J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Thursday, February 18, 2016

“I do not like Madme. le Brun’s fan colouring”

Yesterday I mentioned the exhibit in New York about the French portraitist Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. I wondered if any of the American diplomats in Paris had crossed paths with her, so I looked up her names in Founders Online.

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson went to an exhibit at the Académie Royale and reported on it to the American painter John Trumbull, then studying in London:
The Salon has been open for or five days. I inclose you a list of it’s treasures. The best thing is the Death of Socrates by David, and a superb one it is. A crucifixion by Roland in imitation of Relief is as perfect as it can be. Five pieces of antiquities by Robert are also among the foremost. Many portraits of Madme. Le Brun are exhibited and much approved.
Three years later, Jefferson was in New York starting work as Secretary of State. He wrote a letter to William Short, his former secretary who had succeeded him as the U.S. of A.’s top diplomat in Paris, about obtaining a portrait of Lafayette:
My pictures of American worthies will be absolutely incomplete till I get the M. de la fayette’s. Tell him this, and that he must permit you to have it drawn for me. I do not like Madme. le Brun’s fan colouring, and of all possible occasions it would be worst applied to a hero. This therefore is an additional reason to that of her extravagant price
Jefferson’s “fan painting” phrase appears to be an allusion to how Vigée le Brun’s father had painted fans as well as portraits and served as her first teacher. Jefferson evidently thought she retained too much of that style.

Vigée le Brun painted Lafayette’s mistress, the Countess de Simiane, but I don’t see mention of her painting the marquis himself. Eventually Jefferson received a portrait of Lafayette by Joseph Boze, which is now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. I’ve always found it…awfully pink.

No comments: