In a previous post, I looked at how Jane Mary (Thorn) de Pierres (1821 – 1873) was immortalised in paintings and scultpures, but I’d like to dip into her life a bit more, and try and recreate a picture of her personality.
Other than being the third eldest girl of thirteen children, not a lot of information is available about her as a child or young woman. Really, it wasn’t until she married Baron Etienne de Pierres and then subsequently became the Empress Eugenie’s lady in waiting, did history choose to remember her.
Another American who was an integral component of the Empress’s inner circle was the Baroness de Pierres (1821 – 73), whose husband was the equerry in charge of Eugenie’s stables, as well as her afternoon riding partner. The baroness was born Jane Thorne, whose father, Colonel Herman Thorne, was of particular influence during the reign of Louis Phillipe. Jane was a superb horserider and considered the most beautiful face in the Winterhalter portrait of the Empress and her ladies of honour, yet she incongruously and secretly smoked a clay pipe and her American slang delighted the empress.
Her riding ability was clearly noteworthy, as it’s mentioned repeatedly.
Next one may mention the Baroness de Pierres, wife of the Empress’s first Equerry. She was of American birth, her father, Mr. Thorne, having been one of the early millionaires of the United States, one who had dazzled Paris with his wealth during the reign of Louis Philippe. It was through Mme. de Pierres that more than one American lady obtained the entry to the Court of the Tuileries, for it must not be forgotten that beauties and heiresses of the new world were cordially welcomed there very many years before they succeeded in invading the Court of St. James. The Baroness de Pierres was a splendid horsewoman in fact, one of the best riders in France.
The New-York-based Eclectic Magazine dwelt upon her (Jane’s) features in the [Winterhalter] portrait describing her as:
… the most exquisitely beautiful face and portrait of the group. It is a
very young, girlish countenance, of which the artist allows us only to
obtain the side view, but this is quite sufficient to make the young NewYorker the star of this aristocratic company. Jane de Pierres was personally credited with obtaining an entrée to the Court of the Tuileries for her compatriots, which in all probability included the Calhouns…
Other people were less flattering, suggesting she was timid and reticent and not particularly clever.
One amusing story was recounted from Mrs Moulton who introduced corn cobs to Napoleon and Eugenie. Jane had eaten them before, but when they were not received well, she distanced herself from the lady’s embarrassment. (I do recall Mrs Moulton and Colonel Thorn being on the outs at an earlier stage, when he reused to invite her to a party, so maybe there was an undercurrent to the encounter.)
The impression I have from reading every snippet I can find was that court life was quite vacuous. Eugenie was entertained by her American slang and ways, so she held novelty value. After reading some transcripts of court conversations, it’s not hard to imagine that horseriding was often the most exciting thing they did during their day.
Baronne de Pierres, born Miss Thorne, an American. A shy and timid girl upset by the slightest thing, she was nevertheless a superb horsewoman who usually rode by the Empress’s side when she hunted at Compiègne or Fontainebleau and whose transatlantic slang delighted her. In secret the baroness smoked a clay pipe, an odd habit for one of Winterhalter’s beauties.
I do get the impression she loved living at their home, Les Bretignolles, where Etienne kept a formidale stable of horses. (It’s been mentioned Etienne lived at Chateau de Fourgeres, but I think that may have been before they were married.)
In an earlier post, I recounted the story of their meeting, and it seems overall to have been a happy and successful marriage. I do wonder how much time they got together when they were both at court. It seems their duties were fairly encompassing and the court moved from place to place during the year. I suppose they were both at least working for Eugenie, which means they would have been together in her company at certain times of the day. For instance, they dined together. Also Etienne was the first equerry looking after the Queen’s horses, and Jane always rode with Eugenie.
I haven’t ascertained anything about her relationship with her children, other than finding the portrait of her and Jeanne-Marie by George Healy.
There is no mention of the cause of Jane’s death at the age of 52 (Etienne outlived her by three years, dying in 1876), but I imagine that smoking a clay pipe may have contributed to her ill health.
Jane and Etienne’s cildren were:
- Stéphane Henri DE PIERRES, Vicomte DE PIERRES 1843-1906 (my great grandfather)
- Hermann Fortuné M DE PIERRES 1845-1893
- Jeanne M DE PIERRES 1848-1911
Here’s the charming recap of her meeting with Etienne:
A somewhat analogous adventure once happened to the Baron de Pierres, who has since become the first squire of Empress Eugenie and who, at that time, owned a racing stable. He had a ‘horse called Pantalon who, engaged in one of the main awards, had attracted attention of Colonel Thorn’s charming daughter, whose brilliant individuality then occupied a great place in the Parisian world and on whom you can con read several pages of Alphonse Karr’s Wasps. Mrs. Thorn expressed to her father her strong desire to have this horse at whatever cost. The colonel, in consequence, immediately entered into talks with the Baron de Pierres. The latter, while being very courteous, first declined the proposal, then at the colonel’s insistence, finally told him – Well ! I tell you that this horse will never belong to anyone but the Baroness de Pierres! …The exclamation was taken at face value and the negotiations continued onto another land brought Pantalon in the stables of the pretty American, who became this once baroness.
One last little piece of trivia… over the years the ladies from the famous Winterhalter painting have been emulated and more recently cosplayed. According to the New York Times, Jane was portrayed by Betsy Bloomingdale at a ball in Paris in 1974: