Paul-Louis Courier

épistolier, pamphlétaire, helléniste
photo1 photo2

The portraits, engravings and sculptures of Courier

Portraits and engravings

Louis Hersent

O n January 3rd, 1824, in a letter to Mrs. Soehné written at Véretz, Courier gives some precisions about the illustration of his “Chloé” on which Hersent is working. On the following 11th of March, from Paris, he informs his wife, who stayed at La Chavonnière, that he had dinner at Hersent’s house. Hersent then took him to the house of Sophie Gay, mother of the young and beautiful poetess Delphine Gay. By history’s irony, this girl will marry Emile de Girardin, who will mortally wound Armand Carrel, Courier’s first biographer, in a duel on July 22nd, 1836!
On March 15th, Courier has dinner again with Hersent, still for the illustration of the new edition of the “Pastorales”.
We can reasonably think that the portrait made by Hersent dates back to the time when the lampoonist had gone through the turmoil that will lead him to the tragic end we know.
Regnault’s student, elected at the “Académie des Beaux-arts” three years before Ingres, Louis Hersent (1777-1860) is a fashionable painter. What we know about the writer’s nature does not allow us to think that Courier, not quite the socialite, would have accepted to pose to have his portrait made by an artist. Whatever happened, the portrait was painted. Unfortunately it disappeared. Destroyed? Stolen? Nobody cleared up the mystery. All we can say is that this portrait depicts a man definitely younger than the model at the moment of its completion. We may even estimate the subject portrayed is twenty years old.
This painting inspired many engravers whose prints illustrated the various editions of Courier’s works.

The engravings drawn from Hersent’s work being numerous and of very varying quality, here are the specifications of some of them among the best known :

Paul-Louis Courier by Vigneron The oldest proof is a large format lithograph published by C. Constans. Drawn by Vigneron, it is entitled: « P.-L. Courier from Méré (wine grower). Formerly gunner on horse. Member of the Legion of Honour. ». Carefully printed on rice paper, this portrait, the only one published in Courier’s lifetime, was copyrighted on June 7th, 1824, under the number 435 at the address of the depositor: rue neuve Saint-Augustin, n°1.
Vigneron would have executed a portrait known only through a reproduction taken from the “Revue encyclopédique” (p. 698, n° 63, of July 15th, 1893), with the caption: Paul-Louis Courier (1792 (sic)-1825). With its three-quarter view to the right, it would hardly be easy to recognize the lampoonist without the mention of his name.

Paul-Louis Courier by Ratier A lithograph of Ratier was inspired by it.

Paul-Louis Courier by Adèle Ethiou An etching, signed by « Adèle Ethiou », 1833, , published by Blaizot, bears the caption: : «  Courier (Paul-Louis). Born in 1774 (sic). Dead ? assassinated in 1825.5 ». It shows a young face, with a three-quarter view to the left, with regular features. This engraving has been the subject of several drawings differentiated by the paper texture; there are some proofs on rice paper. Robert Gaschet reuses it on the frontispiece of his work « Paul-Louis Courier et la Restauration ».
All engravings show the subject with his head turned three-quarter to the left. Therefore we can deduce that the portrait made by Hersent presented this feature. The few specimens with a right-angle view were probably executed “secondhand” and inspired by former works.

Paul-Louis Courier by Ary Scheffer The only one of Courier’s portrait still visible was made by Ary Scheffer.
Baudelaire during the Salon of 1846, Ary Scheffer left numerous portraits of celebrities. He often did not work for profit but as an unselfish artist, eager to share his work. This portrait was cataloged as if it were executed in 1820. It is indisputably a mistake. It was later.
Unlike Hersent who “re-creates” his subject, Ary Scheffer knows him immediately and directly.
What differentiates the portraits painted by Hersent from those by Scheffer? In the first case, Courier appears in tidy dress, if not affected. His waistcoat is neat, his frock coat impeccable, his tie tidy, but it is a reconstructed work. In the second, his attire is more neglected; its general tonality of sadness betrays his helplessness.
It is not unthinkable that this portrait was painted from memory after Courier’s death. We can also date it back to the evening of the lampoonist’s life. The distress is tangible, the smile forced. Obviously this man is indeed the one who came very close to hanging or drowning himself…
This painting is at the Versailles Museum. Marguerite Marie Martin made a copy of it on the occasion of the commemoration of the centenary of Courier’s death in Tours. It is property of the city of Tours and presently visible at the Conseil Général (Departmental Council) of Indre-et-Loire in the room named… Paul-Louis Courier.

Paul-Louis Courier Brussels 1826 Edition Several engravings are inspired by the work of Scheffer.
The first one serves as frontispiece to the edition of the political Pamphlets and literary Opuscules published in Brussels in 1826. If the features are more pronounced than they are on the painting, the drawing is not very faithful. It is an etching without a signature which mentions the lampoonist’s name with two Rs. This engraving of poorer quality will again be used in the Paulin edition of 1832.
In 1828, the « Œuvres complètes (complete works) » de P.-L. Courier published by the « Librairie parisienne » in Brussels show an unsigned portrait of Courier turned to the right bearing the caption: « P.-L. Courier assassinated in 1825. » assassinated in 1825.” The drawing comes close to Scheffer’s work.

Paul-Louis Courier Publishing 1834 Paulin In 1834, the publication of the Completes Works in four volumes by Paulin and Perrotin shows an etching by Adèle Ethiou with the following caption: « Paul-Louis Courier. Paulin et Perrotin publishers. » The drawing is less fine and softens what seemed sloppy in the features and the dress of the model. Was Adèle Ethiou influenced by her own engraving, created the previous year from Hersent’s portrait?

Paul-Louis Courier by Adèle Ethiou Engraving was used again by Firmin Didot for his 1837 edition of Completes Works and again by the publisher Garnier in 1866. Robert Gaschet reproduced it in his book, « la jeunesse de Paul-Louis Courier ».
In 1845, Firmin Didot republishes Courier’s works. This time, he calls on the engraver Hopwood. Here, the face is more aged than in Adèle Ethiou’s engraving. This portrait accompanies a new edition in 1874.
Some engravers worked from the plate by Adèle Ethiou. They wandered from the original and made it dull. Such is the case for the point and roulette etching, drawn by Th. Frère, then engraved by Mauduison for the book of Stanislas Bellanger : « La Touraine ancienne et moderne (The old and new Touraine) », published by L. Mercier in 1845.

Paul-Louis Courier by Fonrouge A lithograph was executed by Fonrouge from a drawing of Ch. Lelièvre with the caption: « P.-L. Courier. Collection of the newspaper le Voleur, 7th portrait ». There are some proofs on rice paper. The features have been drawn directly on the stone. During the printing, the proofs give a reversed portrait, three-quarter view to the right. This inversion is not beneficial.
Some engravers in a hurry to deliver their order reproduced the drawing of the 1826 edition. Adolphe Lalauze gives an etching for a bibliophiles’ edition in 1876; he offers a slightly younger Courier than the model, which makes him more pleasant to look at. On the other hand, in 1880, Louis Monziès supplies to the publisher Lemerre an etching whose overly pronounced features betraying the face of the writer more than the model itself. From these two portraits, Lalauze’s was again used in the book of Louis Desternes Paul-Louis Courier et les Bourbons, as well as on the cover of the journals of the SAPLC, from its inception to 1994. There are some other works of minimal interest.

Paul-Louis Courier by Jules Robert Portrait of Paul-Louis Courier by Jules Robert and A. Gitton, in the 1820s (from unknown source, municipal library of Tours, collection Caron).
The engraver Jules Robert (1843-1898) contributed to several newspapers (l’Illustration, l’Histoire des Peintres). He also designed several banknotes and medals.

Paul-Louis Courier by his wife Herminie Courier Hermine Courier was an artist; she was pianist and she had received painting classes from Mme Vigée-Lebrun, portraitist of Louis XVI’s Court. Paul-Etienne inherited the talents of his mother in painting. He illustrated, in particular, scenes he translated from Theophrastus « Characters », successor of Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.
Paul-Louis was within an inch of death in 1817. He and his wife went to the Pyrenean spa of Cauterets during part of the summer. This portrait made by Herminie is a watercolour dated from the 10th of May of the same year when Etienne Clavier suddenly died.
Let us note a small detail: in this portrait, Herminie Courier paints her husband’s eyes blue. Which refutes the police description of Courier, giving him grey eyes. If you had to choose between the police’s gaze and Mrs. Courier’s, you do not need to think twice: Courier had blue eyes.

Three sculptures

Paul-Louis Courier par Viollet-le-Duc (photo JP Lautman) On the monument drawn by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc a medallion of Courier in profile was cut and looks toward the left. This representation is hardly accurate.

Paul-Louis Courier à l'Hôtel de ville de Paris A statue has been placed in a recess of the façade of Paris town hall rebuilt in 1882. Above Courier, bareheaded, wearing a frock coat and boots, there is a sculpture of Le Sueur, and underneath, another one of Ledru-Rollin. The lampoonist holds a quill in his right hand and a sheet which represents The Simple Speech (le Simple discours) in his left.

Paul-Louis Courier à l'Hôtel de ville de Tours T he Tours town hall received in 1904 a full-sized statue sculpted by Albert Lefeuvre. The subject looks proud and is probably younger than Courier when he wrote The Simple speech (Le Simple discours) that he is holding in the left hand. His eyes fix proudly the horizon (the future?). On the plinth it is written: “Paul-Louis Courier. Born in Paris in 1772. Dead in Véretz in 1825.” Three other sculptures of Touraine’s celebrities are located at the others corners of the former building entrance: Jean Fouquet, Guillaume Briçonnet and the marshal Boucicaut.

Finally, in 1972, bicentennial of Courier’s birth, the Mint (Hôtel des Monnaies) produced a bronze or silver medal designed by René Andréi and which presents a writer’s profile inspired by the portrait from Ary Scheffer.

By Camille Bernard and Jean-Pierre Lautman, members of the SAPLC (Society of Paul-Louis Courier’s Friends)