|Drawings by Frédéric Christophe de Houdetot [1797-1835]|
|The life and the drawings of Frédric Christophe de Houdetot (1778-1859)|
Houdetot was born into a very old Norman family (1)
which could trace its ancestry back to the crusades. Losing his mother
at the age of two, Frédéric Christophe de Houdetot was brought up by
his grandmother, in the absence of his father, then a Maréchal des logis
in Ile de France.
Frédéric Christophe grew up in the midst of this glittering company.
However his earliest drawings from 1797 to 1805 were not only of his
grandmother's friends, but also the inhabitants of Sannois. Children,
pretty young women, a private tutor or a Sannois priest rub shoulders
with more well-known figures which included Abbé Delille, a celebrated
author of pastoral poetry, Saint-Lambert, a longstanding friend of his
grandmother, and the painter David.
In 1798, he enlisted as a gunner in the artillery, but was soon discharged for health reasons.
He now had the opportunity to develop his drawing skills. He spent
time in the studio of David and also that of Regnault. The collection
of drawings housed at the Conseil d'Etat reveals a lively drawing
style and an experienced technique, both in his pen-and-ink sketches
from life and in his more sophisticated drawings, mixing charcoal, chalk
|Auditeur at the Conseil d'Etatt|
Authorised to attend the sessions of the Conseil, he was clearly inspired
by the distinguished faces of the assembly and he practised his talent
sketching them, sometimes on the papers dealt out in the session.
|Early missions in extraordinary service (1806-1814)|
The Second Restoration saw him prefect of Calvados on 12 June 1815,
a post he was encouraged to accept by Matthieu Molé and Prosper de Barante.
At the time Calvados was under military occupation by the Prussians
who were attempting to exact crippling war contributions from the local
population. Frédéric Christophe de Houdetot held out against these pressures
and was arrested, kept in police custody and threatened with being sent
to Prussia. The government however finally intervened and obtained,
not without difficulty, his release. He nevertheless resigned on 31
October, 1815, having received threats and assaults from his constituents
(6) when he opposed the orders
of "royal volunteers" led by the Duc d'Aumont. A short time before,
he had saved General Grouchy by warning him of an order for his arrest.
On 5 March, 1819 the Decazes ministry called F. C. Houdetot to the
Chambre des Pairs (chamber of peers), where he sat among the constitutional
royalists. In 1830 he accepted the July Monarchy and retained his seat
He took part in establishing the imperial regime, supporting it with
his votes, which came from the ranks of the dynastic right. He was consequently
re-elected as official candidate on 22 June, 1857. He died on 20 January,
1859, at the age of 81, at which time he received an income of over
80,000 francs. (7).
The album of drawings in the Bibliothèque du Conseil d'Etat shows us
little of his life after 1815. A few pen-and-ink caricatures, in a rather
harsh line, dating from the 1830s do however show that he had not lost
his fondness for drawing, as does his appointment as member of the Académie
des Beaux Arts on 10 April, 1841. He sat on the jury for the 1857 Salon (8),
alongside Amédée Pastoret, an old acquaintance, and like him a former
auditeur of the First Empire, a free member of the Académie des Beaux
Arts and man of politics, whose face as a child, adolescent and young
man we know through these portraits.
Whilst the features of the artist himself remain a mystery to us, they are nevertheless somehow visible in the mirror, as it were, of his friends and acquaintances. And what we see is is a true child of the century, both ambitious and charming.
|Armorial général d'Hoziers, registre 7e complémentaire, 2e partie, Firmin Didot, 1868, p. 13-24. [back]|
|Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Les Confessions, Livre 9. It is often said that Mme de Houdetot was the model for Julie in La Nouvelle Héloïse. [back]|
|Sannois is twenty kilometres north of Paris, in the Montmorency valley, as is Eaubonne. [back]|
|Chinard, Gilbert, Les amitiés américaines de Madame d'Houdetot, d'après sa correspondance avec Benjamin Franklin et Thomas Jefferson, Paris, Champion, 1924, viii, 62 p. [back]|
|Révérend, Armorial du Premier Empire, I, p. 319. His arms were argent with a band of azure, charged with a lion rampant of gold between two similar allerions; in the quarter of barons conseillers d'Etat. [back]|
|Letter from the Comte d'Houdetot to M. de Barante dated 1 August, 1815, cited in: Barante, Amable-Prosper, Souvenirs, II, p. 185. [back]|
|A.N. F/1 b I/230 (3) Calvados. [back]|
|Huguenaud (Karine), Les Salons du Second Empire, Paris, unpublished MA thesis, 1993, 223 p. [back]|