T his January in New York, Sotheby’s is honored to present A Scholar Collects, a sale comprised of paintings, drawings and sculpture from the collection of the preeminent scholar Joseph Baillio. A visionary art historian who specializes in the art of eighteenth-century France, Baillio is most well-known for his expertise in the pioneering woman artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. His landmark exhibitions on her life and career, first in 1982 in Fort Worth and then in 2016 in New York, Paris, and Montreal, were triumphant in catapulting her to the forefront of scholarship and furthered her indelible mark on the history of art.
Sotheby's Presents: Élisabeth-Louise Vigée LeBrun's Self Portrait
"The connoisseur might be defined as a laconic art historian, and the art historian as a loquacious connoisseur."
Thus the great art historian and critic Erwin Panofsky defined the tension between those who pursue an aesthetic path to the understanding of art, and those who analyze, interpret and debate it as an academic subject. The difference was not one of kind, but of degree.
Sometimes, these two qualities can be found together in one academic, although this is becoming rarer and rarer. However, in the collection of the renowned scholar Joseph Baillio, we see the full scope of both. Assembled with care and intelligence over the past four decades, the collection is select and beautiful, and represents the best of French art of the 18th century. Drawings, objects and paintings are all in beautiful state and of exceptional quality (the eye of the connoisseur) and of cultural and historical importance (the mind of the historian).
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the central focus of the collection, a painting and works on paper by the greatest woman artist of the eighteenth century, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Covering the scope of the artist’s illustrious career, the collection includes an early portrait of her mother, Madame Jacques François Le Sèvre, painted when Vigée was perhaps in her late teens. More typical of the intimate portrait style that she pioneered is the stunning and impressive pastel portrait of the Duchesse de Guiche, a sitter that she would paint again during her years in exile from France. Most surprising are a group of pastel landscapes made in the opening years of the 19th Century, when Vigée was traveling in England and France. These are works of great lyricism, and appear to be decades before their time. The gem, however, is the beautiful Self-Portrait in Traveling Costume, dateable to just after her departure from France in late 1789.
Highlights by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Paintings in the collection include elegant still lifes by leading French artists Pierre Dupuis and Alexandre-François Desportes as well as portraits of Jean-Baptiste Boyer de Fonscolombe and André Joseph Hippolyte de Gramont, whose wife was painted by Vigée Le Brun (her portrait is now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum). Other important Parisian artists Hubert Robert, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon and Gustave Doré are also represented in the collection.