Vicomtesse Iphigénie de Caux (1778 – 1862)
Oil on Canvas
Signed with Monogram lower right
22 x 18in (56 x 46 cm)
Provenance: Remaining until very recently in the artist’s family, Château de Bouville, Orleans.
Rarely does one have the pleasure in presenting such a fine still-life as this wonderful floral bouquet. It was painted by Vicomtesse Claire-Françoise-Iphigénie de Caux de Blacquetot, more usually known as Iphigénie de Caux or Decaux who was born at Toulon, France on 17th June 1778 (and not 1780 as generally noted in the standard art biographies). Of exceptional artistic talent, Iphigénie was the only daughter of Général Louis-Marie-Antoine Destouff-Milet de Mureau (1751-1825) and his wife Catherine Louise née de Terras (d. 1813). On 24th November 1800 Iphigénie married Louis-Victor de Caux Vicomte de Blacquetot (1775-1845) who served as an officer during the French Revolution, rose to be a Lieutenant-Général under Napoleon Bonaparte and was later a significant political figure, acting as Député for the Chambre and member of the Ministre de la Guerre.
Having shown outstanding artistic aptitude in her youth, Iphigénie studied under the Flemish born still-life painter Jan Frans van Dael (1764-1840), under whose tuition she perfected the art of floral painting in the tradition of the great seventeenth century Dutch masters. Despite his preference for painting van Dael first studied architecture at the Antwerp Academie but from 1786 he settled in Paris where he worked as a decorator, still-life artist and professor of painting. In 1793 van Dael acquired lodgings in the Louvre next to fellow countrymen Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) and Gerard van Spaendonck (1746-1822), under whose influence he had already turned to flower painting in which he specialized for the rest of his life. Among other of van Dael’s pupils in Paris were the flower painters Élisa Émilie Lemire, André Bonneval and Henriette Gertrude Knip (1783-1842), who had also studied under Spaendonck.
Van Dael’s influence is clearly evident in the present work in which Iphigénie remains faithful to the Flemish tradition of flower painting with its close attention to botanical accuracy but at the same time reflects the decorative monumentality of French inspired floral arrangements. Iphigénie’s painting is a tour de force in which she demonstrates her ability in portraying a wide selection of flowers and insect life, from the butterfly, moth and fly to the beetle and snail that populate the arrangement. Included are roses, tulip, hyacinth, irises, sweet pea, primula, chrysanthemum, jasmine, narcissi and forget-me-nots, all of whose colourful petals and delicate foliage contrast with the matt surface of the earthenware jug cast with a putto and the sheen of the marble plinth below. At first glance the oil appears to have a haphazard composition but in fact it is carefully organized with a pronounced upward diagonal alignment while the bold white tulip at the summit is offset by the curvaceous form of the poppy stems to the left and lower right as well as the sweet pea hanging over the marble ledge. Within the scene the artist includes her monogram made up of the letters M and D, presumably a reference to her maiden name Destouff-Milet de Mureau.
The flowers can be enjoyed purely on an aesthetic level, however they can also be appreciated for their symbolism since the language of flowers is a long held tradition. For instance roses are commonly used as symbols of love, the forget-me-not as true love and likewise the tulip and chrysanthemum as a declaration of love, while poppies are usually associated with fantastic extravagance, irises with a message, white jasmine with amiability and the primula or primrose with early youth.
When between 1802 and 1819 Iphigénie exhibited her work at the Paris Salon, she found many admirers. However given her privileged background and her subsequent marriage she did not need to earn a living by her art, which in itself allowed her the freedom to express herself without the constraints of a patron or any public expectations. To this end she did not necessarily sell her work during her lifetime, nor do many of her paintings appear on today’s market. The present oil is therefore a rare example having remained for about two centuries in the artist’s family at Château de Bouville, Orleans. For most of her maturity Iphigénie lived in Paris, which is where she was at 42 rue des Ursulines in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, close to the Seine, when in 1845 her husband died. Iphigénie remained there for another seventeen years until her own demise on 8th July 1862.