A life-size portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun has sold for a staggering $7.18 million (£5.5 million) at Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in New York.
The price achieved on Wednesday surpassed its estimate of $4 million to $6 million (£3.1 million to £4.6 million), making this the highest-priced painting by a pre-modern female artist ever sold at auction. It markedly broke the previous record set by Rachel Ruysch’s Still life of roses, tulips, a sunflower and other flowers in a glass, 1710, which realised $2.52 million (£1.9 million) at a Sotheby’s London auction in 2013.
Vigée Le Brun, also known as Madame Lebrun, was a significant French portrait painter of the late 18th century. She famously served Marie Antoinette as portrait painter to the French royalty. In total, Vigée Le Brun painted more than thirty portraits of the Queen and enjoyed particular favour in her patronage.
Calvine Harvey, a specialist of Old Master paintings for Sotheby’s in New York commented that she “was certainly one of the most successful and famous artists of her time, for a female artist.”
The painting sold at Sotheby’s was entitled Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape. Vigée Le Brun painted the imposing portrait of an Indian ambassador who visited France in 1788. In the following year, she exhibited the work in the Salon in Paris before it found its way into the collection of her husband, Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun.
Sotheby’s sale, The Female Triumphant, highlighted a collection of 21 paintings by female pre-modern artists, which far exceeded the 14 paintings offered in 2018. Works by Fede Galizia, Angelika Kauffmann, and Giulia Lama also set sale records at the New York auction.
“It was certainly a goal of ours to shine a spotlight on these women, and to get their names out there and get people talking about them and their paintings so they can enter into the larger dialogue,” remarked Harvey.