June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas: 52 x 393/8 inches, (132 x 100 cm.)
Inscribed lower left: Comte de Vaudreuil grd Fauconnier de France / chevalier des ordres des ordres du roi / lieu t / general et pair de France / ne 1740 mort 1817. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mrs. A. D. Williams, 1949
Joseph Hyacinthe Francois de Paule de Rigaud, Comte de Vaudreuil (1740-1817) was born at Saint Domingue in the French Antilles. His father was commander-in-chief of the Isles-sous-le-vent, and his mother, nee Guiot de la Mirande, came from a family of wealthy Creole landholders in the Caribbean. His most famous ancestor was his grandfather, the Marquis Philippe de Vaudreuil, a Governor of Canada. At the age of nineteen, Vaudreuil entered the army, and during the Seven Years War, served as a staff officer under the Prince de Soubise. When peace was declared, he devoted his energies to the pursuit of the epicurean delights he found at court and in fashionable Parisian society. Income from his far-off plantations provided him with the wherewithal to live on the grandest of scales. He acquired impressive collections of art, furniture, and curiosities, arranging them in his Paris house and at his Chateau de Gennevilliers. His mistress was a distant cousin, Yolande de Polastron, Comtesse, later Duchesse de Polignac (fig. 9). As the
Politics interested Vaudreuil only to the extent that it allowed him to place his friends in high governmental posts. Three royal ministers - Calonne (Finance), Segur (War), and Castries (Navy) -were all beholden to him in this connection. The expenses of this spoiled child of the ancien regime far surpassed his enormous personal revenues, and he frequently had recourse to the royal treasury to pay off his creditors.
He was reputed to be the finest amateur actor in France, and on the stage of Trianon on August 19, 1785, he created the role of Count Almaviva in Beaumarchais's Marriage of Figaro. Of the writers he patronized, most were liberals who, after the Revolution, took aim at the old order from which they had previously benefited: Chamfort, Ginguene, Ecouchard Le Brun ("Le Brun-Pindare"), Beaumarchais, and even Mme Le Brun's brother, Etienne Vigee, belonged to this group.
When Calonne fell from grace, Vaudreuil's credit dried up. The Queen turned resolutely against him. On the brink of financial ruin, he was obliged to sell off his collections. In 1787 he traveled to England and Rome but was back in Paris by the end of the following year. Along with Comte d'Artois and the hated Polignacs, he left Paris precipitously during the night of July 16-17, 1789, thus giving the signal for the emigration to commence and weakening whatever chance the monarchy had to defend itself from within. During twenty-five years of exile, Vaudreuil vainly worked to organize a counter-Revolution and reestablish the regime he had so unwittingly helped to undermine. When Mme de Polignac died in Vienna in 1793, he shed many a crocodile tear, and two years later in England, he married his twenty-year-old cousin, Marie Josephine Hyacinthe Victoire de Vaudreuil (1774-1851). Two sons were born to them, Charles Philippe Louis Joseph Alfred (1796-1880) and Victor Louis Alfred (1798-1834). He returned to Paris after the collapse of the First Empire and Louis XVIII appointed him to the Chambre des Pairs and to the Institut. He was also given the rank of Lieutenant General in the army and made Governor of the Tuileries. In his apartments in the royal palace, he received guests as he had in his halcyon days. He died at the age of seventv-seven.
Vaudreuil must be regarded as Vigee Le Brun's most important private patron during the decade of the 1780s. A number of her works hung in his Paris townhouse on the rue de la Chaise: the artist's Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (1782, fig. 7); a pastel representing a woman seen from behind; a history painting, Venus Binding the Wings of Cupid (Salon of 1783); the Bacchante, now in the Musee Camondo, Paris (Salon of 1785, fig. 17); as well as several drawings. He also owned by Mme Le Brun portraits of himself, of the Duchesse de Polignac and of her daughter, the Duchesse de Guiche.
Vigee Le Brun's name was closely associated with that of Vaudreuil. In newspapers and private, correspondences of the period, it was hinted that the two were lovers. In 1786, the Baronne de Stael reported to Gustavus III of Sweden that Vaudreuil and Mme Le Brun would one day be carving their names into the trees of Moulin joli, a property which was supposedly acquired for her by the Minister Calonne. The poet Ecouchard Le Brun, who knew them intimately, linked them in his poem entitled: "L'Enchanteur et la Fee".
Heaven, as an ultimate blessing
At court, Vaudreuil saw to her interests as well as those of her family. Her brother owed his position as Secretary to the King's sister-in-law to Vaudreuil's protection. Her husband furnished him with works of art and organized his sales. Vigee Le Brun made many a visit to Gennevilliers, and Vaudreuil often accompanied her to homes of the wealthy and the famous. A visitor to Paris like the American artist Trumbull saw them together repeatedly. It was in large part thanks to Vaudreuil that Mme Le Brun's salon became fashionable, and she improvised in his honor her famous souper grec, one of the outstanding social events of the reign of Louis XVI. In truth, what Vigee Le Brun admired in the handsome aristocrat was "I'homme sensible" and "I'homme exalts," the patron of the arts, the composer of light verse, the courtier, and the monarchist. She devoted page after sentimental page of her memoirs to his praise (Souvenirs, 1, 97-103, 145, 204, 210-215, 291,332; 11, 201; III, 204), and this fact alone betrays a certain infatuation. Whether or not their relationship remained entirely platonic is a matter of speculation.
Vaudreuil was the eighteenth-century courtier par excellence, and thus he appears in this portrait. He wears formal attire - high-collared coat and vest both heavily embroidered with gold braid, black satin knee-breeches, and white hose -and his chest is decorated with the insignia of the orders of chivalry of which he was a knight: the blue moire ribbon and silver badge of the Saint-Esprit and, attached to a red silk rosette, the gold and enamel cross of the military order of Saint Louis. His neck is swathed in a linen scarf, and the costume is complemented by a jabot and cuffs of fine lace. Tucked under his arm is a black tricorn, the edges of its brim trimmed with white plumes. In his left hand he holds a ceremonial sword sheathed in an ivory scabbard. His hair is powdered white and is gathered in the back by a black cadogan. The artist seems to have caught him in the act of recounting some bit of witty gossip. His knees are casually crossed, and his right hand poised as if he were making some point or other. The pose is frontal, the gaze direct.
As Pierre de Nolhac has pointed out, this is not one of Vigee Le Brun's finest efforts. This portrait fails both in formal and psychological terms. The pose is awkward, the draftmanship weak, and the technique far below the artist's usual standards. Next to the masterful Calonne (fig. 10), painted the same year, or the splendid Bailli de Crussol (fig. 28), to cite only portraits of courtiers- Vaudreuil cuts a poor figure. Mme Le Brun may not have been detached enough from the sitter to capture his personality on canvas, but then again perhaps she did capture what personality there was, for Vaudreuil also comes across as effete, insipid, and characterless in the full-length portrait of him painted in 1758 by Franqois Hubert Drouais (National Gallery, London). The old Comtesse de Boigne, in her typically incisive style, depicted him as callous and superficial:
I saw a great deal of the Comte de Vaudreuil in London without ever discovering the distinction accorded him by his contemporaries. He had been the Coryphaeus of that school of exaggeration which reigned before the Revolution, passionate about all things small and oblivious to the great. With the help of the money he drew from the royal coffers, he became the Maecenas of some tiny Virgils [allusion to Ecouchard Le Brun-Pindare and Etienne Vigee] who extolled him in their couplets. At Mme Le Brun's, he would swoon before a painting and he protected artists. He lived on familiar terms with them, saving his grand airs for the salon of Mme de Polignac and his ingratitude for the Queen [Marie Antoinette], about whom I have heard him speak with the utmost impropriety. During the emigration, having grown old, the only things remaining to him were his many pretensions and the shame of seeing his wife's lovers helping to maintain his household with presents she was supposed to be winning at the lottery. (Comtesse de Boigne, Recits d'une tante, Paris, 1908, pp. 144-145).
In her catalogue, Vigee Le Brun mentions having painted in 1784 anoriginal (the present painting) and five repetitions of Vaudreuil's portrait, as well as two bust-lengths executed during the Restoration. For an account of known versions, see exhibition catalogue, French Painting 1774-1830, 1975, cited below.
PROVENANCE: Collection of the sitter; to his son Victor Louis Alfred de Vaudreuil; to his daughter Marguerite,Comtesse Gedeon de Clermont- Tonnerre; her sale, Paris, Hotel Drouot, December 10-13, 1900, lot I (bought by Gardner); Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams; given in 1949 by Mrs. A. D. Williams to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
EXHIBITIONS: Paris, Palais Bourbon, Exposition au profit de la colonisation de I'Algerie par les Alsaciens-Lorrains, 1874, no. 295; Paris, Grand Palais, De David a Delacroix, November 16, 1974-February 3, 1975, no. 197, illus. (exhibition traveled in 1975 to Detroit and New York as French Painting 1774-1830; the entry in the American translation of the catalogue is more complete).
SELECTED REFERENCES: Souvenirs, I, 332; L. Pingaud, La Correspondance intime du Comte de Vaudreuil et du Comte d'Artois pendant Emigration, Paris, 1889, pp. 351-352, illus. (frontispiece); Nolhac, 1908, pp. 44, 49, 144, illus. facing p. 48; Heim, , p. ?23; Blum, 1919, p. 35; Catalogue of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1966, no. 61, illus.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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