Authentic Portrait of the Very Famous Mister Quinquenpoix


This caricature portrait of “Messire Quinquenpoix” and the accompanying text satirize John Law, the Scottish-born financier responsible for the issuing of France’s first paper money. Law convinced the regent, Philippe d’Orléans, that he could liquidate the French government’s debt by a system of credit based on paper money. In 1716 Law established the Banque générale, which had the authority to issue notes. The following year he founded the Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West), the capital for which was raised by the sale of 500-livre shares, payable only in government notes. The first shares were called “mothers,” then, aided by the initial success, came the “daughters” and the “granddaughters.” Using advertisements and public relations, in which he presented the Mississippi as a land of plenty, Law generated extraordinary enthusiasm for his scheme. In 1719, the Company of the West acquired several other overseas companies (including the Senegal, East Indies, and China companies) to form the Compagnie des Indes (Company of the Indies). The issuing of excessive quantities of bank notes weakened confidence, however, and Law’s system collapsed. Law was ruined and fled to Brussels in December 1720. The moniker of “M. Quinquenpoix” is a reference to the street in Paris with a similar name, where the Company of the Indies had its offices. In the portrait, he holds a bag of air and his coronation is by a jester holding a crown of cardoons and peacock feathers. A shield on the left shows Icarus, whose fall to his death was caused by pride. The cauldron under the portrait is melting down coins and satyrs are throwing shares into the fire. The inscriptions in Dutch and Latin include: “Quinquenpoix sprinkler of joy” and “either Caesar or nothing.” The caricature dates from 1721, and thus was highly topical at the time it was issued.

Last updated: November 4, 2015