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

Portrait of a young girl, half-length

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755-1842)
Portrait of a young girl, half-length
oil on canvas, circular
22 ¼ in. (56.5 cm.) diameter

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Lot Essay

This charming portrait of a child is one of the earliest oil paintings that the artist executed, soon after she lost her father, the pastellist Louis Vigée, in May of 1767, when she was barely twelve years old.
“I was so prostrate with grief that I waited a great length of time before picking up my chalks again. Doyen [the history painter Gabriel François Doyen] came to see us from time to time, and as he had been my father’s best friend, his visits were greatly consoling for us. It was he who convinced me to take up once again my beloved occupation in which, as a matter of fact, I found the only distraction that could soothe my sorrows and take me away from my sad reflections. It was at this point that I began to paint from nature. I made in succession a number of portraits in pastel and in oils.” (Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Souvenirs, Paris, Librairie Hippolyte Fournier, vol. I, p. 14.)
The painting represents a blue-eyed girl barely out of babyhood seated on a chair upholstered in bluish-green velvet. The child is fitted out like a diminutive adult woman in a pink frock with a low décolletage trimmed with ribbons of the same color. Covering her hair is a bonnet known as a baigneuse (or a dormouse) adorned with pink ribbons, which in turn is covered with a transparent veil tied in a bow at the neck with white strips of satin or silk. Beside her is a small table bearing a glass or crystal vase of flowers, at the base of which is a white blossom on which a butterfly has alighted. The brushwork is uninhibited and rather rudimentary. The neutral background is painted with a frottis or scumble of gray paint over a very light-colored ground, a technique used by the artist from the outstet of the sitter's career. This immature technique marks one of the first of the young artist’s oil paintings and her name may be featured on the “Liste des tableaux et des portraits que j’ai fait avant de quitter la France en 1789” under the early years:“De 1768 à 1772”.
A few years later Vigée Le Brun painted two other charming likenesses of children. One of these is the double-portrait of two children building a House of Cards (the so-called Children of the Baronne d’Esthal (fig. 1), an identity taken from the artist’s first list of her sitters where the Alsatian name ‘Eichthall’ is misspelled, which was last recorded in the collection of an heir of the Parisian art dealer Paul Cailleux, called ‘Cayeux de Senarpont (1884-1964),’ and his widow, née Judith-Marguerite Serf (1882-1973). A second, the little daughter of the younger of the two brothers of Louis XVI, Charles Philippe de Bourbon, Comte d’Artois, and his Sardinian wife, née Maria Teresa di Savoia, the brown-eyed infant Sophie de Bourbon, called “Mademoiselle d'Artois” (fig. 2), a signed and dated oval canvas formerly in the Irma N. Straus collection and with the Galerie Maurice Segoura.
This work will be included in the catalogue raisonné of the works of Vigée Le Brun being prepared by Joseph Baillio.
Joseph Baillio

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