Portrait miniature of a Lady and her daughter; she wearing blue figured dress with white underdress, her hair powdered; her daughter wearing silver-coloured gown and hat with white ostrich feather; circa 1740-50

GBP 7,500.00

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Object Description

Watercolour on vellum, set into a gold-plated frame in fausse-montre style.

The reverse indistinctly inscribed ‘Madame C[… ]/…/ pen…/Louis XV’.

This sensitively painted portrait shows a mother and child, likely a girl although children were dressed alike for the first two to eight years of their lives. The indistinct inscription on the reverse states a connection between the sitters and Louis XV. It is possible that this portrait represents one of the king’s daughters, who all took the title ‘Madame’, and their daughter.

One candidate would be Louise-Élisabeth of France (Marie Louise-Élisabeth (1727-1759) who was a French princess, a fille de France. She was the eldest daughter of King Louis XV and Queen Maria Leszczyńska, and the twin sister of Henriette of France. She married Infante Philip of Spain, who inherited the Duchy of Parma through his mother in 1748. If the portrait represents Louise-Elizabeth, it might have been painted between in December 1748 when Louise-Elizabeth and her daughter Isabella (then aged six years old but about to turn seven) arrived in Versailles. They were on their way to their new home in Parma. During her short stay in France, the young Isabella was doted on by her grandparents and aunts (as their only grandchild and niece).

The style of the double portrait appears close to that of court artist Pierre Gobert (1662-1744), who was working earlier in the 18th century. His characteristic depiction of faces, including the rosebud lips, are apparent here. It would also have been thought slightly anachronistic to paint on vellum by this later point in the 18th century – it is possible that this work was executed by an artist working outside of France at another European court.

Although it may not be possible to ascertain the artist or sitter in this double portrait, the image attempts to emulate a long tradition of oil portraits, showing mothers with their children in the grandest of settings. An earlier example of this can be found in the portrait of Catherine Coustard, Marquise of Castelnau with Her son Léonor by Nicolas de Largillière, circa 1700, in the Minneapolis Institute of Art. These visions of the perfect and adoring child in the eighteenth century coincided with new interests in the upbringing of children. Although childhood was far from carefree, particularly for the high-born child shown in this portrait, discipline was beginning to be softened and toys available from shops instead of being commissioned or homemade. At this date, portraits of individual children were extremely rare – it was not until the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, when the Swiss-born philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that children should be considered as autonomous being that artists began to treat them as individuals. By the middle of the century, it became fashionable to commission group family portraits characterised by tender relationships between parents and children, as seen in this image.

Object History

Private Collection

Object Details

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