Marguerite Steinheil

Marguerite Steinheil

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Title: Portrait of Madame Steinheil.

Author : BONNAT Léon (1833 - 1922)

Creation date : 1899

Date shown: 1899

Dimensions: Height 96 - Width 76

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage place: Bonnat Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 00-030101 / Inv. 586

Portrait of Madame Steinheil.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: October 2011

Historical context

Scholarly and scandalous woman

At the beginning of 1899, Félix Faure, sixth president of the IIIe République, found himself caught in the turmoil of the "Dreyfus affair" after opposing a review of the captain's trial. On February 16, 1899, he was killed in the arms of Marguerite Steinheil, daughter of the industrialist Édouard Japy and wife of the painter Adolphe Steinheil, his elder twenty years. If, according to the opposition newspapers, the head of state perished in "excess of health" (The Gil Blas), for Press and the nationalist organs, he was assassinated because of his murky attitude in the "Dreyfus affair".

Ten years later, in 1908, Marguerite Steinheil was again involved in two high-profile deaths: her mother and her husband were found dead at her home, impasse Ronsin. Accused of this double murder, "the acquaintance of the President" was tried at the Assizes de la Seine and acquitted in November 1909, to the applause of a crowd captivated by her beauty.

Image Analysis

A psychological portrait

This oil on canvas is signed by Léon Bonnat who, in half a century, produced more than two hundred portraits of the celebrities of his time. In each of them, the artist has sought to translate the lifestyle and character of his model. He painted, for example, Victor Hugo seated at his desk, leaning on a book, and Gambetta standing, his hands in his pockets, ready to address the crowd.

In this painting, Léon Bonnat expresses the complex personality of his model. Dressed in a celestial blue tulle dress contrasting with the brown background, her hair quietly pulled up in a bun and a thin pearl necklace around her neck, Mrs. Steinheil is the elegant young wife of a renowned painter. The attentive gaze and discreet smile remind us that “Meg” has a salon in her house frequented by leading literary and political personalities. But, conversely, the fan and the four large rings betray the demi-mondaine, mistress for two years of President Félix Faure.


From Salon to prison

From the moment she found herself at the center of a court case in 1908, Marguerite Steinheil was portrayed in a very different way: artists now only show her as a widow or a prostitute. On December 13, 1908, in the illustration of Small Journal, "Madame Steinheil in her prison" is dressed in black, her head in her hands, prey to remorse and to visions - painted in speech bubbles - of her murdered husband and mother. On November 7, 1909, she reappears standing and in deep mourning, entering the prisoner's box, for "The Beginnings of a Sensational Trial". On November 23, ten days after the end of the trial, in The laugh, the cartoonist Léandre does not hesitate to give the features of the acquitted to Manet's Olympia.

The daughter of the industrialist Japy was not rehabilitated by the image until 1959, in the series In your soul and conscience. Indeed, the screenwriter, Pierre Dumayet, endorses the theses of Edmond Locard and Armand Lanoux according to which Marguerite's mother would be scared to death at the sight of a lover strangling her son-in-law, who had surprised her. As the murderer was the Grand Duke of Russia, the case was reportedly hushed up by the Prefect of Police Lépine, on the orders of Interior Minister Georges Clemenceau.

  • assassinations
  • portrait
  • Faure (Felix)


Pierre DARMON, Marguerite Steinheil, criminal ingenuous?, Paris, Perrin, 1996. Armand LANOUX, Ms. Steinheil or Acquaintance of the President, Paris, Grasset, 1983.Benjamin MARTIN, “The Steinheil affair 1908-1909”, in Laurels, American Society of the Legion Honor Magazine, New York, 1979. Marguerite STEINHEIL, My Memories, Paris, Edmond Ramlot, 1912.

To cite this article

Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "Marguerite Steinheil"

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