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Portrait of the artist's daughter, Jeanne-Julie-Louise Le Brun (1780-1819), playing a guitar

Vigée Le Brun
Portrait of the artist's daughter, Jeanne-Julie-Louise Le Brun (1780-1819), playing a guitar
oil on canvas
39 ½ x 32 5/8 in. (100.4 x 83 cm.)
(Probably) the painting listed in the 1842 inventory of the artist's estate, and by descent to her niece,
Caroline Vigée de Rivière (1791-1864), Versailles.
Anonymous sale, Hotel Drouot, 10 March 1864, lot 1.
(Probably) Prince Sigmond Radziwilłł (1822-1892), Chateau d'Ermenonville; his sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 22 March 1866, lot 145 (1900 francs).
Arthur Veil-Picard (1854-1944), Paris,
Confiscated from the above following the Nazi occupation of France after May 1940 (ERR no. W.-P. 120),
Recovered by the Monuments Fine Arts and Archives section from the Altaussee salt mines and transferred to the Munich Central Collecting Point, 23 June 1945 (MCCP no. 341/2).
Repatriated to France on 25 June 1946 and restituted on 11 October 1946.
Anonymous sale; Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 7 June 1955, lot 107.
Anonymous sale; Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 15-16 December 1958, lot 82.
with Newhouse Galleries, New York, by July 1959, where acquire by,
Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell, Fort Worth, TX, and by whom gifted in 1965 to,
The Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, TX, and by which sold,
[Property of the Kimbell Art Foundation]; Sotheby's, New York, 15 January 1987, lot 108.
[The Property of a Private Collector]; Christie's, New York, 18 May 1994, lot 14, where acquired by the present owner.
P. de Nolhac, Madame Vigée-le Brun peintre de Marie-Antoinette, Paris, 1912, p. 253.
E.-L. Vigée Le Brun, Souvenirs, Paris, 1835-7; C. Herrmann, ed., Paris, 1984, I, p. 56 and II, p.49.
(Probably) J. B. P. Le Brun, Reflexions du citoyen le Brun sur la notice des tableaux, statues, dessins et estampes exposes su salon du musée, 1798, unpublished manuscript, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, p. 714, as 'le portrait de sa fille'.
(Probably) J.B. Pierre Le Brun, Mélanges aux Auteurs du Journal, Journal de Paris, VI, p. 1521.
'La Galerie Charpentier: Une vente de tableaux anciens produit près de 40 millions,' Le Figaro, June 1955, illustrated.
J. Baillio, Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 1755-1842, exhibition catalogue, Fort Worth, TX, 1982, pp. 14, 19 and 76, under no. 25, as whereabouts undetermined.
S. Evans, trans., The Memoirs of Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, London, 1989, pp. 27, 211.
X. Salmon and L. Hugues, L'enfant chéri au siècle des Lumières: après l'Émile, exhibition catalogue, Cholet, 2003, p. 62 and 157, fig.3.3.
J. Baillio and X. Salmon, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, exhibition catalogue (French edition), Paris, New York, and Ottawa, 2015-16, p. 336.
(Probably) Paris, Salon, 1798, no. 252, as 'Portrait de sa Fille'.

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Lot Essay

Jeanne-Julie-Louise Le Brun (1780-1819), called Julie, was the only child of Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813) – the preeminent dealer, auctioneer and art expert in Paris during the final decades of the Ancien Régime – and Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), one of Europe’s most celebrated portraitists. Born in Paris on 12 February 1780, Julie was, like her mother, admired for her beauty from earliest childhood, adored for her large expressive blue eyes and cascades of thick brown hair, the source of her affectionate nickname, ‘Brunette’.

Vigée Le Brun painted the girl often throughout Julie’s childhood and adolescence, most famously in two double portraits featuring both mother and daughter in tender embrace. One of these self-portraits with Julie, known as ‘Maternal Tenderness’, dates from 1786 when the girl was six years old; the other from three years later (fig. 1). Among the most beloved works in the Louvre, these canonical images of maternal love – although secular and entirely contemporary – were inspired by the artist’s intensive study of the ‘Madonna della Sedia’ and other depictions of the Virgin and Child by Raphael. Perhaps the most charming of Vigée Le Brun’s portraits are three of Julie executed in 1787 – one of the child resting her head on an open Bible (private collection), and two almost identical versions of seven-year-old Julie, with a kerchief tied on her head, gazing at her face in a mirror (one version, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wrightsman Collection (fig. 2); the other, private collection, New York). A lovely (if erotically charged) portrait of Julie, aged twelve and on the cusp of womanhood, depicts her as a bather at a reed-filled woodland pool, Susanna-like in her surprise at the arrival of an unseen intruder (private collection). Executed in 1792, it was commissioned by the Russian collector Prince Nicolai Borisovich Yusupov.

The present portrait of Julie playing the guitar dates from 1797-8, when the artist and her daughter were living in exile in St. Petersburg. Having fled France (accompanied by Julie’s governess) in 1789, they arrived in Russia in 1795, following long sojourns throughout Italy, Germany and Austria. Writing of their lives at the time that this painting was executed, Vigée Le Brun would recount in her memoirs (1835-7): `My daughter had reached the age of seventeen. She was charming in every respect. Her large blue eyes sparkled with spirit, her slightly upturned nose, her pretty mouth, her beautiful teeth, a delicious freshness, all these features united to form one of the prettiest faces you could ever wish to see. She was not very tall, but slim, without being too thin. There was an air of natural grace about her person, yet this did not prevent her manner from being as lively as her mind. She possessed a prodigious memory and could recall everything she had learnt in her many lessons or from her reading. She had a charming voice and sang Italian marvelously, for I had secured the finest music masters for her in Naples and St. Petersburg as well as teachers of English and German. Furthermore she could accompany herself on the piano and guitar; but I was particularly charmed by her natural aptitude for painting, so all in all, I cannot say how delighted and proud I was of her many gifts.' (Souvenirs, 1835-7, chapter XXII; S. Evans, trans., p. 211).

In the portrait, Julie sits on a grassy knoll in a wooded glade. She casts her eyes upward for inspiration as she plays the guitar, the musical instrument at which, as her mother noted, she was expert. Her pretty face and the pale skin of her left arm and hand are highlighted by the warm afternoon sun. Her hair is tied up in a red scarf and she wears a loose-fitting white muslin dress cinched at the waist with a second red scarf – indeed, she is dressed in a Grecian style ‘a l’Antique’ that is almost identical to the costume her mother wore in the Louvre Self-Portrait with Julie of 1789. Wrapped over her arm and around her waist is a saffron-colored swag of drapery. Vigée Le Brun observed in her memoirs: `As I had a horror of the current fashion, I did my best to make my models a little more picturesque. I delighted when, having gained their trust, they allowed me to dress them after my fancy. No one wore shawls then, but I liked to drape my models with large scarves, interlacing them around the body and through the arms, which was an attempt to imitate the beautiful style of draperies seen in the paintings of Raphael and Domenichino. Examples of this can be seen in several of the portraits I painted while in Russia; in particular, one of my daughter playing the guitar' (op. cit, Letter IV, p. 27).

As with the Portrait of Julie Looking in a Mirror, Vigée Le Brun made two autograph versions of the present composition. Joseph Baillio, the artist’s leading modern authority, believes it is the present version that Vigée Le Brun sent back to Paris for exhibition in the Salon of 1798; a second version today in the Zoubov Foundation Museum, Geneva, is of slightly later date and lacks the gold necklace that Julie wears here. The painting was retained by the artist throughout her life and is recorded in her estate inventory after her death in 1842.

The portrait also marks the last happy days in Julie Le Brun’s relationship with her mother. Shortly after it was completed, Julie fell in love with Gaétan Nigris, secretary to the Director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg. Against her mother’s wishes, Julie married the charming and handsome Nigris in 1799 – a man Vigée Le Brun described as `without talent, fortune or family' and accused of being a fortune hunter – and remained with him in Russia after her mother returned to Paris in 1801. It was to be a rift that would never entirely mend. Although the young couple moved to Paris themselves in 1804, the marriage was not a success and they separated permanently four years later. When Julie’s father died in 1813 – almost two decades after divorcing the émigré Vigée Le Brun in 1794 on the grounds of desertion – he bequeathed his daughter his opulent townhouse in the rue du Gros-Chenet, along with his mountainous debts and obligations. When she died six years later, age 39, on 8 December 1819 – of uncertain cause; her mother claimed it was from smallpox, but it may have been pneumonia or syphilis – Julie was nearly destitute, having had to pawn nearly everything she owned, including her bed sheets and petticoats. Although Vigée Le Brun recounts a poignant deathbed reunion with her daughter, the present portrait – the last the artist would paint of Julie – commemorates the end of a loving bond that inspired many of her most enduring works of art.

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