DAVID, Jacques-Louis
(b. 1748, Paris, d. 1825, Bruxelles)

Portrait of the Comtesse Vilain XIIII and her Daughter

1816
Oil on canvas, 95 x 76 cm
National Gallery, London

In 1816, David painted the tender portrait of the Comtesse Vilain XIII and her Daughter. The 36-year-old comtesse had formerly been lady-in-waiting to the empress Marie Louise and had held Napoleon's son, the king of Rome, at his christening in 1811. Her husband, Philippe Vilain XIIII, had been the mayor of Ghent and had been raised to the nobility by Napoleon in 1811. (The numerals XIIII after the family name were a reminder of a seventeenth-century ancestor who had presented the keys of Ghent to Louis XIV.) In the picture David gives a very frank yet affectionate portrayal of mother and daughter, although the comtesse complained about being forced to pose for hours on end. The end result was not only faithful and lifelike but also a beautiful piece of work. Like many of his Brussels portraits, the sitters are closely framed, bringing them near to the spectator.