Kimbell Art Museum Exhibition Catalog
June 5 - August 8, 1982

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Catalog Number 27

Art Page xx
Oil on canvas
1091/2 x 751/2 inches (278 x 192 cm.)
Collection Bronson Trevor (At the time of this showing)
Aquired by the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1986

The present portrait is a replica of a painting in the Musee National de Versailles (inv. no. 2097), a work signed and dated 1788 which was retained by the artist until she sold it in 1818 to Louis XVIII. It differs from that painting only in minor respects. In the Versailles picture, the Queen wears a four strand necklace of pearls, and the baroque pearl eardrops are larger than they appear here, while the bouffant hair and satin toque are less voluminous.

The sumptuous and baroque Marie Antoinette "en robe de velours bleu" is the most regal of Vigee Le Brun's many portraits of the sitter. It, and the painting from which it derives - the somewhat larger and dynastic Marie Antoinette and Her Children (fig. 30) - established Mme Le Brun as the equal of the most renowned court
Figure 30
Marie Antoinette and children
Art Page 5
portraitists of the century, and the two paintings mark the crowning achievements of her career. Cast in the role of Sovereign, Marie Antoinette is here a more effective figure of authority than in the family portrait. That work possesses an emotional content which compels the spectator to seek out natural bonds of affection uniting the children to the mother, while the Queen's haughty bearing contradicts this essential message (see Baillio, May 1981). In the large repertory of portraits of Marie Antoinette-painted, engraved, or sculpted - she had invariably come across as a woman of high fashion. In the present effigy, the pose and setting are majestic, and our attention automatically focuses on the emblems of the monarchy: the royal blue of the dress and toque, the crown atop a velvet cushion stitched with golden fleur-de-lys, the Bourbon/Hapsburg arms impressed on the cover of the book the Queen holds in her lap and embroidered onto the heavy red velvet carpet covering the table. Vigee Le Brun has succeeded in capturing the imperious air she had seen Marie Antoinette assume at the palace of Fontainebleau in November of 1786: "On the last journey to Fontainebleau, where according to custom the court had to appear in all its finery, I went there to enjoy this spectacle. I saw the Queen resplendently attired .... Her head, raised on her beautiful Grecian neck, gave her as she walked an air so imposing, so majestic, that you thought you were seeing a goddess in the midst of her nymphs. During the first posing session I was granted by Her Majesty after the return from this voyage, I permitted myself to comment on the impression I had received and to tell the Queen how the elevation of her head added to the nobility of her appearance. She answered me facetiously: If I were not a Queen, one would say I looked insolent, wouldn't one?" (Souvenirs, 1, 70).

This composition was conceived in response to solicitations for portraits of the Queen following the exhibition at the Salon of 1787 of Marie Antoinette and Her Children. To cite a specific instance, in the summer of 1788, the Marquis de Sombreuil, Governor of the Invalides, asked the King's Minister of Fine Arts, the Comte d'Angiviller, for a recent portrait of the Queen. His request was denied on the grounds that "there still exists only one portrait, that located in the Grand Apartments which is more a history painting of Her Majesty with the Princes and Princesses, her children, than a portrait of Her Majesty" (copy of original letter, Paris, Archives Nationales, Maison du Roi, 01 1920, cahier 2, p. 163, fol. 206). When the artist traveled to Italy in 1789, she left behind in her studio a number of portraits of Marie Antoinette, including Versailles 2097. In a postscript to a letter dated from Rome on March 16, 1790, addressed to her friends the architect Brongniart and the landscape painter Hubert Robert, she refers to the same M. de Sombreuil: "J'oubliois de vous dire de me rappeler au souvenir de Mr de Sombreuil: il doit avoir eut une des copie retouche car avant mon depart il y en avoit trois au quells j avois travaiIIe..." (I forgot to tell you to give my regards to M. de Sombreuil: he must have gotten one of the touched up copies, for before my departure there were three I had worked on.) (Original letter, Paris, Bibliotheque d'Art et d'Archeologie, Papiers Tripier Le FrancNigee Le Brun, Carton 52, Dossier 11, Liasse 1). This text sheds valuable light on the production of replicas in Vigee Le Brun's studio. The paintings alluded to were certainly portraits of Marie Antoinette, but already in 1790, it would have been dangerously compromising to mention the despised Queen by name or even by title in one's private correspondence.

Jules Michelet, who had no sympathy for and little understanding of Marie Antoinette, gave a particularly harsh analysis of the Versailles version of the portrait in his history of the French Revolution: "From that time onward, [Marie Antoinette] tried to ward off public hatred with a firm and scornful attitude ... a pathetic attempt which did not improve her looks. In the formal portrait left to us of her in 1788 by her painter, Madame le Brun - who loved her and who must have adorned her with all her affection - one already feels something repulsive, disdainful, hardened." J. Michelet, Histoire de la Revolution franeaise, Editions de la P16iade, Paris, 1952, I, 91).

The pose, costume, and setting have clear precedents in jean Marc Nattier's Portrait of Madame Adelaide de France wearing a blue velvet dress trimmed with fur and holding a musical score (1758) and the same artist's Portrait Of Queen Marie Leczynska reading the Bible (1748). Examples of each were in the French royal collection, thus available for Mme Le Brun to consult.

Related to the composition are an autograph drawing at Versailles (inv. no. 7807), and a half-length studio copy in the collection of the Marquis de Moustier, Chdteau de Bournel, France. A pastel copy of the Versailles picture is in the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida. Engravings of the composition, in bust- or half-length, were executed by C. Macret (1789), Le Vachez and Pierre Michel Alix, Schincker, la veuve Bonnefoix, and Laurens.

Versailles 2097 also inspired Vigee Le Brun to produce a number of bust-length portraits of Marie Antoinette. Two outstanding examples are the painting executed in Russia in 1800 and given by the artist to Marie Antoinette's daughter, the Duchesse d'Angouleme (illus. in Baillio, May 1981, p. 58, fig. 9) and another portrait executed somewhat later, now in the collection of the Princesse Sixte de Bourbon de Parme, Paris (illus. in A. Castelot, Marie Antoinette, Hachette, Paris, 1967, p. 155).

PROVENANCE: Charles Philippe, Comte d'Artois (1757-1836); to his son, the Duc de Berry (1778-1820); given by the latter to a member of his house guard, the Comte de Ginestous, Montpellier; bequeathed to his son-in-law, the Marquis de Saporta, Aix-en-Provence; with Duveen Galleries, London, by 1906; Eugene Kraemer collection, Paris (his sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, May 5-6, 1913,lot 49); with E. M. Hodgkins, Paris; Samuel G. Archibald collection (his sale, New York, Parke-Bernet, March 30, 1951, lot 250); acquired by Mrs. John B. Trevor, New York; by inheritance to her son, Bronson Trevor (offered by him for sale, London, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, July 8, 1981, lot 114, and bought in).

EXHIBITIONS: London, Duveen Galleries, Masterpieces of French Painters of the Eighteenth Century, 1906, no. 1; Berlin, Konigliche Akademie der Kunste, Exposition d' oeuvres de l'art frangais au XVIlIe siecle, January 26-March 6, 1910, no. 74, illus.

REFERENCES: Nolhac, 1908, p. 71; Helm, [1915], p. 210; Blum, 1919, p. 105; Baillio, May 1981, p. 91, note 30.

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