WRITTEN BY ASSOCIATE CURATOR NELDA DAMIANO
Our beautiful painting by Marie-Victoire Lemoine, Portrait of a Youth with an Embroidered Vest, has embarked on a national journey! It is currently part of a fascinating exhibition presented at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, in Winter Park, Florida. The Black Figure in the European Imaginary (January 20 through May 15, 2017) explores “the manner in which the visual arts of Europe imagined black people during the long nineteenth century (c. 1750 — 1914),” according to the exhibition curators.
Our painting will then continue its “tour,” with a stop at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., where it will be featured in the exhibition America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting (May 21 through August 20, 2017). As mentioned on the NGA’s website, the exhibition “tells the story of the collectors, curators, museum directors, and dealers responsible for developing an American appetite for the French rococo and neoclassical styles.”
Marie-Victoire Lemoine (1754 — 1820) shared her passion for the arts with two of her sisters, who were also artists. She studied with the history painter François Guillaume Ménageot (1744 — 1816) and developed a keen talent for portraiture and for elegantly capturing her sitter’s emotional disposition. She first exhibited her work at the Salon (the most important exhibition in Paris) in 1796. One of the paintings she submitted, The Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter, is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
She would go on to display portraits and genre scenes at the Salon intermittently until 1814. The importance of the Salon is explored in Academic Splendor: Ninteenth-Century Masterworks from the Dahesh Museum of Art, opening at the Cummer Museum on January 27.
Since Portrait of a Youth with an Embroidered Vest entered the Cummer Museum’s Permanent Collection, there has been much speculation about who the sitter is. It was once thought to be a portrait of the well-known Louis Benoît Zamor, a protégé of Madame Du Barry (1743 — 1793), the last mistress of King Louis XV. Du Barry expelled Zamor from her home after he sympathized with the French Revolution. His testimony against Madame Du Barry was a contributing factor to her execution by guillotine in 1793. Given the richness of his attire, another hypothesis is that the young man may be Scipio or Narcisse, both linked to the house of the Duchess d’Orléans, born de Bourbon-Penthièvre (1753 — 1821), for whom the artist worked.
Exhibitions like the ones in Winter Park and Washington D.C. encourage new research that help us solve such mysteries. However, sometimes, even thorough research yields little result because critical documents have been lost or destroyed. Sharing our artworks with museums in other cities is also a great opportunity for the Cummer Museum to reach new audiences across the country and the world, and allow them to discover our rich Collection.