Last week at Sotheby’s in New York, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s full-length Portrait of Muhammed Dervish Khan was sold for $7.2 million, which is a record price for a woman artist working before the modern era which is taken to start in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
For the Golovine, which takes its name from Vigée Le Brun’s enchanting Portrait of Countess Golovine (one of the most popular artworks in the collection of the Barber Institute), this is a moment for modest celebration. Whatever one thinks about the grossly inflated prices of the current art market, this valuation of Vigée Le Brun’s painting marks another important step in the reassessment of the historical contribution made by women artists. The Barber Institute acquired Portrait of the Countess Golovine in 1980. It was a far-sighted purchase; Vigée Le Brun had her first major retrospective two years later in 1982 and her reputation has been growing steadily since then.
An article by Sarah Bochiccio, published to coincide with the sale, reconsiders the work of Vigée Le Brun. The article ends with an assertion by Professor Anne Higonnet that “she was, in a way, the most radical painter of the period”. A bold claim but one she supports with an intriguing argument; you can read it here