Robert Lefevre (1755-1830)  - Full-length portrait of Joséphine de Beauharnais, circa 1799
1 / 9

Robert Lefevre (1755-1830) Full-length portrait of Joséphine de Beauharnais, circa 1799


Contact Information


Portrait of Joséphine de Beauharnais painted by Robert Lefèvre, oil on its original canvas signed and dated lower right on the rock «R. Lefèvre Fecit An 7» in its double-groove frame in gilded wood decorated with palmettes, pearls and rais de Coeur (heart-and-dart) from the Consulate/Empire period. Year VII of the Republican calendar began on September 22, 1798 and ended on September 22, 1799. On March 9, 1796, Josephine and Napoleon were married at the Hôtel de Mondragon, and she acquired the Château de Malmaison on April 21, 1799. Comparing this painting with the portrait of Empress Josephine painted in 1805 by Pierre -Paul Prud'hon kept in the collections of the Louvre that partly reproduces the composition of Robert Lefèvre, it is reasonable to think that the background of the latter represents the gardens of Malmaison during the summer of 1799.

A great portrait painter during the Consulate, the Empire and the Restoration, Robert Lefèvre (Bayeux 1755 – Paris 1830) executed a great number of royal, imperial, and high dignitaries portraits. In particular, he painted Joséphine de Beauharnais on several occasions with exceptional fidelity. In the summer of 1799, he produced his full-length portrait in the gardens of the Château de la Malmaison. Passionate about botany, Joséphine particularly liked to wander around the paths of the superb English-style garden.

In Robert Lefèvre's painting, Joséphine de Beauharnais is sitting on a rock in a very natural way on a rock in the shade of trees. Her silhouette, highlighted by luminous tones, stands out the nature painted with brown and green tints. In the background, a fleecy patch of sky emerges above a hill in perspective. Joséphine is wearing a white dress with a lace collar, tight on a high waist in Empire fashion and is shod in silk slippers that she barely lets a glimpse of. Her long shawl adorned with golden edging recalls the beginnings of her passion for this garment that she would collect after the Egyptian expedition. The painter plays with the transparency of the shawl and the fluidity of the fabrics. Each of the folds of the stole and the dress is painted with great attention and dexterity. This luxurious outfit underlines Josephine's high social rank, who was then wife of General Napoleon Bonaparte. The three-quarters face, tilted to the left, gives her a dreamy, meditative, even melancholic look. Heir to neo-classicism, the painter takes up the great theme of melancholy, where the characters are frequently painted alone in a landscape. Josephine's gaze is indifferent to the spectators. She seems lost in her thoughts. This work was the source of inspiration for the great portrait painter Pierre-Paul Prud'hon in his painting entitled Empress Joséphine from 1805 - 1808 and kept in the collections of the Louvre Museum. The Emperor's favorite artist and a drawing teacher of the Empress freely borrows the elements of Robert Lefèvre's composition: the subject is seated on rocks, in the same setting and in the same framing chosen by Lefèvre, in the gardens of Malmaison.

However, Joséphine looks more languid in the painting by Prud'hon and occupies more of the foreground. Prud'hon executed his painting just after she had become Empress. So, she used to wear the symbols of the empire like the red represented in her cashmere shawl. In his preliminary study, he had drawn a harp, witness to the taste for a return to antiquity at that time, which he finally abandoned in his final work. On the same date, Robert Lefèvre executed another portrait of the Empress Joséphine in a court dress with cherusques (1805), purchased by the State in 1997.

Robert Lefèvre is recognized as one of the greatest neo-classical artists, committed to imperial portraits. He competed with great masters of painting such as Prud'hon, Gros, or Gérard.

Robert Lefevre (1755-1830)  - Full-length portrait of Joséphine de Beauharnais, circa 1799
© 2022 - Luxvic


  • Year: 1799
  • Origin: France
  • Artist: Robert Lefevre
  • Material or technique: Oil on canvas
  • Sizes: 54 x 65.5 cm (Width x Height)
  • Sizes with frame: 72x83 cm

You might also like