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

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The Memoirs of Countess Golovina: 1766 - 1821

Catalog Number 46

Art Page 11
Oil on canvas
325/8 x 261/8 inches (83 x 66.5 cm)
The Trustees of the Barber Institute
of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

Varvara Nikolaevna Galitzin (1766-1821) was the daughter of Lieutenant General Prince Nicholas Feodorovitch Galitzin (1728-1780) and his wife, n6e Prascovia Ivanovna Chouvaloff (1734-1802). She spent the first fourteen years of her life on her father's estate of Petrovska, near Moscow. After his death, she and her mother went to live in Saint Petersburg in a house on the Nevsky Prospect next to that of her uncle, Ivan Ivanovitch Chouvaloff (see cat. no. 42). She was named maid-of-honor at the Imperial court in 1783. In spite of her mother's opposition, she married the handsome and profligate Count Nicholas Nikolaevitch Golovin, the scion of a family of wealthy Moscovite boyars. She was the most intimate friend of Elisabeth Alexievna of Baden, wife of Grand-Duke Alexander, the future Czar, and her husband was marshal of the latter's household. Insidious rumours besmirching the Countess's character eventually ruined her reputation. When Paul I acceded to the throne, she had to leave Saint Petersburg.

Under the influence of the Jesuits and a French emigree, the Princesse de Tarente, Countess Golovin converted to Roman Catholicism. For a time she lived in Paris in the society of the old French aristocracy, but returned to Russia when Napoleon seized power. She was able to renew her friendship with Elisabeth Alexievna, by then Empress, at whose behest she was to write her memoirs (cited below). She went back to Paris when the Bourbons were restored, and died there on September 21, 1821. Her two daughters were married to Polish noblemen: Elisabeth to Count Leon Potocki, and Prascovia to Count Maximilian Fredro. The portrait of the young Prascovia holding a dove (private collection, Paris; last recorded in Ryszkiewicz, 1979, p. 26, illus. p. 23, fig. 5) has always been misattributed to Vigee Le Brun. An illegitimate daughter of Count Golovin, bom in Montpellier to his French mistress, married Auguste Louis Jean Baptiste Riviere, the Hessian ambassador to Saint Petersburg. The same Riviere accompanied Vigee Le Brun on her trip from Italy to Austria and Russia and copied many of her paintings.

"Countess Golovin," wrote Mme Le Brun in her Souvenirs, "was a charming woman, whose wit and talents were enough to keep us amused, for she received few visitors. She drew very well and composed delightful love songs that she sang while accompanying herself on the piano. Moreover she was on the lookout for all the latest European literature with which she was familiar as soon as it was known in Paris" (Souvenirs, II, 323). Countess Golovina's memoirs were published in Paris in 1910.

This is one of the most original works dating from Vigee Le Brun's Russian period. The Countess is almost entirely enveloped in the red cloak embroidered with a neoclassical design of palmettes and Ivres. (The cloak must have been a studio prop, for it appears in other portraits, such as cat. nos. 38, 44, and 49.) The ray of light falling at an angle from left to right cuts the background diagonally into dark and light sections and reinforces the drama of the pose.

This portrait may date from the artist's stay in Moscow, after the sitter had been banished from the Romanoff court. A small sketchbook (private collection, Paris) containing, among other things, the artist's account and a statement of her financial situation at the end of her Russian sojourn, bears the following annotation: "ji ai gagne [A Moscoul ... / Golovin 1000 [roubles]" (There I earned ... Golovin 1000 roubles)." This may well be a reference to the payment of the Barber Institute portrait.

PROVENANCE: Countess Golovin; to her daughter, Countess Leon Potocka (1801-1867); to her daughter, Leonie Wanda, Countess Casimir Lanckoronska, later Countess Vitzthum (1821-1893), Vienna; to her son, Count Karol Lanckoronski (1848-1933), Vienna; Lanckoronski collection, until 1978; Heim Gallery, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., and Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London; acquired in January 1980, by the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

REFERENCES: Souvenirs, 11, 346; Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovitch Romanoff, L'Impiratrice ElisabethAlexievna, 1'epouse de 1'empereur Alexandre Ier, Saint Petersburg, 1908-1909, 1, illus. facing p. 208; Nolhac, 1908, illus. facing p. 154;Countess V. N. Golovin, Souvenirs,Paris, 1910, pp. vii, xxvii; P. Spencer- Longhurst, "A Vigee-Le Brun for the Barber Institute," Burlington Magazine, CXXXIII, No. 945, December 1981, p.745, illus. p. 741, fig. 38.

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