Madame Vigée Le Brun was part of the world she painted and, like her aristocratic patrons, was under threat of the guillotine after the revolution. She was forced to flee Paris in disguise in 1789. She had been first painter to Queen Marie–Antoinette and her personal confidant. The queen had intervened to ensure her election to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, an honor accorded few women.
More than two–thirds of Vigée Le Brun's surviving paintings are portraits. Most, like this one, are of women and children who are idealized —flattered—into a kind of family resemblance. These unrelated young women, for example, could easily be mistaken for sisters. Their garments, airy silks and iridescent taffetas, are almost more individual than their faces, although both women were friends of the artist. The picture was hailed as a tribute to friendship and maternal love when it was shown at the Salon of 1787.
One of the sitters, Victurnienne Delphine Nathalie, marquise de Rougé [1759-1828, née Rochechouart Mortemart], Paris, Château de la Bellière, Château de Beaune-la-Rolande, and Château de Moreuil; by inheritance to her son, comte Adrien Gabriel Victurnien de Rougé [1782-1838], Château de Guyencourt, Cuyencourt-sur-Noye (Somme); by inheritance to his son, comte Armel-Jean-Victurnien de Rougé [1813-1898]; by inheritance to his son, Armel-Marie-Fernand de Rougé [b. 1847], Paris and Château de Saint-Symphorien-des-Monts (Manche), until at least 1914; by inheritance to his son, comte Jean de Rougé [1880-1960], Château de Saint-Symphorien; presumably to his nephew, Charles-Edouard de Cassagnes de Beaufort de Miramon-Pesteils [b. 1930]; purchased 1960 by (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York); purchased 24 June 1964 by the Bay Foundation, New York; gift 1964 to NGA.
- Salon of 1787, Paris, no. 98.
- Style, Truth and the Portrait, The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1963, no. 67, repro.
- Accessions and Proposals, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, no. 10.
- The Eye of Thomas Jefferson, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1976, no. 261, repro.
- Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 1755-1842, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1982, no. 24, repro., as The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé With Her Sons.
- Female Creators: Women Artists from the Century of Madame Vigée Le Brun, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, 2011, no. 64, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 137
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:326, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 124, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 366, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 341, no. 463, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 425, repro.
- Mitchell, Jerrine E. "Picturing Sisters: 1790 Portraits by J.L. David." Eighteenth-Century Studies 31, no. 2 (Winter 1997-1998): 194, fig. 14.
- Kirsh, Andrea, and Levenson, Rustin S. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies, vol. 1. New Haven, 2000: 8, under fig. 2.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 261, no. 213, color repro.
- 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. 67, 74 (not in the exhibition).
- 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. 93, 436-442, color repro.
- Aldecoa, Christiane de. "Élisabeth Louis Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842) de l’Académie Royale de Paris, de Rouen, De Saint-Luc, de Rome et d’Arcadie, de Parme et de Bologne, de Saint-Pétersbourg, de Berlin, de Genève et Avignon Autoportrait, ou une vie pour la peinture." Les Cahiers d'Histoire de l'Art no. 12 (2014) : 52, 54, color fig. 4.