Madame de Pompadour

Madame de Pompadour (1722–1764), mistress of Louis XV, represented as Diana the Huntress, by Jean-Marc NattierMadame de Pompadour, By Jean-Marc Nattier

Madame de Pompadour is born as Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson on December 29, 1721. She grows up in the affluent circles of Paris where she is popular and loved. 

Jeanne-Antoinette's father François La Motte Poissonhas has to flee the country in 1725, following a scandal over some unpaid debts. Her mother has to raise  Jeanne-Antoinette and her brother alone. Charles François Paul Le Normant de Tournehem, the local férmier général (tax collector) becomes the legal guardian of the children. The rumour goes that he is their biological father. 

Thru or not, he makes it possible for Jeanne-Antoinette to get a good education. That is, a good education for royal a mistresses-to-be. She learns how to act, dance, sing, paint, engrave and play the clavichord.  

She gets married on her 19th to Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Étiolles, a nephew of Tournehem. They have a daughter together, Alexandrine-Jeanne. 

Her non-noble birth does not keep her guardian from his plan to bring her to the attention of King Louis XV. Together with the bankers of Pâris, Cardinal de Tencin and Marshal Richelieu, he works out his plan, hoping that Jeanne will become the new official mistress. That way they can influence the King through her.

King Louis XV in 1748, by Maurice-Quentin de La TourKing Louis XV
Queen Maria LeszczyńskaQueen Maria Leszczyńska

King Louis XV is married to Queen Maria Leszczyńska for 10 years by then. In those 10 years, she has had 10 children, and she has made it crystal clear to the King as fa as she is concerned, that’s enough! She denies him access to her bed (the only form of contraception that there was at that time!).

DISCLOSURE: I get commissions for purchases made through some of the links in this article.

King Louis XV with three of the four Nesle Sisters he had an affair with. He is talking to Pauline Nesle, her sisters Diana and Louise are watching the couple closely! By Charles André van LooKing Louis XV with three of the four Nesle Sisters he had an affair with. He is talking to Pauline Nesle, her sisters Diana and Louise are watching the couple closely!

King Louis has no lack of female attention and enough mistresses, including four or the five daughters of Louis de Mailly, Marquis de Nesle, but the function of maitresse en titre is vacant at that time.

The plan of the bankers is successful. On February 25, 1745, Jeanne and the king meet on a masked ball at Versailles. The King falls for the charms of Jeanne Poisson. Within a month Jeanne moves to an apartment right above that of the King.

There is a problem though. Jeanne is not of noble descent and consequently cannot hold the official function of Maitresse-en-Titre.

Of course, for a King in those days, this is not a major problem. Louis buys the title Marquise De Pompadour, a noble title that was conveniently vacant at the time. Jeanne receives not only the title, but also the castle that goes with it. The Chateau de Pompadour is the first of many houses and castles that she would receive in her career.

Madame de Pompadour, Royal mistress to King Louis XV

Madame de Pompadour performing at the theatre built on the Ambassador's Stairs in VersaillesMadame de Pompadour performing at the theatre built on the Ambassador's Stairs in Versailles

Now there are no more restrictions for Jeanne, Marquise de Pompadour, to move into the spacious apartments at Versailles that are reserved for the Maitresse-en-Titre.

The only downside to her story is the courtiers. They openly ventilate their disapproval. A commoner at Court, they had never experienced that before! The conservative, to Royal protocol addicted courtiers, call her names and whisper behind her back.  Some of them oppose her until her death.

Antique Sevres Porcelain on Ebay

Madame de Pompadour ignores these people and soon becomes indispensable to the King. 

The King, who had mainly amused himself with hunting game and women, now becomes interested in other matters,  inspired by Jeanne. 

She starts to ramp up theatre plays, in which she and some friends play the lead roles. The little theatre where these performances take place only has a place for 14 people. Later she gets more space and there may be around 40 people able to see the play. 

Marquise de Pompadour and her brother Marquis de Marigny by Roslin 1754Marquise de Pompadour and her brother Marquis de Marigny by Roslin 1754

Of course, the courtiers load actresses as much as commoners. Still, everyone at Versailles palace wants to witness these performances. They beg for an invitation to Jeanne's plays, suppers and parties. This is the best way to have access to the King. 

The petit suppers of the Madame de Pompadour are soon famous. She decorates the tables and rooms with flowers of Sèvres porcelain, and chalices full with olfactory waters from Grasse. She is intelligent and well-read, among her friends and protégés she can count Denis Diderot and Voltaire.

The attitude of many courtiers turns.  They try to reconcile with the Marquise de Pompadour, only to get invited to her performances and diners. She keeps having enemies at court though.

Madame de Pompadour in 1756, by Francois Boucher

The King and his mistress spend hours together planning purchases, remodellling and decorating countless houses and castles. Madame de Pompadour surrounds herself with beautiful stuff, her rooms are jammed.

She sends her brother, Abel-François, Marquis de Marigny, who has no political aspirations, to Italy to study art. Together they become great protectors of art and science in France.

The Marquise de Pompadour is crazy about porcelain. Under her influence, the famous porcelain factory from Vincennes is moved to Sevres in 1756, and given the ' Royal ' status. The place is not picked entirely random. Madame also owns a castle here; the Chateau Bellevue.  

The King takes over the management of the company.  In fact, the factory management lies with Madame de Pompadour. In the factory buildings, special apartments are reserved for the King. Madame de Pompadour proclaims that whoever does not buy Sèvres porcelain is no French patriot...

Houses and Palaces of Madame de Pompadour

Chateau the Pompadour

Chateau de PompadourChateau de Pompadour

The first property that Jeanne owns is the castle of Pompadour, South of Limoges. The fun part of this is, she's never been there herself!

The Castle was merely a byproduct to the title of Marquese the Pompadour that she received from the king. The Chateau the Pompadour now houses one of the best riding schools in the world. You can also go horseback riding yourself. The castle is open for visits. 

The hermitage at Versailles 

The Hermitage opposite the Chateau de FountaineblueThe Hermitage opposite the Chateau de Fountaineblue

If you have some money to spend; the Hermitage opposite of the Chateau de Fountaineblue is for sale!

The hermitage at Versailles was for Madame the Pompadour what the petit Trianon was for Queen Marie Antoinette some years later. An idyllic, quiet and rural one-story building where she and the King could retire from the busy and demanding court life.

Jeanne kept chickens, goats and a donkey. The Pavilion was surrounded by a beautiful garden. The decor was simple but tasteful.

The success of the hermitage is demonstrated by the fact that soon two more of such houses were built. The first in Compiegne (unfortunately completely destroyed) and another opposite the chateau de Fountaineblue.

This last one is still intact and in 2011 it was for sale for USD 9.3 million.  

The King used to leave Fountaineblue in his hunting clothes like he was going hunting, and then sneaked to the hermitage and spend the whole day with the Marquise!

Château de Choisy

Château de Choisy

Château de Choisy was a gift from Louis XV to madame the Pompadour in 1746. This castle was nationalised during the French Revolution, and since then demolished bit by bit.

Château de la Muette

Château de la Muette

There have been three palaces on these grounds.  The second one inhabited by, among others, Madame de Pompadour. This second castle was demolished in 1793. A new castle was built on the estate in 1921. 

Château de Bellevue

Château de Bellevue

Château de Bellevue was a small castle commissioned by Madame de Pompadour and built by her architect Lassurance. Unfortunately, it was looted after the French Revolution, and completely demolished in 1823.

Château de Champs

Château de Champs

Château de Champs, at Champs-sur-Marne was hired by the Pompadour from the duc de La Vallière. She spent 200,000 livres in 18 months to redecorate it. She left it then because the King did not like it there.

The Élysée Palace

The Élysée PalaceThe Élysée Palace

The Élysée Palace, nowadays the official residence of the president of the French Republic, was Jeanne’s house in Paris. She had her favourite architect, Lassurance, make some adjustments and changed the gardens.

You can visit the palace only on European Heritage Day, but you can make a virtual tour on the website of the Élysée Palace.

Or take this exclusive tour inside the Élysée with France 24:

The Château de Menars

Château de Menars

Madame de Pompadour bought this palace in the Loire Valley at the end of her life, she's been there only twice. After her death, she left it to her brother and he went to live there with his wife Shahin Marie Françoise Filleul (the illegitimate daughter of Louis XV and Irène du Buisson de Longpré!).

Nowadays this castle is the only one that is 100 % privately owned by a philanthropist who painstakingly restored it. It took him  three decades and more than $100 million. Upon request the chateau sometimes welcomes visitors.

The Petit Trianon 

The Petit Trianon

The Petit Trianon was the last building that has been added to the park of Versailles. This was  a joint project of the Marquise de Pompadour and the King. The construction phase lasted from 1762-1768. Unfortunately, Madame de Pompadour already died before it was ready. She did never use this small Palace in Greek style herself. Queen Marie-Antoinette would use it often to escape the crowds at Chateau de Versailles.

Hotel Washington Opera

Hotel Washington Opera was once the townhouse of Madame de Pompadour. Nowadays, the building is a romantic 4-star hotel in the heart of Paris. 

Traces of Madame de Pompadour

Jeanne Poission remained the King's first mistress until her death in 1765. She died of tuberculosis after almost 20 years at court, she was only 43 years old. 

The common belief is that during the last years of her life she had no more sexual relations with the King. Still, she was his most loyal friend and counsellor; that must have been true love! 

The French population did not love her that much at the end of her life. , They held her responsible for the seven-years' war that made France virtually bankrupt. After her death, she was buried in the Church at the place du Vendôme. Her daughter Alexandrine was also buried there after she died in 1754 at the age of 9. This church, like most of her homes, is gone nowadays.

Most of the extensive legacy of Madame de Pompadour went to her brother Abel, Marquis de Marigny. He decided to sell most of the items. This sale began in April 1766 and would last one year. Interested people could see the collection in Paris, and there were many interested people. Everyone wanted to gaze at the excessive wealth that the Maitresse-en-Titre gathered during her life. Most visitors could not afford to buy anything.

Thus began the spread of the Marquise’s collection of artefacts, books, furniture, ceramics, etc. 

Abel kept a lot of the paintings that portrayed his sister for himself. He found the painting by van Loo showing the best resemblance with the real Jeane. The painting shows madame de Pompadour dresses as Turkish harem women. 

Madame de Pompadour as Sultana Taking Coffee, painting by van LooMadame de Pompadour as Sultana Taking Coffee, painting by van Loo

In order to find traces of Madame de Pompadour, a visit to the Louvre Museum in Paris is a good start. Here  you will find the original paintings by Boucher, de la Tour and Nattier. Also, some furniture with her coat of arms can be found here among other works of art.

The Petit Trianon was originally designed for Madame de Pompadour. Because she died before it was finished nowadays it is mainly associated with Marie Antoinette. 

There are no traces of her there, and you won’t find any in the state Apartments of the Palace of Versailles either. You will have to take a guided tour around the Petit Apartments to find a trace of her. at Versailles Palace.  Only this special guided tour leads you into the private rooms of the royal family and the "The King's mistresses' apartments".

Unfortunately, many of the houses of the pompadour don’t exist anymore. The exception is the Chateau de Champs in Seine-et-Marne. This castle is still there and can be visited. For more information visit the website.

Also the Château de Menars still stands on the banks of the Loire, but is privately owned and not open for visitors. 

Many pieces from the collection of the Pompadour can be found in Great Britain. For example, in the Victoria and Albert museum, the National Gallery in Edingburgh and in the Wallace Collection art and items of Madame the Pompadour can be found. 

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