When this portrait was painted in 1789, the sitter, daughter of Louis XV's premier valet de chambre, was the wife of the comte de la Châtre. She later married François Arnail de Jaucourt. For daily wear and for portraits, Vigée Le Brun favored white muslin dresses in this style for what she saw as their timeless, classical simplicity.
Marie Charlotte Louise Perrette Aglaé Bontemps was married in 1778 to a much older aristocrat, Claude Louis de la Châtre (1745–1824), comte de Nançay, lieutenant-general of the army and commander of the order of the Saint-Esprit. A royalist, he emigrated in 1792 and returned to France only in 1812 when Louis XVIII took the throne. Mademoiselle Bontemps achieved such a marriage because her ancestors had been valets to the French kings for generations, thus rising to a position of influence, and she herself was heir to a fortune. The couple had a son who died young. She was divorced in 1793 and later married François Arnail (1757–1852), marquis de Jaucourt, a liberal, a Protestant, and a believer in constitutional monarchy. He also emigrated but returned in 1799. He served both Napoleon and Louis XVIII, who named him a minister and in 1814 a peer of France. Childless, he adopted a member of another branch of his family.
Vigée Le Brun painted some of her finest portraits and self-portraits in the nine months before she herself was forced to leave France in October 1789 and this is one of them. Of the sitter herself we know practically nothing beyond the fact that she was a lady of style, as she is wearing the white muslin summer dress and fichu that Marie Antoinette herself had brought into fashion. Joseph Baillio describes this work as the most English of Vigée’s portraits of women and suggests that it may perhaps show knowledge of George Romney (1734–1802) gained by Vigée through the study of prints. The composition is at once elegant and naturalistic, the sitter’s expression wistful.
[Katharine Baetjer 2014]
Arnail François de Jaucourt, marquis de Jaucourt (until d. 1852); Charles Levisse de Montigny, marquis de Jaucourt (1852–d. 1877); Jean-François Levisse de Montigny, marquis de Jaucourt, Paris (1877–d. 1905); James Stillman, New York (by 1908–d. 1918); [Duveen, New York, until 1934]; [Duveen, New York, and Knoedler, New York, 1934; sold to McCann]; Mrs. Charles E. F. (Helena Woolworth) McCann, Oyster Bay, New York (1934–d. 1938; bequeathed to Donahue); her sister, Jessie Woolworth (Mrs. James P.) Donahue, New York (1938–54)
Paris. École des Beaux-Arts. "Portraits du siècle (1783–1883)," April 25–?, 1883, no. 159 (as "La marquise de Jaucourt," lent by the marquis de Jaucourt).
New York. Parke-Bernet. "French and English Art Treasures of the XVIII Century," December 20–30, 1942, no. 65 (as "Marquise de Jaucourt," lent by Mrs. James P. Donahue).
Tokyo National Museum. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 10–October 1, 1972, no. 86.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 8–November 26, 1972, no. 86.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," December 21, 1976–March 13, 1977, no. 59.
Austin. University Art Museum, University of Texas. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," April 12–June 12, 1977, no. 59.
Pittsburgh. Carnegie Institute. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," July 14–September 4, 1977, no. 59.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Eighteenth-Century Woman," December 12, 1981–September 5, 1982, unnumbered cat. (as "Madame de la Châtre," fig. 10).
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun," June 5–August 8, 1982, no. 29 (as "Comtesse de la Châtre").
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "The Winds of Revolution," November 14–December 28, 1989, no. 33.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Portraits publics, portraits privés, 1770–1830," October 4, 2006–January 9, 2007, no. 29.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. ""Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1830," February 3–April 20, 2007, no. 27.
Paris. Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. "Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun," September 23, 2015–January 11, 2016, no. 66.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France," February 15–May 15, 2016, no. 39.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842): The Portraitist to Marie Antoinette," June 10–September 11, 2016, no. 39.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Souvenirs. Vol. 1, Paris, 1835, p. 337 [Paris, 1986, ed. Claudine Herrmann, vol. 2, p. 344], as a portrait of "Madame de la Châtre" painted in 1789.
Armand Dayot. L'image de la femme. Paris, 1899, ill. opp. p. 309, as Madame de Jaucourt.
Masters in Art: Vigée Le Brun 6 (1905), p. 39, ill. pl. 7.
Pierre de Nolhac. Madame Vigée-Le Brun, peintre de la reine Marie-Antoinette, 1755–1842. Paris, 1908, ill. opp. p. 140, as the Marquise de Jaucourt in the collection of M. Stielmann.
Pierre de Nolhac. Madame Vigée-Le Brun, peintre de Marie-Antoinette. Paris, 1912, ill. opp. p. 238.
Louis Hautecœur. Madame Vigée-Lebrun. Paris, , pp. 61, 65, ill.
W. H. Helm. Vigée-Lebrun, 1755–1842: Her Life, Works, and Friendships. London, 1915, p. 202.
André Blum. Madame Vigée-Lebrun, peintre des grandes dames du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, , p. 99, pl. 15, as "Madame de la Châtre" under pictures executed in 1789, and illustrates our portrait as the Marquise de Jaucourt.
René Gimpel. Diary of an Art Dealer. English ed. New York, 1966, p. 11, in the entry for March 20, 1918, notes that Mary Cassatt mentioned a Vigée Le Brun among works owned by the late James Stillman.
Joseph Baillio. Letter to Mary Ann Wurth Harris. April 5, 1975, as "first-rate".
Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin inWomen Artists: 1550–1950. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. New York, 1976, pp. 192–93, no. 59, ill., publish Baillio's identification of this portrait with one Vigée lists as "Madame de la Châtre" in 1789; note that she later divorced and married François Arnail de Jaucourt.
Joseph Baillio. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755–1842. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum. Fort Worth, 1982, pp. 84–85, no. 29, ill., identifies the sitter as Madame de la Châtre; provides extensive biographical information; calls it "the ultimate expression of Parisian elegance in the months preceding the outbreak of the Revolution".
Joseph Baillio. The Winds of Revolution. Exh. cat., Wildenstein. New York, 1989, p. 43, no. 33, ill., as the "most English" of Vigée's portraits, observing that the composition recalls Romney.
Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts. Frameworks: Form, Function & Ornament in European Portrait Frames. London, 1996, pp. 318, 323, colorpl. 246 (in frame), describe the frame; call it original to the picture.
Mary D. Sheriff inDictionary of Women Artists. Ed. Delia Gaze. London, 1997, vol. 2, p. 1407, as among Vigée's most convincing portraits of society women.
Olivier Blanc. Portraits de femmes artistes et modèles à l'époque de Marie-Antoinette. Paris, 2006, ill. p. 320.
Sébastien Allard inCitizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1830. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 2007, p. 389, no. 27, ill. pp. 12, 98 (color, overall and detail) [French ed., "Portraits publics, portraits privés, 1770–1830," Paris, 2006, no. 29], compares the composition with that of Jacques-Louis David's 1790 portrait of the comtesse de Sorcy, observing that Vigée "has more empathy with her sitter"; calls our painting a portrait of the "ancien régime".
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. New Haven, 2015, p. 178, fig. 133 (color), ill. p. 334 (color detail).
Joseph Baillio inÉlisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Ed. Joseph Baillio and Xavier Salmon. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2015, p. 32.
Katharine Baetjer inÉlisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Ed. Joseph Baillio and Xavier Salmon. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2015, pp. 188–89, 353, no. 66, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Joseph Baillio inVigée Le Brun. Ed. Joseph Baillio, Katharine Baetjer, and Paul Lang. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2016, p. 25 [English and French language Canadian eds., "Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun," Ottawa, 2016].
Katharine Baetjer inVigée Le Brun. Ed. Joseph Baillio, Katharine Baetjer, and Paul Lang. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2016, pp. 136–37, 248, no. 39, ill. (color, overall and detail) [English and French language Canadian eds., "Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun," Ottawa, 2016].
French Louis XVI scotia frame with fluting, guilloche and fronton with piastres, laurel and festoons; original to the picture (see Mitchell and Roberts 1996).