June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas
48 x 36 inches (122 x 91.5 cm.)
Signed and dated lower right: L E Vigee Le Brun / a Paris 1806
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.
In her lifetime Angelica Catalani (1779-1849) was Italy's foremost soprano. Born in the town of Senigallia, she was the daughter of a dealer in precious stones and his wife, Antonia Summi. Her father, himself a primo basso, arranged for her to be educated at the Convent of Santa Lucia at Gubbio, a school for the daughters of the nobility, where she received her first musical training. After returning to her native city, she was sent to Florence to study with the singer Luigi Marchesi. When she made her operatic debut in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice, she was barely sixteen. She then embarked on a triumphal tour of the great opera houses of Italy. She held prima donna roles in operas by such composers as Cimarosa, Piccini, and Paisiello (see cat. no. 33). Catalani was an instinctive singer, renowned for the incredible flexibility, clarity, strength, and range of her voice. Though endowed with a prodigious memory, she read music with difficulty and as an actress was somewhat given to histrionics, which perhaps explains why she was more at ease in concert than on the stage.
In 1801 Catalani accepted a lengthy engagement at Lisbon. There she became enamoured of Paul Valabregue, a young officer attached to the French ambassador to Portugal. Over the objections of her family and friends, their marriage took place in 1804. Angelica's talent and fame were callously manipulated by Valabregue in much the same way as Vigee Le Brun's reputation was exploited by her husband before the Revolution. In Paris between May and September of 1806, she sang in concerts and recitals. Vigee Le Brun's portrait of her dates from this period. Writing in 1835 or 1836, she recalled:
Mme Catalani ... was then the toast of Paris. This great singer was young and beautiful. Her voice, one of the most astounding that one could hear, combined a prodigious range with a lightness that was nothing short of miraculous .... She was enchanting in the manner of a nightingale. I painted the portrait of this charming woman, wishing to keep it in my house where it is still a pendant to that of Mme Grassini (Souvenirs, III, 222.).
Napoleon promised the singer an income of 100,000 francs if she would remain in France, but her antipathy for the Emperor was such that she eluded his offer and instead contracted to sing in Great Britain. The phenomenal success of her appearances there earned her a sizable fortune. During England's war with France, Catalani's interpretations of "God Save the King" and "Rule Britannia" electrified her audiences at Covent Garden and Drury Lane, arousing great patriotic enthusiasm. In 1812 she sang the role of Susanna in the first London production of Le Nozze di Figaro.
Catalani returned to Paris after Napoleon's abdication but left again during the Hundred Days when she began a tour of Northern Europe. Louis XVIII rewarded her fidelity with a stipend of 160,000. francs and the direction of the TheAtre Italien, an establishment which eventually went bankrupt because of Valabregue's incompetent management. From the travel journal of Princess Kourakin, we learn that at this time Vigee Le Brun continued to frequent the society of Angelica Catalani (Princess Natalie Kourakin, Souvenirs des voyages de la Princess Natalie Kourakine, 1816-1830, Moscow, 1903, pp. 193-212). The singer's last tour of Europe ended in 1832. Her retirement was spent at her villa near Florence where she established a school of music. In 1849 she left Italy to escape an epidemic of cholera, but she died of the disease in Paris.
In the painting, Angelica is shown near a pianoforte. On the music stand are some unidentifiable sheets of music from which she is apparently singing an aria, as well as a bound score, Semiramis. Operas of this title had been composed by Allesandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara, Baldassare Galuppi, and Christoph Willibald Gltick. The likeness, with all its theatricality, is quite accurate and can best be judged by comparison with a portrait of the sitter by Andrea Appiani, a work recently sold in Florence (Sotheby Parke-Bernet, June 3, 1977, lot 173, illus. in catalogue). A handsome copy of the Kimbell portrait, formerly in the Youssoupoff collection, is in the palace museum of Archangelskoye, near Moscow.
ENGRAVING: Jacques Noel Fr6my, for his Croquis de portraits des personages remarquables dans tous les genres, Paris, 1817, II, pl. 14.
PROVENANCE: Collection of the artist, until her death in 1842 (listed in the postmortem inventory of her effects); bequeathed to her niece Caroline Riviere, nee Vigee; acquired by the Prince de Talleyrand-P6rigord; his sale, Paris, Hotel des Ventes Mobili6res, May 9-10, 1847, lot 71; Gustave Miihlbacher, his sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, May 13-15, 1907, lot 58; with Julius Bbhler, Munich, by 1908; Comte Normand, Paris, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Nice; Newhouse Gallery, New York; acquired in 1956 by Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell, Fort Worth, and given by them to the Kimbell Art Museum.
EXHIBITION: Turin, Exposition retrospective de la section frangaise, 1911, no. 471, illus. in catalogue facing p. 58.
SELECTED REFERENCES: Souvenirs, III, 222, 351; Nolhac, 1908, p. 140; Blum, 1919, p. 103; Kimbell Art Museum, Catalogue of the Collection, Fort Worth, 1972, pp. 115-116, illus.; Kimbell Art Museum, Handbook of the Collection, Fort Worth, 1981, p. 98, illus.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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