Félicie de Fauveau - Feminist and Revolutionary
Félicie de Fauveau was born in Livorno (Italy) into a family of ennobled financiers, but moved to France during the Restoration in 1814. Her family settled in Paris where her mother ran a salon frequented by artists, including the painter Ary Scheffer. As the catalogue of the monographic exhibition of 2013, at the Musée d'Orsay, points out, Fauveau, who was educated in a school for young girls run by a woman from the Jewish intelligentsia, adopted a radical, traditionalist Catholicism.
Although Félicie trained with the painter Louis Hersent and rather than choosing the more "feminine" activity of poetry or watercolour, she chose the most physical and least feminine branch of art according to the gender-based organisation of society: sculpture. Remarkable for the time, she decided to live off her art.
Passionate about the Middle Ages and particularly fascinated by chivalry, she exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1827 with two bas-reliefs inspired by Walter Scott, for which she was awarded a medal. She received praises from the critics and her rapid rise seemed to guarantee her a promising career.
In deciding to become a sculptor, Félicie was in defiance of the masculine social status quo, and moreover feminised the chivalric order which traditionally excluded women. In the aftermath of the abdication of Charles X in 1830, she opposed the successor King Louis-Philippe as she was a royalist in favour of the Bourbon line. She enlisted to re-establish the eldest branch of the Bourbons and supported the fight led by the Duchess of Berry to place her son the Duke of Bordeaux on the throne of France. Dressed as a man she took arms to a chateau in the Vendée together with her close friend Félicie de Duras, the Countess of La Rochejacquelein, both served the Duchess of Berry, almost embodying the idea of bellicose Amazons led by women in defence of a child king. In 1831 she was arrested and after spending a few months in prison, she returned to the Vendée at the call of the Countess and actively participated in the failed uprising of 1832.
London Art Week participants Trinity Fine Art, Stuart Lochhead Sculpture and Didier Aaron have sculptures by de Fauveau of the Duchess of Berry and of her son the Duke of Bordeaux respectively. Her highly original, inventive style is unparalleled in the history of Romantic era sculpture - as Gothic as it is close to Art Nouveau. She was a unique figure and one of the most representative exponents of the "troubadour style".
Félicie de Fauveau occupies a space of courage and radicalism that is totally original. Nostaglic for an age she had not lived in and a monarchist, a Catholic, a spinster and a feminist, she devoted her life and her art to the defence of a political utopia.
Her story, and particularly her devotion to the Duchess of Berry who had dared to brave Charles X and then Louis Philippe, tells a story that goes beyond the history of art, which recounts the story of women in their struggle for expression, against the male order, and of the repression of their demands. While the Duchess of Berry was imprisoned in the Citadel of Blaye she gave birth to a daughter. Being a widow, she was forced to confess to having secretly contracted marriage with a Sicilian duke named Ettore Lucchesi-Palli. The news caused a huge fuss and was exploited with successfully polemical intent by the government of usurper Louis-Philippe. Arrested again, she was allowed to leave France for Palermo on 8 June 1833. From Palermo she travelled to Prague, but Charles X agreed to receive her only on certain very stringent conditions. It was an extremely delicate matter as the duchess was still the widow of Charles X's son and the mother of the heir to the throne, so Charles X demanded evidence of a regular wedding certificate attesting to her marriage to Duke Ettore Lucchesi- Palli but she was spurned by the royal family who refused to entrust her with the upbringing and education of her son, the heir to the throne. She moved to Austria where she was to remain until her death in her castle of Brunnsee in 1870. Her son lived in exile in Austria-Hungary as the Legitimist pretender.
Félicie would remain forever marked by her participation in the uprising. Condemned to exile after the arrest of the Duchess of Berry, she returned to her native Italy and settled in Florence in 1834, a city to which Europe's aristocrats flocked en masse, attracted by the grand duke of Tuscany's hospitality and by the city's pleasant climate. During this time, her studio was a must-see destination for countless visitors to the city who were attracted by her originality. Determinedly unmarried, she remained in Florence until her death at the age of 85.
She received numerous commissions from European aristocracy, from Count James Alexandre de Pourtales and Lord Granville to Tsar Nicolas I. Loyal to her ideal of monarchy by divine right, de Fauveau worked primarily for the highest ranks of the nobility, with Russian aristocrats playing an important role in her career. Many of her patrons were women, among them were the Duchess of Berry; Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia; and her friend, Countess de La Rochejaquelein. The majority of her work remains in private hands, nevertheless, some can be seen in the Louvre Museum or in the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.