1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/D’Orsay, Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count
D’ORSAY, ALFRED GUILLAUME GABRIEL, Count (1801–1852), the famous dandy and wit, was born in Paris on the 4th of September 1801, and was the son of General D’Orsay, from whom he inherited an exceptionally handsome person. Through his mother he was grandson by a morganatic marriage of the king of Württemberg. In his youth he entered the French army, and served as a garde du corps of Louis XVIII. In 1822, while stationed at Valence on the Rhone, he formed an acquaintance with the earl and countess of Blessington (q.v.) which quickly ripened into intimacy, and at the invitation of the earl he accompanied the party on their tour through Italy. In the spring of 1823 he met Lord Byron at Genoa, and the published correspondence of the poet at this period contains numerous references to the count’s gifts and accomplishments, and to his peculiar relationship to the Blessington family. A diary which D’Orsay had kept during a visit to London in 1821–1822 was submitted to Byron’s inspection, and was much praised by him for the knowledge of men and manners and the keen faculty of observation it displayed. On the 1st of December 1827 Count D’Orsay married Lady Harriet Gardiner, a girl of fifteen, the daughter of Lord Blessington by his previous wife. The union, if it rendered his connection with the Blessington family less ostensibly equivocal than before, was in other respects an unhappy one, and a separation took place almost immediately. After the death of Lord Blessington, which occurred in 1829, the widowed countess returned to England, accompanied by Count D’Orsay, and her home, first at Seamore Place, then at Gore House, soon became a resort of the fashionable literary and artistic society of London, which found an equal attraction in host and in hostess. The count’s charming manner, brilliant wit, and artistic faculty were accompanied by benevolent moral qualities, which endeared him to all his associates. His skill as a painter and sculptor was shown in numerous portraits and statuettes representing his friends, which were marked by great vigour and truthfulness, if wanting in the finish that can only be reached by persistent discipline. Count D’Orsay had been from his youth a zealous Bonapartist, and one of the most frequent guests at Gore House was Prince Louis Napoleon. In 1849 he went bankrupt, and the establishment at Gore House being broken up, he went to Paris with Lady Blessington, who died a few weeks after their arrival. He endeavoured to provide for himself by painting portraits. He was deep in the counsels of the prince president, but the relation between them was less cordial after the coup d’état, of which the count had by anticipation expressed his strong disapproval. His appointment to the post of director of fine arts was announced only a few days before his death, which occurred on the 4th of August 1852.
Much information as to the life and character of Count D’Orsay is to be found in Richard Madden’s Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington (1855).