May 24, 2004
Dec 18, 2007
Oct 7, 2008

Portrait of a Woman at a Harpsichord

Portrait of a Woman at a Harpsichord

c. 1788

François Dumont

(French, 1751–1831)

Watercolor on ivory in a 19th-century stamped gold and gilt metal frame

Diameter: 7.3 cm (2 7/8 in.); Diameter of frame: 9.3 cm (3 11/16 in.)

The Edward B. Greene Collection 1942.1139



We do not know the identity of this elegantly dressed woman who plays a sonata on the harpsichord. There are two copies of this miniature that are attributed to other artists (Peter Adolphe Hall and Marie Christine Campana), and both identify the sitter as Sophie Arnould, a highly acclaimed French soprano. Dumont was fond of using objects in the space around the sitter to express her character—a common practice in portraits—so it is possible that this woman was a musician. To play a musical instrument well was considered an essential feminine accomplishment for an aristocratic woman during the eighteenth century, and like her fashionable dress, communicates the sitter's grace and charm to the viewer. This miniature was probably painted around 1788, on the eve of the French revolution, and the year that Sophie retired from the stage at the age of 48. Unknown sitters are oftentimes later identified as persons who were well-known or fashionable during the period when the work was painted, and it is difficult to know conclusively.

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