Mar. 12 Art Minute: Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, The Comtesse de Cérès

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Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (French, 1755-1842), The Comtesse de Cérès. Oil on canvas. 36 by 29 in. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1963.33. Gallery 24.

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (French, 1755-1842), The Comtesse de Cérès. Oil on canvas. 36 by 29 in. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1963.33. Gallery 24.

Hints of a lively personality shine through in this portrait of Anne-Marie-Thérèse de Rabudy Montoussin, contesse deo Cérès (1759-1834). The young countess, fashionably dressed in black lace-trimmed shawl, ostrich-plumed hat, and powdered hair, has just finished writing a letter and is folding it to send. By placing her subject in a domestic interior engaged in a private activity, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun displays the new French taste for informal, intimate portraits. Her skill at conveying both naturalness and posed spontaneity made her one of the most successful portraitist of the 18th century.

Vigée-Le Brun came to regret her association with the comtesse, who was having an affair with French Finance Minister Charles Alexandre del Calonne. She wrote in her memoirs, “while I was painting her portraits, she did me an atrocious disservice. In her ingratiating way she asked me to lend her my horses and carriage to take her to the theater… The next morning…. I learned that [Cérès] had spent the night at the Finance Ministry.” Vigée-Le Brun’s coach had been seen there, it fed rumors that she herself was having an affair with Calonne, a scandal that damaged her reputation.


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