June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas: 52 x 37 inches, (132 x 94 cm.)
Signed and dated lower right: L. Le Brun. f 1784
Musee National du ChAteau de Versailles
In the 1750s and 1760s, Francois Hubert Drouais had popularized double portraits of aristrocratic children in landscape settings. (In fact Blot's engraving of the present painting was intended to serve as a pendant to the print of Drouais's Comte d'Artois and His Sister, Madame Clothilde, a painting executed in 1763, now in the Louvre). In this royal effigy, Vigee Le Brun revitalized the formula; nevertheless her debt to her predecessor is appreciable. She took obvious delight in capturing the freshness of youth (see cat. nos. 3, 23 and 25) and must truly have prized her portraits of children because she chose to exhibit so many of them at the Salon. They are characterized by a sense of realism and naturalness totally lacking in Drouais' portraits of little models who by comparison appear waxy and doll-like.
This painting appears twice in the artist's catalogue, the first time as two separate entries in the list of 1783 ("I Monsieur le dauphin" and "I Madame, fille du roi") and the second in 1789 ("l Madame, et Monsieur le dauphin"). In all probability it was the Queen herself who ordered the portrait because it was in her collection when it was engraved in 1786. To paint the royal children constituted in and of itself a privilege and was proof that an artist enjoyed the highest form of royal patronage. According to Nolhac, such a commission was an honor "coveted by all painters that [Mme Le Brun] alone was to obtain."
When the portrait was shown at the Salon of 1785, the Abbe Soulavie compared the work favorably to the much maligned Marie Antoinette and Her Children by the Swedish artist Adolph Ulrich Wertmiiller (see Baillio, March 1981, pp. 40-41, 75). In his commentary, he states that "here Mme Le Brun has used all her knowledge of beautiful physiognomies, at which she excels." According to the author of Minos au Sallon, "the unpretentious frame encloses objects of great ingenuousness which are as precious as they are difficult to render. The two figures are as true-to-life as they are well-staged. Happiness is painted on their faces and in their bearing. Perhaps by a more judicious distribution of light, [the artist] could have avoided compressing the subjects against the background. Mme Le Brun should nonetheless congratulate herself for having so well succeeded in her purpose."
The lives of all four children born to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette ended tragically; only Marie Therese Charlotte (1778-1851) reached adulthood. Born at Versailles, "Madame Royale" as she was known, was raised under the guidance of her mother, her paternal aunt Madame Elisabeth, and a succession of governesses. When violence erupted in 1789, she was not yet eleven. During the next six years, she witnessed terrifying events which scarred her for life. In June of 1791 she accompanied her family in their abortive attempt to escape from France, and she was present in the Tuileries a year later when the palace was invaded. Incarcerated in the Temple, she was separated from her parents and her aunt as one by one they were sent to the guillotine. Her youngest brother, Louis Charles (Louis XVII), died in prison in 1795. That very year she was exchanged for a number of French revolutionaries held by Austria. In May of 1799, she joined her Bourbon relatives at Mittau in Lithuania. Soon thereafter she married her first cousin the Duc d'Angouleme. She led a wandering existence in Russia, Poland, and England until Bonaparte's defeat in 1814. By that time the horror she had endured had transformed her into a cold, bitter, and aloof woman. She tried to organize resistance to Napoleon on his return from Elba, and he is said to have described her as "the only man in [her] family." During the reigns of her uncles Louis XVIII and Charles X, she was Dauphine and held the highest female rank at court. In 1830 Charles X abdicated, and she was forced once again into exile. She took refuge near Edinburgh, then in Prague, and she died at the age of seventy-one at the Castle of Frosdorf in Gorz, the capital of a former Austrian crownland.
In 1784, her younger brother Louis Joseph Xavier Francois (1781-1789) was the heir to the throne. An intelligent, affectionate, but sickly child, he was reared by his governesses until the age of six, and his education was finally entrusted to the Duc d'Harcourt. It was soon thereafter recognized that he suffered from rickets. By the spring of 1788 his health had so deteriorated that his body was becoming visibly deformed. His back was hunched and his legs could no longer support him. The young Dauphin died at the Chateau de Meudon on June 4, 1789.
He and his sister are also represented in Vigee Le Brun's large portrait of Marie Antoinette and Her Children painted for the Bdtiments du Roi between 1786 and 1787 (fig. 30).
ENGRAVING: Maurice Blot, 1786 (announced in Pahin de La Blancherie, Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres et des Arts, No. XII, March 15, 1787, p. 143; see M. Roux, Inventaire du Fonds Francais: graveurs du dix-huitieme siecle, 111, Paris, 1934, pp. 60-61, no. 11); Amedee F61ix Barthelemy Geille, pl. for Les Galeries de Versailles.
PROVENANCE: Roval collection, Versailles; Musee Royal du Louvre by 1818; transferred to Versailles, 1899.
EXHIBITIONS: Paris, Salon, 1785, no. 85 (visible in Martini's engraving of exhibition room); New York, World's Fair, Five Centuries of History Mirrored in Five Centuries of French Art, 1939, no. 229, illus., pl. XLV; Versailles, Marie Antoinette, May-November 1955, no. 209, illus.; Paris, Musee de l'Oran-erie, Le Portrait franqais de Watteau a David, December 1957-March 1958, no. 86, illus.; The Art Institute of Chicago, Treasures of Versailles (exhibition traveled to Toledo Museum of Art, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco), 1962-1963, no. 97; Tokyo, Mitsukoshi, Versailles, symbole royal, 1970, no. 33, illus. (color).
SELECTED REFERENCES: Criticism of Salon of 1785, anthologized in Collection Deloynes (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes), XIV: No. 331-[Abbe Soulavie], Reflexions impartiales sur les progres de I'art en France et sur les tableaux exposes au Louvre, 1785, p. 29; No. 336 - Melanges de dou tes et dominions, p. 16; No. 341 -jugement d'un musicien sur le Salon de peinture, p. 15; No. 345-Minos au Sallon, p. 21; No. 348 - Mercure de France, p. 757; No. 350-journal de Paris, p. 829. Other Salon criticism: Pahin de La Blancherie, Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres et des Arts, No. XLVI, 1785, p. 367. Souvenirs, 1, 332; Nolhac, 1908, pp. 43, 69, illus. facing p. 44 (color); Helm, , p. 193; Hautecoeur, , 31; Blum, 1919, pp. 39, 105, iuus. facing p. 22; Baillio, March 1981, p. 75, note 30, illus. p. 40, fig. 8 (color); C. Constans, Musie National du Chateau de Versailles: catalogue des peintures, Paris, 1980, p. 112, no. 4586.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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