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

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Catalog Number 4

Art Page 30
Oil on canvas, oval: 23 5/8 x 21 1/16 inches
(60.0 x 53.5 cm.)
Signed and dated lower left:
M de Vigee Le Brun / 1776
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Ralph W. Showalter

Until recently the portrait was thought to represent the Marquis de La Fayette; however, its description in the artist's Souvenirs leaves no doubt as to the sitter's true identification: "I was not yet married when the Prince of Nassau, who was then in his youth, was introduced to me by the Abbe Giroux. He asked me for his portrait which I did full-length, of very small dimensions and in oil" (Souvenirs, I, 252). This is the only full-length portrait of a man in the artist's known oeuvre. Some confusion arises from the fact that a standing portrait of the Prince (identical with the present portrait?) was included, probably by mistake, in the artist's list of 1789.

Charlotte de Mailly was the divorced wife of a member of the Catholic branch of the House of Orange, Emmanuel of Nassau-Siegen. Maximilien, her son by another man, was given the princely title in 1756. His son, Otto Nicholas of Nassau-Siegen (1745-1808), was bom in France on his grandmother's estates. As a young man he. took part in the Seven Years War. Between 1766 and 1769 ; he accompanied the explorer Bougainville on his voyage around the world. When the Prince returned, Paris buzzed with the news of his encounter with the Queen of Tahiti, who reportedly offered him her crown (whence the significance in the painting of the word "Otaiti" on the map he designates with his left hand). Cold by nature but of quixotic temperament, Nassau became known for his dangerous exploits. He was a formidable swordsman and duelist and was reputed to have fought wild beasts in Africa with his bare hands. During the siege of Gibraltar in 1782, his foolhardiness nearly cost him his life.

Having squandered his inheritance, he married a wealthy Polish noblewoman Princess Sanguszko, nee Charlotte Gorzska. On a trip to Poland to settle his wife's affairs, he received the title of Magnate. Soon thereafter as a mercenary he entered the service of Catherine the Great of Russia, and he accompanied the Czarina on her triumphal progress through the Crimea. He was appointed commander of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, and his four victories over the Turks won him a vice-admiralty and the Order of St. George. During the Imperial Russo-Swedish conflict, he commanded the fleet in the Baltic, and in August of 1789 he defeated his adversaries at Ruotsinsal. Catherine awarded him the Star of St. Andrew and later a full admiralty. Finally defeated bv the Swedes, he retired to Coblentz where he recklessly spent his wife's fortune in the company of French emigres. The King of Prussia sent him as a diplomatic agent to Poland in 1793, but his mission came to nought when Warsaw fell. After residing for a time in Venice, to the great chagrin of Catherine, he retired from service. On his return to Russia in 1795, the Empress received him coldly. He spent the remainder of his life at his Podolian estate of Tynna, near Nemirovo.

The palatial setting with marble column and swages of heavy drapery, as well as the Prince's standing pose and self-assured gesture - all outward signs of high position - were conventional devices of eighteenth-century court portraiture. Painters such as Jean Baptiste Van Loo (in his portraits of Louis XV) and Louis Tocque (in his portraits of the Dauphin and of Frederick V of Denmark) utilized the formula to great effect. The items displayed on the desk - the globe and open book - were stock accessories intended to denote the sitter's interests and, as we have seen, events of his past life.

PROVENANCE:Collection of Count Ivan N. Podgoursky, New York; acquired in 1951 by Mrs. Ralph W. Showalter, Indianapolis; given by her in 1964 to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

REFERENCES: Souvenirs, I, 252, 323, 337; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Catalogue of European Paintings, Indianapolis, 1970, p. 146, illus. (as portrait of the Marquis de La Fayette); Baillio, 1980, pp. 157, 158-159, 167, notes 1-7, illus. p. 157, fig. 1; A. F. Janson and A. 1. Fraser, Handbook of European and American Paintings to 1945: Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1970, n.p., illus.

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