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"Republican General de Malet ("Malet coup of 1812"), extremely important miniature!!, 1799/1803
Price: 4900 EUR
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This work was acquired by chance in an antique shop in Rennes / France (it was offered as a "portrait of an unknown officer"). Still set into original golden locket (on golden chain), this miniature on ivory turned out to be an extremely rare (and, as we will witness below, likely the only existing now) life (sic!) portrait of brigade general of French Republican Army, Claude François de Malet. The name of this man is known to any historian of the Napoleonic Epoch as the main protagonist of the so-called "Malet coup of 1812".
We have established the sitter's identity after performing a thorough research of all thus far known portraits of generals of both Revolutionary and Napoleonic armies. This comparative search returned only one candidate, whose facial features fully corresponded with those of "our" sitter. His name was General de Malet .
It is rather clear that in this miniature portrait, Malet is depicted just (or soon) after his promotion (October 19, 1799) to brigade general. All of Malet's known representations (all of them postmortem - see our images nr.5-6) show him after September 24, 1803 (after this date the general's uniform revealed golden epaulettes with distinctive stars: two "for brigade general" and three "for division general").
Additionally, in these reproductions (most of these prints were produced in the 1830/40s, after certain (its whereabouts unknown) life portrait (a large-scale oil portrait? a drawing? a miniature portrait?), Malet is shown already with a Cross of Legion d'honneur (he was presented this award on June 25, 1804) - a detail that expands the time difference between these representations and "our" portrait a great deal further .
Claude François de Malet was born on June 28, 1754 in Dole, department Jura to an aristocratic family. At the age of 17, he enlisted as a musketeer - a common practice for young noblemen of the Ancien Régime, but King Louis XVI disbanded the musketeer regiments in 1776 for budgetary reasons. In 1788, he married Denice de Balay.
In 1790 Malet's family disinherited him for supporting the French revolution, when he became commander of his home town's National Guard and celebrated the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Malet volunteered for the Revolutionary army when war broke out and was assigned to the 50th infantry regiment of the Army of the Rhine as a captain.
He was discharged in 1795, but reenlisted again in March 1797, first as Chief of Staff of the 6th division, then in 1799 as Chief of Staff of the Army of the Alps under the command of general Jean Étienne Championnet. After receiving honourable citations from both Championnet and general André Masséna for defending the Little St. Bernard Pass in August 1799, Malet was promoted to brigade general on October 19, 1799. He fought in the Helvetian Republic throughout 1801, until the fighting ended with the Second Coalition in 1802 by the treaties of Lunéville and Amiens.
After the coups of the 30 Prairial and 18 Brumaire of year VIII that replaced the French Directory with the French Consulate, Malet voted against the referendum confirming Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul. Malet was relegated to Bordeaux, then to Les Sables d'Olonne, as his opposition to Bonaparte became even more vehement, although in 1804 he became Commander of the Légion d'honneur (sic! in all postmortem printed portraits of him, Malet is shown bearing Legion's cross, yet not around his neck (as it must be in case of a Commander of Legion of Honor) but on the left (for viewer - right) side of his chest, as if wearing an Officer Cross. Nevertheless, there is no contradiction here, for until July 1814, the Commander Cross could be also be worn on the left side of the chest).
In 1805 Malet was discharged from active duty; he then resigned after Napoleon's coronation as Emperor. He was appointed Governor of Pavia and then Governor of Rome in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. Eugène de Beauharnais expelled him on allegations of black market activities and propaganda, and he was interned in the Parisian La Force prison from July 1, 1807 to May 30, 1808 (we believe that our image nr.6 shows him exactly in this period basing our assumption on the old model of his uniform). Released without trial, he was jailed again the next year on suspicion of belonging to the "Philadelphes", a republican and anti-Bonapartist Masonic society. Soon after, physicians certified him as insane and, upon his wife's request, in July 1810, he was transferred to a captivity in a private mental asylum.
During his detention Malet conceived of and planned Napoleon's overthrow in a daring coup d'état. The plan was simple: on October 23, 1812 during the Emperor's absence on the Russian front, Malet planned to announce the death of Napoleon and to establish a provisional government. Malet decided to proclaim Emperor's death via the use of forged documentation, hoping the plausible declaration would be believable.
The forces involved in the coup were the Gendarmerie forces of Paris (which were dissolved thereafter and formed the 134th Line Infantry Regiment) and the 10th Cohort of the French National Guard.
Malet prepared complex instructions and forged documents for his accomplices. This preliminary work was immense, since it was necessary to give each accomplice an important role, specific instructions, and forged copies of the "senatus consultum" and the proclamations. As soon as a set of instructions was completely prepared, the dispatch was closed, sealed, numbered and entrusted to the custody of a Spanish priest who lived in Saint-Gilles street, close to the barracks of the 10th National Guard Cohort.
On the night of the October 23, Malet escaped his captivity in mental asylum. Dressed in a general's uniform, he presented himself at the La Force prison and, using forged orders, obtained the release of Generals Victor Lahorie and Emmanuel Maximilien-Joseph Guidal, to whom he announced Napoleon's demise on October 7 at the Russian front near Moscow. He then convinced Lahorie and Guidal that immediate action was necessary and showed the forged documents leading them to believe the Senate had already reacted to the death of the Emperor.
In the pre-dawn hours of October 23 Malet and his accomplices went to the barracks of the Gendarmerie. Malet awoke commanders and soldiers announced the Emperor's death and presented his forged documents as evidence. According to the "orders" in the forged documents, Malet had the troops take up their weapons and dispatched detachments of the 10th Cohort in columns to various locations to make arrests.
A detachment of the 10th Cohort, led by Lahorie, went to the residence of the Duke of Rovigo, Minister of the Police. The Duke was taken by surprise and conveyed to La Force prison, while another detachment arrested the prefect of the police force. A third column went to the town hall of Paris and, while the troops took positions in place de Grève, the commanders took the key of the Midsummer's Day alarm bell, called the prefect Frochot and prepared the room for a provisional government.
The death of the Emperor was believed throughout Paris, and Malet settled into the offices of the district general of the Place Vendôme, which offered the facilities necessary to play his part of commander.
When General Pierre-Augustin Hulin, commander of the Paris Garrison (see our web #33795), requested verification of the senatorial documents, Malet shot him in the jaw and injured him. Finally, Malet's actions were ended when a senior military police officer, Colonel Jean Doucet, recognized that the new general of the Senate in fact was the mentally disturbed prisoner Malet. Doucet disarmed Malet, returned him to prison, and ordered the 10th Cohort back to its barracks.
With the exception of two men, 23 civilians and officers, including Malet, Guidal and Lahorie, were tried on October 29, 1812 before a council of war and executed on the plain of Grenelle on October 31 (see our image nr.7).
Condition: good; in original golden locket inlaid with three pearls on golden chain (total weight - 13.5 gramm; length of chain - 46 centimeters).
Creation Year: 1799/1803
Measurements:UNFRAMED:3,2x2,1cm/1,3x0,8in FRAMED: 4,1x2,3cm/1,6x0,9in
Object Type:Framed miniature
Style: Portrait Miniatures
Technique: locket and chain are made of gold; miniature: watercolor on ivory (octagonal)
Creator: French School
Creator Dates: -
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