Martine-Gabrielle-Yoland de Polastron, The duchesse de Polignac (1745-1793)
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Oil three-quarter length portrait of Yolande Duchesse de Polignac, signed and dated 1783. Her mouth is open as if singing. She wears a white muslin dress with a pink sash, a pearl necklace and a large blue feathered hat with a gauze scarf. She holds a sheet of music in her left hand and touches the keys of a piano with her right. More sheet music stands on the piano.
The confidante of Marie Antoinette, the duchesse de Polignac, demonstrates her musical skills in this portrait by one of the leading women artists of late 18th-century France. Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun shows the duchesse in a style of naturalistic clothes that became popular in the late 1770s. The portrait combines contemporary sensibilities with a quotation from Rubens.
In the late 1770s, women, led by Marie-Antoinette, sought to cast off the restrictive fashions of tight dresses and large wigs and embrace a more simple style of clothes, associated with nature and innocence. The duchesse's plain muslin dress contrasts with her ornate hat. The hat compares the artist's skill to that found in Rubens' portrait 'Le Chapeau Paille' (1622-25, now National Gallery, London), which Vigée-LeBrun admired on a visit to Antwerp in 1782. The duchesse is shown casually playing a piano and singing in a manner that creates an intimacy with the viewer. Musical skill was a desirable talent for aristocratic women of the 18th-century to cultivate.
The duchesse de Polignac was the intimate friend of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, and was appointed governess to the royal children. When confined by the birth of one of her children, Marie-Antoinette took up residence nearby to be able to see her frequently and with less ceremony. Other courtiers were jealous of her close relationship with the Queen. She was known for her charming, mild and candid expression and her simple and natural manners. The Baroness d'Oberkirch reported that Marie-Antoinette liked her because when in her presence she felt 'no longer a queen; I feel that I am myself' (Memoirs; London; 1852; vol. 2, pp. 28-30).
Vigée-LeBrun was the daughter of a Parisian portrait painter and married the painter and dealer LeBrun in 1776. She was made a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783. She was much patronised by Marie Antoinette and her circle, and became one of the most fashionable portrait painters in Paris.
Several versions of the portrait exist. A variant, without a hat but with flowers in the hair, was engraved in reverse by J. P. Comte de Paroy. There is a version at Versailles dated 1782 which shows more debt to Rubens. According to a list that Vigée-LeBrun made, a later version was painted around 1787.
Phillippa Plock, 2011
Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)
984 x 712
965 x 694 - sight
Signature & date
signed and dated, lower left (above hand): Mde Le Brun 1783
- Presented by Yolande-Martine-Gabrielle Duchesse de Polignac (b.1749, d.1793) to Louis-Philippe de Rigaud Marquis de Vaudreuil (b.1724, d.1802); by descent to his granddaughter the Comtesse de Clermont-Tonnerre before 1883; bought from the Comtesse de Clermont-Tonnerre by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) after 1883; inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
- Exposition des portraits du 18ème siècle, 1883, Paris
- Waddesdon (National Trust)
- Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957
- Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun; Souvenirs de Mme Vigée Le Brun; 2 vols; Paris; Bibliothèque Charpentier; 1867; vol. 2, pp. 361, 364-5; lists several versions of the portrait, but not under 1783 date.
- Gustave-Armand-Henri, Comte de Reiset; Modes et usages au temps de Marie-Antoinette par le comte de Reiset,.... Livre-journal de madame Éloffe,...; Paris; Firmin-Didot et Cie; 1885; vol. 2, p. 55; gives details of painting exhibited in 1883 when in collection of Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre.
- William H. Helm; Vigée-Lebrun, 1755-1842: her life, works, and friendships ... With a catalogue raisonné of the artist's pictures; London; Hutchinson & Co.; 1916; p. 215.
- Anita Brookner, French Pictures at Waddesdon, The Burlington Magazine, 101, 1959, 271-273; p. 272.
- Michael Levey, French and Italian Paintings at Waddesdon, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 57-66; p. 61, fig. 6.
- Michael Levey; Rococo to Revolution; London; Thames & Hudson; 1966; pp. 153-154, ill.
- Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 284, no. 134.
- Joseph Baillio; Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755-1842; Fort Worth; Kimbell Art Museum; 1982; p. 53, fig. 9.
- John Hardman; Louis XVI; London; Yale University Press; 1993; pp. 152-53, fig. 3.
- Terry Castle; The Apparitional Lesbian: female homosexuality and modern culture; New York; Columbia University Press; 1993; p. 129, ill.
- Mary D Sheriff; The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art; Chicago; University of Chicago Press; 1996; pp. 213-14, fig. 37.
- Angelica Goodden; The Sweetness of Life: A Biography of Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun; London; Andre Deutsch Ltd.; 1997; pp. 88-89, ill.
- Christian Baulez, fall-front desk, La Revue du Louvre et des musées de France, 3, June 1998, 13-14; p. 14, fig. 2.
- Françoise Pitt-Rivers; Madame Vigée Le Brun; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 2001; fig. 15.
- Jeanne Faton, Waddesdon Manor: joyau des collections anglaises, L'Estampille. L' Objet d'Art, September 2002; p. 95.
- Colin B. Bailey; Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris; New Haven; Yale University Press; 2002; p. 172.
- Jill Berk Jiminez; Picturing French Style: Three Hundred Years of Art and Fashion; Mobile Museum of Art, Alabama, 6 September 2002 - 5 January 2003; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida 4 February - 27 April 2003; Alabama; Mobile Museum of Art; 2002; p. 198.
- Dena Goodman; Marie-Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen; New York, London; Routledge Press; 2003; p. 138, ill.
- Simon Schama; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; 2 vols; London; The Folio Society (London); 2004; pp. 217, 219, fig. 59.
- Joseph Kerman, Gary Tomlinson; Listen (5th brief ed.); Boston; Bedford/ St. Martin's; 2004; fig. 6; Illustrating the desirable asset of musical accomplishment for women of the 18th Century.
- Gita May; Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun: The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution; New Haven; Yale University Press; 2005; pp. 40, 117, pl. 10.
- Thomas Vernet; 'Avec un très profond respect, je suis votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur', Grétry et ses dédicataires. 1767-1789; Jean Duron, Regards sur la musique: Grétry en société, Belgium, Mardaga, 2009; 61-100; p. 89, ill.
- Christian Baulez, Souvenirs of an embassy: the comte d'Adhemar in London, 1783-87, The Burlington Magazine, 151, June 2009, 372-381; p. 37, fig. 24.
- Akiya Takahashi; Créer au féminin: Femmes artistes du siècle de Madame Vigée Le Brun; Mitsubishi Ichigokan, Tokyo, 1 March - 8 May 2011; Tokyo; Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum; 2011; pp. 152, 248; Xavier Salmon establishes the chronology for the various versions.
- Kimberly Chrisman Campbell; Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI; New Haven; Yale University Press; 2015; pp. 182-183, fig. 135.
- Yolande de Polastron, Duchesse de Polignac, Sitter
Person as Subject
- Everyday Life/Entertainment/Music Making
- Objects/Reading, Writing & Printed Matter/Musical Score
- Objects/Musical Instruments/Piano
- Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Scarf or Shawl
- Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Hat
- Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Feathers
- Work & Occupations/Social Rank/Nobility