Alexandra Caruel by Géricault

Alexandrine Caruel, Baroness de Saint Martin

Too be honest, I'm not sure this is a picture of Alexandra Caruel. It is a portrait painted by Géricault in 1812, when Alexandra would have been 27 and Géricault 20. It looks like another picture that historians also think might have been her. Alexandra married a man twenty-seven years older than herself. She was sixteen at the time and her mother had just died. Her father had been killed in the Napleonic wars. Her grandfather saw to her marriage. It was one of those in which the title of baroness was offered up in lieu of a dowry.

I've found very little written about her. She was probably a horse woman and probably well-educated. She bore her husband two sons. Jean-Baptiste Caruel was a banker who made his fortune during the war. He was shrewd and complex and very pleased to become a baron. I imagine she did well enough until young Géricault came to live with them. It would have been less complex if he had not been her nephew, the son of Jean-Baptiste's sister.

It appears their affair unfolded in two stages. When the first blush of love was discovered, Géricault was sent away, first to the military, where he lasted only a few months, and then to Italy, where he stayed a year. Upon his return, the affair began anew and Alexandra became pregnant. The child was issued a birth certificate that said its parentage was unknown. He was secreted away at birth.

Alexandra was incarcerated by her husband. The Napoleonic Code allowed husband's to do so in cases of adultery. The whole affair appears to have been successfully hushed up. Alexandra simply disappeared from the social scene. She lived as a recluse in La Chesnay, not far from Versailles for the rest of her life.

I don't think she ever fully forgave herself. She delved deeply into the spiritual side of life in order to emotinally survive. It's not clear if she ever met her son.

Alexandra on horseback, Géricault

Painted by Géricault