Rosalie Filleul, a victim of the Terror

23 March 2012

The popular pastellist, Rosalie Filleul was born Anne-Rosalie Bouquet in Paris in 1753 and was the daughter of Blaise Bouquet, ornamental painter and dealer in fans. The young Rosalie showed a talent for art from a young age as recalled by her best friend, the portrait painter Louise-Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, who wrote:

I also drew from nature and from casts, often working by lamplight with Mlle. Boquet, with whom I was closely acquainted. I went to her house in the evenings; she lived in the Rue Saint Denis, where her father had a bric-à-brac shop. It was a long way off, since we lodged in the Rue de Cléry, opposite the Lubert mansion. My mother, therefore, insisted on my being escorted whenever I went. We likewise frequently repaired, Mlle. Boquet and I, to Briard’s, a painter, who lent us his etchings and his classical busts.

Vigée-Lebrun, always given to hyperbole when describing the good looks of female acquaintances described the young Mademoiselle Boquet as a rival beauty with ‘considerable‘ artistic talents although where Vigée-Lebrun specialised in oil paintings, Rosalie prefered the more tactile, softer medium of pastels.

Rosalie’s work was very popular and she is known to have exhibited her work several times in the 1770s, when she was still only a teenager. She was attracting attention also for her beauty, with Vigée Lebrun writing later about their walks in the gardens of the Palais Royale that ‘we never entered this avenue, Mlle. Boquet and I, without attracting lively attention. We both were then between sixteen and seventeen years old, Mlle. Boquet being a great beauty. At nineteen she was taken with the smallpox, which called forth such general interest that numbers from all classes of society made anxious inquiries, and a string of carriages was constantly drawn up outside her door.’

On the 1st October 1777, at the age of twenty four, Rosalie was married to the much older Louis Besne Filleul, who held the office of Superintendant of the royal Chateau de Muette and the newly married couple made their home in the Hôtel de Travers, whose windows overlooked the chateau’s beautiful gardens. Muette was a great favourite with Marie Antoinette, who installed the Duchesse de Polignac there and so the young Madame Filleul came to the attention of the royal family, who gave her several commissions for portraits, most famously a charming one of the eldest children of the Comte d’Artois.

The charming Rosalie was rightly feted for her artistic talents and personal charm and was close friends with several notable figures of the day including Vigée-Lebrun, Madame de Bonneuil (reputedly the most beautiful woman in Paris, who would later become a spy during the Revolution) and Benjamin Franklin, who appears to have had something of a crush on her and would pose for her also.

Sadly, Monsieur Filleul died in 1788 but fortunately for Rosalie, Marie Antoinette decided to make her his successor as Superintendant of Muette and so she continued to live there with her young son, Louis-Auguste, who was born on the 14th of June 1780 and her close friend Marguerite-Émilie Chalgrin, daughter of the artist Vernet.

Like most liberal, artistic members of French society, lovely, flirtatious Madame Filleul welcomed the Revolution when the Bastille fell in 1789 but she soon became disillusioned after the suppression of Christianity and then imprisonment of the royal family. She drew attention to herself when she wore mourning for Louis XVI on the anniversary of his execution in January 1794 and then again when she unwisely auctioned some old pieces of furniture from La Muette, which bore the royal insignia.

Rosalie was duly denounced to the Committee of Public Safety and put under surveillance by a certain Citoyen Blache. Arrest was inevitable and eventually she and her friend, Madame Chalgrin were both arrested, with execution following swiftly on the 24th June 1794 on the Place du Trône-Renversé.

Madame Vigée-Lebrun would write in her memoirs:

She had a remarkable talent for painting, but she gave up the pursuit almost immediately after her marriage with M. Filleul, when the Queen made her Gatekeeper of the Castle of La Muette. Would that I could speak of the dear creature without calling her dreadful end to mind. Alas! how well I remember Mme. Filleul saying to me, on the eve of my departure from France, when I was to escape from the horrors I foresaw: “You are wrong to go. I intend to stay, because I believe in the happiness the Revolution is to bring us.” And that Revolution took her to the scaffold! Before she quitted La Muette the Terror had begun. Mme. Chalgrin, a daughter of Joseph Vernet, and Mme. Filleul’s bosom friend, came to the castle to celebrate her daughter’s wedding – quietly, as a matter of course. However, the next day the Jacobins none the less proceeded to arrest Mme. Filleul and Mme. Chalgrin, who, they said, had wasted the candles of the nation. A few days later they were both guillotined.

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