Marie Denise Villers (French, Paris 1774–1821 Paris (?))
Oil on canvas
63 1/2 x 50 5/8in. (161.3 x 128.6cm)
Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917
Not on view
At one time ascribed to Jacques-Louis David, this engaging image has most recently been identified as the work of Marie Denise Villers. Although little known today, Villers was a gifted pupil of Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767–1824) and exhibited in the Salons, where her portraits attracted attention. This canvas, which was shown in that of 1801, may be a self-portrait.
In the later 1790s, Marie Denise was a student of Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767–1824); she was also the younger sister of Marie Victoire Lemoine (1754–1820), by whom it may be supposed that she was influenced. Called Nisa, she married Michel-Jean-Maximilien Villers, an architect, in 1794. Five years later she was named the recipient of a small prize for a portrait of a woman painting, Un portrait, Femme peignant. She exhibited at the Salons of 1799 through 1802 and in that of 1814 (hors catalogue). Very few pictures by her are known. This portrait has most recently been attributed to Villers.
The picture first appeared in the late nineteenth century, and later it was sold by a member of the same family in which it had descended as a portrait of Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d’Ognes (died 1868) by Jacques Louis David. In 1951 the French scholar and curator Charles Sterling was preparing the catalogues of French old master and nineteenth-century paintings that would be published beginning in 1955. He did not believe in the attribution to David. He discovered that the painting had been shown in the 1801 Salon, in which David did not exhibit. The records of the exhibitions held during the revolutionary period are difficult to use, especially for portraits, as most sitters were not named, but in this case the canvas is reproduced by Monsaldy and Devisme in their engraving of the Salon of the year IX (1801). Additionally, a sketch that also shows the cracked window and the figures in the background has survived (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris).The painting is not numbered in the print, however, and it is worth noting that Monsaldy and Devisme illustrate three other large portraits of seated women in Neoclassical costume on the same wall.
After careful study of the 1801 hand list and by a process of elimination, Sterling attributed Mademoiselle du Val d’Ognes to Constance Marie Charpentier (1767–1849). In addition to two portraits, Charpentier had sent her only well-known documented work, Melancholy (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Amiens) to the Salon that same year and Sterling found it roughly comparable in style. He was, however, surprised when his proposal went unquestioned and Charpentier’s name was immediately adopted.
While there has always been some eagerness to identify the painter of this popular picture, by 1980 the Museum no longer claimed to know the artist nor with any certainty the sitter, though the genealogical information does provide some support for the identification. It was retitled Young Woman Drawing. In 1996, Margaret Oppenheimer proposed yet another and rather younger woman artist, the sister of Lemoine, Marie Denise Villers. She appears in the 1801 livret as N.V. M.me. and under her full name as the painter of two studies of women and a portrait. This suggestion, hesitantly accepted, depends in great part upon comparison with a painting of a woman fastening her slipper which Villers showed in 1802 (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The simplicity of the costume and setting and the extraordinary use of back light lend compelling interest to the picture.
[Katharine Baetjer 2013]
Val d'Ognes family (as Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d'Ognes by Jacques Louis David); by descent to commandant Hardouin de Grosville (by 1897–1912; sold by him or his son to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris, 1912; sold to Rothschild]; baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris (1912–15; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, 1915–16; sold to Fletcher]; Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher, New York (1916–his d. 1917)
Paris. Salon. 1801, no. 338 (among "plusieurs portraits peints, sous le même numéro" by "N. V. M.me.") [appears in the etched view of the Salon published by Monsaldy and Devisme].
Paris. École des Beaux-Arts. "Portraits de femmes et d'enfants," April 30–?, 1897, no. 44 (as "Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d'Ogues," by Jacques-Louis David, lent by Commandant Hardouin de Grosville).
New York. Century Association. "Sculpture by Houdon, Paintings and Drawings by David," February 19–April 10, 1947, no. 11 (as "Mlle. Charlotte du Val d'Ognes," by Jacques-Louis David).
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Diamond Jubilee Exhibition: Masterpieces of Painting," November 4, 1950–February 11, 1951, no. 49 (as "Mlle Charlotte du Val d'Ognes," by David).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 138 (as by Constance Marie Charpentier (?)).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 11 (as by Constance-Marie Charpentier).
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 54.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 54.
Miami. Center for the Fine Arts. "In Quest of Excellence: Civic Pride, Patronage, Connoisseurship," January 14–April 22, 1984, no. 92.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 1 (as "Young Woman Drawing," by Marie Denise Villers).
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Maurice Tourneux. "L'exposition des portraits de femmes et d'enfants." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 17 (June 1897), pp. 457–58, notes that according to Hardouin de Grosville, his grandmother, the sitter, was a pupil of David, who painted the portrait in 1803; believes the two figures on the terrace are also portraits.
Charles Saunier. Louis David. Paris, 1904, p. 55, ill. p. 97, repeats the claim that David painted the portrait of Mlle du Val d'Ognes in 1803.
"The Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 13 (March 1918), pp. 59–60, ill. on cover.
W. R. Valentiner. Jacques Louis David and the French Revolution. New York, 1929, ill. (frontispiece).
Richard Cantinelli. Jacques-Louis David, 1748–1825. Paris, 1930, p. 117, no. 183.
G. L. McCann. "A Portrait by David." Bulletin of the Cincinnati Art Museum 4 (April 1933), p. 60.
Raymond Escholier. La peinture française, XIXe siècle. Vol. 1, De David à Géricault. Paris, 1941, p. 19.
Henry S. Francis. "A Portrait by Jacques Louis David." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 32 (June 1945), p. 84, as by David.
Gaston Brière. "Sur David portraitiste." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, années 1945–46, (1948), p. 174, rejects the attribution to David and considers it to be by the same hand as a portrait erroneously called Mademoiselle David, which was in the collection of baronne Jeannin.
Douglas Cooper. "Jacques-Louis David: A Bi-Centenary Exhibition." Burlington Magazine 90 (October 1948), p. 277, as by David.
André Maurois. J.-L. David. Paris, 1948, unpaginated, calls it the most astonishing feminine portrait by David, a merciless portrait of an intelligent, homely woman.
Everard M. Upjohn et al. History of World Art. New York, 1949, p. 312, fig. 339, as by David.
Charles Sterling. "Sur un prétendu chef-d'oeuvre de David." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, année 1950, (1951), pp. 118–30, ill., presents his argument for attributing this picture to Mme Charpentier.
Charles Sterling. "A Fine 'David' Reattributed." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (January 1951), pp. 121, 123–32, ill. (overall and detail), rejects the attribution to David and sees instead the influence of David and his pupil Gérard, though the latter's prevails; notes that one can see it in the engraving by Monsaldy and Devisme, "Vue du Salon de l'An IX (1801)," and reproduces a counterproof of it made for this engraving (Cabinet des Estampes, Paris); concludes that this portrait must have been painted in or before 1801 and notes that David did not exhibit at the Salon that year; judging from the register of pictures, believes that only Jean Baptiste Genty or Mme Charpentier could have painted our picture and opts for Charpentier, comparing her only known work, "Melancholy," in the Amiens Museum, to our canvas, but noting "a certain divergence in spirit".
Emily Genauer. "Art and Artists: Old Master Reattributed." Herald Tribune [Sunday Magazine] (February 4, 1951), p. ?.
James Thrall Soby. "A 'David' Reattributed." Saturday Review (March 3, 1951), pp. 42–43, finds "a certain poetic justice in the fact that an outstanding icon of a masculine epoch is probably the work of a woman".
"The Art of Judging Art." New York Herald Tribune (May 17, 1951), p. ?.
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 232, no. 138, colorpl. 138, attributes it to Charpentier.
Miroir de l'histoire no. 38 (March 1953), p. ?, ill. on cover (color).
Charles Sterling. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. March 22, 1954, writes that he is "a little appalled to see that the Charpentier attribution seems to be accepted without the slightest doubt".
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), pp. 6, 42, ill.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 196–200, ill., concludes that the attribution to Mme Charpentier "has a strong probability".
Yvon Bizardel. "Les académiciennes au XVIIIe siècle." Le jardin des arts no. 31 (May 1957), p. 442.
Art News (January 1971), detail ill. on cover (color).
René Verbraeken. Jacques-Louis David jugé par ses contemporains et par la postérité. Paris, 1973, pp. 15, 19–20 n. 54.
Vivian P. Cameron. Letter to Mary Ann W. Harris. October 4, 1974, observes that a comparison of this picture with details of the signed work by Charpentier in Amiens leads her to question Sterling's attribution.
Hugo Munsterberg. A History of Women Artists. New York, 1975, pp. 46–48, ill.
Karen Petersen and J.J. Wilson. Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal from the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. New York, 1976, pp. 61–63, ill., consider that "it may well be by Charpentier".
Linda Nochlin inWomen Artists: 1550–1950. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. New York, 1976, p. 207, calls Sterling's attribution quite convincing but by no means definitive.
Daniel Wildenstein. Letter. June 27, 1977, states that he and his father have always been convinced that this painting is by Gérard.
Donna G. Bachmann and Sherry Piland. Women Artists: An Historical, Contemporary and Feminist Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J., 1978, pp. 105–7, ill.
Elsa Honig Fine. Women & Art: A History of Women Painters and Sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. Montclair, N.J., 1978, pp. 53–54, colorpl. 1, as by Charpentier.
Germaine Greer. The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work. New York, 1979, pp. 142–43, 215, colorpl. 16.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 389, fig. 701 (color).
Welt am Sonntag Magazin 29 (July 20, 1980), ill. on cover (color).
Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock. Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology. New York, 1981, p. 106, fig. 60, as a prime example of "how the sex of the artist determines the way art is seen".
Georges Bernier. Consulat-Empire-Restauration: Art in Early XIX Century France. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1982, p. 90.
Amy M. Fine. "Césarine Davin-Mirvault: 'Portrait of Bruni' and Other Works by a Student of David." Woman's Art Journal 4 (Spring/Summer 1983), p. 16.
Philip Jodidio. "Douze personnalités a New York." des Arts 420 (February 1987), pp. 51–52, ill. (on cover and in article).
Whitney Chadwick. Women, Art, and Society. London, 1990, pp. 22–24, fig. 7.
Margaret A. Oppenheimer. "Nisa Villers, née Lemoine (1774–1821)." Gazette des beaux-arts 127 (April 1996), pp. 166, 170–72, 176, fig. 2, ascribes this picture to Marie-Denise Villers, a pupil of Girodet who exhibited at the Salon of 1801 "plusieurs portraits peints, sous le même numero" (no. 338) by "N.V. M.me."; notes that the low forehead and heart-shaped face here are not unlike those of Villers as she appears in a portrait by her sister, Marie Victoire Lemoine (fig. 4), or the features of the young woman in "Étude de femme d'après nature" (Louvre, Paris); speculates that our picture might be the self-portrait exhibited by Villers at the Salon of 1799 and described by the prize committee as "a woman painting"; finds the window and building in the background close to those in a portrait by François Gérard, begun in 1799 ("Comtesse de Morel-Vindé and Her Daughter," Salon of 1800, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco).
Margaret A. Oppenheimer. "Women Artists in Paris, 1791–1814." PhD diss., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1996, pp. 281, 309, fig. 259, attributes this picture to Villers.
Marie-Claude Chaudonneret inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 6, New York, 1996, p. 490, as possibly among Charpentier's portraits from the Salon of 1801.
Louise d'Argencourt. "The Story of a Painting: A Romance in Attribution." Cleveland Studies in the History of Art 1 (1996), pp. 116, 119, fig. 3.
Frances Borzello. Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits. New York, 1998, pp. 86–87, ill., calls it the "putative Charpentier," which the author claims as a self-portrait.
Liana De Girolami Cheney, Alicia Craig Faxon, and Kathleen Lucey Russo. Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Aldershot, England, 2000, pp. 128–30, colorpl. XXIII, find Oppenheimer's identification of Villers as the artist the most convincing; suggest that the painting could also be by her cousin Jeanne-Elisabeth Gabiou Chaudet—who exhibited a painting in the Salon of 1801 that included a broken window.
Astrid Reuter. Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist: Gestaltungsräume einer Künstlerin um 1800. Berlin, 2002, pp. 229, 231–32, ill., notes that although Villers was not a pupil of David, this picture exhibits the same precarious relationship to his style as many works by David's female pupils.
Britta C. Dwyer. "Book reviews [review of Borzello 1998]." Woman's Art Journal 23 (Spring–Summer 2002), p. 45.
Old Master Paintings, European Sculpture & Antiquities. Sotheby's, New York. June 4, 2009, p. 98, ill., discusses it in relation to lot 66, a modello for Villers's painting, "A Young Woman Seated by a Window" of 1801.
Marie-Josèphe Bonnet. Liberté, égalité, exclusion: femmes peintres en révolution, 1770–1804. Paris, 2012, pp. 154–55, 191 n. 260, pp. 204–5.
Susan L. Siegfried. "The Visual Culture of Fashion and the Classical Ideal in Post-Revolutionary France." Art Bulletin 97 (March 2015), pp. 80, 95 n. 15, fig. 4 (color), believes it is probably the work exhibited by Villers at the 1799 Salon (see Oppenheimer 1996).
The engraving by Monsaldy and Devisme, in "Vue des ouvrages . . . exposés au Muséum Central des Arts en l'An IX (1801)", is in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Cabinet des Estampes, Salon de l'An IX, Kc. 164. The preparatory drawing for the engraving is in the Cabinet des Estampes, Recueil des dessins de Monsaldy pour le Salon de l'An IX, Ad 89a pet. in fol.