so many paintings, so little time

Mme de Pompadour: More than a Patron?

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2015 at 2:01 am

Madame de Pompadour (detail), 1750, Francois Boucher, Collection Harvard Art Museums

A good moment now to pay a visit to Madame de Pompadour with the publication of Women Artists: A Linda Nochlin Reader, edited by Maura Reilly and the attention to women artists in, for example, ArtNews.

Mme de Pompadour, though not herself an artist in the strictest sense, made the art of France in the 18th century her own. She was the most powerful woman of her time, more influential even than the Queen of France whose husband, Louis XV, she loved for twenty years. Her role as a patron of the arts helped produce a golden age of French decorative and fine arts. Today the prodigious number of artworks she commissioned fill museums the world over. Yet credit for her savvy artistic choices has been buried under the style known as “Louis XV.”


Drawing on the rich art and history of 18th century France, I made a series of paintings with texts engraved on glass that take viewers into the glittering rococo world of the court of Versailles. A fortune teller, Madame Lebon, told the nine-year-old Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson that she would one day become the King’s lover. Fifteen years later, three years after she had married Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Etioles at age 20, the King paid off her husband and moved her into the Palace of Versailles. For twenty years she remained there with the King. Or in numerous palatial homes she built or redesigned for them, including today’s Presidential residence in Paris. My introduction of French and Yiddish texts in this work, along with English, revives Mme de Pompadour’s 18th century life for today’s multi-ethnic, multicultural world.


Ken Aptekar, Reflections, 2003, 30″ x 360″ Twelve panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
TEXT IN GLASS: my dependence, the wrong past, what I could not do, fear of a life cut short, my money worries, the calculating careerist I wish I could be, my desires, my passivity, dearest sister, neither Russian nor a Grandmother, nor a Yiddishe mama, my beloved
After (l to r) Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Pompadour as Diana, 1748
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1759
Francois Boucher, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour Standing, c. 1750
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour at her toilette, 1758
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, c.1750
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, c.1750
Francois Boucher, Apollo and Issa, 1750
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1756
Francois Boucher, The Toilette of Venus, 1751
Francois-Hubert Drouais, Madame de Pompadour with a Fur Muff, 1763
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour seated outside, 1758
Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Pompadour as Diana, 1748


Reflections, detail (installation view)


Reflections, Installation View at Reed College in Ken Aptekar: A Personal Public

For an exhibition about Pompadour at Reed College, “Ken Aptekar: A Personal Public,” I produced a video. “Three Acts” is a chronicle of my transformation into King Louis XV and then Mme de Pompadour at the hands of a Parisian make-up artist/stylist, Pierre Marie Humeau. Videotaped in Paris and in the private apartments of Louis XV and Pompadour in the Chateau de Versailles, Three Acts premiered in 2004 at Reed College. It was shown at Espace d’Art Contemporain Camille Lambert, Juvisy, France, in 2005, and at the Beard & Weil Galleries at Wheaton College, Norton, MA, in 2012.

Besides the video, I added paintings related to Pompadour for the exhibition at Espace d’Art Contemporaine Camille Lambert, in Juvisy, France, in 2005: La Chasse Humaine.  (For those with patience for my French, here is a video interview about that exhibition, by David Vielotte.) And in 2006-7 my Pompadour work was shown in at the Musée Robert Dubois-Corneau, in Brunoy, France.

A brief timeline of Madame de Pompadour’s life:

1721    Birth of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson in Paris

1725    Marriage of Louis XV, King of France, to Marie Leszczynska (1703-1768)

1727    Flight out of France of François Poisson, father of Jeanne-Antoinette, to avoid prosecution for fraud, and Birth of Abel-François Poisson, brother of Jeanne-Antoinette

1741    Marriage of Jeanne-Antoinette to Charles-Guillaume Lenormant de Tournehem, the nephew of her mother’s lover (March 9) and Birth of Jeanne-Antoinette’s son who dies in his first year (December 26)

1744    Birth of Jeanne-Antoinette’s daughter, Alexandrine

1745    Start of affair between Jeanne-Antoinette and Louis XV following masked ball at Versailles, and Purchase by Louis of marquisate of Pompadour for Jeanne-Antoinette. Louis pays off her husband, Jeanne-Antoinette becomes Madame de Pompadour, and she moves into Versailles, where she later introduces the cultivation of flowers for bouquets to decorate her apartment. Offers bouquets to Queen for her apartment.

1749     Madame de Pompadour sends her brother on study tour of Italy with architect, artist, and abbé

1750     End of sexual relationship between Louis XV and Mme de P

1751     Brother of Mme de P becomes director of buildings to King, takes title of Marquis de Marigny, and Publication of first volumes of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedia with support of Mme de P

1754     Death of daughter Alexandrine, age 10

1764    Death of Madame de Pompadour, Versailles, age 42

Ken Aptekar, Some for me, some for you, 60

Ken Aptekar, 2003, Some for me, some for you, 60″ x 90″ six panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
After (clockwise, from upper left) Francois Boucher, “La Chasse ˆ l’oiseau et L’Horticulture” (Bird Hunting and Horticulture), Ornamental Panel Painting, c. 1751-1755
Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame Henriette en Flore” (Madame Henriette in Flowers), 1742
Edouard Manet, Still Life, c. 1882
Jean-Marc Nattier, Portrait of Manon Balletti, 1757

Ken Aptekar, 2003, En voila pour moi, en voici pour vous (

Ken Aptekar, 2003, En voila pour moi, en voici pour vous (“Some for me, some for you”), 60″ x 60″ (153cm x 153cm), oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
After details of three portraits of Mme de Pompadour by
Francois Boucher and Carl van Loo, and a portrait of Manon Balletti
by Jean-Marc Nattier (upper-right)

Ken Aptekar, A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir, 2003, 60

Ken Aptekar, A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir, 2003, 60″ x 30″ (153cm x 76.5cm), diptych, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
Text IN GLASS: A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir [tr.: Some for me, some for you]
After Francois Boucher, “Les Genies des Arts” [tr.: Geniuses of the Arts], 1761
“A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir” refers to Mme de Pompadour commissioning art to please herself
as well as the King as well as herself, and also to my using previous art–for you and for me.
One can see in the image that the putti is making a painting of a sculpture, and Boucher has painted a painting-in-progress in his painting as well. The painting in progress behind the putti’s is of Madame de Pompadour holding a profile portrait of Louis XV. The Yiddish provides a means of declaring the relevance of 18th French art for those of us for whom it was never intended (Jews in Poland, for one example–Pompadour’s “competition” for the King’s attention was a Polish girl, Queen Marie Leszinska).

Ken Aptekar, She was decorating, 2003, 60

Ken Aptekar, She was decorating, 2003, 60″ x 60″ (153cm x 153cm), four panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts 
After (l) Francois Boucher, The Bath of Venus, 1751, National Gallery of Art, Washington, (r) Francois Boucher, The Toilette of Venus, 1751, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
“She was decorating” is based on two images Mme de Pompadour commissioned from Francois Boucher for her bathroom at the Chateau de Bellevue (now destroyed), one of the many homes she built or decorated for herself and to encourage Louis to visit. Distortion of the two images suggests the way the two works might have appeared when seen in the corner of the bathroom from a single vantage point.

Ken Aptekar, Scenario, 2003, 60

Ken Aptekar, Scenario, 2003, 60″ x 90″
six panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
SCENARIO is comprised of images of the walls of Mme de Pompadour’s private apartment in the Chateau de Versailles, to which Louis XV had a secret staircase built leading from his private apartment below. The painted image on the wall (not the mirror) is a detail of a Boucher mythological painting, APOLLO AND ISSA, in which he used Mme de Pompadour’s face for the character of Issa. Jen refers to Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Mme de Pompadour’s birth name; Lou is short for Louis. “Scenario” is “screenplay” in French.

  1. Good to see your monumental work again. Appropriate timing.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Ken, This thoughtful series is quite thrilling. Marty Marcia Cohn Spiegel

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