A Scholar Collects

A Scholar Collects

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 7. The Little Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac Asleep .

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

The Little Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac Asleep

Auction Closed

January 31, 03:58 PM GMT


40,000 - 60,000 USD

Lot Details


Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

Paris 1755 - 1842

The Little Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac Asleep


8 ⅛ by 11 ¾ in.; 205 by 298 mm

Commissioned by (or offered by the artist to) the child's mother, the comtesse de Montesquiou Fezensac, née Louise Charlotte Françoise Le Tellier de Louvois-Courtanvaux de Montmirail de Creuzy (1765-1835), Paris and Château de Courtanvaux;

Thence by descent to her son, comte Ambroise Anatole Augustin de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1788-1878);

Thence by descent to his son, comte Wladimir-Anatole de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1830-1887);

Thence by descent to his son, comte Louis-Paul-Anatole de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1857-1919) and his wife, Claude-Étiennette- Marie-Octavie Vincent-de-Paul de Sauvan d'Aramon (1864-1936);

Thence by inheritance to private collectors;

With Galerie Éric Turquin, Paris;

From whom acquired by the present owner.

N. Jeffares, "Census of pastels of Vigée Le Brun" in Dictionary of Pastellists Before 1800, p. 12;

N. Jeffares, "Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun," Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, London 2006, online edition [http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/VigeeLeBrun.pdf], accessed 31 May 2023, cat. no. J.76.301, reproduced;

J. Baillio and X. Salmon, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, exh. cat., Paris 2015, pp. 197-199, 353 cat. no. 70, reproduced p. 199;

J. Baillio, K. Baetjer, and P. Lang, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, exh. cat., New York and Ottawa 2016, pp. 83-85, 244, cat. no. 15, reproduced p. 84.

Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 23 September 2015 - 11 September 2016, no. 70 (Paris) and no. 15 (New York and Ottawa).

The present portrait and lots 27 and 29 represent some of the most tender and moving depictions of young children in French eighteenth-century art. The infant portrayed here, asleep, swaddled in a white baby garment and wearing a lace bonnet, is Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac. Born in 1782, he is barely a year old. Vigée Le Brun’s technical mastery of the pastel medium is manifested in the dexterous handling of the chalks, simultaneously creating rough and smooth textures. The ruffles and texturing on the lace contrast with the smoothness of the baby’s skin. Economical use of line is cleverly employed to illustrate that his eyes are closed in peaceful slumber, while his little raised hand is suggestive of the dreams that may animate his limbs during rest. It is perfectly observed, by an artist who is herself at this date very familiar with a young child’s physiognomy and nature; Madame Vigée Le Brun’s only daughter, Julie Le Brun, was three years old when this portrait was likely commissioned.

While children have always been popular subjects for works of art, a particular interest in depicting very young children was ignited, amongst artists in eighteenth-century France, by the publication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book, Émile (1762), in which Rousseau emphasized the importance of keenly observing children during their ‘age of nature.’1 Joseph Baillio, in his 2016 catalogue entry for this pastel (see Exhibited) refers to this burgeoning interest in the very young model, citing the examples of two wash drawings of newborns by Moreau Le Jeune and the superb drawing of the King of Rome sleeping (1811), by Pierre Paul Prud’hon, in the Musée du Louvre.2 Madame Le Brun was no stranger to the use of young children as models for artists; from a young age, she too was depicted by her own father, Louis Vigée, who executed a pastel portrait of her, circa 1760-1.3

The son of the Comte Anne Elisabeth Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac and Louise Charlotte Françoise Le Tellier de Courtanvaux, Eugène de Montesquiou-Fézensac d’Artagnan was to become first equerry to the comte de Provence, Louis XVI’s brother, who would later (in 1809) rally to the side of Napoleon, replacing the prince de Talleyrand as First Chamberlain to the emperor.4 Several years earlier, in 1780, Madame Le Brun produced a pastel portrait of Eugène’s mother, now in a private collection.5 There is little information about the young boy’s childhood but in 1803 he married Aline d’Harcourt d’Olonde and they had three children together.

Other portraits of young infants by Vigée Le Brun, also executed in the 1780s, include images of Eugène's two Lastic-Sieujac cousins.6

This pastel and the trois-crayons drawing of a Sleeping baby (lot 29), which may also depict the same child, are both serene images, our appreciation of which is only heightened by the knowledge that, unlike adult sitters who are acutely aware that their portrait is being made, each is totally oblivious to the fact that they are being studied. The empathetic dialogue in all three portraits (Lots 7, 27 and 29) may, in part, be due to their execution coinciding with the birth of Vigee Le Brun’s own daughter, in 1780, and with the unfortunate miscarriage of her second pregnancy in 1784.  

1 J. Baillio, P. Lang and K. Baetjer, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, exh. cat., New York and Ottawa 2016, p. 83, under cat. 15

2 Ibid

3 Ibid., p. 4, fig. 1

4 Ibid., p. 85, under cat. 15

5 J. Baillio and X. Salmon, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, exh. cat., Paris 2015, p. 217, cat. 87, reproduced

6 Ibid., pp. 192-3, cats. 68 and 69