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Oil painting - Madame Roubiliac

Madame Roubiliac

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1760 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Vispré, François Xavier (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at Osterley Park House, London

François-Xavier Vispré (ca. 1730-1789) was born in Besançon but started his career in Paris engraving portraits. He was established in London as a painter of portraits, miniatures and small genre scenes by 1760 and exhibited regularly until 1783 with the Society of Artists. In 1788 and 1789 he exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy, but there is no record of him after this date.

This painting is a fine example of Vispré’s portraits, a category in which he specialised. The sitter was the third wife of the sculptor Louis François Roubiliac who enjoyed a great success in England. Vispré was a close friend of the Roubiliac, who were French expatriates like him.

Physical description

Half-length portrait of a woman, turned to right and looking to front; wearing a red satin dress trimmed with fur and a green flat hat in the same tonality of the plain background; her left hand placed on the pages of an open book of engravings;

Place of Origin

France (made)


ca. 1760 (made)


Vispré, François Xavier (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

' Mde. Nicole Celeste Roubiliac (née de Reignier) Painted by Vispré (see family book) E.[or C?] K. Londer [?] Maj. R.E. 15/5/92'
Inscribed on stretcher


Height: 30 in estimate, Width: 25 in estimate

Object history note

Purchased, 1953.

See Katharine A. Esdaile's Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, Oxford, 1928, where this portrait is described (p.145) and reproduced (Pl.XLV): it was at that time in the possession of the sculptor's descendants. Vispré was a friend and neighbour of Roubiliac's, and was one of the witnesses to his will.

Historical significance: This painting is a good example of François-Xavier Vispré's effective use of a dark background to highlight the sitter's face, modelled by a delicate effect of light and shade. P.43-1953 portrays Céleste Roubiliac, née Nicole Céleste Regnier. She was the third wife of the sculptor Louis François Roubiliac who appears to be the most accomplished sculptor working in England in the mid 18th century, making an important contribution to the formation of the English Rococo style. The museum holds an important number of his works. The sitter is depicted holding a book of engravings, an attribute which alludes to her social status and her involvement in the arts.
Roubiliac remarried between 1758 and 1759 but died in 1762. The sitter is not portrayed as a widow so the painting may have been executed upon Vispré's arrival in England around 1760. Vispré was a friend and a neighbour of the Roubiliac, and one of the witnesses to his will. He also made a pastel portrait of his friend, which may have been a pendant of the present one, in spite of the technique, and is now in the Yale Centre for British Art.
The sculptor François Roubiliac and his third wife, Nicole-Celeste Régnier, belonged to the vibrant Huguenot community that played a key role in England's cultural and commercial life in the 18th century. The Huguenots (French Calvinists) had left France en masse following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, which deprived them of religious freedom. Many of them were skilled craftsmen, and France's loss proved to be the gain of its rivals, England and Holland, where large numbers of Huguenots settled. When Roubiliac met her, his future wife was helping her brother run an artists' supply shop in Covent Garden.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
Portrait paintings were still fashionable during the following centuries and extended to the rising bourgeoisie and eventually to common people, especially during the social and political transformations of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, painted portraits were challenged and eventually supplanted by the development of new media such as photography.

Descriptive line

Portrait, half-length, of Nicole Céleste Roubiliac (née de Reignier), third wife of the sculptor Louis François Roubiliac. Oil painting by Francois Xavier Vispré, ca.1760.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Summary Catalogue of British Paintings, London, 1973, p. 140.
K. A. Esdaile, The life and works of Louis François Roubiliac, London, 1928, pl. XLV.
Victoria and Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings Accessions 1953 London: HMSO, 1963


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted



Images Online; Paintings; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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