Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1828–1887)

Alexandre Cabanel (French, Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris)

Oil on canvas
67 1/2 x 42 3/4 in. (171.5 x 108.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    In the mid-1870’s, both Catharine and John Wolfe commissioned works from Cabanel, who had made his reputation as a painter of genre scenes and portraits of Second Empire aristocrats. He ordered a variant of Cabanel’s most famous composition, The Birth of Venus (94.24.1), while she commissioned a Biblical figure painting and the present portrait. She sat for Cabanel in Paris, wearing a white satin evening dress that was the height of French fashion in 1876. Contemporary viewers admired the sitter’s elegant hands and her stance as that of "a hostess receiving guests…full of flexibility and pliant, willowy grace, entirely American in its distinction and sensitive responsiveness."

    The portrait presided over the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection when it was first exhibited at the Museum in November 1887. It was hung directly across from the portrait by Daniel Huntington of the donor’s father, John David Wolfe (now in the American Wing; 87.15.78).

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (upper left): ALEX. CABANEL. / 1876

  • Provenance

    Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, New York (1876–d. 1887)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. 460 Park Avenue Gallery. "Portraits of American Women: From Romanticism to Surrealism," December 5–29, 1945, no. 10.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 72.

    Toledo Museum of Art. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," November–December 1946, no. 39 (as "Miss Catharine Lorillard Wolfe").

    Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946," January–February 1947, no. 39.

    Fort Lauderdale. Museum of Art. "Corot to Cézanne: 19th Century French Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," December 22, 1992–April 11, 1993, no catalogue.

  • References

    The Art Treasures of America. reprint, 1977. New York, 1879, vol. 1, pp. 120, 134, as "Portrait of a Lady"; comments that "such a work of character-interpretation and technical ability is fit to go down to posterity, not only in the family portrait-gallery which illustrates a pedigree, but in the civic museum which records the national character of a period".

    Cicerone. "Private Galleries: Collection of Miss Catharine L. Wolfe." Art Amateur 2 (March 1880), p. 75.

    "The Fine Arts: Recent Gifts to the Metropolitan Museum." Critic (April 16, 1887), p. 194.

    Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 16 (May 1887), p. 122.

    "The Wolfe Pictures." New York Times (November 7, 1887), p. 4.

    Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection at the Metropolitan Museum. I." Independent 39 (November 17, 1887), p. 6.

    Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection. News and Notes." Independent 39 (December 1, 1887), p. 7.

    Claude Vento (Violette). Les Peintres de la femme. Paris, 1888, p. 203.

    Walter Rowlands. "The Miss Wolfe Collection." Art Journal, n.s., (January 1889), p. 14, ill. p. 12.

    Sophia Antoinette Walker. "Fine Arts: The Painting Master in the Wolfe Collection." Independent 46 (August 2, 1894), p. 12.

    "The Metropolitan Museum of Art—The French Painters." New York Times (May 22, 1895), p. 4.

    William Sharp. "The Art Treasures of America (Concluded.)." Living Age, 7th ser., 1 (December 3, 1898), p. 604.

    Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, p. 84.

    Frank Fowler. "The Field of Art: Modern Foreign Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, Some Examples of the French School." Scribner's Magazine 44 (September 1908), p. 381, calls it a "dignified portrait".

    D[aniel]. Cady Eaton. A Handbook of Modern French Painting. New York, 1909, p. 207, calls it one of Cabanel's best portraits, commenting that "a more refined, graceful, elegant, aristocratic, and at the same time truthful representation of a lady was never conceived or executed".

    Rosamund Frost. "Metropolitan Memoirs: A Diamond Jubilee Biography." Art News Annual (1945–46), p. 6, ill.

    Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Looks Back 75 Years." Art Digest 20 (April 15, 1946), p. 5.

    Harry B. Wehle. "Seventy-Five Years Ago." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (April 1946), pp. 202, 209, ill.

    Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. "XIX Century." French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2, New York, 1966, pp. 168–69, ill., note that it was painted in Paris.

    Denys Sutton in Paris—New York: A Continuing Romance. Exh. cat., Wildenstein. New York, 1977, p. 19, pl. VII.

    Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Catharine Lorillard Wolfe: The First Woman Benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 147 (March 1998), pp. 50–51, 54 n. 13, fig. 3 (color), notes that this was the second painting commissioned from Cabanel by Wolfe; remarks that Wolfe hung it above the mantel in her library until the year before her death, when she placed it in a specially constructed recess in her dining room.

    Leanne Zalewski. "Alexandre Cabanel's Portraits of the American 'Aristocracy' of the Early Gilded Age." Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. 4, Spring 2005, http://19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/spring05/300--alexandre-cabanels-portraits-of-the-american-aristocracy-of-the-early-gilded-age.

    Michel Hilaire in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 21.

    Jean Nougaret in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, p. 470, no. 379.

    Roberta V. Rossi-Genillier in Michel Hilaire and Sylvain Amic. Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889), La tradition du beau. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération. Paris, 2010, pp. 335–36, fig. 3 (color), reproduces a red chalk study for this picture (1876; Musée Fabre, Montpellier).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History