National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Madame Le Fèvre de Caumartin as Hebe Jean-Marc Nattier (artist)
French, 1685 - 1766
Madame Le Fèvre de Caumartin as Hebe, 1753
oil on canvas
overall: 102.5 x 81.5 cm (40 3/8 x 32 1/16 in.) framed: 126.4 x 106.7 x 13 cm (49 3/4 x 42 x 5 1/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1946.7.13
Not on View
From the Tour: 18th-Century France — Chardin and Portraiture
Object 9 of 11

Nattier entered the Academy as a history painter, but after financial losses in a shaky market scheme he turned to a more profitable career as a portraitist. Before long he was the most fashionable painter in Paris. His daughter wrote that he had "reconciled the two major branches of art" for he specialized in historical portraits, casting his sitters in mythological or literary roles.

Madame de Caumartin as Hebe is one of several portraits Nattier painted of women as the ever-young cupbearer of the gods. Hebe's father, Zeus, appears in the guise of an eagle, and the pitcher, which holds the nectar of eternal youth, echoes the shape of ancient vessels then being recovered from Pompeii. Like a mythological figure, Madame de Caumartin is timeless and faultless, her perfection mirrored by the glasslike smoothness of Nattier's painting technique. Casanova marveled over Nattier's indefinable ability to make even plain women beautiful without sacrificing truth. A younger contemporary, on the other hand, ridiculed Nattier's mythological portraits as absurd and artificial.

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