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Overview

Politics played an important role in the career of Madame Vigée-Lebrun. A painter to Marie Antoinette since 1779, she was elected to the Royal Academy of Painting by the queen's decree in 1783. Her close ties to the royal family put her life in danger during the Revolution and she fled France in 1789, not to return until 1802. Therefore, it is not surprising that her portraits of society ladies reveal graceful poses, finished surfaces, and sweet, but controlled expressions, that both mask and betray the charged political climate surrounding her sitters.

This young woman's elaborate costume displays three different foreign cultures. Her turban and jacket recall a Turkish harem outfit. The allusions to the exotic Orient signal an escape from the present as well as an Enlightenment acceptance of non-western ideas. Her flowing white gown recalls the costumes of ancient Greece and Rome, meant to inspire republican virtues. The prominent Wedgwood cameo at her sash is English; at this time British imports represented products of another political system, a parliamentary monarchy, that was considered as a potential model for France. In rigorously detailing the costume, Vigée-Lebrun shows how deeply contemporary politics had penetrated daily life. The subject's engaging expression conveys the nascent tensions of the period.

Inscription

upper right: Mde Le Brun / 1789.

Provenance

Presumably the collection of the sitter and her family; possibly (Ferol, Paris), c. 1850.[1] Mrs. Stephen Lyne-Stephens [1813-1894, née Yolande-Marie-Louise Duvernay],[2] Lynford Hall, Norfolk, Upper Grove House, Roehampton, and Paris; (her estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 9-11 and 13-17 May 1895, 3rd day [May 11], no. 360, sold for 2,250 guineas); (Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London); sold 13 May 1895 to J. Pierpont Morgan I [1837-1913], London;[3] consigned July 1943 by the Morgan estate to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold October 1943 to (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York); purchased 3 January 1944 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1946 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1896
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1896, no. 53.
1898
Pictures by Painters of the French School, Corporation of London Art Gallery, 1898, no.80.
1946
Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 788.
Bibliography
1897
Roberts, William. Memorials of Christie's: A Record of Art Sales From 1766 to 1896. 2 vols. London, 1897: 2:250, repro.
1907
Pictures in the Collection of J. Pierpont Morgan, English School. London, privatedly printed, 1907:unpaginated.
1908
Nolhac, Pierre de. Madame Vigée-Le Brun: Peintre de la reine Marie-Antoinette. Paris, 1908:143
1913
Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art VIII, no. 1 (January 1913):12
1915
Helm, W. H. Vigée-Lebrun 1755-1842: Her Life, Works, and Friendships. London, 1915: 203, as Madame de Laborde.
1945
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 166, repro., as Marquise de Laborde
1946
Frankfurter, Alfred M. Supplement to the Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1946: 67, repro. Marquise de Laborde
1948
Wildenstein and Company. French XVIIIth Century Paintings. New York, 1948:4
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 128, color repro.
1956
Einstein, Lewis. "Looking at French Eighteenth Century Pictures in Washington." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 6th ser., vol. 67, no. 1048-1049 (May-June 1956): 244, repro. 248.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 362, repro.
1962
Smith, David Loeffler. "Observations on a Few Celebrated Women Artists." American Artist (January 1962):52, repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 317, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 136.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 124, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 366, repro.
1977
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 361-362, fig. 328.
1980
Baillio, Joseph. "Identification de quelques portraits d'anonymes de Vigée Le Brun au Etats-Unis". Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th per., no 96 (November 1980):158, repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 341, no. 464, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 424, repro.
1988
Ribeiro, Aileen. Fashion in the French Revolution. London, 1988:38-39, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 175, repro.
1997
Mittler, Gene A., and Rosalind Ragans. Understanding Art. New York, 1997: 186, fig. 12-11.
2000
Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts 1. New Haven, 2000: 8, under fig. 2.
2005
The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier. A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein's Presence in New York. Exh. cat. Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York, 2005: 61, fig. 70, 74 (not in the exhibition).
2009
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. 94, 443-449, color repro.