Thursday, 30 August 2012

Le Dernier Roi de France / The Last King of France

Louis Philippe I "King of the French",
by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1839
[Source : Wikipedia]

Louis Philippe holds the unique distinction of being the last reigning King of France. His life is one of aspiration, intrigue, revolution, power and exile through one of the most tumultuous and unsettled periods of French political history.

The gold "LP" monogram of King Louis Philippe printed
on a "Sevres style" plate ostensibly dated 1846.
Refer below for an interesting history of this plate.
[From my own collection]

Belonging to the House of Orléans, a branch of the ruling Bourbon dynasty, the family fortunes fluctuated greatly after the French Revolution of 1788-89. Having, along with his Father, shown liberal sympathies and even supported the Revolution, Louis Phillippe was however not immune from the power struggles that racked France during the subsequent French Revolutionary wars. But equally, he also actively involved himself in political intrigue. Having become disillusioned by the more radical policies of the French Republic Louis Philippe was implicated in a plot to restore - by military force - the pre revolution French Constitution of 1791 under which France would be ruled by a constitutional Monarchy. In 1793, and as France descended into the "Reign of Terror", Louis Philippe wisely ended his two year tenure as a Lieutenant-General in the increasingly pro-Republican French Army and went into self-imposed exile, his life now being in danger.

A close up of the above "Sevres style" plate showing the gold "LP"
monogram with crown and laurel leaves for King Louis Philippe
of France and delicately painted putti (cherubs) with roses.
[From my own collection]

So, at 19 years of age, Louis Philippe left France and it would be twenty one years before he would again set foot on French soil. At this point the Orléans family fortunes did not look at all promising. Travelling extensively throughout much of Europe, he also visited the United States of America. In Boston, he taught French for a time, also having the distinction of meeting many notable American politicians of the day including George Washington. In 1839 Louis Philippe wrote that his three years in America had a large influence on his later political beliefs and judgements.

Louis Philippe, King of the French.
[Source : Linternaute]

But fate began to finally smile on the Orléans family fortunes. Upon the forced abdication of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815 and the subsequent restoration of the Bourbons, Louis Philippe [then known as Louis Philippe III, Duke of Orléans] returned to France, his cousin being crowned King Louis XVIII of France. While managing to reconcile the Orléans and Bourbon branches of the family at court, Louis Philippe still sided with the liberal opposition. But after the accession of the even more conservative Bourbon King Charles X in 1824 Louis Philippe's liberal views were considered a threat to Charles' conservatively minded Government. But this soon proved to be to his advantage. 

King Louis Philippe opening the Galerie des Batailles (Gallery of Battles)
in the Palace of Versailles, 10th June 1837.
A painting by François-Joseph Heim.
[Source : Wikipedia]   

The noted French Statesman Taleyrand reputedly wrote, "They [the Bourbon Kings] had learned nothing and forgotten nothing". Thus it came as no surprise that in July 1830 another revolution threw out King Charles X. The French Government then, primarily on account of his liberal beliefs and public popularity, proclaimed Louis Philippe as King of France, thus bypassing the 10 year old Grandson of Charles X.

Louis Philippe, King of the French in regal pose, 1842
[Source : Wikipedia]

Assuming the more democratic and all encompassing title of "Louis Philippe, King of the French", his rule proceeded in an unpretentious manner and avoided the pomp and lavish spending of his predecessors. But during his reign the conditions of the working classes deteriorated and the income gap between rich and poor widened considerably. An economic crisis in 1847 led to a further revolution in February 1848 (there being much unrest in Europe at this time) which forced Louis Philippe to abdicate and seek exile in England under the 'protection' of Queen Victoria. While the French Assembly were willing to accept his 9 year old grandson as successor this proved unacceptable to the French public thus leading to the formation of the Second Republic under Napoleon III.  

The signed abdication document of
Louis Philippe in favour of his
Grandson, 24 Feb 1848
[Source : Wikipedia]

Louis Philippe died at Claremont Surrey on the 26th August 1850. In 1876, his remains and those of his wife Maria Amalia were taken to France and buried at the Orléans family Chapelle Royale de Dreux [Royal Chapel of Dreux]. Orléans and Bourbon 'factions' have ever since continued to push their own 'legitimacy' to the French Throne.

Original and counterfeit marks on the above "Sevres style" plate.
[From my own collection]

My 'Sevres Style' plate carries the monogram of Louis Philippe, being purportedly ordered for the "Chateau Des Tuileries" [Tuileries Palace, Paris]. A detailed 1916 American publication "Exhibition of Fakes and Reproductions" makes specific reference not only to the decoration of genuine Sevres blanks but also the wholesale production of complete counterfeit pieces by at least one prominent Paris manufactory. The following reference in the above publication at least confirms the status of my own particular plate :

"56. DISHES (2) — Circular form, large size. Decoration in colors, two cupids.... a floral wreath enclosing the monogram of Louis Philippe surrounded by gold circles. Broad outside band of light blue. A piece of Sevres hard paste, dated 1846, the decoration having been painted at a later date outside of the factory."

Therefore, while my plate is indeed Sevres fired hard paste porcelain with a genuine under-glaze mark for 1846, the gilding, delicate painting and "Chateau Des Tuileries" destination mark have been applied elsewhere. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum the sale of actual Sevres blanks may relate to the abdication of Louis Philippe in early 1848 thus a large stock of fired porcelain with "LP" underglaze marks became obsolete after the proclamation of the Second Republic.  

A great many counterfeit pieces of 'Sevres Style' porcelain in varying designs abound and continue to be promoted by dealers as genuine, often at highly inflated prices. The skill of the counterfeiters unfortunately makes identification exceedingly difficult other than by a qualified ceramics expert. 

Bibliography :

- Wikipedia    
- Various Internet resources
- Image(s) from my own collection may be freely copied for personal use provided a link is given back to this site

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