Portrait of Louis XVI

Louis XVI, King of France from 1774 to 1792, was an important American ally during the American Revolution. His full-length oil portrait by the painter Antoine Callet was engraved by Charles Clement Balvay, known as Bervic, in 1790. This print has been described as the best reproductive engraving of its time, and Bervic was credited with making an admirable image from a rather ordinary painting. Jean-Baptiste Ternant, the first French ambassador to the new United States, gave a copy of this engraving to George Washington in 1791. It descended in the Washington family, and eventually came back to the collection now at Mount Vernon.
The Museum's copy of this engraving has a more complicated history. During the upheaval of the French Revolution in the early 1790s, portraits of the deposed king were not only unpopular, they were something of a liability. Bervic cut his engraved copper plate in half, perhaps intending to use the reverse for two smaller, and presumably safer, prints. After the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1815, however, he rejoined the two halves and issued a second edition of the late king's portrait. The line across the center of the plate is not as easy to see as the impressions in the margins of the nails that held the divided plate securely on a support for printing.
Bervic (1756–1822) was a talented and influential engraver who was elected to the French Royal Academy and the Institut de France, as well as to many other European art academies. He worked only with the burin, an engraver's tool, to cut the lines of the image into the surface of the copper plate. The Museum owns another of his important engravings, the Education of Achilles (1798) after Jean-Baptiste Regnault, a print which remained popular with collectors well into the 19th century.
Currently not on view
Date made
ca 1815
Louis XVI King of France
original artist
Callet, Antoine
Bervic, Charles-Clement
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
overall: 70 cm x 54.5 cm; 27 9/16 in x 21 7/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
European History
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Graphic Arts
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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