June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas
45 x 341/2 inches (114 x 87.5 cm.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NewYork,
Gift of Jessie Woolworth Donahue, 1954
Marie Charlotte Louise Perrette Aglae de La Chatre (1762-1848) was the eldest daughter of Louis XV's premier valet de chambre, Bontems, and his wife, nee Teyssier, herself the daughter of an associate of the court banker, Samuel Bernard. Her father's sister had married another royal banker, the fabulously wealthy Nicolas Beaujon, whose portrait Vigee Le Brun painted in 1784 (see Baillio, 1982, pp. 20-25). It was Beaujon who bestowed on his niece a dowry so sizable that in 1778 she was able to wed Claude Louis, Comte de la Chitre (1745-1824), a member of the most ancient aristocracy. He was seventeen years her senior and described by contemporaries as coarse and rather doltish. La Chatre played a minor role at Versailles in his capacity as Premier Gentilhomme of Louis XVI's brother, the Comte de Provence.
When the Estates General were convened in 1789, La Chatre sat with the ultra-conservative majority of the nobility. By that time, his wife shared the progressive opinions of her lover Arnail Franqois, Comte (later Marquis) de jaucourt (1745-1852). Through him she was linked to the most liberal wing of the nobility and was especially close to Mme de Stael and Talleyrand. Her husband immigrated to England soon after the fall of the Bastille, and for a while was agent for the Bourbons. He later joined the Army of the Princes at Coblentz. Although she had favored the Revolution and the reforms it spawned, when the Jacobins came to power, Mme de La Chatre fled to England with her son, Alphonse Louis Nicolas, Vicomte de Nancay (1779-1802)- Suzanna Elisabeth Burney Phillips met her then and took note of her "great politeness - she is ab 33 - an elegant figure, not pretty but wth an animated & expressive countenance - very well read - pleine d'esprit & I think very lively & charming." (J. Hemlow, ed., the Journals of Fanny Burney (Madame d'Arblay), Oxford, 1975, 11, p. xvi). Conversely, the French diarist d'Espinchal, who knew her well, condemns her out-of-hand when referring to her:
The Comtesse de La Chatre is tall, pretty, and quite charming. Disposed to being somewhat stout, to the detriment of her health she has managed to lose weight and appear slender. She is amiable but very coquettish and by temperment a bit lax in her morals. At the start of the Revoution, having been for some time intimately involved with Comte Francois de Jaucourt, she immediately manifested the same inclinations as her lover. From that time, Mme de La Chatre's boudoir became the meeting place of all the swells of the democratic party She has been cited as one of the most zealous patriots. She was seen everywhere she could exhibit her civic spirit. She appeared before the Assembly, in the public gardens and promenades, followed by a court of revolutionaries. She made a spectacle of herself on the Champs Elysees with the Princesse de Broglie and others of the same ilk, at the time an altar was being raised to the Fatherland for the Day of the Federation, July 14, 1790. She was pushing a wheelbarrow with her worthy sisters, not at all shocked by the language used around her which decency prevents me from repeating. Finally she is known as one of the most ardent constitutionalists of the capital. goseph Thomas, Comte d'Espinchal, Journal d'emigration, Paris, 1912, p. 279).
The Comtesse eventually divorced La Chatre to marry Jaucourt. From the time of its first exhibition in 1883 until very recently, the portrait has been recorded as that of the Marquise de Jaucourt. The artist did, however, include her name in her list of sitters for 1789, and this fact firmly establishes the date of the painting.
Vigee Le Brun has once again represented her subject holding a book while resting her hands on a velvet cushion, but there in nothing perfunctory or formula-like in the treatment. Not the least attractive feature of the portrait is the costume. Mme de La Chatre wears a day dress of white dotted muslin, a large cambric fichu crossed over her breasts and tucked into the wide band of slate-gray satin ribbon encompassing her waist, knotted at the back and trailing down the side of the skirt. A huge bow of the same ribbon ornaments the crown of her wide-brimmed straw hat. The subdued tonalities of brown, gray, green, and white are offset only by the vivid accent of scarlet in the pages of the book (also observable in the portrait of The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, cat. no. 16). Mme de La Chatre is a rather plain-featured woman, but through a brilliant use of costume and hair style and an impeccable technique, the artist has managed to make her appear almost beautiful. Here is the ultimate expression of Parisian elegance in the months preceding the outbreak of the Revolution. As Ann Sutherland Harris has stated, "the glory of this portrait is its marvelous composition, which consists of long sweeping, descending diagonals and curves that begin with the tilt of her hat and are picked up by a sofa back, her arm, the angle of the pillow on which she rests and the creases of her beautiful white dotted voile skirt." (Exhibition catalogue, Women Artists, 1976-1977, cited below, p. 192).
PROVENANCE: Collection of the sitter; by inheritance to the Marquis de Jaucourt and his descendants; Stillman collection; Knoedler, New York; Mrs. Jessie Woolworth Donahue, by 1942; given in 1954 by Mrs. Donahue to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
EXHIBITIONS: Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Exposition de portraits du siecle, 1883, no. 159; New York, Parke-Bernet Galleries, French and English Art Treasures of the Eighteenth Century, December 1942, no. 65; Tokyo.
National Museum, Treasured National Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 10-December 10, 1972, no. 86, illus. (exhibition traveled to Kyoto, Municipal Museum); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Women Artists, 1550-1950, (cat. entry by A. Sutherland Harris), December 21, 1976-March 13, 1977, no. 59, illus.
SELECTED REFERENCES: Souvenirs, 1, 337; Nolhac, 1908, illus. facing p. 140; Hautecoeur, , illus. p. 65; Blum, 1919, illus., facing p. 14; Vigge-Le Brun (Masters in Art, a Series of Illustrated Monographs), VI, part 63, Boston, n.d., p. 39, illus. pl. VII.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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