Painter and pastellist Jean-Baptiste Lefèbvre painted this portrait of sculptor Edme Bouchardon’s sister.
Jean-Baptiste Lefèbvre (before 1719-after 1779), Portrait de Marie-Thérèse Girard, née Bouchardon, 1747, oil on canvas, 82 x 65 cm/ 32.28 x 25.59 in.
Although many artists are named Lefèvre or Lefèbvre, not all of them are related to each other. At least 12 appear in 18th-century records, which makes attributions complicated, to say the least. Portrait de Marie-Thérèse Girard, née Bouchardon, is ascribed to Jean-Baptiste, son of a Saint Luke’s Academy director who himself became a member of that body in 1751 and a professor in 1769. He received several commissions for the Chateau of Versailles: the first, at the request of Marie Leszczynska (Queen of France, r. 1703-1768) between 1741 and 1742, for religious paintings, the others, in the 1760s, for portraits, a genre in which he seems to have made a name for himself.
In 2018, French curator Xavier Salmon published a catalog of the pastels held at the Louvre, which boasts the world’s most beautiful collection in that medium. This gave Neil Jeffares, author of Dictionary of Pastellists Before 1800, an opportunity to review some attributions, especially those involving Jean-Baptiste Lefèbvre. He noted that the artist worked for Parisian circles, including that of Monsieur de Rozeville, a lawyer at the city’s Parliament, and that his brother-in-law was pastel maker Jean-Nicolas Vernezobre (1719–1789). The British art historian also ascertained that Lefèbvre, who lodged at a hostelry on the Quai Pelletier called "À la couronne d'or" ("to the golden crown"), participated in the Salon from 1753 to 1774 and was often asked to provide expert testimony at trials on the quality of oil paintings, pastels and miniatures. All of this paints a picture of a well-introduced man. No wonder he was asked to paint the portrait of a daughter and sister of fashionable sculptors.A Quiet Sister
Born in 1715, Marie-Thérèse was the 15th and penultimate child of Jean-Baptiste Bouchardon (1667–1742) and the sister of Edme (1698–1762). Her father and brother were both sculptors. Edme stood in good favor at court, especially after being appointed the king’s sculptor in 1732. Little is known of Marie-Thérèse, except that she married the gentleman François Girard in 1742 and, with him, looked after her brother’s estate. That is how several of Edme’s sketchbooks entered the Louvre after their deaths. Mr. Jeffares also writes that Lefèbvre liked to paint his models indoors and, in both paint and pastel, paid particular attention to their clothing and accessories, which he painstakingly detailed. The young Marie-Thérèse’s overall appearance—a sober black apron over a daffodil silk dress—leaves no doubt about her social rank. The viewer’s gaze is drawn to the brass and walnut spinning wheel she is carefully turning. This was a worthy occupation for highborn women and gives the portrait additional charm. Presented in a beautiful carved and gilded Louis XV wood frame, the portrait belonged to the Baronne de Montessuy in the 19th century and has been in a private collection since 2012.