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
(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, stock no, 29845); purchased 1942 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1946 to NGA.
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- Masterpieces from the Collections of Yorkshire and Durham, City Art Gallery, Leeds, 1936, no. 29.
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- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 326, no. 433, color repro.
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- 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.
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- 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.