French leather relief portrait of Louis XIV after Girardon

After Girardon, François (French, 1628-1715)


This early 18th-Century ‘cuir bouili’ leather portrait of King Louis XIV is an exceptionally rare and beautiful work of art, and one with a rich provenance.


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The piece depicts King Louis XVI of France (1643-1715) with his face turned in profile, looking to the right. This relief portrait has been rendered in ‘cuir bouili’, which is leather that has been soft-boiled, then moulded into shape and polished. The hardened leather then holds the decoration impressed in it while wet. The detail achieved in this portrait by using this technique is remarkable. The work is displayed in a richly-carved giltwood frame, which dates from the second quarter of the 18th Century. The leather on the reverse has been re-backed, and is fitted with two labels, one reading, ‘CH. POTTIER EMBALLAMEUR-PACKER/PARIS’, and the other, ’2919’.

This ‘cuir bouili’ portrait is one of several produced in this period of Louis XVI, depicting him at about the age of 50 years old. This particular work is most likely based on a marble relief portrait of the monarch, crafted by Louis XIV’s court sculptor and superintendent of sculptures, François Girardon (1628-1725). The original marble work was made in 1687 for the Hôtel de Ville in Troyes, where is remains today. A version of this sculpture is found in the Basilica of Saint Denis, in the northern suburb of Paris.

The recent history of this piece is also of great significance. The portrait was held in the famous collection of Anna Thomson Dodge (1869-1970), from her home, Rose Terrace estate in Michigan, America. The collection, acquired by Anna Thomson Dodge and her art advisor, Lord Joseph Duveen, included 18th-Century French and English furniture fine and decorative art, including furniture decorated with Marie Antoinette’s monogram, candelabra from the palace of Versailles, and paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Sir Gerald Kelly. When Dodge died in 1970, the collection, which included this portrait, was auctioned off by Christie’s in London. Many of the works that were sold can be viewed today in major collections and museums in the UK and America, including the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Portrait: Height 71cm, width 57cm
Frame: Height 92cm, width 79cm, depth 9cm


Anonymous Sale; Sotheby's, Zurich, 3 June 1997, lot 11

The Property of a New York Collector; Christie's, New York, 18 October 2002, lot 568.

William F. Reilly sold New York Auction Christie's New York, 14.10.2009, Lot 1 ($37,500)


François Suchal, French Sculptors, London, 1981, Vol. II, page 57


Artist / Maker
After Girardon, François (French, 1628-1715)
Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
First half 18th Century
18th Century and Earlier
Figurative Art, Louis XIV, Portrait, Royal / Monarchy
Giltwood, Leather
Brown, Gold


92 cm / 36.2 inches
79 cm / 31.1 inches
9 cm / 3.5 inches


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