The chic satin evening gown that collector and philanthropist Catharine Lorillard Wolfe donned for portrait sittings in Paris belies her reputation as "quiet and unassuming." Wolfe, the first female benefactor of The Met, was said to be the richest unmarried woman in the United States. Her cousin John Wolfe encouraged her patronage of Cabanel, a celebrated society portraitist and genre painter, and other preeminent European academic artists. She bequeathed this portrait, amid numerous artworks, to the museum in 1887 along with an acquisitions endowment—a gift heralded by the press as greatly elevating the profile of public collections of modern art in New York.
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Inscription: Signed and dated (upper left): ALEX. CABANEL. / 1876
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, New York (1876–d. 1887)
New York. 460 Park Avenue Gallery. "Portraits of American Women: From Romanticism to Surrealism," December 5–29, 1945, no. 10.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 72.
Toledo Museum of Art. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," November–December 1946, no. 39 (as "Miss Catharine Lorillard Wolfe").
Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," January–February 1947, no. 39.
Fort Lauderdale. Museum of Art. "Corot to Cézanne: 19th Century French Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," December 22, 1992–April 11, 1993, no catalogue.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed. The Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, , vol. 1, pp. 120, 134, as "Portrait of a Lady"; comments that "such a work of character-interpretation and technical ability is fit to go down to posterity, not only in the family portrait-gallery which illustrates a pedigree, but in the civic museum which records the national character of a period".
Cicerone. "Private Galleries: Collection of Miss Catharine L. Wolfe." Art Amateur 2 (March 1880), p. 75.
"The Wolfe Pictures." New York Times (November 7, 1887), p. 4.
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection. News and Notes." Independent 39 (December 1, 1887), p. 7.
"The Fine Arts: Recent Gifts to the Metropolitan Museum." Critic (April 16, 1887), p. 194.
Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 16 (May 1887), p. 122.
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection at the Metropolitan Museum. I." Independent 39 (November 17, 1887), p. 6.
Claude Vento (Violette). Les Peintres de la femme. Paris, 1888, p. 203.
Walter Rowlands. "The Miss Wolfe Collection." Art Journal, n.s., (January 1889), p. 14, ill. p. 12.
Sophia Antoinette Walker. "Fine Arts: The Painting Master in the Wolfe Collection." Independent 46 (August 2, 1894), p. 12.
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art—The French Painters." New York Times (May 22, 1895), p. 4.
William Sharp. "The Art Treasures of America (Concluded.)." Living Age, 7th ser., 1 (December 3, 1898), p. 604.
Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, p. 84.
Frank Fowler. "The Field of Art: Modern Foreign Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, Some Examples of the French School." Scribner's Magazine 44 (September 1908), p. 381, calls it a "dignified portrait".
D[aniel]. Cady Eaton. A Handbook of Modern French Painting. New York, 1909, p. 207, calls it one of Cabanel's best portraits, commenting that "a more refined, graceful, elegant, aristocratic, and at the same time truthful representation of a lady was never conceived or executed".
Rosamund Frost. "Metropolitan Memoirs: A Diamond Jubilee Biography." Art News Annual (1945–46), p. 6, ill.
Harry B. Wehle. "Seventy-Five Years Ago." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (April 1946), pp. 202, 209, ill.
Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Looks Back 75 Years." Art Digest 20 (April 15, 1946), p. 5.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 16.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 168–69, ill., note that it was painted in Paris.
Denys Sutton inParis—New York: A Continuing Romance. Exh. cat., Wildenstein. New York, 1977, p. 19, pl. VII.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 431, ill.
Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Catharine Lorillard Wolfe: The First Woman Benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 147 (March 1998), pp. 50–51, 54 n. 13, fig. 3 (color), notes that this was the second painting commissioned from Cabanel by Wolfe; remarks that Wolfe hung it above the mantel in her library until the year before her death, when she placed it in a specially constructed recess in her dining room.
Leanne Zalewski. "Alexandre Cabanel's Portraits of the American 'Aristocracy' of the Early Gilded Age." Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 4 (Spring 2005), fig. 7 (from Rowlands 1889) [http://19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/spring05/300--alexandre-cabanels-portraits-of-the-american-aristocracy-of-the-early-gilded-age], remarks that contemporary reviewers praised the sitter’s aristocratic bearing, costume, and beautiful hands; compares it to an undated engraving after a photograph of Wolfe and concludes that “Cabanel transformed Wolfe's appearance from unremarkable to striking”; notes that Cabanel used the same dark-colored tapestry background in several portraits of American socialites; mentions the existence of a replica (see Notes).
Michel Hilaire in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 21.
Roberta V. Rossi-Genillier in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, pp. 335–36, fig. 3 (color), reproduces a red chalk study for this picture (1876; Musée Fabre, Montpellier).
Jean Nougaret in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 470, no. 379.
A replica of The Met’s painting by the American artist Daniel Huntington, who also painted Wolfe’s father in 1871 (The Met 87.15.78), is owned by Grace Church, New York.
One hundred and twenty-five years ago today, on November 15, 1886, The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Board of Trustees officially approved the establishment of the institution's first curatorial departments—the Department of Paintings, Department of Sculpture, and Department of Casts.
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