This composition repeats a figural group from the important canvas by Lemoyne, Louis XV Giving Peace to Europe, painted in 1729 for the Salon de la Paix in Versailles. There are numerous studio versions and copies of the current picture, most of similar dimensions, but ours must be the one sold at Sotheby’s in July 1966, as part of the property of the late Sir Robert Bland Bird, 2nd Bt. Labels on other pictures from the same group offered in that sale match those on the reverse of the present lot: one is a loan label of the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva from 1963, which indicates it belonged to the ‘Collection de Mauduit’; this refers to Sir Robert’s only daughter, Pamela Bird, who had married Alain de Mauduit, Vicomte de Kervern. In his 1984 volume, Jean-Luc Bordeaux listed the present picture amongst the several versions then known, noting it had been part of the collection of Juliet Duff, daughter of the 4th Earl of Lonsdale. In the catalogue, and on the Witt library card, the picture is incorrectly listed as being on panel.
The picture’s early provenance, however, is as yet unresolved. Differentiating the many copies - their authorship and history – is problematic. But our picture is distinguished by its sculpted oval surround: there is only one other known version with this feature, a work of slightly larger dimensions, previously with the Galerie Heim-Gairac, Paris and at the Château de Sauvage, Yvelines. This added invention suggests both pictures may have been designed as overdoors. A further possible clue to the early provenance of the present lot, or the Heim-Gairac picture, comes from a catalogue, published in 1807, which features engravings of works forming part of the Stroganoff collection (Collection d’estampes d’après quelques tableaux de la Galerie de Son Exc. Mr Le Comte A. Stroganoff, St. Petersburg, 1807). It includes an engraving of the composition in question with the same oval surround: like the present lot, the oval is trimmed on all sides, and the measurements of the Stroganoff picture - ‘deux pieds et demi de haut, sur trois pieds un pouce deux lignes de large’ (ibid.) – match closely. The one obvious difference is the laurel wreath she wears in her hair in the engraving, absent at first glance from the our picture. On close inspection, however, the outline of the laurel can in fact be made out: it must have either been removed or possibly overpainted at a later date. This would tend to suggest that either the present lot or the Heim-Gairac picture may once have been part of the Straganoff collection. We are grateful to Jean-Luc Bordeaux for his assistance in cataloguing the present lot, which he believes, on the basis of photographs, includes some studio assistance.