Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)
1 More
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY OF A TRUST
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)

Portrait of La maréchale-comtesse de Mailly, née Blanche Charlotte Marie Félicité de Narbonne Pelet (1761-1840), half-length

Details
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)
Portrait of La maréchale-comtesse de Mailly, née Blanche Charlotte Marie Félicité de Narbonne Pelet (1761-1840), half-length
signed and dated 'Lse LeBrun.f.1783' (lower left)
oil on canvas, oval
28 7/8 x 23 1/8 in. (73.4 x 58.7 cm.)
Provenance
In the sitter's collection at Paris and château de la Roche de Vaux, Requeil, and by descent to her son,
Le comte Adrien Augustin Amalric de Mailly d'Harcourt (1792-1878), and by descent to his grandson,
Arnould Adrien Joseph de Mailly, marquis de Nesle et d'Harcourt (1853-1897), and by descent to his son,
Augustin Christian Robert Ferry, marquis de Mailly- Nesle et d'Harcourt et prince d'Orange (1884-1958), to,
Jean-Arnoult Auguste, marquis de Mailly-Nesle et prince d'Orange (1916-2001), château de la Roche Mailly, Requeil and Paris, and sold to the following in 1987.
with Maurice Segoura, Paris, from whom acquired by the present owner.

Literature
L.-E. Vigée Le Brun, Souvenirs de Madame Louise- Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, Paris, 1835, I, p. 331.
A. Ledieu, Le maréchal de Mailly, dernier commandant pour le roi àAbbeville, Paris, 1895, p. 67, illustrated.
A. Ledru, Histoire de la maison de Mailly, Paris, 1893, I, pl. XVIII.
R. Baret, 'Une âme exquise: La maréchale de Mailly', La Province du Maine, XXXIX, 1959, p. 62, illustrated.

Exhibited
Paris, Grand Palais, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 23 September 2015-11 January 2016, no. 56.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France, 9 February-11 September 2016, no. 19.
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

Lot Essay

The year 1783, when this painting is signed, marked a high point in the career of Vigée Le Brun, who was admitted on 31 May to the Académie Royale, one of the few women artists to be elected to that august institution. Although she submitted a history painting as her morçeau de réception, Peace Bringing Back Abundance (1780; Paris, Louvre), she was not received as a History Painter, but rather recognised in the less exalted category of Portraitist. Having attained a near celebrity status as a portrait painter in Paris in little more than a decade, Vigée Le Brun’s meteoric rise was due to her immense talent and the devotion of the young queen, Marie-Antoinette, who first sat to the artist in 1778 and quickly acknowledged the painter as her preferred portraitist. Indeed, it was due to the direct intervention of the queen that Vigée Le Brun was admitted with full membership to the Académie Royale, her royal command read directly into the official Academy register.

The endorsement of the queen opened a world of illustrious clients to the artist, including the maréchale-comtesse de Mailly, the subject of the present portrait. Praised by Bachaumont for her ‘kindness’ and ‘sense of mischief’, the beautiful, young Madame de Mailly was a favourite of Marie-Antoinette and belonged to the queen’s intimate circle of friends. The portrait is signed and dated ‘1783’ – the inscription scratched into the paint as was common practice for Vigée Le Brun – and is recorded in the lists of her paintings kept by the artist and published in her Souvenirs (vol. 1, 1835-37) under the ‘Year 1783’, as ‘Madame la maréchale de Mailly’.

Blanche Charlotte Marie Félicité de Narbonne- Pelet, maréchale-comtesse de Mailly (1761-1840), was the daughter of François Raymond Joseph Herménegilde Amalric, vicomte de Narbonne- Pelet and lieutenant-general in Louis XV’s army, and his second wife, Lucrèce Pauline Marie Anne de Ricard de Brégançon. Blanche was married on 15 April 1780 in Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois to Joseph Augustin, the comte de Mailly, marquis d’Harcourt (1708-1794), a member of the old nobility of Picardy; she was 19 years old at the time of her wedding, and the third wife of her new husband, who was then in his 70s. Despite the dramatic age difference, theirs, we are told, was a happy marriage. Valued by Louis XVI, the marquis was entrusted with the expansion and modernisation of the port of Languedoc- Roussillon, the departure point for French vessels participating in the American War of Independence. In 1783, the year in which the 22 year-old Blanche sat to Vigée Le Brun, her husband was promoted by the king to marshal of France.

The oval half-length format of the portrait was one that the artist explored on several occasions at this period, notably in the well-known portrait of Madame Grand of the same year (1783; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Both sitters are depicted half-length with simple, dark backgrounds. The present portrait emphasises the elegant aquiline nose, long, graceful neck, impeccable posture and fashionably powdered hair of its aristocratic subject in what is a superbly accomplished example, par excellence, of the fashionable society portrait with which Vigée Le Brun secured her fame. The striking black and plum-coloured silk gown with slit sleeves, lace ruff and ribbon trimmings is an example of a fashion known in France as ‘Spanish Costume’ (although it was not Spanish in any way), that was a European style trend in the 1770s and 1780s, and can be found as well in ‘troubadour’ paintings by Carle and Louis Michel van Loo, and in Fragonard’s famous series of ‘Figures de Fantaisie’. The style finds its origins in paintings by van Dyck and Rubens - it was infact generally referred to as ‘Vandyke’ costume in England – and it is worth noting that Vigée Le Brun had travelled with her husband, the celebrated art dealer Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, to Holland and Flanders for the first time in 1781, where she had the opportunity to study first-hand the paintings of the Northern masters of the previous century. She was profoundly impressed by what she saw, noting in her memoirs that ‘there is no finer, truer painting anywhere in my opinion. The Burgomasters are clothed in black; the faces, hands and fabric are of an unsurpassable beauty…. I could not tear myself away from it and the impression it made on me remains clear in my mind’s eye to this day.’ Joseph Baillio has also noted in his comprehensive study of the painting, that Madame de Mailly’s costume, including the colours of her gown, finds a precedent in the portrait of Henrietta Somerset and her husband, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1769; Cardiff, National Museum of Wales).

On 19 February 1792, Madame de Mailly gave birth to her only child, a son, Adrien Augustin Amalric (1792-1878). This happiness was soon overshadowed, however, by the swiftly unfolding events of the French Revolution, which were to overtake the family. The maréchal de Mailly, who had been entrusted by Louis XVI with the defence of the Palais des Tuileries, was present on 10 August 1792, when the Paris mobs, members of the National Guard, and the Paris Commune stormed the palace, massacred the Swiss Guard, and initiated the fall of the monarchy. At least one thousand participants were killed in the assault on the Tuileries; Mailly and his family escaped and took refuge in the Château de Moreuil, in Picardy, but were arrested there on 7 September 1793. The maréchal was guillotined in Arras on 23 March 1794, aged 85; at the time, the oldest man to have been put to death.

Madame de Mailly escaped her husband’s fate when she was freed from prison in July 1794, following the fall of Robespierre and the ending of The Terror. Her husband’s wealth confiscated, she went into hiding in Paris, but managed to buy back the Château de la Roche de Vaux and, in 1797, reclaimed not only her husband’s unsold properties but also monies raised from the sales of confiscated property. As the widow of a marshal of France, she received a pension of 6000 francs under the Empire. Subsequently, Madame de Mailly served in attendance at the Imperial court of Napoleon Bonaparte and sent her son Adrian, then 17 years old, to the École Militaire. In 1812, he fought in the Russian campaign and was wounded. A peer of France, he remained loyal to the elder branch of the Bourbons after the 1830 Revolution and refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Louis Philippe I. He had the much-damaged Château de La Roche de Vaux rebuilt in the 1830s and renamed it La Roche-Mailly, dying there on 1 July 1878 (the castle survives, a Monument Historique in the Loire valley, and operates as a Bed and Breakfast). His mother died, weeks short of her 80th birthday, on 15 January 1840.

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All