• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 11932

    Revolution

    13 April 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 21

    Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)

    Maria Grigorievna Viazemskaïa, Princess Golitsyna (1772-1865), seated three-quarter-length

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)
    Maria Grigorievna Viazemskaïa, Princess Golitsyna (1772-1865), seated three-quarter-length
    signed, dated, and inscribed ‘L.E. Vigée / Le Brun / a petersbourg / 1798’ (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    43 ¾ x 36 in. (111.2 x 91.4 cm.)


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    Following her escape from France in 1789, at the start of the French Revolution, Vigée Le Brun would travel first to Italy, where she lived peripatetically but with extended stays in Rome and Naples, before moving to Vienna in 1792. After almost three years in the Habsburg capital, where her career as a portraitist thrived, she was persuaded to travel to Saint-Petersburg by Count Andrey Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna (and patron of Beethoven), who promised her a warm reception and excellent professional prospects. She arrived in the Russian capital in July 1795, and was presented within days to Empress Catherine the Great. Installed in a spacious apartment near the Winter Palace, Vigée Le Brun soon found her services in demand from almost every aristocratic family in the city, as well as foreign nobility and nearly all of the important members of the Russian Imperial family. She was said to command exorbitant prices for her work, and earned 15,000 rubles in her first month. All told, she would spend nearly half of her twelve-year exile living and working in the capital of the Romanov court, finally departing only in late 1801 for a long-awaited return to Paris.

    During her prolonged stay in Russia, Vigée Le Brun would have the opportunity to portray many members of the prestigious and powerful Golitsyn dynasty. This grand portrait, signed and dated ‘1798’, depicts the beautiful and vibrant twenty-six year old Maria Grigorievna Viazemskaïa, Princess Golitsyna (1772-1865), daughter of Prince Grigory Ivanovich Viazemsky, who betrothed her at an early age to a member of one of Russia’s oldest noble families, Alexander Golitsyn. The union would prove disastrous. Prince Alexander was a spendthrift and bankrupt who quickly dissipated his immense inheritance. His young wife had no choice but to endure the situation, endorsing the crippling debts of her prodigal husband, as his extravagances consumed her own fortune. In 1801, she requested that the Czar intervene on her behalf in order to restrain Alexander’s expenditures, but he declined to set such a precedent. In 1802, however, the marriage would be dissolved when, with Prince Alexander’s approval, Maria Grigorievna married her lover, Count Leon Kyrilovich Razumovsky (1757-1818). This second marriage was regarded as scandalous, both by the bridegroom’s family and Russian Society; the Czar would only recognize its legitimacy in 1809. The couple lived principally in Moscow, but after the death of Razumovsky in 1818, the Countess returned to Saint-Petersburg. In her old age she lived off her extensive landholdings and made frequent excursions abroad, especially to Paris. She died in Saint-Petersburg at the age of 93 and was buried alongside her second husband in the Moscow Monastery of Donskoïe.

    According to Joseph Baillio, the present painting was acquired by Wildenstein in 1949 directly from the Razumovsky family, the sitter’s descendants in Vienna. The portrait appears in Vigée Le Brun’s list of her Russian sitters as “La princesse Alexandre Galitzin.” A bust-length study in oils for the portrait, signed and dated ‘1797’ was published by Baillio in 1980; the work is in the Rau Collection, Switzerland.

    To be included in the catalogue raisonné of works by Vigée Le Brun being prepared by Joseph Baillio.

    Provenance

    with Wildenstein, New York, where acquired by the present owner.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR


    Literature

    E. L. Vigée Le Brun, Souvenirs, Paris, 1837, III, p. 347.
    A. Blum, Madame Vigée-Lebrun, peintre des grandes dames du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1919, p. 102.
    'Important paintings of the French 18th century', Illustrated London News, CCXXVIII, 14 April 1956, p. 307.
    F. Watson, 'Dernières images avant appareillage- le XVIIIe siècle français embarque sur le France', L’œil, no. 269, December 1977, p. 25.
    J. Baillio, 'Identification de quelques portraits d’anonymes de Vigée Le Brun aux Etats-Unis', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, XCVI, November 1980, pp. 158,164-167, fig. 1798, as 'Portrait de Charlotte Ritt'.
    E. L. Vigée Le Brun, Mémoires d’une portraitiste 1755-1842, Paris, 1989, p. 153, illustrated, the sitter wrongly identified as Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzine.


    Exhibited

    London, Wildenstein Gallery, Important paintings of the French XVIII century, 21 March-26 April 1956, no. 8, as 'Countess Razumoffska'.
    Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, De Watteau à Prud’hon, 11 May-31 May 1956, no. 91, as 'Countess Razumoffska'.
    Milwaukee, Art Center, Collecting the Masters, 3 June-11 July 1968, as 'Countess Razumoffska'.
    Oklahoma City, The Oklahoma Museum of Art, Masters of the Portrait, 4 March-29 April 1979, no. 17.
    London, Wildenstein Gallery, French Portraits: XVII-XX Century, 16 June-30 July 1982, as 'Portrait of Charlotte Ritt'.