Lost paintings of Wales by French Royal in exile

A member of the French Royal Family, living in exile in Britain during the French Revolution, sketched Hafod Uchtryd in Ceredigion, and was mistaken for a French spy at Cilgerran Castle!


By Amédée Faure (1801-1878) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Louis Antoine Philippe d’Orléans, duc de Montpensier (1775-1807), younger brother of Louis Philippe who became King in 1830, and son of Louis Philippe, known as Philippe Égalité was living in exile in Twickenham with his family from February 1800. Montpensier was eager to learn about Britain, and was a keen amateur artist; his education had been overseen by Madame de Genlis, who arranged art lessons for him with the Polish artist Silvestre de Mirys (1742-1810). We know, from his letters, that Montpensier went on a sketching tour of south Wales in 1805, and possibly also in 1803.[1] This was followed by a sketching tour of parts of north Wales, where he sought consolation in summer 1806 (27th August to the end of September), when Elizabeth Forbes, with whom he was in love, had been removed from Twickenham to Scotland by her family. Banned by his family from travelling to Scotland to visit her, he sets off for the Welsh mountains driving a phaeton with two horses, accompanied by a groom named James and a servant called George White, and carrying books and sketching material. The account of his tour that has survived is a series of letters addressed to Elizabeth’s mother, but intended for her.[2] See the database of the ‘European travellers to Wales’ project for a map of this journey and notes on the content of his letters http://etw.bangor.ac.uk/accounts/correspondence-mrs-forbes.

But what of the pictures? These seem to be lost. However there are details of them in a catalogue of Montpensier’s works by J. Vatout, Notices Historiques sur les Tableaux de la Galerie de SAR Mgr le Duc d’Orléans (Paris: 1826), vol. iv, pp. 513-32.

This catalogue shows that he visited different parts of Wales on his other trips there, and lists his artwork by title, and sometimes provides a description.

For 1803 the catalogue gives a detailed description of his view of a waterfall at Hafod Uchtryd, Cwmystwyth, Ceredigion:

This is the cave known popularly as robber’s cave, or officially as the Hafod Uchtryd Cavern Cascade http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/23026/collection/HAFOD+UCHTRYD+CAVERN+CASCADE/

This is how it looks today (and presumably then too) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthanddave/20421383248


The catalogue describes landowner Thomas Johnes’s manmade waterfall that falls at the back of a cave to delight his visitors. Montpensier has included at least two people in his picture, one gesturing towards the water and the other showing surprise.

Also in 1803, so presumably as part of the same trip, he sketched ‘Vue de la cascade de Mellincourt dans la principauté de Galles’ [view of the waterfall at Mellincourt in the principality of Wales]. Here is an engraving of it by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, a slightly earlier European Traveller to Wales http://search.digido.org.uk/?id=llgc-id%3a1131867&query=melincourt&query_type=full_text&page=1.


For 1805 is listed ‘Vue des ruines de l’abbeye de Vale-Crucis dans la principauté de Galles’ [view of the ruins of the Abbey of Valle Crucis in the principality of Wales]

Also for 1805 is listed ‘Vue du pont de Mallwyd’ [view of the bridge at Mallwyd].

And also for 1805 is listed ‘Vue des ruines de Kilgaran-Castle dans la principauté de Galles’ [view of the ruins of Cilgerran Castle in the principality of Wales], http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/95037/images/CILGERRAN+CASTLE/


This picture includes a representation of Montpensier sketching, and shows what happened to him at Cilgerran: some little boys mistook him for a French spy who was making maps, and started throwing stones at him.

For 1806 are listed ‘Vue d’un petit lac sur la route de Bedkellert à Caernarvon’ [view of a little lake on the road from Beddgelert to Caernarfon], and ‘Vue de la Montagne de Snowden dans la principauté de Galles’ [view of Snowdon mountain in the principality of Wales].


However, when the Palais-Royal was sacked in 1848 Montpensier’s artworks disappeared.

Is there any hope of hope of recovering these images of Wales? We know that our artist showed his sketches of Wales to guests at a dinner party in mid-October 1808, at which the Duke of Kent and a number of French notables were present, and that the guests praised them (Hays, p. 213). We also know that he made paintings based on the sketches, and he mentions in particular one that he made as a gift for the Duke of Berry (Hays, p. 215). So there may well be paintings or copies waiting to be discovered!

This research was undertaken as part of an AHRC-funded project http://etw.bangor.ac.uk


[1] Malcolm Hay, Prince in Captivity : Based on the Memoirs and Unpublished Letters of Antoine Philippe d’Orléans Duc de Montpensier, 1775-1807 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960), pp. 165-66, p. 162.

[2] Antoine Philippe d’Orléans, Correspondence to Mrs Forbes, Seaton House, Aberdeen. MS 2358 University of Aberdeen. Extracts from these letters, in the original English, are printed in Malcolm Hay.

This entry was posted in European Travellers to Wales, French Revolution, Uncategorized, Visual arts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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