In 1745 Mademoiselle Duronceray, a much admired singer, dancer, and comedienne, married Charles Simon Favart (1710–1792) , the father of French comic opera. Among her best known roles was that of the peasant Lurine in The Loves of Bastien and Bastienne, 1753, in which she inspired a revolution in theatrical costume by wearing authentic peasant dress.
Drouais's elegant secular portrait recalls traditional representations of Saint Celilia, patron saint of music.
François Hubert Drouais began his career in the studio of his father, the academician Hubert Drouais (1699–1767). He was accepted as an associate of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1755 and admitted to full membership in 1757. Meanwhile he was called to Versailles to paint Louis XV's grandsons, the duc de Berry and the comte de Provence, whose double portrait (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) was among the painter's first Salon exhibits and an initial step toward a career at court, where all of the members of the royal family eventually sat for him. In the eyes of his contemporaries, Drouais excelled at painting women and young children.
This picture, signed and dated 1757, has been said to represent Marie Justine Benoîte Cabaret Duronceray (1727–1772), who first appeared on the Paris stage at the foire Saint-Germain in 1744 or 1745, and thereafter married Charles Simon Favart (1710–1792), writer, librettist, and director of the Opéra Comique and the Comédie Italienne. From 1751 until 1769 Madame Favart reigned supreme in Paris as a comic actress. She was also a singer and dancer and played the harp and harpsichord. Among her most famous roles (some of plays she wrote with her husband) was that of the peasant heroine in Bastien et Bastienne (1753), in which she effected a revolution in theatrical costume by wearing authentic peasant dress.
If Jean Étienne Liotard's pastel of 1757 in the Museum Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten, Winterthur, represents Madame Favart and descended in her family until 1907, then the name of Drouais's sitter here is thrown into question. While the Jean Baptiste Defernex bust of Madame Favart (Musée du Louvre, Paris) resembles the Liotard, Maurice Quentin de La Tour's préparation (Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin) yields a different impression. In any event, this woman with tightly curled and powdered hair in a blue dress and lace cuffs is from the artist's best period. As Charles Sterling observed (1955), she is "psychologically perhaps the finest of his portraits . . . full of simplicity, liveliness, and intimacy."
[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Inscription: Signed and dated (on harpsichord): Drouais le fils. 1757·
Madame de Boulemaine, Paris (until 1912, as "Madame Favart Playing the Piano"; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, 1912–at least 1916]; Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher, New York (until his d. 1917)
Utica, N.Y. Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. "Picture of the Month," March 4–25, 1951, no catalogue.
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "XVIII Century Paintings," December 12, 1952–January 9, 1953, no catalogue?
Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "Paris: Life & Luxury," April 26–August 7, 2011, no. 85.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Paris: Life & Luxury," September 18, 2011–January 1, 2012, no. 85.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 685, no. 1845, ill.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 145–47, ill.
Elizabeth Lawrence and Adolph S. Cavallo. "Sleuthing at the Seams." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30 (August/September 1971), p. 28, fig. 9, notes that the sitter wears a "robe à la française".
Marcel Rœthlisberger and Renée Loche. Liotard: catalogue, sources et correspondance. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 2008, vol. 1, p. 498; vol. 2, fig. 493.
Kira d' Alburquerque, Emily Beeny, and Grace Chuang inParis: Life & Luxury in the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Charissa Bremer-David. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2011, pp. 117, 128, 130, no. 85, ill.
Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, New York. June 5, 2014, p. 68, under no. 54.
J. Kenneth Moore, Jayson Kerr Dobney, and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2015, p. 92, ill. (color).
For the Liotard portrait see Marcel Rœthlisberger and Renée Loche, Liotard, 2 vols., Doornspijk, 2008, vol. 1, pp. 496–98, no. 345; vol. 2, fig. 489 (color).