Henry IV's right-hand man
Coming from the estate of Baron Alain de Montgascon, this 17th century portrait shows Henri IV and Marie de' Medici with their children, along with their friend and faithful servant Guillaume Fouquet de La Varenne.
Early 17th century French school, follower of Frans Pourbus, Henri IV and Queen Marie de' Medici with their children and the Marquis Guillaume Fouquet de la Varenne, canvas, 199 x 139 cm.
This large painting nearly 2 metres high has always remained in the same family: that of the man who commissioned it, Marquis Guillaume Fouquet de La Varenne (1560-1616). The latter, whom we see here beside the royal family, was one of Henri IV's most trusted men, and certainly one of the closest to him. He even obtained the privilege of having his tomb built in the church of the college of La Flèche (Sarthe), at the foot of the urn that contained the king's heart after his death.
The son of the Duchesse de Vendôme's écuyer de cuisine ("yeoman of the pantry"), Martin Fouquet, and Guillemine Beaufils, originally from La Flèche (where he was born), Guillaume began his career in 1578 working for Catherine de Bourbon, sister of the future sovereign. The king soon noticed him and in 1580 made him his écuyer portemanteau (cloakbearer): a highly unusual rank for someone who was not a noble. And he moved still higher: thanks to his qualities as a soldier and diplomat, he later took part in several victories, including the capture of Angoulême's stronghold from the League (1580), as well as Coutras (1587), Arques (1589) and Fontaine-Française (1595). He was then sent on a mission to Spain and London, and assisted the Jesuits' return to France from 1603. As governor of La Flèche, he supervised the development of the city and its prosperity.
This commemorative portrait shows Fouquet de La Varenne holding a piece of paper in his hand, which reads: "He brought me honour and was good to me." Mentioned in a post-mortem inventory of 1699, at that point the painting was hanging above the fireplace in the Room of Virtues at the château belonging to the Fouquets de la Varenne. It then passed down through the Champagne and Choiseul families before returning to La Flèche, where in 1936 it was placed by the Baronne de Montgascon in the Templerie in Rue de la Tour-d'Auvergne, remaining there until it was put up for sale.