Women Artists: Félicie de Fauveau

The character of Félicie de Fauveau is as emblematic as it is unique. Nostalgic for an era she did not live through, royalist, catholic, single and feminist, this sculptor has committed her life and her art to defend a political utopia expressed above all by the image put at the service of History.
Félicie de Fauveau par Ary Scheffer, Musée du Louvre 1829 - © RMN - Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) Michel Urtardo
Portrait of Félicie de Fauveau by Ary Scheffer, 1829. Musée du Louvre Paris. RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Michel Urtado

Félicie de Fauveau was born on January 24, 1801 in Livorno. She is the eldest of a family of 4 children and her father, Alexandre de Fauveau, descends from a family of financiers ennobled in 1740, who settled in Italy shortly before the Revolution.

In 1814, during the Restoration, the de Fauveau family, ruined by bad investments, returned to France and settles in Paris. Her mother held a salon in the neighborhood of the New Athens, close to the Salon of the Duchess of Berry, whom Félicie frequented, being both the same age. It is thanks to these frequentations,  that she decides to become an artist. She began by painting, working in the studio of Louis Hersent, then, under the inspiration of Paul Delaroche, she devoted herself as an autodidact to in-depth studies of history, heraldry, medieval art and sculpture with her younger brother Hippolyte. Fauveau’s studio being then next to that of the painter Ary Scheffer, it is there that she found her passion for the Middle Ages.

Félicie de Fauveau, anonymous c.1840. Les Lucs sur Boulogne, Historial de Vendée. Historial de Vendée

To provide for her family, and no doubt driven by a deep aspiration, Fauveau “professionalized” herself: she was the first woman sculptor to make a living from her art. At the age of 26, she made her debut at the Salon with a masterstroke: a group in bas-relief (inspired by Walter Scott) Christine of Sweden. This bas-relief won the vote and earned her an undeniable reputation. During his visit to the Salon, Alexandre Dumas stopped in front of it and decided to use it as inspiration for a play, Christine, which was performed at the Théâtre Français six months later.

Christine, queen of Sweden, refusing to pardon her squire Monaldeschi. Félicie de Fauveau, 1827. Louviers Municipal Museum © Taylor & Francis Group

Things change in 1830, especially after the abdication of Charles X. Claiming her loyalty to the Bourbons, Félicie de Fauveau opposes the new king Louis-Philippe alongside Félicie de Duras, Countess of La Rochejaquelein, whom she accompanies to the Vendée region.  Despite the militant decorative art objects she produced for her comrades in arms, this period marked a turning point in her career: the atypical artist became the fascinating heroine of the Vendée.

However, she was arrested in November 1831 and she spent a few months in prison. She was finally acquitted in February 1832 but immediately returned to the Vendée at the call of the Countess de La Rochejaquelein to take an active part in the failed uprising of 1832 (Fifth Vendée War). The same year, the Duchess of Berry is arrested and Félicie de Fauveau and Félicie de Duras, tried in absentia in 1833, were sentenced to deportation for life and thus forced to go abroad illegally.

Arrest of the Duchess of Berry in Nantes on November 7, 1832, Jean Henri Marlet, 19th century, National Library of France.

Félicie de Fauveau settles in Florence, in an exile at first forced then voluntary, since she stays there until her death, despite the amnesty of 1837. She is welcomed by the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini and devotes herself from now on fully to sculpture.

Workshop of Félicie de Fauveau, Florence 1862. Historical of Vendée

She created her own workshop in Florence, frequented by art lovers and the curious, but which has also witnessed visits from prestigious personalities such as the Count of Chambord or Tsar Nicolas I (in 1845 or 46?).

Félicie and Hippolyte - Fountain with nymph and dolphin, commissioned by the Tsar. 1846-48. Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum. Didier Rykner

In Florence, for five decades, she gave to monumental and domestic statuary the forms of an inspired neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance aesthetic. Her lamp of St. Michael was the manifesto of this.

Lamp of Saint Michel, Félicie de Fauveau, 1829-1830. Louvre Museum, Paris.
Detail, Lamp of Saint Michel, Félicie de Fauveau, 1829-1830. Louvre Museum, Paris.

Without fleeing into nostalgia, and with the lucidity of the romantics, Félicie de Fauveau pursues the inscription in sculpture of the rules of thought and morality that made the ancient kingdom of France. She made moreover many portraits “It is the beautiful part of art that portraits and what is best paid” (Félicie) With these portraits she remains however faithful to her convictions, accepting only commissions from her relatives, royalist foreigners and legitimist French aristocrats who crowd into her studio.

Bust portrait of the Marquise Boccella, Félicie and Hippolyte de Fauveau, 1851. Private collection © Musée d'Orsay / Patrice Schmidt
The Duke of Bordeaux, Count of Chambord, future Henry IV. Historial of the Vendée, les Lucs sur Boulogne. General Council of the Vendée, departmental conservation.

Félicie de Fauveau is an admirer of the Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini. Like him, she devotes herself to sculpture and decorative arts. She designs ceremonial daggers, picture frames, jewelry and cane knobs. However, she does not sacrifice to the remunerative serial production: her works are most often unique.

Hausse-col of the duchess of Berry, 1831, Emile Jeannest bronzer. Lucs sur boulogne, Historial de Vendée. Patrick Durandet general council of vendee.

Belonging to that generation which, fascinated by the Middle Ages, had discovered  the Museum of French Monuments where Alexandre Lenoir had gathered the works saved from the vandalism of the Terror, she had in equal parts a passion as an “antique dealer”, as a collector, and the will to resurrect in her work the medieval period which, for political and religious reasons, constituted her ideal.

Photograph of Félicie de Fauveau, next to the sculpture of Saint Anthony of Padua, by the Alinari brothers, ca 1860. Private collection

Félicie de Fauveau died on December 12, 1886 in Florence, where she is buried in the San Felice a Ema cemetery. She will unfortunately fall into oblivion at the end of the 19th century, having nothing left to please a republican and secular 20th century.

To go further:

The very first retrospective to be devoted to her dates back to 2013, when an exhibition organized by the Historial de Vendée and the Musée d’Orsay brought together her works, which are now scattered all around the world and not very visible. I therefore advise you to leaf through the exhibition catalog.

Exhibition catalog: Félicie de Fauveau, The Amazon of Sculpture. Musée d'Orsay and Historial de Vendée, 2013

To discover the works of Félicie de Fauveau in Paris, we have to go to the Louvre Museum, which acquired two of her works quite recently.

In 2013, the Louvre purchased the lamp to the Archangel St. Michael from Charles Janoray in New York, which is now in the Louvre’s decorative art department.

In 2018, the Statue of Santa Reparata in polychrome terracotta was acquired for €78,000 and is now part of the Louvre’s Sculpture Department.

Lamp of Saint Michel, Félicie de Fauveau, 1829-1830. Louvre Museum, Paris.
Sainte Réparate, Hippolyte and Félicie de Fauveau, 1855. Louvre Museum, Paris
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