Drawings by Frédéric Christophe de Houdetot [1797-1835]
  The life and the drawings of Frédric Christophe de Houdetot (1778-1859)


Surname Houdetot
Christian name Frédéric Christophe
Dates Born in Paris, Sainte-Marie-Madeleine-de-la-ville-l'Evêque, on 16 May, 1778 - Died in Paris, 10, rue de Londres, on 21 January, 1859.

Son of César-Louis Marie François Ange de Houdetot (1749-1825) and Louise Perrinet de Faugnes (1758-1780). On 5 November, 1810, he married Madeleine Masseron; without issue.


Missions in Europe
After 1815


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.
His grandmother, Elisabeth Françoise Sophie, née de la Live de Bellegarde d'Ormesson, daughter of a fermier-général, was a woman "who was the very embodiment of kindness, grace, cheerful gentleness and goodness", according to Rousseau who felt for her a "tender and passionate love" (2) while she was living apart from her husband in the Château d'Eaubonne in 1758. When she took in her grandson in 1780, she was living in Sannois (3) , on her husband's estate, where she hosted a salon that was regularly attended by the philosophers Diderot, Grimm, Marmontel, the Americans Franklin and Jefferson (4) , as well as her childhood friend, Germaine de Staël.



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 and wash.
The young Houdetot, at that time a page to the First Consul, pursued a society life between Sannois and Paris, between his grandmother's salon and the studios of his masters, until 8 February 1806, when he was appointed, like many another young man from the former nobility, as an auditeur at the Conseil d'Etat. He was attached to the ministère and the section de la Marine, undoubtedly due to the post of his father, who was at the time lieutenant-general in the Antilles.


   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.

As an auditeur, he would have sat by the windows overlooking the courtyard of the Tuileries, on a chair without a table, at right angles to the platform where the Emperor and arch-chancellor Cambacérès sat. The most striking orators, standing to make their speeches, parade across his drawings: Regnault de Saint-Jean d'Angely, president of the section de l'Intérieur, Boulay de la Meurthe, president of the section de Législation, Abbé Louis, etc.
In addition to the big names of the counsel - whose features are known to us from other sources - he gives a face to some of the less well-known members of the Conseil d'Etat: maîtres des requêtes such as the Dutchman Vischer de Celles, the old Inspecteur des revues, Chadelas, and even some of the less conspicuous, young auditeurs.


   Early missions in extraordinary service (1806-1814)

In October 1806 he was given a civil mission as intendant in Berlin, administering indirect taxation, where he met with young people like himself from the Conseil d'Etat: Lafond "le gros lot" (the jackpot), as he is referred to in a caption on a drawing, lottery administrator, Edouard Pépin de Bellille who was to meet a tragic end in Portugal two years later, etc. He also did a great many drawings of an attractive Madame Friedlander, indeed there are ten potraits of her in the album.

 Château Salins
On 15 January, 1808, F.C.Houdetot was appointed sub-prefect of Château-Salins. Once again, he drew the people around him, although here we see fewer administrators from Paris and more local worthies, such as the Receveur particulier des finances, the Forestry commissioner and also the mayor.

A few months later, on 4 November, 1808, he was made prefect of Escaut and moved to Ghent. Once again, the drawings in the collection give an account of this episode of his life and offer us a vivid picture of French society in Belgium at the time, including notably: the president of the civil court, the head of the Bureau militaire, and the general secretary of the prefecture, all people F.C. Houdetot mixed with, himself now a baron by letters patent dated 18 June, 1809 (5).
His half-sister Césarine married his friend and colleague from the Conseil d'Etat, Prosper Bruguière de Barante in November 1811.

On 12 April, 1813, he was made prefect of Dyle in Brussels where he used every means at his disposal in resistance to the allies until the First Restoration.
During the Cent-Jours, Houdetot made a prudent withdrawal to Caen for health reasons, although he was recalled as prefect of Loiret on 22 March, 1815.



   After 1815

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 until 1848.
In the elections on 13 May, 1849, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Calvados. He took his place on the right in the conservative and monarchist majority, voted for the Rome expedition, the Falloux Law on education, rallied to the politics of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, and following the coup d'état in December 1852, he was nominated as the government candidate on the Legislative Body in the 2nd constituency of Calvados and elected a deputy on 29 February, 1852.

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]