The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Loetitia Mathilde Bonaparte, 1820-1908

Nationality: Italian
Date of Birth: 1820.05.27
Place of Birth: Trieste
Date of Death: 1908.01.02
Place of Death: Paris


Princesse Loetitia Mathilde Bonaparte was a portraitist and water-colourist. She was the daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte, the former king of Westphalia, and niece of Napoleon I. In 1841 she married the Russian collector Anatole Demidov, the Prince of San Donato.


Princess Mathilde spent the years 1823-31 in exile with her family in Rome. Inspired by the collection of her great-uncle Cardinal Joseph Fesch and by the Uffizi in Florence, where her family moved, she trained herself to draw. Following the failure of her marriage, she moved to Paris and formed a relationship with the Comte de Nieuwerkerke and then the enamel painter Claudius-Marcel Popelin. From 1852 to 1870 she lived at 24 Rue de Courcelles, a residence provided by her first cousin, Napoleon III. After the fall of the Second Empire she moved to 20 Rue de Berri. She also owned a property at Saint-Gratien in the Val d'Oise. She played host to many of the leading literary and artistic personalities of the day, including Gustave Flaubert, Théophile Gautier, Edmond de Goncourt, Jules de Goncourt, Jean-Auguste Barre, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Eugène Giraud, Charles Giraud and Paul Baudry.

Princess Mathilde collected many old master paintings of the Flemish, French and Italian schools of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in 1867 built a gallery at her Rue de Courcelles home in order to house them. She also collected modern paintings, including works by James Tissot , Léon Bonnat, Ferdinand Roybet, Gustave-Jean Jacquet and Edouard Detaille. She was given the nickname 'Our Lady of the Arts'.

Mathilde herself painted watercolour portraits, for example, Comte de Nieuwerkerke (Château, Compiègne), and genre figures, for example, Bust of a Young Girl (Musée Bonnat, Bayonne). From 1859 to 1867 she exhibited at the Salon as a pupil of Eugène Giraud, and in 1865 she was awarded a third class medal. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux made a marble bust of her (1862; Musée d'Orsay, Paris).


Perron, M. Castillon du, La Princesse Mathilde, Paris, 1953; Goncourt, E. de and J. de Goncourt, Journal, 4 vols, Paris, 1956-59; Cars, J. des, La Princesse Mathilde, Paris, 1988; Françoise Maison, 'Bonaparte', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 04 July 2003).