June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas
oval: 251/2 x 211/2 inches, (64.8 x 54.5 cm.)
Museo de Arte de Ponce
(The Luis A. Ferre Foundation)
This painting and versions thereof have been variously treated as portraits of the Comtesse de Chastenois, the Comtesse de Chatenay, the Marquise de Fontenoy de Chatenay (daughter of the Baron d'Holbach), and Mine Lalive de La Briche. This last identification is definitely erroneous, since Vigee Le Brun's portrait of Mine de La Briche, painted in 1788, is still in the possession of the sitter's descendants. The subject of the present portrait may be identified with Catherine Louise d'Herbouville, born at Rouen, the wife of Erard Louis Guil Comte de Chastenay de Lanty (1748-1830). By him she had two children, a daughter,Louise Marie Victorine (1771-1815), a writer and the author of two volumes of memoirs published posthumously in 1896, and a son, Henri Louis (born 1772), the last to bear the title of Comte de Chastenay.
There are two "dames de Chatenay" listed in Vigee Le Brun's catalogue, the first in 1782 ("1 Madame de Chatenay"), the other in 1787 ("1 Madame de Chatenay la mere"). If the Ponce portrait dates from 1785 (it was exhibited in that year) but was paid for only in 1787, this would account for its appearance in the lists two years after its execution. Such incongruities are frequent in Mme Le Brun's catalogue. In referring to the sitter as Mine de Chatenay "la mere," Mine Le Brun may have meant to distinguish her from her more famous daughter, Victorine.
The pose is that of the famous so-called portrait of Beatrice Cenci, formerly attributed to Guido Reni, in the Galleria Nazionale Antica, Naples. An almost contemporary and perhaps more germane source is Greuze's seductive jeune femme de dos in the Musee de Montpellier (fig. 13). The subject of a woman
The young Rene de Chateaubriand, arriving in Paris in 1786 from his native Brittany, made his first erotic encounter with a mysterious Mine de Chastenay, whom it is tempting to identify with the sitter of this beguiling portrait. (It is significant in the social context of the painting that in 1788 Mme Le Brun painted the portrait of one of Chateaubriand's first mistresses, the Comtesse de Beaumont; that work is now in a private collection, Paris). In his Memoires d'outre-tombe, the famous author vividly evokes the memory of this aristocratic Mine de Chastenay:
I saw a lovely woman who, though no longer in the prime of her youth, was still capable of inspiring devotion. She received me well, tried to make me feel comfortable, questioned me about mv province and my regiment. I was clumsy and ill at ease .... I returned to her house the following day. I found her in bed in an elegantly appointed chamber. She told me she was a bit out of sorts, and that she had the unfortunate habit of rising late. For the first time I found myself on the edge of the bed of a woman who was neither my mother nor my sister. The day before, she had noticed my timidity which she vanquished so well that I dared speak with a sort of abandonment. I have forgotten what I said to her, but I can almost see her astonished look. She held out a half-naked arm and the most beautiful hand in the world, telling me with a smile: We shall tame you. I did not even kiss that beautiful hand;I withdrew, all flustered. The next day I left for Cambrai. Who was this Chastenay lady? I know not. She passed through my life like a graceful shadow. (Rene de Chateaubriand, Memoires d'outre-tombe, Editions de La P16iade, Paris, 1951, I, pp. 116-117).
When shown at the Salon of 1785, the portrait was listed in the handbook as that of the Comtesse de Chastenois and described as somewhat smaller than the Ponce painting ("1 pied 9 pouces sur I pied et demi"). This discrepancy can be explained by the fact that dimensions given in eighteenth- centurv Salon catalogues were often inaccurate. Critics were unanimous in their praise. One reviewer remarked that Mme Le Brun had succeeded in endowing the Comtesse with "a fine delicate, truthful, witty expression" (Reflexions impartiales..., cited below). The author of the Memoires secrets stressed the coyness of the sitter's glance ("celle-Ia agace"). Minos au Salon interpreted the portrait as "innocence and naivete itself." Finally the impromptu dialogue on the paintings exhibited at the Louvre in 1785, included this bit of doggerel:
L'autre sourit a I'air dont Caternois
PROVENANCE: With the dealer Feral, Paris; Henry Rheinhardt, Chicago; Mrs. H. N. Torrey, Detroit; Mrs. Nell Ford Torrey, Grosse Pointe, Michigan; private collection, Westchester, New York, until 1959 (sale, New York, Parke-Bernet, October 21, 1959, lot 27); Fundacion Luis A. Ferre, Ponce, Puerto Rico.
EXHIBITIONS: Paris, Salon, 1785, no. 92; Paris, Lyceum-France, Exposition retrospective feminine, February 20-March 15, 1908, no. 53; Toledo, Museum of Art, Inaugural Exhibition, January 17-February 12, 1912, no. 181, illus.; Detroit, Institute of Arts, A Loan Exhibition of French Paintings of the XVIIlth Century, December 2-20, 1926, no. 38.
SELECTED REFERENCES: Criticism of Salon of 1785, anthologized in Collection Deloynes (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes), XIV: No. 331, (I'Abbe Soulavie], Reflexions impartiales sur les progres de I'art en France et sur les tableaux exposes au Louvre..., Paris, 1785, p. 31; Impromptu sur le Sallon des tableaux exposes au Louvre en 1785, dialogue en vers, 1785, p. 9; No.345, Minos au Sallon, Paris, 1785, p. 22. Other Salon criticism: Memoires secrets, XXX, 1785, p. 161; Fr6d6ric Melchior, Baron Grimm, et al., Correspondance litteraire..., 1785 (published, Paris, 1880-1881, XV, p. 22); Souvenirs, 1, 361; P de Nolhac, 1908, pp. 55, 151, 163; Museo de Arte de Ponce, Paintings of the European and American Schools (catalogue by J. S. Held), Ponce, 1965, pp. 186-187, illus. pl. 107 (with bibliography and exhibition history).
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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