French Master Drawings
From The Pierpont Morgan Library, NY

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Pencil on thin blue writing paper
8 5/16x6 15/16 in. 218 x 175mm)
Signed at lower left, by the artist, pour souvenir de / Le Brun fecit


Provenance: Galerie Cailleux, Paris.

Exhibitions: Paris 1935, no.30;Paris 1937, no 2, repr.; London 1950, no. 87;Paris 1951, no.199;Paris 1953-54, no.190; Fort Worth 1984, no.52, repr.; New York PML 1984, no.89.

Purchased as the gift of the Fellows

Mme Vigee Le Brun, whose immortality was assured by her role as the favorite painter of Marie-Antoinette, portrayed her own face many times. Her most famous likeness, the portrait where she represented herself with her daughter entwined in her arms, was exhibited in the salon of 1789 just before she fled the terrors of the French Revolution. During the years of her exile (1789- 1802) she was often invited to present a self-portrait to the galleries which she visited. She obliged with the portrait of 1790 for the Uffizi at Florence, one in the early 1790s for the Academy of St. Luke at Rome, and one of 1800 for the Royal Academy at St. Petersburg.

The Library's portrait, executed in pencil on blue notepaper, was undoubt- edly taken on the spot. As to when and for whom the artist made this souvenir of her friendship, therc is no clue. Her circumspcct inscription is a basis only for tantalizing speculation.

The simplicity of Mme Le Brun's costume is in accord with a statement in her memoirs, published in 1835 when she was eighty: "I have always lived very modestly. I spent very little on clothes. In this respect, I was even accused of being too careless, for I always wore white dresses of muslin or linen and never had any ornamental dresses made except for my sittings at Versailles. My head-gear never cost me anything. I did my own hairdressing and generally twisted a muslin fichu about my head" This somewhat individual attitude toward fashion makes it difficult to date the drawing by the simple dress with a fichu filling the low, rounded neckline and the high waist, which are of the 1790S. The becoming high bonnet, on the other hand, conforms to the trend offashion after the turn of the century; yet there is nothing in this self-portrait to suggest the age of forty-five, which she reached in 1800. At most we can say that it was probably during her extended travels in Italy, Austria, and Russia that the painter made this charming likeness. Whatever the occasion, it was one that evoked her best efforts in a crisply penciled self-delineation that foreshadows the great exploiter of the pencil portrait, Ingres.

From the Catalog FRENCH MASTER DRAWINGS From the Pierpont Morgan Library Cara Dufour Denison 1993

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