by: Keia Wegner, Hotel Assistant Manager
Mademoiselle Georges Achille-Fould worked in the studio of Rosa Bonheur, who was one of the best known French female artists of her time. A book on the Pfister Art Collection written in the 1940’s mistakenly labeled Ms. Achille-Fould as a male painter. She has three paintings in the Pfister collection and there is also one by her sister Consuelo Fould; as far as we are aware these are the only pieces in our Victorian collection that were painted by female artists. Their mother, Wilhelmina Simonin was also an artist but painted under the pseudonym Gustave Haller. The girls were adopted by their stepfather, Prince George Stirbey and from him inherited the castle and park Becon; they later turned this into the Museum de Roybet Fould.
Achille-Fould is best known for her paintings of fanciful women. This painting is an imaginative study of Ninon de Lenclos, the famous French beauty and wit of the 17th century. Lenclos was made famous due to her numerous amours at court. There is a brilliance and elegance in this painting, as well as skillful drawing and a sensitive feeling for texture. Well known throughout France, Anne “Ninon” de l’Enclos (“Ninon de Lenclos”), was a French author, courtesan and patron of the arts who lived from 1620-1705. After her father was exiled and her mother passed away she entered a convent for a year since she was determined to stay single and independent. She achieved this throughout her life even though she had a string of wealthy and powerful lovers, including two of the King’s cousins. Upon her death Lenclos left a considerable sum to the son of her accountant, 9 year old Francois Marie Arouet. In her will the boy was instructed to use the money to “purchase books”. Later, he would become better known as Voltaire.
Historically, during this time women were expected to live not such an independent lifestyle. She was not only thought of as beautiful, but as intelligent and was seen as a peer to her male counterparts. This would have been especially pertinent to a woman living in the Victorian age, since that was a time when women were supposed to be “seen and not heard”. It would only be a natural choice for Achille-Fould, a woman in a field dominated by males, to use an independent woman such as Ninon as an inspiration for one of her paintings.