|March 5, 2009. Sunny and not too cold in New York yesterday, although this reporter was laid up with some kind of bug or food poisoning resulting from Tuesday’s lunch. How quickly we forget how fortunate we are when we have excellent health.
Last Thursday night over at the Frick Collection, the museum’s Young Fellows of The Frick held its tenth annual Young Fellows Ball with the theme Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which was also the title of a popular novel by Choderlos de Laclos (and made into a film more than once) in 18th Century France. The ball’s theme was inspired by the Frick’s Fragonard Gallery named for Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), the room of which features the artist’s masterpiece “The Progress of Love,” a series of panels which was commissioned by Madame du Barry, the last mistress of France’s King Louis XV.
The mistresses of the French kings were made rich and powerful through their royal liaisons. Du Barry, the illegitimate daughter of a monk and a seamstress, was the last of them (Louis’ successor, Louis XVI evidently never had a mistress, nor was he interested). She had been trained by her sponsor specifically to lure the king and when she was ready, she was taken to Versailles where the king spotted her one day in the Salon des Glaces as he was making his way through the crowd of subjects.
She was much younger than the king (by thirty-three years) and had been trained from girlhood for her amorous trade. By the time she met Louis, she was very good at it. The king adored her for her youth, her beauty and most especially her technique in getting the old and sated man (old for those days – in his late 50s) to respond sexually. He showered her with gifts of jewels, chateaux and most especially court privileges that exceeded those of many of the royals which of course annoyed them no end. She made a lot of enemies unwittingly because of the jealousy the court felt about her. Her background was also well known by this royal den of gossips and ripe for controversy by the scads of faux-moralists in the court.
By his early 60s, however, Louis was battling the ennui of age for a man who had indulged himself enormously in whatever way he wished. Du Barry, by then, was like the young and pretty wife who spent her days shopping and doing up her chateau at Louveciennes, sparing no expense. She had also become arrogant and spoiled in the king’s over-indulgence, demanding whatever she wished even if someone had come before her. An artist who had done a commission for Catherine the Great felt compelled against his wish to sell the work to Du Barry simply because she wanted it and she was la Comtesse Du Barry.
One artist who refused to comply with her whims was Fragonard. Commissioned by her to do “the Progress of Love” for one of her smaller salons at Louveciennes, he objected to her request to make the young lovers in the pictures to look like her and the not-so-young king. When they were completed, Du Barry paid him back by declining to take possession of the panels. The artist was paid an indemnity of 18,000 livres (or the very approximate $180,000 in today’s currency).
Madame Du Barry, in the last days of Louis XV who was dying from smallpox, was banished from the court of Versailles, as was the custom of mistresses after the demise of their king, and sent to the convent of Pont-au-Dames so that the dying king could receive absolution, allowing the old boy to repent his sins and go directly to heaven. Two years after his death in 1776, Madame Du Barry retired to the splendor of Louveciennes.
Hated by Marie-Antoinette, Du Barry was jailed briefly and when released she emigrated to London where she was said to have been very generous to now penniless emigres from royal circles.
After the Revolution was begun and King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette and their chidren were taken prisoner, Du Barry was naïve enough to return to Paris and her beloved Louveciennes in 1792, misreading the radical and catastrophic political atmosphere. Her return was to be a fatal decision. Within a year, stalked by one man who was obsessed and out to get her, she was imprisoned again at St. Pelagie -- where Marie-Antoinette was also -- and sentenced to die by guillotine.
On the 8th of December 1793, barely two months after the beheading of Marie-Antoinette and nineteen years after the death of Louis XV, Madame Du Barry was taken from her dungeon cell by tumbrel through the streets of Paris to the place of executions (what had once been La Place Louis XV and today is known as La Place de la Concorde) with the mobs screaming for more blood. The terrified Du Barry screamed also. She screamed so loudly and hysterically that even the crowds were turned off by it. She screamed all the way up the steps to the guillotine “begging for mercy from the crowd,” arousing them to the point that executioner was getting anxious to get it over with. “Encore un moment, monsieur le bourreau, un petit moment” (“One moment more, executioner, one little moment” were her last words, and the blade crashed down, beheading its victim into silence.)
It is said that after the execution of Madame Du Barry the mobs lost their taste for the spectacle of the guillotine, drawing less and less crowds to the executions, until the guillotine lost its politically theatrical power. Du Barry’s unintended message was received: anyone and everyone could be a victim of the savage revolutionary regime.
Meanwhile, 216 years later at The Frick Collection on a beautiful but cold winter’s night in New York more than 625 young New Yorkers, dressed for a court of another kind, at an event sponsored by Monique Lhuillier, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry and Roger Vivier, paid $300 per person to enjoy the fantastic museum and collection of Mr. Frick and Madame Du Barry’s Fragonard panels and the stupendous Young Fellows Ball. They raised more than $270,000 to support the Education Program of The Frick Collection.
Chairmen were Allison Aston, Byrdie Bell, Lydia Fenet, Joann Paley and Elizabeth Saint-Amand.
|Among the guests: Fahad al Hajri and Alanood al Sabah (Kuwait royals), Allison Aston, Cece Barfield, Edward Barsamian, Byrdie Bell, actress Lake Bell, Fiona and James Benenson, Courtney Blaisdell, Taylor Blaisdell, Valerie Boster, Katrina Bowden ('30 Rock'), Meredith Melling Burke, Kinglsey Carson, Alexis Clark, Christine Scornavacca Coulson, Jennie Tarr Coyne, Christopher S. Crain, Paul Cruickshank, Caitlin and Michael Davis, Martin Dawson , Cecelia Dean, Paul Desmairais, Daria de Koning, Melissa C. Egan, Lydia Fenet, Mark F. Gilbertson, Mary Giuliani, Michael Hamburger, Paige Hardy, Gillian Hearst-Simonds, Kim Hicks, Catherine P. Jones, Amalia Keramitsis, Jones, Megan Kultigen, Anisha Ahooja Lakhani, Kinga Lampert, Lucy Jane Lang, Alexandra Lebenthal, Harrison T. LeFrak, Monique Lhuillier, Clare Smith McKeon, Serena Merriman, Sylvester and Gillian Miniter, Spencer and Alexis Bryan Morgan, Tinsley and Topper Mortimer, Benton and Elizabeth Moyer, Francie Nagy, Charlotte-Anne Nelson, Serena Nikkhah, Joann Pailey, Sheila Parham, Tatiana and Thorne Perkin, Lil Phillips, Olivia de la Rama Pirovano, Lauren Remmington Platt, Ryan and Caroline Polisi, Elise and James Purchas, Maggie Rizer, Alexander Saint-Amand, Elizabeth Saint-Amand, Danielle and Anne M. Sapse, Austin Scarlett, Georgina Schaeffer, Kate Schelter, Kassidy Schagrin, Martin and Taryn Hicks Sonesson, Sylvana Soto-Ward, Cator Sparks, Philip Alden Thomas, Bara Tisch, Benjamin and Jessica S. Tisch, Ivanka Trump, Annabel Vartanian, Rael and Randall Welsh, Jennifer Wright, Alexandra Zukerman, Laura B. Zukerman.|
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|Photos by Christine A. Butler and John Calabrese|