She leans casually with her left arm on the large wooden planter of an orange tree in full fruit, whose selective shade leaves her, for the most part, bathed in a gentle sunlit glow. She wears a simple high-waisted diaphanous white dress trimmed with gold ribbons. An Indian inspired shawl, the height of fashion at this period, in creamy cashmere embroidered with paisleys is draped over her right arm and trails at her feet, which are adorned with white satin slippers with ribbons laced around her tiny crossed ankles. Her black hair is parted, curled at the temples, and gathered simply atop her head with a gold ribbon or diadem. She hold a sprig of pale pink roses in her right hand. Her gaze is calm, demure, but direct. At left, steps guide the eye to a path winding to a distant view of the Château of Balincourt in the background. Pierre Riel, who was some thirty years older than his bride, acquired the house in 1803 just two years before their wedding, and as the new chatelaine, Félicité supervised a complete redecoration of the château in the Empire style at every expense her husband’s considerable fortune afforded.

Unlike his wife’s family, which on both sides, was one of the most illustrious in France, Pierre Riel had risen to the highest rank from very modest origins. Born in 1752, the son of wheelwright from Champignolle, Reil was a good example of the Bonapartist legend that every footsoldier had a marshal’s baton in his knapsack, even if Riel actually received his from Louis XVIII. While stationed on the Island of Reunion in 1778, he married Geneviève Gillon de l’Etang, a lady of slightly higher station, and the widow of an Anglo-Irish merchant named Macfields. When he returned to France she refused to accompany him and they were divorced without issue.
In 1789 the citizens of Riel’s home town decided to honor him with the gift of the small property of Beurnonville, for which he nevertheless paid them the sum of 200 francs, almost the entire value of the land. Henceforth he was known as Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, then, under the republic, Citoyen Beurnonville, eventually ending his career as a hereditary Marquis-Peer. It was as a Lieutenant-General and Senator of the Empire that he married the young Mlle de Durfort, a marriage arranged with her widowed mother. Years later, Félicité said to some young cousins, “women are so unfortunate, we are married very young to worn out men, without heart, without love, without strength, whom we do not choose”. As youthful and pretty as Félicité evidently was, she had fortune to speak of, and was therefore in a position to choose her husband. She and Pierre had no children when he died in 1821. Her husband remembered her tenderly in his will as ‘my dear Wife, for whom the tender love that I had for her and her perfect conduct and the touching signs that she never ceased to demonstrate during our marriage.’ He left her the usufruct of almost his entire estate, with the eventual reversion to his nephew, Etienne Martin, Baron de Beurnonville Despite the high rank he held in French freemasonry, the Marshal evidently retained his allegiance to the Church, asking this his widow establish a donation for prayers for the repose of his soul to be said in perpetuity at their parish church in Paris and at their Château of Balincourt.

Now a wealthy widow, the Maréchale fell in love with a retired officer nine years her junior, Joseph Marie Frémiot, a former infantry captain, the son of a regimental musician. As a mark of the favor in which her husband had been held, her second husband received from the King the personal title of Baron (18 May 1825). In 1827, despite her age, she gave birth to a son, Henri, who sadly predeceased both parents, dying in 1868. Félicité died two years later at their Paris home. Joseph followed her two years later. Pierre’s nephew now inherited the splendid Château of Balincourt, where the portrait hung until his death, when it passed to his cousin the Count de Reiset.

After an apprenticeship at the Dihl et Guerhard porcelain factory in Paris, where he was trained by Etienne Leguay (1762-1846), in 1802, Merry-Joseph Blondel entered the studio of Jean-Baptiste Regault. The following year, Merry-Joseph Blondel was awarded the Prix de Rome for his composition Enné portent son père Anchise (Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Baux-Arts) but did not go to Rome until 1809. Between 1809 and 1812, he was a pensioniere at the Villa Medici in Rome and won a gold medal for his painting Le mort de Louis XII surnommé le père sur peuple. Upon his return to Paris, Merry-Joseph Blondel was elected a member of the Academy of Beaux-Arts and accepted a post at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and received several commissions.
After gaining a gold medal in the Salon of 1817 for the Death of Louis XII (Toulouse, Musée Augustins), Merry-Joseph Blondel established a successful career as official decorative painter. In addition to the decoration of the Salon and of the Galerie de Diane at Fontainebleau (1822-28) and the ceiling of the Palais de la Bourse (Justice Protecting Commerce, sketch, 1825; Dijon, Musée Magnin), Merry-Joseph Blondel received commissions for several ceilings in the Louvre, of which the earliest and most remarkable is in the vestibule to the Galerie d’Apollon (The Sun or the Fall of Icarus, in situ). The ceiling painting in the Salle Henri II (The Dispute between Minerva and Neptune on the Subject of Athens) was removed in 1938, while those in the Salles du Conseil d’Etat, France Victorious at Bouvines (1828) and France Receives the Constitutional Charter from Louis XVIII (1827), are still in situ. These monumental allegorical compositions belong to the tradition of David and stylistically by the 1820s Merry-Joseph Blondels work become almost wholly academic and makes up in erudition what they might lack in originality. Merry-Joseph Blondel’s royal commissions also included an extensive series of portraits depicting French military leaders throughout her history. These were commissioned by Louis-Philippe for the historical museum at Versailles and all were painted between 1834 and 1835. Merry-Joseph Blondel also produced several important historical subject paintings for Louis-Phillipe including Jean II recoit au Louvre la soumission du Roi de Navarre, 1354 (1834), Ptolemais remise à Philippe-Auguste et à Richard, Coeur-de-lion, 13 juillet 1191 (1838), both of which hang in Versailles.

76 ½ x 51 1/8 inches (194.3 x 130 cm)
Oil on Canvas

Provenance: La Maréchale-Marquise de Beurnonville 1807-1870; Etienne Baron de Martin-Beurnonville 1870-1886; Gustave, 1st Count de Reiset[1] (1886-1905); Henry, 2nd Count de Reiset, by descent in the Reiset family at the Château de Breuil until 1998.


Phyllida Jay, Inspired by India, New Dehli September 2021.


Exhibited: Paris, Salon, 1808.

Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen
Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Price band
$250,000 - $350,000