Gilbert, John (1817-97; English)
Louis XIV, transacting business with his ministers in the Apartment of Madame de Maintenon
Watercolour, c.69 x 102 cm
Purchased, 1881
Present location unknown

[photo: as reproduced in NGV 1894]

This large watercolour showed Louis XIV and his cabinet in the Versailles apartment of the king’s former mistress and second (“morganatic”) wife, Mme de Maintenon, who played a major behind-the-scenes role in state affairs.

The work was bought for a substantial sum from the British section of the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition (as noted in AR 1881 and NGV 1905), and reproduced in both NGV 1894 and 1905. The 1905 catalogue also notes that it was first exhibited at the Society of Painters in Water Colours in London in 1872, when an engraving of it was published in The Graphic.

Gilbert, who was largely self-taught, enjoyed a high reputation in his day, becoming known as the “Scott of painting” for his numerous historical illustrations and paintings. He was knighted in 1872, and was elected a member of the Royal Academy four years later.


AR 1881, p.53 (noting the size as 27½ x 40½ inches); NGV 1894, p.48 (II.Stawell Gallery, no.28: ill.); NGV 1905, p.47 (II.Stawell Gallery, no.41; ill.) [£378] 

For Gilbert, see Bénézit 6, pp.168-69; AKL 54 (2007), pp.44-46; Mallalieu (1976), p.109; and For the 1872 engraving, see e.g.…  

The Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719) was Louis XIV’s mistress from the 1670s, and became his second wife in 1683/4, following the death of Maria Teresa (1638-83). Because of her lower status, Madame de Maintenon, as she became known, was never officially acknowledged as the king’s wife or the queen of France: for a detailed explanation, see e.g.,_Marquise_de_Maintenon