When a Museum acquires a new work of art, it can be a very quick process or it can take months—or sometimes years! The latter was the case with The Harp Lesson, a monumental triple portrait by the French neoclassical painter Jean Antoine Théodore Giroust (1753–1817).
We first became aware of the painting’s availability in 2010, but the circumstances to purchase it were not quite right. When it came up for auction at Christie’s Old Masters sale in New York on January 28 of this year, we were ready to spring into action. So Olivier Meslay, the DMA’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art, headed to New York, hoping that the weatherman’s forecast for twelve to eighteen inches of snow there would not thwart our chance to bid on the painting. The morning of the auction, several of us excitedly watched the sale live online from our offices in Dallas. The bidding went quite fast; it seemed to be over in the blink of an eye! Then, after the auctioneer said “sold!” with a thwack of his hammer, we had to endure several anxious minutes before we learned that the DMA was the high bidder.
This month, the monumental painting went on view in the European Galleries. Including the frame, it measures just shy of ten feet tall. While installing it was no minor undertaking, these pictures are proof that no challenge is too insurmountable for the DMA’s expert art preparators!
Completed in 1791, this large triple portrait depicts the fourteen-year-old Louise Marie Adelaïde Eugénie d’Orléans (1777–1847) and her governess, Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin, Comtesse de Genlis (1746–1830), each playing a large, beautiful harp. Leaning on the music stand before them is Mademoiselle Paméla (c. 1773–1831), who had been adopted by Madame de Genlis and raised as a companion to the d’Orléans children.
This remarkable life-size triple portrait is sure to create a sensation in our galleries just as it did when it debuted at the 1791 Salon in Paris.
Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant in the European and American Art Department at the DMA.