Marie-Antoinette in purple

Marie Antoinette Drouais

Marie Antoinette in purple Drouais

This portrait of Marie-Antoinette by François-Hubert Drouais painted in 1773, when she was eighteen and still the Dauphine.

This is to my knowledge the only of her many portraits where she is represented in a purple dress, with matching neck and hair ribbons. The black lace streamer in the background leads me to surmise that she may have been wearing some form of demi-deuil (light mourning.)

This was many years before Madame Vigée-Lebrun became Marie-Antoinette’s favorite artist, but Drouais, then the Court painter, captured the young woman’s steady gaze and determined expression.

If you have more information on this lovely painting, please chime in!

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16 Comments to “Marie-Antoinette in purple”

  1. Carole Rae says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I have personally never seen this portrait. The color purple, if I’m not mistaken, has been around for quite sometime. The color purple stands for royalty. Once Queen Anne Boleyn had even worn a purple gown, which symbolized royalty. It does not surprise me that she is in a light purple dress for this painting.

  2. Marie-Antoinette was never officially crowned (no Queen of France ever was after Marie de Medicis, given the odd, to say the least, association with the assassination of Henri IV.)

  3. F. Ian Myers says:

    Salut…. I just thought I might add, that I’ve been told that this particular painting was done to just after the “coronation” of Marie Antoinette , or just after the Dauphin became Louis XVI…. I was told so because of the ermine robe she was/is wearing in the portrait… ermine robes were usually worn when one was “corona ted”…. but i could be wrong….. I don’t know if I’ve been of any help, though I hope so.

  4. monica says:

    If the painting was done in 1773 and Marie Antoinette was already 18 years old (her birthday was in November), the light mourning detail in the painting could be for her aunt, Princess Anne Charlotte of Lorraine (died 7 Nov 1773).

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    I believe you are right, Elena. Bravo for the sleuthing!

  6. I am perusing the letters between Marie-Antoinette and her mother, the Empress and in May 1773 the King of Sardinia, the father of the Comtesses de Provence and d’Artois, died. There was a requiem Mass for him in Paris; Marie-Antoinette probably wore light mourning as a courtesy.

  7. Catherine Delors says:

    Fascinating information, Carol! This explains why you see a lots of mauve in Winterhalter’s work. Indeed we take our fabric dyes for granted. Even white did not become widely available until the end of the 18th century, with the invention of eau de Javel, chlorine bleach. White mourning was reserved for Queens.

    And, in the case of this particular painting, I like your explanation of the paint pigment that could have turned mauve. But then it would have happened to other paintings too, wouldn’t it? This Marie-Antoinette is becoming more and more mysterious…

  8. There is an interesting book on purple -Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, on William Perkin’s discovery of the first aniline dye.
    ” Before Perkin’s discovery all the dyes and paints were colored by roots, leaves, insects, or, in the case of purple, mollusks. As a result, colors were inconsistent and unpredictably strong, often fading or washing out. As a result, colors were inconsistent and unpredictably strong, often fading or washing out. Perkin found a dye that would always produce a uniform shade–and he pointed the way to other synthetic colors, thus revolutionizing the world of both dyemaking and fashion. Mauve became all the rage. Queen Victoria wore it to her daughter’s wedding in 1858, and the highly influential Empress Eugénie decided the color matched her eyes. Soon, the streets of London erupted in what one wag called the “mauve measles.”

  9. Hmmm, interesting…
    Here’s what I would suggest –
    The paint on this gown has faded, since real purple dyes did not become readily available until the 19th century, invented by chance by a British chemist toying with coal tars. So purple became much loved by Victorian women.
    There were minute amounts of purple pigment made from a sea slug and used on the hem of Roman royal garments – the dye called Tyrian Purple. But an entire dress would be out of the question. it requires thousands of slugs to make the tinyest amount!
    This could be a fugitive color that has simply faded from exposure to sunlight – a carmine or some blue that has turned.
    Still a very pretty painting.

  10. Catherine Delors says:

    Ingrid – This is a detail of a portrait recently uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, the source of many of this blog’s images.,_new_Queen_of_France.jpg#filehistory
    It is very similar in shape and style to a portrait of the Comtesse de Provence, Marie-Antoinette’s sister-in-law, also painted by Drouais around the same time, and now in the Royal Palace of Turin.
    There is no mention of a museum for this one, so it might be in a private collection. However, I disagree with the mention “Marie-Antoinette, new Queen of France.” This is not consistent with the date 1773. Louis XV did not die until 1774, so Marie-Antoinette was still a Dauphine then. Or else the date is off by one year, this was painted in 1774, and we have a neat explanation for the demi-deuil
    Unfortunately this portrait was not part of the Marie-Antoinette exhibition last spring at the Grand Palais, so I was unable to discover more about this mysterious and fascinating image. This is why I was asking for more information!

  11. Ingrid Mida says:

    How refreshing to see a painting of Marie Antoinette that I’ve not seen before. I’ve been doing lots of research on her and not come across this artwork. Can you tell me where you found it and what museum it is in?

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    Any time, Holly! Not only the colors, but also the food, the mood, the weather…

  13. Holly says:

    What a beautiful portrait. Thanks for sharing the Paris colors with us!


  14. Catherine Delors says:

    Elisa – Thank you! Madame Vigee-Lebrun’s portraits are wonderful, but I also like to post the lesser-known images of Marie-Antoinette.

    Felio – Agreed, this is gorgeous. And yes, Marie-Antoinette, once her taste was formed, preferred white, and what we would call jewel tones: dark blues and especially deep reds.

  15. Felio Vasa says:

    It’s a gorgeous painting isn’t it. And that sweet simple ribbon around her neck. Ribbons where actually quite expensive & Marie Antoinette didn’t like the color orange.

  16. Elisa says:

    Tres belle!! Merci, I’ve never seen this portrait of her.

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