This portrait of a young woman at a pianoforte is the pendant to a fine portrait also by Adèle Romany of the singer and composer Joseph (or Jean) Dominique Fabry-Garat (1774-?) playing a lyre that was recently acquired by the Museum of Fine-Arts, Boston (inv. 2009.344). The portrait of Fabry-Garat was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1808 (no. 532).
Fabry-Garat was born in Bordeaux in 1774 (or 1775) and was a popular tenor who performed with his brother, Pierre-Jean Garat, a celebrated baritone of the early 19th century. Fabry-Garat was also a successful singing teacher and composer, who specialized in 'compositions des romances' and songs with Anacreontic themes. He published eight 'recueil de romances et pièces fugitives' that were meant to be performed jointly on the lyre and pianoforte. Few intimate details of his life are known and it has not been established if he was married.
The present portrait was not exhibited in the Salon with its companion piece, so the sitter's identity can only be surmised by clues included in the painting itself. The young lady stands before a pianoforte, idly fingering its keys; a music book sits on the instrument and she holds a musical manuscript at her side on which can clearly be read: 'RECUEIL/DE/ROMANCES/PAR/GARAT JEUNE'. Beneath this inscription, less legibly, is a dedication to 'son ami ZUASNAVAR' and a further identification of the musical score as by 'Auteur Fabry Garat'. The identity of the friend and dedicatee Zuasnavar has not been determined, but one may presume that the sitter is Fabry-Garat's wife, companion or a fellow singer who regularly performed his songs.
The inscription on the pianoforte reveals it was manufactured by Sébastien Érard, one of the preeminent piano makers of the 19th century whose renowned instruments were owned by Beethoven, Chopin, Haydn, Liszt, and Verdi. The present inscription corresponds to those similar Érard pianos made in the early 1790s.