Portrait of Jeanne Quinault by Eugène Louis Pirodon
Hi doll, come on in. We’re raising a glass in remembrance of a great dame who was born on this day back in 1699. Her name was Jeanne Quinault and she was a heckuva scribe and actress who advised Voltaire and Pierre-Claude Nivelle de la Chaussée on writing some of their hit plays. She also hosted a marvelous creative salon in Paris. She was something, darlin’. Let me tell you more about her.
Born into a famous French acting family, Jeanne made her acting debut at the age of eighteen at the Comédie-Française, the only state theater in France to have its own troupe of actors. In December of 1718, shortly after her first bow, she was formally accepted into the company, becoming the sixth member of the Quinault family to be admitted.
Our coy Jeanne become known as quite the saucy soubrette. She befriended many of the most dashing playwrights of the day. Voltaire, who often wrote to Jeanne for advice, sang our gal’s praises to his friend Françoise de Graffigny in a letter saying that she “was constantly imagining subjects for comedies and tragedies and offered them to authors, urging them to work on them.”
Anne Claude de Caylus
In the 1730s, Jeanne became friendly with a gentleman by the name of Anne Claude de Tubières-Grimoard de Pestels de Lévis, comte de Caylus, marquis d’Esternay, baron de Bransac. Yes, gals, that really was his name, but whaddya say we call him Caylus for the sake of ease. Anyway, Caylus, a man of letters, and Jeanne soon became co-hosts of a laid back salon called the Bout-du-Banc, which translated means “end of the bench.” Always held on Mondays, the fare was simple but good and they entertained themselves by singing, acting in skits, reading works in progress and collaborating on anthologies of facéties, parodies of popular genres. Sounds like they had a grand ol’ time!
Salon regulars included the poet Moncrif, the novelist Claude Crébillon, the novelist and historian Charles Pinot Duclos, and the financier philosopher Claude Adrien Helvétius. Even philosopher rock star, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, attended a dinner once on rue Sainte Anne.
While our darling Jeanne hobnobbed with all kinds of dashing men, and even did some successful matchmaking, Jeanne herself never married. She did, however, become the guardian of her eldest brother’s orphaned children after his death in 1745. In 1758, she moved from her Paris apartment to the more rural Saint-Germain-en-Laye where she lived quietly and corresponded with friends until her failing health led her to return to the city in 1778. This chic and independent trailblazer died in Paris on January 18, 1788 at the ripe old age of 89. Here’s to our gal, Jeanne Quinault, for a life well – and artfully – lived.