New Record for Pre-Modern Female Artist, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Painting Sold for US$7.18m

Female Old Master artists took centre stage at Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Evening Sale. A 1788 painting by Élisabeth-Vigée Le Brun was sold for US$7.18m, a new auction record for any work by a pre-modern female artist.

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun

Marie Antoinette. Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Schlossmuseum, Darmstadt, German

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) was one of the most successful portraitists of 18th century France, gaining renown for her self-portraits and depictions of courtly women that included Queen Marie Antoinette.

Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape (1788)

The full-length portrait depicts Muhammad Dervish Khan, the Indian ambassador sent to France by the powerful Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan. At that time, it was not easy to get the Muslim ambassadors to be painted by a female artist. Yet, Vigée Le Brun managed to use her royal connections to secure the favour from the King.

The painting was offered as part of Sotheby’s The Female Triumphant during the Old Master Week, which presented a group of masterworks by trailblazing female artists from the 16th through the 19th century. The portrait was sold for US$7.2 million, above the pre-sale estimate of US$4m-6m, becoming the most expensive painting by a pre-modern female artist ever sold at auction.

The price realised is more than four times the previous auction record for the artist, which was held by Portrait of the artist, bust-length that sold for US$1.5m at Christie’s New York in October 2017.

The most expensive painting by a female Old Master artist ever sold at auction was previously held by Still Life of Roses, Tulips, a Sunflower and Other Flowers in a Glass, a 1710 painting by Rachel Ruysch. It fetched £1.65 m (US$2.52m) at a 2013 Sotheby’s auction in London.


Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape

Lot no.: 48
Size: 225.5 x 136 cm

  • Collection of the artist;
  • Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813), husband of the artist, Paris;
  • His estate sale, Paris, Constantin and Paillet, 23 May 1814, lot 81;
  • There acquired by Constantin for 112 fr.;
  • Lord Thomas Barnewall, 16th Baron Trimlestown (1796-1879), Charenton;
  • His sale, Charenton, at the home of Mrs. Cottin, 21 April 1872, lot 40;
  • Madame de B***;
  • Her sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 13 April 1893, lot 39;
  • Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle (1857-1930), Paris, by 1908;
  • Thence by descent until recently.

Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000
Price realised: US$7,185,900

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Master Paintings Evening Sale
Sale date: 30 January 2019
Sale total: US$52,710,650