Sophie Frémiet portrait

Portrait of a Woman by Sophie Frémiet has been acquired by the Getty Museum.

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The portrait of a woman seated in a lavish interior was previously thought to be by another [male] hand but was reattributed a year ago to the French artist and is now thought to have featured at her debut show in 1818.

The seller was dealer Robilant + Voena. Edmondo di Robilant told ATG: “I cannot tell you absolutely how much the museum paid for it, but I can tell you it was a six-figure sum.”

Works by Frémiet (who is also known by her married name Sophie Rude) rarely appear on the market and the portrait is the first painting by her to enter a US museum. Described by the Getty as “a superb addition to our collection of neoclassical art”, it will be shown in the museum alongside three works by her mentor, Jacques-Louis David.

Recent history

The early provenance of the work is unknown but the picture emerged in 2016 with another dealer, Cider House Galleries of Bletchingley, Surrey. At the time it was attributed to Flemish painter François-Joseph Kinson (1770-1839).

Having then entered a private collection, it went on to sell for £8500 at Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury in 2022, but a year later it appeared at Christie's New York where it was catalogued as ‘attributed to Sophie Rude’ and estimated at $40,000-60,000. It sold at $37,800 with premium (£30,590) to a private collector, from whom Robilant + Voena acquired it.

It was subsequently exhibited at the dealer’s New York gallery in a show titled Ahead of her Time: Pioneering Women from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century which ran until February this year.

The painting itself, a 5ft 4in x 3ft 11in (1.62 x 1.19m) oil on canvas, depicts a young woman seated and looking directly at the viewer with a faint smile. While the identity of the sitter remains unknown, the Getty said that her ‘fashionable ensemble’ and the presence of a small collapsible opera glass on the table, suggested she was dressed for an evening at the theatre.

Talented pupil

The work is believed to be one of two ambitious full-length portraits Frémiet exhibited at the 1818 Salon in Brussels, her public debut at 21 years of age. A talented pupil of David, then the most celebrated painter in Europe, the portrait ‘shows how thoroughly she had mastered David’s style, while highlighting her own particular talents in the rendering of different fabrics and materials’, according to the museum.

Works by Frémiet have only occasionally appeared at auction – records 27 results, the highest of which is the $550,000 (£411,275) at Sotheby’s New York for a monumental mythological scene in 2022.

Di Robilant said: “Works by the artist are rare and are often only ‘attributed’… She was so competent a pupil of David that some of her works were often mistaken as being by him.”

Around the same time that Frémiet painted the current portrait, David tasked her with creating a copy of his The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis, which he declared was so skillfully executed that it appeared indistinguishable from his original. Another of David’s pupils gave her a ‘complement’ by stating she was “a woman only in clothing but a man by her merit”.

Artistic background

Sophie Frémiet was born into an artistic family – her father was an assistant curator at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon and a patron of contemporary artists. Due to their staunch Bonapartist sensibilities, the family moved to Brussels after the restitution of the Bourbon monarchy in 1815.

It was in the Belgian capital that she became a pupil of David and, following her debut at the Salon, she began to receive notable commissions including for the decoration of the royal palace at Tervuren.

In 1821, Frémiet married her father's former protégé, the sculptor François Rude. Returning to France in 1826, she settled in Paris and produced a series of mythological scenes as well as religious paintings and portraits. She also modelled for the female figure representing the Genius of War that was part of her husband's frieze that forms part of the Arc de Triomphe.

“Largely overshadowed”

Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum, said: “Largely overshadowed by her famous sculptor husband, François Rude, Frémiet has not received the international credit she deserves.

Portrait of a Woman is the first painting by the artist to enter a US museum and it will be a superb addition to our collection of neoclassical art, which is already strong in the work of David. I expect it will be popular with our visitors on account of its attractive subject, skillful handling, and truly impressive size and scale.”