June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas: 403/8 x 521/8 inches (102.5 x 132.5 cm.)
Signed and dated lower center: Ml' Le Brun. f 1780
Musee du Louvre, Paris
By the late 1770s, Vigee Le Brun's goal was to be admitted to the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, not as a portraitist, but as a painter of history, then ranked uppermost in the hierarchy of genres. With this ambition in mind, she produced five history paintings in less than three years. In 1779 she executed in pastel an allegory of Innocence and Justice (Musee d'Angers). In 1780 she painted the similarly contrived Peace Bringing Back Abundance, the work exhibited here, and thereafter in close succession she treated three Boucher-like subjects: Venus Binding the Wings of Cupid (pastel, bought by the Comte de Vaudreuil), Juno Borrowing the Girdle of Venus (acquired for the tremendous sum of 15,000 francs by the King's brother, the Comte d'Artois), and Love Testing an Arrow in the Presence of Venus. Three of these compositions were engraved.
For an ambitious artist, election to the Acad6mie constituted the royal road to success. Without belonging to that august body, an artist could not enjoy the privilege of exhibiting in the biennial Salon (thus an artist's works had little chance of being seen and publicized), and patronage was severely restricted. There were already women Academicians, but their numbers were limited, and they were almost all practitioners of the so-called inferior genres of portraiture and still-life. The Director of the Academie, Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre, stubbornly opposed Mme Le Brun's candidacy on the grounds that her husband was a picture dealer and that the bylaws of the Acad6mie forbade its members any contact with the art trade. A direct order from the King was required for this rule to be overlooked. Marie Antoinette (see cat. no. 19) applied pressure on behalf of her painter. Louis XVI acquiesced, and on May 31, 1783 Mme Le Brun was granted full membership. The usual formalities were dispensed with, and the minutes of the session record that by making this exception the Acad6mie was only "executing with profound respect the orders of its Sovereign."
The category in which she was admitted was not stipulated. Her chief rival, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, was received on the same occasion as a 11 peintre de portraits," and as her reception piece she submitted a pastel portrait of the sculptor Pajou. The astute Vigee Le Brun offered Peace Bringing Back Abundance. In August of that year, as part of the artist's sizable contribution to the Salon, the painting elicited much favorable criticism. It had been executed two years previously while France was heavily involved in the American War of Independence, and the historical relevancy of the painting was underscored when the treaty ending the war was signed in 1783. The Memoires secrets, cited below, described the figure of Peace as "noble, decent, modest like the peace that France has just concluded."
The symbolism is conventional and for the most part accords with the dictates of Cesare Ripa's Iconologia. The dark-haired beauty, clothed in lavender, is crowned with a laurel wreath and holds in her right hand an olive branch, two emblems of Peace. She embraces the more voluptuous and fragile figure personifying Abundance who, by contrast, is blonde and dressed in light-colored garments. [It has been occasionally noted that the models who posed for the two figures were not the daughters of the Swedish miniature painter, P. A. Hall, as an old tradition would have it.] Her attributes are the flowers adorning her hair, ears of wheat, and a golden cornucopia from which issues a profusion of luscious fruits. Her fertility is emphasized by an exposed breast. In typical Baroque fashion, the figures are prepresented as if they are floating through the air in a formidable display of fluttering drapery.
The problem of iconography is acute here. Her own contemporaries suspected Vigee Le Brun of having plagiarized, but she was bravely defended in the press: "Several critics, to diminish the artist's reputation, say that Madame Le Brun, having greater access than most to the finest models [allusion to her husband's profession], had done nothing more than copy. Thev claim to discern in her painting the influence of Guido, Cortona, Santerre, etc.; but this merely proves that she has copied none of them. If she has sought to imitate them, nothing is more legitimate; this is even one of the tenets of Art. Let us allow that this work does great honor to Madame Le Brun, & that a larger composition, painted like these two figures, would scarcely take second place to that which is most beautiful (Loterie pittoresque ..., cited below).
After the Salon of 1783, the painting was installed in the exhibition hall of the Academie at the Louvre. John Trumbull saw it there on his visit to Paris in August of 1786 and noted in his journal: "Among [the morceaux de reception], Madame Le Br-un's Peace and Plenty holds a conspicuous rank; the coloring is very brilliant and pleasing." (T. Sizer, ed., The Autobiography of Colonel John Trumbull, Patriot-Artist, New Haven, Conn., 1953, p. 102). The Academie was dissolved in 1793, at which time some of the reception pieces were dispersed. Peace Bringing Back Abundance was sent to decorate the Ministry of the Interior. When her years of traveling came to an end, Vigee Le Brun was rankled to learn that she could never join the Institut de France, a body infinitely more misogynistic in its membership policies than had been the old Academie, because all women were excluded. For this reason, she deplored the fact that she could not reclaim her painting. "It should have been returned to me," she complained, "since I am no longer of the Academie" (Souvenirs, I, 85).
A drawing of Peace Bringing Back Abundance (by Pierre Viel?), along with the Viel engraving, was included in J. B. P. Le Brun's postmortem inventory of 1813 as "un autre dessin et sa gravure, composition de Mde Le Brun representant la paix qui ramene I'abondance." (Original document in the Biblioth@que d'Art et d'Archeologie, Paris, Papiers Tripier Le FrancNigee Le Brun, carton 51, dossier I.)A pastel study for the head of Peace is in a private collection, Paris, and has just been handsomely published in an Peace and justice, ca. 1745 article by P. Rosenberg, 1981, cited below. A copy of the Louvre's painting was sold at Christie's, London, May 16, 1827, lot 33.
ENGRAVINGS: Pierre Viel, 1787, as a pendant to Bartolozzi's 1783 engravings of Vigee Le Brun's Innocence Taking Refuge in the Arms of Justice (announced in the journal de Paris, No. 334, November 30, 1787, p. 1443); Charles Normand (see Landon, 1833, cited below).
PROVENANCE: Given by the artist as her morceau de reception to the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, 1783; during the French Revolution, transferred to the Ministere de l'Interieur, where it was still located in 1835; later deposited at the Musee du Luxembourg, and then returned to the Musee du Louvre.
EXHIBITION:Paris, Salon, 1783,
SLECTED REFERENCES: Criticism of the Salon of 1783, anthologized in Collection Deloynes (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes), XIII: No. 286 - La Morte de trois mille ans au Salon de 1783, pp. 7-8; No. 287 - La Critique est aisle, mais I'art est difficile, p. 211; No. 288 - Apelle au Sallon p. 22; No. 289 - Changez-moi cette tete, ou Lustucru au Sallon, p. 23; No. 291 - Loterie pittoresque pour le Salon de 1783, pp. 22-23; No. 292 - Momus au Sallon, p.17; No. 295 - Messieurs, ami de tout le monde, p. 22; No. 296 Sans-quartier au Salton, p. 34; No. 297 Les Peintres - volants, p. 12; No. 308 - M. de Miramond, Vers d Madame Le Brun, pp. 4-5; No. 309 - Mercure de France, p. 916. Additional Salon criticism: Bachaumont, et al., Mernoires secrets, 1783, p. 6; L'Annee litteraire, 1783, pp. 259-260, 261; Frederic Melchior, Baron Grimm, et al., Correspondance litt6raire, philosophique et critique, December 1783 (published, Paris, 1880-1881, XIII, p. 440); journal de Paris, No. 266, September 23, 1783, pp. 1097-1098; Pahin de la Blancherie, Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres et des Arts, No. XXXIV, 1783, p. 305 and No. XIV, April 1783, p. 112; C. P. Landon, Ecole franeaise moderne, Paris, 1833 (2nd ed.), pp. 27-28, illus. (engraving by Normand); Souvenirs, 1835,1, 85, 339; Pillet, 1890, pp. 16-17, illus. p. 27 (Viel engraving); Nolhac, 1908, pp. 28-29, illus. facing p. 28; Helm, [19151, pp. 43, 214, illus. facing p. 43; Hautecoeur, [19171, pp. 32, 55, illus. P. 57; Blum, 1919, pp. 27-28, illus. facing p. 66; A. Fontaine, Les Collections de I'Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Paris, 1910, p. 199, no. 548; P. Rosenberg, N. Reynaud and 1. Compin, Mits@e du Louvre, catalogue illustr@ des peintures, Paris, 1974, 11, no. 886, illus.; P. Rosenberg, "A Drawing by Madame Vigee-Le Brun," Burlington Magazine, CXXIII, No. 945, December 1981, p. 740, illus. p. 741, fig. 40.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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