|Charles François de La Baume Le Blanc was the son of Jean François de La Baume Le Blanc, Marquis de La Vallière (1642-1676) and Gabrielle Glé de La Cotardais (b. 1645). In June 1698 he married Marie Thérèse de Noailles (1684-1784), daughter of General Anne Jules, Duc de Noailles, Marshal of France and Marie Françoise de Bournonville.
The Duchy of La Vallière was a French peerage created in 1667 by Louis XIV for his one time mistress Louise Françoise de La Baume Le Blanc when she had been replaced in his affections by Madame de Montespan. Louise de La Vallière, known as Mademoiselle de La Vallière was the mistress of Louis XIV from 1661 to 1667 and the mother of six of Louis’ children, though only two of them survived infancy. The Lordship of La Vallière had been owned by Louise’s family since the time of her great grandfather Laurent Le Blanc; Laurent’s only son, Jean, taking on the name of La Baume Le Blanc in his lifetime along with the barony of La Papelardière. When Louise left court, she gave the duchy to her only daughter Marie Anne de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Blois and widow of Louis Armand de Bourbon, Prince de Conti. Widowed and childless, in 1698 Marie Anne, in turn, gave the title to her cousin, Charles François de La Baume Le Blanc, who had until then been styled the Marquis de La Vallière.
Charles’s son, Louis César,(1708-1780) succeeded to the Duchy of La Vallière on the death of his father in August 1739. Louis César was on familiar terms with Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour, and was a first cousin to Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, a grandson of Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV. In addition to various titles he also inherited the Château de Champs-sur-Marne which had been given to his father by his cousin, the Princesse de Conti, in 1718 in order to settle some debts. At the château, Louis César entertained many of the famous writers of the day, including Diderot and Voltaire and established an outstanding library of national importance.
Noting the provenance, the portrait possibly passed to Louis César’s only child, a daughter, Adrienne Emilie Félicité de La Baume Le Blanc (b.1740) who married Louis Gaucher, Duc de Châtillon (1737-1762). Their daughter Louise-Emmanuelle de Châtillon married Charles Bretagne Marie de La Trémoille (1764-1839), whose son Louis Charles de La Trémoïlle (1838-1911) has been recorded as a previous owner of this portrait. Equally, given the extraordinary age that Marie Thérèse de Noailles lived to it is quite possible the portrait was inherited or given directly to her great-grand-daughter and thus ended up with the Trémoille family.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry was the ablest of Nicholas Largillierre’s pupils. Despite largely being remembered now for his later animal pictures and tapestry work he started work as an artist producing portraits under the tutelage of one of France’s greatest exponents of the genre. In 1706 Oudry entered the Académie de St-Luc and was received as a master painter in 1708. During this time he started his five year apprenticeship with Largillierre leaving in 1712. Well into the 1720s he worked consistently as a portrait painter, possibly obtaining some of his commissions as referrals from his old master. Quite naturally, Oudry derives his palette, technique, and even mannerisms from Largillierre, but ultimately creates a portrait distinct from that of his master. Elements of the present portrait compare favourably with a much larger portrait by Oudry finished in 1720; when exhibited it was noted “Oudry’s manner…is entirely derivative from that of Largillierre. Yet there are differences. Oudry’s hands are always like these: slender fingers, the exaggerated articulations of the hand, the smooth…surface of the skin. His faces are harsher than those of his master, perhaps more minutely described but with less assurance.” (Kimbell Art Museum, Oudry catalogue, 1983).
Though normally working on a more conventional scale this smaller size is in no way unusual. As well as undertaking reduced versions of larger canvasses for some of his clients, some being copies of paintings by Largillierre, Oudry also painted, due to certain popularity, a number of small finished portraits such as this one. Similar examples of small portraits by Largillierre have also come on to the art market in more recent years and a few other examples can be found in various French museums.