Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Spring (La Source)

Jean Marc Nattier (French, Paris 1685–1766 Paris)
Oil on canvas
31 3/4 x 25 5/8 in. (80.6 x 65.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Jessie Woolworth Donahue, 1956
Accession Number:
Not on view
Reportedly, the canvas was signed and dated 1738 on the reverse. The traditional identification of the sitter as Louise Henriette de Bourbon-Conti is not tenable and the picture, which is rather loosely and fluidly painted, was probably made for the art market.
In the catalogue of the 1918 Paris sale of the vicomte de Curel, where the picture first appeared, it was said to have been signed and dated Nattier 1738 on the reverse (the inscription is no longer visible owing to the presence of a lining canvas). The sitter was identified as the princesse de Bourbon-Conti. Nattier specialized in a form of allegorical guise whereby his sitters, often shown as here in a white chemise, were presented as goddesses or personifications. The presence of reeds and a vessel from which water flows identify this young woman as the spring, or "la source." The proposed identification depends upon comparison with other portraits, notably one showing the duchesse de Chartres, as she then was, as Hebe (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), which is signed and dated 1744. On this basis, it must be set aside, as there is no resemblance.

[Katharine Baetjer 2014]
?marquise de Toulongeon, née des Verfers; Albert de Curel, vicomte de Curel (until d. 1908; his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 3, 1918, postponed until November 25, 1918, no. 43, as "la Princesse de Bourbon-Conti," and signed, on the reverse, "Nattier, pinxit, 1738, à Paris," for Fr 125,000 to Trotti); [Trotti, Paris, 1918–20; sold for Fr 200,000 to Knoedler]; [Knoedler, New York, 1920–24; sold for $36,000 to Harkness]; Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, New York (1924–34; sold for $15,000 to Knoedler); [Knoedler, New York, 1934–39; sold for $25,000 to Donahue]; Jessie Woolworth (Mrs. James P.) Donahue, New York (1939–56)
London. Knoedler. "Masterpieces through Four Centuries (1400–1800)," May 29–June 29, 1935, no. 13 (lent from a private collection).

"A Beautiful Nattier for America." International Studio 75 (April 1922), p. 153, ill. in color on cover, as Princess de Bourbon-Conti.

Art News 33 (June 8, 1935), p. 10, ill.

"Additions to the Collections." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (October 1956), p. 42.

Pontus Grate. "Nattier and the Goddess of Eternal Youth." Thought and Form [Nationalmuseum Bulletin, Stockholm] 3, no. 3 (1979), p. 155, fig. 6, compares it to another Nattier portrait of Louise Henriette de Bourbon-Conti as Hebe (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1744).

Xavier Salmon. Jean-Marc Nattier, 1685–1766. Exh. cat., Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon. Paris, 1999, pp. 190, 249–250, 373, fig. 4, comments on the frequency with which women of the period were depicted "en source", in Nattier's case, for example, in works dating from 1734, 1739, 1740, and 1747.

Xavier Salmon. "Jean-Marc Nattier à Chantilly." Le Musée Condé no. 56 (October 1999), pp. 30–31 n. 31, fig. 16, as Louise-Henriette de Bourbon-Conti.

Andria Derstine. "Recent Research on Jean-Marc Nattier's 'Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin'." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 83, no. 1/4 (2009), p. 32 n. 12.

The frame is from France and dates to about 1740 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This provincial Louis XV frame has a back frame made of oak while the front is carved of limewood. The mitred corners are secured with tapered keys. The sight edge is carved in acanthus and husk ornament. The hollow is carved in strapwork panels overlaid in diamond framed cabochon and rises to an animated top edge in the form of swept knulled volutes. Acanthus leaves scroll to pierced rocaille corners and centers. An outer hollow falls back to the acanthus and dart back edge. This ambitiously designed but somewhat poorly executed frame retains its original matte and burnished water gilding with ochre and red bole on a skillfully recut gesso ground. Never altered, it may be original to the painting.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
There are traces of a signature and date at lower left.

Louise Henriette de Bourbon-Conti was born on June 20, 1726, the only daughter of Louis Armand II de Bourbon, prince de Conti, and of Louise Élisabeth, daughter of Louis III de Bourbon, prince de Condé. She married in 1743 Louis Philippe (1725–1785), duc de Chartres, becoming duchesse de Chartres and in 1752 duchesse d'Orléans. She was the mother of Philippe Égalité (1747–1793) and the grandmother of Louis Philippe (1773–1850).
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