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The Prince of Nassau

Elisabeth L. Vigée-LeBrun (French, 1755-1842)


In 1778 Vigée-LeBrun painted the first of her many portraits of Marie Antoinette, a royal commission which acknowledged her position as the artist most favored at court. Indeed, she enjoyed a degree of professional recognition, social status and financial success that was exceptional among women artists of her time. 

Vigée-LeBrun's portrait of the Prince of Nassau was one of her earliest successes. In it she includes the attributes of an adventurer. The globe and map refer to the Prince's voyage around the world with the explorer Bougainville in 1766-69.  The map is inscribed "Otaiti" in reference to his famed encounter with the Queen of Tahiti, who reportedly offered him her crown.

Charles-Henri-Othon, Prince of Nassau [1745-1809].{1} G.H.A. [George Henry Alexander] Clowes [1877-1958], Indianapolis, by 1941;{2} (Ivan N. Podgoursky [1901-1962], New York);{3} purchased by Grace (Mrs. Ralph) Showalter [d. 1972], Indianapolis, in about 1951;{4} given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1964.

{1}Souvenirs de Madame Louise-Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Paris, 1835, vol. I, p. 252. See Joseph Baillio, “Identification de quelques Portraits d’Anonymes de Vigée Le Brun aux États-Unis, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, November 1980, pp. 157-168, and Joseph Baillio, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755-1842, Fort Worth, 1982, cat. no. 4, for the correct identification of the sitter. Previously the portrait was thought to be of the Marquis de La Fayette.
{2}See letter from Podgoursky to GHA Clowes, 26 July 1941, in Clowes Archive, IMA.
{3}Count Ivan Podgoursky met Clowes in 1937, occasionally selling him pictures. He was affiliated with Demotte Gallery, New York, at the time he sold the painting to Showalter.
{4}See letter from Podgoursky to Mrs. R.W. Showalter offering her the painting, 7 May 1951, in IMA Historical File.

Object Information

artist
Elisabeth L. Vigée-LeBrun (French, 1755-1842)
creation date
1776
materials
oil on canvas
dimensions
25-3/8 x 21-1/16 in. (canvas)
31 x 26-3/4 x 3-1/4 in. (framed)
accession number
64.740
credit line
Gift of Mrs. Ralph W. Showalter
copyright
Public Domain
collection
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800
colors