September 09, 2013
“The Settlement of Saint Louis” or “The Founding of Saint Louis” by Fernand LeQuesne, exact date unknown.
This large scale painting known as both “The Settlement of Saint Louis” and “The Founding of Saint Louis” depicts the founding of the city of St. Louis by Pierre Laclede in 1764. It is a fascinating example of the romanticization of the European settlement of the west, with Laclede hailed by angels as he brings civilization to a group of American Indians. The painting is grand in scale, approximately nine feet long and seven and a half feet tall. Affixed to the ornate gold plaster frame is a plaque that reads: “F. Le Quesne, In 1764 a Frenchman, named Pierre Laclede, built his hut on the banks of the Mississippi around which many tents were soon pitched. Encouraged by the Duke of Choiseul , minister of Foreign Affairs of France, Laclede gave the new settlement the name of Saint Louis, in honor of King Louis XV. This settlement is today the great city of Saint Louis.”
This painting’s history is long and it came to be in St. Louis by a rather circuitous route. The artist, Fernand LeQuesne (1856-1932) was a noted French painter, born in Paris. He studied under Henri Gervex and Albert Maignan , and exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais, where he won several medals. The exact date of the painting is not known; however, the painting won a silver medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle so it predates 1900. (In an interesting coincidence, the Finnish Pavilion at this event was designed by the firm of Gesellius, Lindgren, and Saarinen-this Saarinen being the father of the designer of the Gateway Arch.) In 1904 the painting was exhibited here at the St. Louis World’s Fair as part of the French art exhibit in what is now the St. Louis Art Museum.
This topic of the beginning of a city must have interested LeQuesne as a painter. Another of his known works is “Louis XIV delivering to Chevalier de Cadillac the Ordinance and Grant for the Foundation of the City of Detroit.”
Louis XIV delivering to Chevalier de Cadillac the Ordinance and Grant for the Foundation of the City of Detroit, Courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society
Henry Clay Frick, the famous industrialist and art collector, bought the painting for $1,500 in April of 1906 at the M. Knoedler & Company art dealership in New York. M. Knoedler & Company’s records show the Paris branch of the same firm acquired the painting, but have no further information about how it came to the firm.
After Frick’s death, his daughter Helen Clay Frick inherited the painting. For some time it hung at the Union Savings Bank in the Frick Building in Pittsburgh. When the bank merged with another and left their offices, she donated the painting to the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce. It was unveiled at the Sixth Annual Century of Commerce dinner in the Gold Room at the Jefferson Hotel on Oct. 28, 1951. Within the year it was loaned to the Park Service to display in the Old Courthouse. In 1961 the loan was converted to a gift.