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

[Next][Previous][Kimbell Catalog Index][Vigee Le Brun's Home Page]

Catalog Number 25

Art Page 15
Oil on panel
28 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches (73 x 60.3 cm)
Collection Michel David-Weill

This is surely one of the most sensitive child portraits of the eighteenth century. It is as fresh in its appeal as a Renoir. Mme Le Brun's stated purpose was to represent her daughter in profile and full-face. She took some license with the laws of perspective, because from the beholder's vantage point, the child's full face could not logically be seen reflected in a mirror held by her at that precise angle. The composition may have been patterned on that of The Philosopher Holding a Mirror attributed to Jusepe de Ribera (fig. 25). There is,
Figure 25
Jusepe de Ribera
Philosopher Holding a Mirror
Location unknown
however, no documentary proof that Vigee Le Brun ever encountered any of the several recorded examples of that picture (see N. Spinosa and A. E. Perez Sanchez, L'Opera completa del Ribera, Milan, 1978, nos. 234-238), but one could very well have found its way into her husband's ever-changing stock of pictures.

Of the two extant versions, both autograph and listed in the artist's own catalogue, the present painting is technically the superior. It displays a number of pemtimenti, and, like many of Vigee Le Brun's finest works in oil of the 1780s, it is painted on panel. The repetition on canvas (illus. in Helm, [19151, facing p. 60) is now in a private collection, Paris. In recent years it was sold at auction, curiously attributed to Etienne Jeaurat (Paris, Palais Galliera, Dessins et tableaux anciens ... , April 6, 1976, lot 43). The second version was exhibited at the Salon of 1787 (no. 107) and was reproduced that very year in a small oval etching by the Comte de Paroy (illus. in C. Pillet, 1890, p. 9).

Collage by
Joseph Cornell
Private Collection, New York
In the earlv 1960's, Joseph Cornell used a reproduction of the portrait shown here as the basis for a collage now in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Donald B. Straus, New York (see exhibition catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Joseph Cornell, 1980, no. XXXII, illus.).

Vigee Le Brun had but one child, a daughter born in Paris on February 12, 1780. Her first names were Jeanne Julie Louise - Jeanne like her maternal grandmother, Louise like her mother - but she was called Julie, and sometimes more affectionately Brunette. As seen here at the age of seven, she was a beautiful child with brown hair and large expressive blue eyes. Probably the best-known paintings of Vigee Le Brun are the two maternites, in which she depicted herself embracing Julie (figs. 24 and 26). The artist doted on her daughter and made her the subject of numerous paintings. Julie grew up watching her talented and socially prominent mother reaping success after success, and it must have been difficult for her to measure up to such a model. She was ultimately to cause Mme Le Brun no end of grief.

When she was nine, Julie and her governess, Mme Charost, accompanied the artist on her flight from France. The three traveled together throughout Italy and into Austria, Germany, and Russia. The education of her daughter was of prime concern to Vigee Le Brun; Julie eventually became an accomplished musician, writer, and linguist and, to her mother's great delight, a talented artist (see Souvenirs, III, 39-41).

Figure 26
Self Portrait with Julie
The Louvre, Paris
Art Page 1
In Russia occurred the drama which alienated mother from daughter. Mme Le Brun and her husband hoped Julie would marry the young neoclassical painter Guerin. The girl, who was strong-headed, fell in love with Gaetan-Bernard Nigris, the secretary to the Director of the Imperial Theaters in Saint Peterburg. In 1800, against her mother's wishes, she married Nigris. Heart-broken and totally demoralized, Mme Le Brun went to Moscow where she spent the winter. She finally left her daughter in Russia in 1801. Julie's marriage was short-lived. She returned to Paris in early 1804 accompanied by Nigris. Four years later, the couple separated permanently, and he returned to Saint Petersburg. When she began to consort with a group of people of whom her mother did not approve, the gulf dividing the two women widened. Her father died in 1813, leaving Julie, along with his townhouse in the rue du Gros-Chenet, all of his debts and mortgages. On December 8, 1819, she herself died, probably of pneumonia, in an apartment in the rue de Sevres. In the inventory of Julie Nigris's estate, it was recognized that she was
Figure 27
Julie Le Brun with Bible
Private Collection, New York
Art Page 15
practically penniless; she had pawned her sheets and even her petticoats, Years later, Vigee Le Brun would admit that her quarrels with her daughter were the bitterest memories of her long life.

Other portraits of Julie Le Brun by her mother, excluding the two in the Louvre "matemites," are: a pastel head, inscribed and dated 1782, formerly in the collection of Mme Weill, Paris; an oval pastel shown at the Salon of 1783, no. 120, unlocated; Julie Le Brun Reading the Bible, Salon of 1787 (fig. 27); "Ma fille en oval [sic]," 1789 (perhaps identifiable with pastel shown at Salon of 1783 and with oval pastel in the Tripier Le Franc sale, Paris, 1883, lot 61); in neoclassical costume, 1792, Pinacoteca, Bologna; wearing a wreath of roses, 1792, Galleria Nazionale, Parma; as a bather, 1792, formerly Youssoupoff collection, unlocated; holding a scroll of music, 1793, formerly with Newhouse Galleriesi New York, present whereabouts undetermined; playing a guitar, ca. 1797, versions in the Fondation in Memoriam Comtesse Tatiana Zuboff, Geneva and in the Kdmbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; as Flora (cat. no. 50). She also appears in the artist's history painting Amphion and Three Naiads, private collection, France.

PROVENANCE: David David-Weill, Neuilly-sur-Seine; Wildenstein, New York; acquired in 1938 by Mrs. Jessie Woolworth Donahue; by inheritance to Mrs. Barbara Hutton; Wildenstein, 1978; acquired by the present owner in 1978.

EXHIBITIONS: New York, Wildenstein, Paintings from the David-Weill Collection, November IO- December 11, 1937, no. 52; Washington, D.C., Museum of Modern Art, Portraits of Children, February 22-March 20, 1938, no. 17.

SELECTED REFERENCES: Souvenirs, 1, 334; L. Nochlin, "why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?," Art News, January 1971, fllus. p. 34 (color); Baillio, 1980, pp. 162, 168, note 25, illus. p. 162, fig. 11.

[Next][Previous][Kimbell Catalog Index][Vigee Le Brun's Home Page]

Reproduced with the permission of the
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

Web Site Designed and Maintained by
Bat Guano Web Works ®
Tucson , Arizona