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66

SWISS OR FRENCH SCHOOL, CIRCA 1790

PORTRAIT OF AN ELEGANT FAMILY IN A COURTYARD

SWISS OR FRENCH SCHOOL, CIRCA 1790

SWISS OR FRENCH SCHOOL, CIRCA 1790

PORTRAIT OF AN ELEGANT FAMILY IN A COURTYARD

PORTRAIT OF AN ELEGANT FAMILY IN A COURTYARD

Swiss or French School, circa 1790

PORTRAIT OF AN ELEGANT FAMILY IN A COURTYARD


watercolor with gouache highlights over graphite on vellum

15 1/2 by 12 1/4 in.; 39.5 by 31 cm


To request a condition report for this lot, please contact Charlotte.Berkowitz@sothebys.com.

Sigismond Bardac, Paris
His sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 10-11 May 1920, lot 2 (with a note listing prior attributions to Etienne-Charles Le Guay and to Jean-Baptiste Augustin)
With Seligmann and Wildenstein, 1923
Mortimer L. Schiff
Thence by descent to John M. Schiff
His deceased sale, London, Sotheby's, 1 July 1991, lot 38 (as French School, circa 1790)
There acquired
L. Boissonnas, Wolfgang-Adam Töpffer, Lausanne 1996, p. 81, reproduced in color p. 80 (as Attributed to Töpffer)

Though the identity of the artist who created this lovely family portrait is unknown, the watercolor is stylistically similar to the works of Wolfgang Adam Töpffer (1766 - 1847) in the late 1780s/1790. His early style, developed in Paris in the years before the French Revolution, is picturesque, with influences from Dutch genre painting and country landscapes. He returned to Paris in 1804 and worked on commission for Maria Feodorovna, Mother Empress of Russia and Empress Joséphine, and was the latter's art instructor. In fact it has been previously suggested that the sitters here are Joséphine with her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais (1760 - 1794), their children Eugene (b. 1781) and Hortense (b. 1783), and a Black nursemaid. However, the style of execution of the watercolor, which must date to circa 1790, and the ages of the children depicted here are not compatible with that identification.1 The family is likely a very fashionable French one, however, as they wear English style clothing, popular in late-1780s in France. The little boy wears an English-style light cotton skeleton suit, the lady wears a white muslin dress inspired by English trade in the West Indies, and the gentleman wears powdered hair and wide lapels, both French exaggerations of English style.


1. The children would have been 9 and 7 in 1790; the baby is too young for this identification to make sense. See L. Boissonnas 1996, p. 81.