PARIS – Pierre Etienne, Head of Old Master & 19th Century Paintings & Drawings at Sotheby’s France, discusses Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun's portrait of Lady Perceval


Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of Mrs Spencer Perceval, signed and dated lower right 1804, pastel. Estimate: €120,000–150,000. © Sotheby’s and Art Digital Studio.

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was a talented and adventurous artist. Born in Paris, Lebrun fled the turpitudes of imperial France and its capricious aristocracy during the Revolution. Vigée-Lebrun’s fame preceded her across Europe, and by 1804 she was living in England, where she was warmly welcomed by eminent members of English High Society, including Lady Perceval, a young Irishwoman married to the unfortunate Spencer Perceval, an uncompromising lawyer who was shunned by his wife’s family and ultimately became Prime Minister, but was then assinated in 1812. Lady Perceval was a keen salon hostess, who received numerous high-ranking émigrés to her fashionable gatherings. The celebrated Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun was among them and lost little time in immortalizing her hostess in this magnificent pastel portrait, bringing her delicate traits to life. Although pregnant with her eleventh child, the doe-eyed, peach-skinned Lady Perceval charms us with her youthful freshness, the tender pink of her cheeks subtly highlighting her porcelain complexion. Framed by rebellious strands of hair, this picture of innocence is troubled only slightly by a plunging neckline, which while sensual, also reinforces her status as a mother. Vigée-Lebrun’s ability to convey female beauty, using an evanescent pastel palette of infinite softness as seen in this portrait, further confirms her status as one of the most celebrated female painters of her time.

Vigée-Lebrun's portrait will be sold as a part of the 25 March sale of the Ancienne Collection de la Vicomtesse de Courval.