Marie-François Firmin-Girard called Firmin-Girard

(1838 Poncin – Montluçon 1921)

Portrait of Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre, baronne de Rochetaillée (1844- 1893)

145 x 97 cm. (57 x 38 1/4 in.)
oil on canvas
signed and dated ‘FIRMIN-GIRARD.1875.’ (lower right)


Collection of the descendants of the Maréchal de Perignon, Château Du Mesnil, Montech, France; sale, Primardeco, Montech, 23 April 2016, lot 138, as Portrait de Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre, baronne de Rochetaillée (1844-1893), when acquired by the present owner.



Le Salon de 1875.VI Les portraits, le XIXème siècle, N°1269, 27 May 1875, p. 1.

Letter from count Guillaume Guy Armand de Dampierre to his son-in-law Vital Jean Bernou, baron de Rochetaillé, 1875.

Catalogue Entry

Fig. 1. Marie-François Firmin-Girard, Le Quai aux Fleurs, oil on canvas, 99.7 x 144.8 cm., 1875, Private collection.

Born in 1838 in Poicin, Marie-François Firmin-Girard was one of the premier painters of the Belle-Epoque. After moving to Paris in the early 1850s to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, he trained in the studio of Charles Gleyre (1806-1874) and later became a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). In Paris, he befriended and worked alongside painters, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), and met the artists of the Barbizon School during frequent trips to the forest of Fontainebleau. Throughout his career, Firmin-Girard explored a vast variety of genres, from history painting to genre scenes, Orientalism and portraiture. His prestige in Paris was established in 1863, when the Salon awarded him with a third-class medal for Après le bal, which was acquired by Princess Mathilde Bonaparte. International success came in 1876, when Firmin-Girard exhibited at the Salon one of his most iconic representations of modern life, Le Quai aux Fleurs (Fig. 1). One of the most attentive interpreters of his own time, Firmin-Girard was awarded with the Légion d’Honneur in 1896.1

Fig. 2. A photograph of Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre, baronne de Rochetaillée.

The present work is one of the finest examples of Firmin-Girard’s activity as a portraitist. The more than a half-length figure of a woman in three-quarter pose stands in a forest, looking out at the viewer with pensive blue eyes. She has left the pathway visible on the right to pick a small bouquet of violets, which she holds in her hands. The almost completely bare trees with scarce yellow-orange leaves suggest the scene is set in late Autumn, as also does the lady’s heavy, black velvet dress. Its elegant trimmings and exquisite fabrics, along with the woman’s fashionable hairstyle indicate that she was certainly a woman of high social status.

Indeed, the present work portrays Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre, baroness of Rochetaillée – an ancient French commune located in the Loire region – at the age of thirty-one. Born in 1844 to count Guillaume Guy Armand de Dampierre (1816-1901), mayor of Vignaud, and his wife Felicité de Charpin-Feugerolles (1818-1878), she married Vital Jean Bernou, baron de Rochetaillé, in 1871. The baron commissioned the present portrait from Firmin-Girard in 1875 after meeting him in the Loire Region. The artist used to spend much time there, being his wife from Charlieu, a small town in the area. The work was conceived as a gift from the baron to his father-in-law,2 possibly to honour a special occasion.

Fig. 3. Letter by count Guillaume Guy Armand de Dampierre to his son-in-law Vital Jean Bernou, baron de Rochetaillé. Archives Firmin-Girard, Patrick Faucheur, Paris.

Although Firmin-Girard likely painted the Portrait of Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre in his studio, the sense of physical presence characterising the subject and the realism of her physiognomy suggest that the artist might have executed some preparatory studies from life or used a photograph of the woman as a reference source. The portrait’s resemblance to the sitter is indeed suggested by a photograph of the baroness (Fig. 2), where her features closely correspond to those in the present painting. In both images, the woman’s hairstyle consists of a fashionable braided crown with curls lowering down on her back. The exceptionally realistic rendering of her hands reinforces the hypothesis that Firmin-Girard might have painted them from life or while looking at a photograph.3 The realism of the portrait is further confirmed by a contemporary source. After receiving the painting, the count de Dampierre wrote a letter of thanks to his son-in-law, published on this occasion for the first time (Fig. 3). Although the Portrait was slightly criticised at the 1875 Salon for his excessively “dry” style,4 in his letter, the count writes to be nevertheless satisfied and enchanted by the work, praising Firmin-Girard’s ability to capture his daughter’s physiognomy. He would not have allowed anybody not to recognise “Marguerite in this delightful painting, so exquisite from an artistic point of view and perfect in terms of likeness of the sitter.”5

Fig. 4. Marie-François Firmin-Girard, Portrait de Marc Girard, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm., 1883, Private collection, France.

Fig. 5. Marie-François Firmin-Girard, Adèle à l’ombrelle, oil on canvas, 32.4 x 22.9 cm., 1871, Private collection.

Firmin-Girard rarely worked on commission, preferring to execute portraits of his wife and children. The artist enjoyed portraying his subjects outdoors, as exemplified by a portrait of his son (Fig. 4), where the child is depicted in a forest alike the baroness de Rochetaillée. Setting his sitters within a natural environment, Firmin-Girard found the opportunity to merge portraiture with landscape painting, one of his favourite genres. During the 1860s, the artist discovered painting outdoors in Barbizon and looked attentively at the work of his friend Claude Monet, which was entirely conducted en plein air. At that time, Firmin-Girard embraced an Impressionist palette and developed an Impressionist technique, which is attested in the present work by the loose rendering of the grass and the forest’s trees, executed with quickly applied brushstrokes.

Fig. 6. Marie-François Firmin-Girard, Le Jardin de la Marraine, oil on canvas, 101.6 x 69.2 cm., 1875, Private collection.

Setting his subjects outdoors also allowed Firmin-Girard to capture them in natural poses, while performing ordinary actions. The artist often depicted female sitters while picking or holding flowers, such as in the present work and in Adèle à l’ombrelle (Fig. 5), where Firmin-Girard captured Adèle Pacault, the wife of his friend painter Armand Charnay, while walking along a forest’s pathway, holding a small bouquet of flowers. If, in the portrait of Adèle, the artist rendered the flowers with rapid brushstrokes, he painted the violets in the Portrait with the utmost fidelity, meticulously individuating each petal and every stem, as he did in his most spectacular flower paintings (Fig. 1). If the Portrait proves Firmin-Girard’s superb eye for the details of flowers, it also attests his ability to render the different fabrics of contemporary costumes. The Baroness’ winter dress is a robe à tournure, a type of dress characterised on its back by a padded undergarment used to add fullness or support the drapery, which was fashionable in France from the late 1860s to the late 1880s. Robes à tournure reappear in several other paintings by Firmin-Girard, such as his aforementioned masterpiece Le Quai aux Fleurs (Fig. 1) and another of his winter scenes, Le Jardin de la Marraine (Fig. 6), both dating to 1875. Alike the present portrait, these works are characterised, quoting Emile Zola’s words on Firmin-Girard’s oeuvre, by “an almost impossible perfection of details,”6 the female garments masterfully rendered and the crushed velvet, fur muff, tulle, and other fabrics appearing as almost palpable.

Before being sold at auction in 2016, the Portrait of Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre, baronne de Rochetaillée (1844- 1893) adorned the walls of one of the rooms of the Château Du Mesnil in Montech, France (Fig. 7). The painting was part of the important collection of the descendants of the Maréchal d’Empire Dominique de Pérignon (1754-1818), which included Old Masters paintings, sculptures, porcelains and furniture.

Fig. 7. Marie-François Firmin-Girard’s Portrait of Marie Suzanne Marguerite de Dampierre, baronne de Rochetaillée (1844- 1893) hanging in one of the rooms of the Château Du Mesnil in Montech, France.

1 For biographic information on Firmin-Girard, see R. Boyd, Marie-François Firmin-Girard: Poncin 1838 - 1921 Monluçon. Le Quai aux Fleurs, (London: Richard Green, 2014), and
2 I am grateful to Patrick Faucheur, nephew of Firmin-Girard, for this information.
3 Firmin-Girard’s contemporaries themselves noticed a relationship between his paintings and photography. See “Le Salon de 1875,” in Revue des Deux Mondes, 3eme période, tome IX, 1875, p. 927: “M. Firmin Girard a dépassé la photographie dans sa recherche de la vérité.”
4 Le Salon de 1875.VI Les portraits » le XIXème siècle, N°1269 du 27 mai 1875, p 1: “Le Baronne V. de R… par M. Firmin Girard, est traitée dans un style un peu sec, un peu dur; mais il faut pardonner quelques petits excès à la force d’un talent si male.”
5 Letter from the Count de Dampierre to the Baron de Rochetaillé, Firmin-Girard Archives: “[…] Ma vraie Marguerite. Je ne sais ce qu’était le portrait qui a subi bien des critiques; Mais je sais ce qu’il en est, il me satisfait, il me ravit et m’enchante; je ne permets à personne de ne pas retrouver Marguerite toute entière dans ce délicieux tableau aussi bien du point de vue artistique que parfait comme ressemblance. […]
6 E. Zola, “Deux Expositions d’Art au Mois de Mai,” in Lettres de Paris, June 1876: “C’est la perfection des détails, une perfection poussée jusqu'à l'impossible.”


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Paris, Salon, 1875, no. 925, as Portrait de Mme. la baronne V. de R.


The work is in very good condition and is original in size. No major damages or repairs are visible. The painting has been cleaned recently.

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