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Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his Wife

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Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his Wife
ArtistJacques-Louis David
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions259.7 cm × 194.6 cm (102.2 in × 76.6 in)
LocationMetropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his Wife (French: Portrait d'Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier et de sa femme) is a double portrait of the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier and his wife and collaborator Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, commissioned from the French painter Jacques-Louis David in 1788[1] by Marie-Anne (who had been taught drawing by David). It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


David was paid 7,000 livres for the portrait on 16 December 1788.[2] It was not permitted to be put on public display at the Paris Salon for fear that an image of Lavoisier – a figure connected to the royal court and the Ancien Régime – might provoke anti-aristocratic aggression from viewers.[3]

In 1836, the painting was left by Marie-Anne to her great-niece, and it remained in the collection of the comtesse de Chazelles and her descendants until 1924, when it was bought by John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller gave it to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1927, and it was acquired from this institution by the Metropolitan Museum in 1977.


The work is painted in oils on a canvas of 259.7 × 194.6 cm.[4]

It shows the couple in Lavoisier's office, with a wood-panelled floor and walls of false marble with three classical pilasters. In the centre the couple face the viewer, with both their heads in three-quarters profile. Marie-Anne is shown standing, looking at the viewer. Her costume is that in fashion at the end of the 18th century – powdered hair, a white dress with a lace-edged ruffled neckline, and a blue fabric sash. She rests on her husband's shoulder, with her right hand leaning on the table.

Antoine Lavoisier is seated, wearing a black vest, culottes, stockings and buckled shoes, a white shirt with a lace jabot and powdered hair. His face turns towards his wife and he rests his left arm on the table, whilst writing with his right hand using a quill pen. The table is covered with scarlet velvet, many papers, a casket, an inkwell with two more quill pens, a barometer, a gasometer, a water still and a glass bell jar. A large round-bottom flask and a tap are on the floor to the right, by the table. To the table's extreme left is a chair with a large document-case and black cloth on it. The document-case, presumed to correspond to Madame's interest in the art of drawing, emphasizes a left-to-right symmetry in the portrait between M. Lavoisier and objects of science visibly displayed on the right, and Madame with her document case of artistic drawings prominently displayed on the left side of the portrait. Significant also is the depiction by David of the wife in a posture physically above the husband, somewhat atypically by late 18th century conventional standards of depicting a married couple in portraiture.

The painting is signed at the lower left: L DAVID, PARISIIS ANNO, 1788.

Recent research has shown that the depiction of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and Marie Anne Lavoisier was originally as "wealthy tax collectors and fashionable luxury consumers", and the chemical instruments were added later.[5] Marie Anne initially was depicted wearing a hat called a chapeau à la Tarare, named after the successful Beaumarchais and Salieri's opera, suggesting a date of the summer or late fall of 1787; the red cloth over the table originally covered a gilded table in the neoclassical style, and tally books on a shelf behind the couple (repainted into a plain wall), suggesting David's initial portrait depicted a wealthy aristocratic couple which he later altered into a depiction of scientific partners.[6]


The painting is on permanent display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hess, Thomas B. (May 9, 1977). "David's Plot". New York Magazine. pp. 101–103. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  2. ^ Baetjer, Katharine and Metropolitan Museum of Art (2019). French Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 319. ISBN 9781588396617.
  3. ^ Donovan, Arthur (1996). Antoine Lavoisier: Science, Administration, and Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 273. ISBN 052156672X.
  4. ^ a b "Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and His Wife (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836)". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  5. ^ Silvia A. Centano; Dorothy Mahon; Federico Carò; David Pullins (31 August 2021). "Discovering the evolution of Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Antoine-Laurent and Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier" (PDF). Heritage Science. 9. Heritage Science 9:84. doi:10.1186/s40494-021-00551-y. S2CID 237349255. Retrieved 2 September 2021.
  6. ^ Silvia A. Centano, Dorothy Mahon and David Pullins (1 September 2021). "Refashioning the Lavoisiers". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

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