Marie Gabrielle de Gramont, Duchesse de Caderousse
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun
Vigée Le Brun was one of the most popular portraitists of 18th-century Europe. Though her rapid rise to fame was both resisted and resented by jealous rivals, she became Painter to Queen Marie Antoinette of France, whom she first portrayed in 1778. This painting is one of a series of early masterpieces created by the artist in the decade prior to the Revolution. In terms of style and technique it is largely dependent on the example of the great Flemish artists of the 17th century, Rubens and Van Dyck, whose works Vigée Le Brun had studied in detail while traveling through the Low Countries in the early 1780s. The sitter's costume of red, black and white is based on that of the peasant women of Brittany--a precious affectation, on the part of a duchess, but one which was fashionable among the aristocracy at precisely this moment in French history. When the painting was first exhibited at the Salon of 1785, the Duchesse de Caderousse was an instant success with both critics and the public. One of the artist's most celebrated works, it remained in the possession of the sitter's descendants until November 1984.