• The Sitter’s Collection.
• Hence by descent, her daughter’s collection, Jeanne Marie Adele Navier (1817-1872), and that of her spouse, Alexis-Alexandre-Armand Lefèvre (1813-1872), Sceaux.
• Alphonse Kann (1870-1948) Collection, Paris.
• France, Private Collection.
1822, Paris, Salon of 1822, no 1049.
1912, Saint-Petersburg, Exposition centennale de l’art français, no 497.
Lithograph, unnamed author or engraver, probably by the artist himself. Rare Lithograph.
Charles Clement, author of the biography of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon published in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1869-1870, then separately in 1872, made it a point of honor to interview those close to the artist who were still alive. Thus, he was able to record the memories of Joseph Berger (1798-1870), who had been Prud’hon’s student between 1819 and 1822, and held the position of Drawing Professor at the Cambrai School of Fine Arts. Berger told him about taking a portrait sketch to the master one day in 1821:
“He gave me advice, with a large white [chalk] and traced what he wanted to express on my canvas; then he told me: I will show you how one should sketch out a portrait. He brought two portraits sketched of women. They were well posed, already perfectly modeled, richly done in greyish tones, but transparent. They were already very graceful. A little later, I went to see him. He said to me, “Did you go to the Salon ?” “No, Sir.” “Go there, then.” I went immediately. I saw the two finished portraits. They were placed where Corregio’s Antiope is today. They were admirably executed, fresh, and graceful. The crowd pressed to see them; four rows of people prevented access. One of these portraits was a brunette with a white slightly low-necked dress striped with small bands of gold. Today it is in the [Louvre] Museum under the title of Madame Jarre, but it has changed a lot, especially in the shadows. The other was of a ravishing blonde beauty. She also was dressed in a low-necked white dress flecked with gold. Although these portraits were only busts on a solid color ground and had no accessories, one could not tire of admiring them, they were so full of life and grace. I immediately went to Mr. Prud’hon to tell him my impression and that of the public; he appeared to be quite contented.”
This portrait of a blonde woman, identified in the Salon Livret of 1822 under the title of Portrait of Mme. N. and which, by 1844, Frédéric Villot, Prud’hon’s first biographer, had named “Madame Navier,” is the picture we present here. For his final participation in the Salon, the artist sent five canvasses, including A Grieving Family and four portraits: the one of the young Son of Marshall Gouvion-Saint-Cyr and three female busts of the ladies Péan de Saint-Gilles, Jarre, and Navier. It is in fact the surprising pair formed by the two last pictures which attracted all the attention: the brunette coiffed with a crown of wheat and flowers of the field, and envelopped in a Leonardesque sfumato, and the radiantly beautiful blonde who revives the memory of Titian and Veronese.
At the height of his glory, member of the Institute since 1816, and one of the most sought out portraitists in Upper Society of the Restoration, Prud’hon seems to wish to go beyond the narrow framework here of the society portrait which was codified under Napoleon by David and his disciples. The only artist of stature at the time to remain outside of David’s influence, Prud’hon actually found this sweet seemingly Davidian melancholy by studying Renaissance masters and 18th century sources. In May 1821, Prud’hon lost his companion Constance Mayer, and the tragedy of this disparition can be read in the figures of Her Ladyships Jarre and Navier, who are simultaneously real and inaccessible. For the Goncourt brothers, these works almost didn’t belong to the French School any more :
“The last and most beautiful portraits by the Master, these portraits of women who seem to me to put Prudhon, I don’t say in the first row of French painters, but above the French School, in the genre of portraiture. You will discover that in these portraits posterity will admire […] the character of spiritual grandeur, moral liveliness, intimate idealism, penetrating beauty, this depth of expression, this mysterious gaze, this strange delicious smile, all the signs of inimitable portraits of the Grand Italian School. Prud’hon’s glory is in these portraits.”
Deliberately conceived as complementary, the two portraits should never have been brought together again after the Salon of 1822. Not only did they not form pendants, but their sitters moved in completely different circles. Madame Jarre was Henriette Marguerite Madeleine Hébert who married Charles Jarre, a former student of Vincent who became a passementier dealer and supplier for armies and the military. One of Madeleine’s brothers was Prud’hon’s friend, which was why she was painted by him.
The Parisian Madame Jarre was quite the opposite. Marie-Charlot came from a noble family of Burgundy and held the title of Marquise de Beauvoir. In about 1812, she married Claude-Louis Navier, a brilliant mathematician, civil engineer, specialist of suspension bridges, and Professor at Ponts et Chaussées. Author of several treatises, he was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1824 and became a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1831. A woman who was quite witty, Madame Navier held a salon where she received the French scientific elite.
It is not impossible that the Portrait of Madame Navier was the first to be commissioned from Prud’hon. Two of Prud’hon’s drawings traditionally identified as preparatory to the Portrait of Madame Jarre seem in fact to be related to our work (Lyon, Fine Arts Museum; Private Collection; see Laveissière 1997, figs. 204a and 204b.) Of course, the presentation of the two women is identical, but in the two studies can be seen Marie Navier’s hairstyle with delicate curls on the temples, the oval face, full chest, and black shawl which is higher on the right arm than Madame Jarre’s. In addition, the artist appears to have worked our canvas more carefully and for much longer. As opposed to the Louvre picture, darkened by the reddish-brown layer which shows through the glazes, our picture preserves all its luminosity, the delicately pinkish whiteness of the flesh tones, and the transparency of the ruching which edges the neckline.
Madame Navier’s costume is less extravagant that Madame Jarre’s, but instead is both reserved and of the greatest elegance. She is dressed in an ivory muslin dress dotted with gold, and her head is wrapped in a band held by a clasp. The fine expensive black shawl brings out the light tint of the attire, while the verdigris background magnifies the young woman’s grey-green gaze. The rendering of materials is virtuoso, the brushwork suave and delicate, more supple in the hair or the silk belt, and impasto in the ornamentation of the dress. It thus creates a surprising decorative effect and confers a veritable presence on the sitter. .
Frédéric VILLOT, “Essai d’un catalogue raisonné des gravures et des lithographies exécutées par P.-P. Prud’hon, ou d’après ses compositions par différents artistes,” Le Cabinet de l’amateur et de l’antiquaire, 1844, p. 490, under no 14.
Charles CLEMENT, Prud’hon : sa vie, ses œuvres et sa correspondance, Paris, 1872, pp. 429-430.
Edmond de GONCOURT, Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, dessiné et gravé de P. P. Prud’hon, Paris, Rapilly, 1876, pp. 14-15, under no 11.
Exposition centennale de l’Art français à Saint-Pétersbourg sous le haut patronage de S. A. I. le Grand-Duc Nicolas Mikhaïlovitch, exh. cat. (in French and Russian), 1912, p. 112, no 497 (“Portrait de Mme N*.*”).
François MONOD, “Exposition centennale de l’art français à Saint-Pétersbourg,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1912, no 4, p. 304.
Alfred FOREST, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, peintre français (1758-1823), Paris, E. Leroux, 1913, pp. 106, 218, lithograph no 502.
Jean GUIFFREY, L’œuvre de P.-P. Prud’hon, Paris, Armand Colin, 1924, p. 218, no 581 (erroneous dimensions 61 x 51 cm.)
Sylvain LAVEISSIERE, Prud’hon ou le rêve du bonheur, exh. cat. Paris, Grand Palais, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997-1998, Paris, RMN, 1997, p. 286, fig. 204c.