François-Hubert Drouais dated his life-size informal family portrait 1 April 1756, thereby revealing a hidden meaning. In the medieval calendar New Year's Day coincided with the vernal equinox of 25 March, and 1 April, which marked the beginning of Spring, was celebrated with festivities and gift-giving. After the Gregorian calendar of 1582 proclaimed 1 January as New Year's Day, the tradition of exchanging springtime gifts on 1 April continued and is still celebrated today, albeit in a rather distilled form as April Fool's Day. The springtime exchange of gifts is elaborately displayed in Drouais' work: the little girl presents flowers to her mother, the husband reads a letter or sonnet to his wife, and the wife, while arranging flowers in her daughter's hair, also points to their child as a symbolic gift to her husband.
Drouais does not provide enough specific information for us to identify his sitters, but he does give an intimate view into the boudoir. Neither husband nor wife are fully dressed; she wears a smock to prevent powder from spoiling her dress, and he wears a silken housecoat embroidered with fashionable oriental motifs. Like his master Boucher, Drouais relishes in the display of contrasting tones and sumptuous colors.
lower right on box lid: Fs.Drouais.ce 1 avril. 1756
Marks and Labels
(Wertheimer, London); purchased 1889 by Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, 1st baron Masham [1815-1906], Swinton Park, near Bedale, Yorkshire; by inheritance to his son, Samuel Cunliffe Cunliffe-Lister, 2nd baron Masham [1857-1917], Swinton Park; by inheritance to his brother, John Cunliffe Cunliffe-Lister, 3rd baron Masham [1867-1924], Swinton Park; by inheritance to his cousin, Lady Lloyd-Greame [née Mary Constance Boynton, later Viscountess Swinton, d. 1974], Swinton Park; purchased November 1936 by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased 1942 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1946 to NGA.
- Exhibition of a Selection of Works by French and English Painters of the Eighteenth Century, Art Gallery of the Corporation of London, 1902, no. 18.
- Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Old Masters, Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, 1925, no. 9 as, A Family Group.
- Masterpieces from the Collections of Yorkshire and Durham, City Art Gallery, Leeds, 1936, no. 29.
- Chefs d'oeuvre de L'art français, Palais National Des Arts, Paris, 1937, no. 152, as Portrait de Famille.
- Masterpieces of Art. European & American Paintings 1500-1900, New York World's Fair, 1940, no. 197, repro. as A Family Group of the Louis XV Period.
- Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 769.
- A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Seattle Art Museum; Calif. Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1994-1995, no. 53.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 112, color repro.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. The Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1944: 78, repro. no. 80
- "Kress Makes Important Donation of French Painting to the Nation." Art Digest. vol. 18, no. 19 (1 August 1944): 5
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 165, repro.
- King, Marian. Portfolio Number 3. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: no. 7, color repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): 39, 50, fig. 18, pl. 128
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. French Paintings of the 16th-18th Centuries in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Four in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 36, color repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 360, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 317, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 43.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:318, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 37, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 110, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 322-323, fig. 285, as Family Portrait (April Fool's Day 1756).
- Sutton, Denys. "Robert Langton Douglas. Part IV." Apollo 110 (July 1979): 49 .
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 326, no. 433, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 135, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 171, repro.
- Donzel, Catherine. Le Livre des Fleurs, France, 1997, p. 85, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 251, no. 202, color repro.
- Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 27, 136-142, color repro.
- Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly. "Dressing to Impress: The Morning Toilette and the Fabrication of Femininity." In Bremer-David, Charissa, ed., Paris: Life and Luxury in the Eighteenth Century. Exh. cat., J. Paul, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2011: 58-59, color repro.