An adored actress

In 1860, La Champmeslé became one of the main shareholders of the recently founded Comédie Française (the Comédie Française owns a portrait of Marie Desmares which is very similar to the one in the museum), and entered the pantheon of its distinguished members. Marie Desmares, known as La Champmeslé, died on 15th May 1698 in Auteuil, probably of cancer, after devoting her life to the theatre.

Whether in roles written by Molière, Lully, or the Corneille brothers (to name but a few of the authors with whom she worked), all the critics of the time were unanimous in their appreciation of the talent of this actress.

The poet Boileau immortalised her in the following lines:

Jamais Iphigénie en Aulide immolée,
Ne coûta tant de pleurs à la Grèce assemblée
Que, dans l’heureux spectacle à mes yeux étalés,
En a fait sous son nom verser la Champmeslé

Several letters by Mme de Sévigné bear witness to the public’s support:

I liked Racine’s play - we were there; my daughter-in-law [La Champmeslé, with whom Mme de Sévigné’s son had fallen in love] was the most unbelievably good actress I have ever seen: she is a hundred thousand times better than Desoeillets; as for me, considered good enough for the theatre, I am not worthy of lighting the candles when she appears. She is ugly up close, and I am not surprised that my son’s breath was taken away in her presence; but when she speaks in verse, she is adorable. [Racine’s play] Bajazet is lovely. An extract from Letter No. 83 - Mme de Sévigné to Mme de Grignan, Paris, Friday 15th January 1672.

Talking of the theatre - there’s Bajazet ; if I could send you La Champmeslé, you would find the play good; but without her it loses half its value.An extract from Letter No. 92 - Mme de Sévigné to Mme de Grignan, Paris, 9th March 1672.