Huntington Gets a Vigée Le Brun Portrait, 2nd Ahmanson Gift

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Joseph Hyacinthe François-de-Paule de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil, about 1784. Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens
The Ahmanson Foundation has given the Huntington a major portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, the most successful female artist of 18th century France. The gift, a Portrait of Joseph Hyacinthe François-de-Paule de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil, was auctioned at Christie's Paris this May for the equivalent of $585,000.

The sitter was one of the great scoundrels of the Ancien Régime. He was a slave-owner, social climber, and schemer with anger issues. Vaudreuil broke one of Marie Antoinette's ivory billiard cues after losing a game. He was also an amateur actor, appearing in the anti-royalist satire The Marriage of Figaro. Louis XVI banned the play, and Marie Antoinette seems to have concluded that Vaudreuil was giving privilege a bad name.

It's been speculated that the count was romantically linked with Vigée Le Brun. Not in doubt is that Vaudreuil was Vigée Le Brun's most important patron. The artist painted four versions of his portrait and kept one—the one the Huntington has acquired—for the rest of her life. It measures about 51 by 38 inches. A nearly identical painting has long been in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Its colors look less vibrant than the Huntington's in online images. Christopher Knight has seen the Huntington painting in person and pronounces it "a knockout."

This is the second Ahmanson gift of art to the Huntington, following a Thomas Cole landscape last year, and after halting the foundation's longtime support of LACMA art acquisitions. 

The Vigée Le Brun is to go on view this month on the first floor of the Huntington Gallery. The French artist's scintillating textures will offer a counterpoint to the broad brushstrokes of the Gainsboroughs and Reynoldses.


Anonymous said…
LACMA’s loss. Thanks Govan. I hope your new small Instagram friendly museum was worth it!
Anonymous said…
With the Broad, Resnick and Price/Japanese galleries to the northwest and northeast of the overpass, and Piano's school-like patio in the middle, did Zumthor really need his blob to hover over Wilshire Blvd? However, his design would have been more boxy if he kept everything north of the street. But quite a bit of land making up the original footprint's landscaping and around the Broad/Resnick/Price-Goff/school-like add-ons remains open. But at least Govan is being alert and reasonable about LACMA's budget. Whew.
Anonymous said…
I wonder if Govan reads this blog hehe
Unknown said…
By coincidence, the portrait just acquired by the Huntington has a "relative" which is already in Los Angeles, at the Getty Museum (inv. 85.PB.443): it is the portrait, also by Elizabeth Vigée Lebrun, of Victoire-Pauline de Riquet de Carama (1764-1834), who in 1781 married Jean-Louis de Rigaud de Vaudreil (1763-1816), who was the cousin of Jospeh Hyacinthe de Rigaud de Vaudreil (1740-1817), the sitter of the Huntington portrait.
Anonymous said…
When is the Ahmanson Foundation going to spend some serious money on a masterpiece? This is NOT a masterpiece. Only the aesthetes will go out of their way to see this and it won't hold their interest for too long.

But hey, for $500,000 the Ahmanson keeps its name in the news. Though I dare say they won't be getting the same coverage David Geffen has gotten lately. Got to spend more than $100 million to draw the attention of the NYT.
Anonymous said…
^^^The Ahmanson Foundation shops in the bargain bin of art history.

No wonder LACMA dumped them for David Geffen and his $150 million. That $150 million is more than all the Ahmanson gifts combined.
Anonymous said…
The Ahmanson hasn't purchased anything worthwhile for LACMA for a few decades now. They need to face the conclusion that there just aren't any more affordable museum worthy European works pre-1900. They should've taken Govan's advice and started purchasing Latin American art, an area of art that the market hasn't caught up with.
Anonymous said…
^ At least Govan is keeping LACMA's budget well managed and well disciplined. He's like the Lehman Brothers of the museum world.

Also, even better, since the Wilshire Blvd museum is no longer receiving acquisitions from the Ahmanson Foundation, it's a good thing the Zumthor concrete blob will be smaller than the previous buildings were. Budget in the black and no Ahmanson. Win-win.

Moreover, the many windows of the new building symbolize just how much more transparent LACMA now is. Win-win-win!
This is one of the very few portraits by her that I've seen where the subject is attempting a smile. Her male subjects particularly are usually more pensive, sober.
Anonymous said…
... Bargain bin of art history, that's funny because it's true.

At $500K, the price paid at auction for this painting is hardly an auction record for the artist.

To see what connoisseurs think about this painting, I consulted the Met Catalogue for its Vigee Le Brun show. One of the essays claims that there are better male portraits by this artist.

The auction lot essay asserts that this was a preparatory study for two other works. That also explains the price.

... It will be interesting to see how the Huntington tries to contextualize the work. While it does show us what was wrong with the old regime, it's hardly an intentional commentary on the subject. The work remained in the artist's possession until her death. No one outside her social circle probably saw it. Indeed, there is a certain complicity with the existing order in knowing what risk such lavish portraits posed and keeping them in the closet.