Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 66 x 81.5 cm
Signed: Menjaud 1810
Paris, Galerie de Stael, 1991; New York, Private collection
C.P. Landon, Annales du Musée, Salon de 1810, Paris, 1810
1810 Paris Salon, no. 566
Menjaud was a member of the first generation of nineteenth-century French painters who turned to French anecdotal history for subject matter. Like his fellow “troubadours” painters, many of whom studied with Jacques-Louis David, Menjaud received his training from a neoclassical painter, Jean-Baptiste Regnault. He won the Prix de Rome in 1802 with his picture of Sabinus et Eponine devant Vespasien. The 1808 Salon, to which Menjaud submitted a Henri IV chez Michaud, was a turning point for the artist, and the great majority of the history paintings he subsequently exhibited at the Salons through 1834 were of French history subjects.
In 1810, the year in which Menjaud sent François I et la belle Ferronière to the Salon, Vivant Denon, Napoleon’s artistic advisor, included mention of him in his report to the Emperor on the phenomenon of “troubadour” painting.Denon noted the growing interest in “l’histoire anecdotale “ and in depictions of the “vie privée” of important historical figures. François I, the Renaissance king of the early sixteenth century, who was famous as a maecenas of the arts as well as for his amorous pursuits, was among the most popular historical kings during the Empire and Restoration periods. The mythology of François I as a philanderer that was to inform Victor Hugo’s Le Roi S’Amuse later in the century was already current when Menjaud chose to paint the subject of the King with one of his many mistresses.
In fact, François’ affair with “la belle Ferronière” is now known to have been a fabrication, dating to some years after the King’s death. The strong moral and dramatic component of the tale, in which a jealous husband intentionally infects the King with a deadly venereal disease through his wife as revenge for her seduction, insured its survival through the nineteenth century. A portrait in the Louvre by Leonardo da Vinci was also thought in the nineteenth century to be a portrait of “La Belle Ferronière,” but that too has been discounted.
Menjaud’s composition has the quiet simplicity typical of troubadour painting. Rather than focusing on a more dramatic aspect of François’ affair with “la belle Ferronière” this is an intimate portrayal of the King as a man of taste; in furnishing, food, and women. Its composition, the treatment of the interior, and particularly the serving maid on the left also owe a debt to seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting, which was collected and admired at the time.
Quoted from Rapport de Denon à l’Empereur, 11 novembre 1810, Arch. nat. AF. IV. 1050, dossier 6 , by Marie-Claude Chaudonneret, La Peinture Troubadour, Paris, 1980, p.15.