The Duchesse de Chaulnes by Vigée-Lebrun?

15 November 2009


Somewhat surprisingly, considering that she meticulously listed her sitters, many portraits by Vigée-Lebrun remain unidentified. This is one example, which I have been studying for quite a while as it is such a lovely painting and it seems odd that no one has managed to identify the sitter.

I’m no expert but I am guessing a date of circa 1780-4 judging by the lady’s dress and hairstyle, which narrows it down to quite a few possibilities, including the Duchesse de Chaulnes, Marie Antoinette’s lady in waiting, who was painted in 1781.

Now this is probably just wishful thinking as I have written about the Duchesse before and am always looking for portraits of Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting but I do actually think that the sitter in this painting bears a marked resemblance to the only other portrait of the Duchesse that I have found, which was painted by Carmontelle at Chantilly:


Unfortunately there are two problems with this identification: firstly, the Duchesse only ever wore white in reference to the non consummation of her marriage (it seems that her husband was fonder of his plants and his mistress, the actress Mademoiselle Ménard, who he shared with Beaumarchais) although this austerity may have lessened by 1781 to encompass touches of blue such as her sash.

Secondly, the Duchesse died in 1781 of causes that I have not yet been able to determine and this sitter looks to be in the best of health. Of course, in the eighteenth century illness could be swift and devastating so that probably means very little!

What do you think?

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