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 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.