Numerous women painters flourished in France during the late 18th century. The best known was certainly the prolific portraitist Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, whose talents are currently being celebrated in a retrospective exhibition that has traveled from the Grand Palais in Paris, is now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and will soon open in Ottawa.
Rose-Adelaïde Ducreux, the eldest daughter of portraitist Joseph Ducreux, was not so lucky; she did not sign her paintings, and some may have been wrongly attributed to other artists. We now know her work through just a handful of portraits, notably several self-portraits. These works reveal the decisive influence of Antoine Vestier on the young painter: the same seemingly simple compositions, the same taste for costumes, props and sumptuous decors. These qualities are on prominent display in the magnificent Self-Portrait with Harp, datable to 1791, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Some of these portraits were exhibited at the Salon between 1791 and 1799 and were received to rave reviews, praised as much for the graceful models they depicted as for the balance of their compositions and the realism of the fabrics. Sadly, the career of Rose Ducreux was cut short: in 1801 she became engaged to the Maritime Prefect of Santo Domingo and sailed with him to the island, where she died the following year of typhoid fever.
The present work shows an elegantly attired woman in a voluminous green satin dress seated at her desk. Her extravagant headdress features a proliferation of red satin ribbon wrapped in bows around a straw bonnet, or chapeau de paille. In a particularly flamboyant touch, the bonnet actually connects to the satin dress at her bosom -- and is beautifully reflected in the green satin underneath it -- drawing the viewer's eye from the sitter's refined visage to the rest of her elaborate costume. Behind her, on the Louis XVI bureau plat, a beautiful ormolu-mounted Sèvres bleu nouveau porcelain vase and a Boulle marquetry casket are visible.
Our thanks to Joseph Baillio for attributing the present work to Ducreux on the basis of a photograph.