As Lanvin marks its 125th anniversary this year, the French house is granting rare insight into the private life and character of its founder, a woman ahead of her time. Yet, while the opening of Jeanne Lanvin’s private office draws the most attention, it is her often-forgotten portrait by Edouard Vuillard at the Musée d’Orsay that perhaps best captures the multitasking designer, devoted mother and modern businesswoman in her unique environment.
By the Twenties, Vuillard was among the most fashionable portraitists of his time, popular among Paris’ socialites and aristocrats, the very same clientele that frequented Lanvin—arguably the world’s first full-fledged fashion brand, comprising women’s, men’s and children’s wear, alongside a flourishing fragrance business and home decor line, while also including a dye factory enabling the astute designer to realize her exclusive palette of colors.
Lanvin’s daughter and muse, Marie-Blanche de Polignac, initially commissioned a painting of herself, but Vuillard decided to do Jeanne’s portrait first, finishing it in July 1933.
Calm and friendly in nature, it depicts Lanvin sitting in her office on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where the company is still headquartered. Jeanne is looking at sketchbooks as flashes of Polignac pink and Lanvin blue pop up from the shelves behind her, amid samples of fabrics. Her jacket in the house’s signature Velazquez green reflects her passion for art, while a bust of her daughter is prominent on the large ebony desk designed by Eugène Printz.
“There is an interesting tension in the composition between the feminine gestures and soft features of her face, bathed in warm light, and the cold Art Deco furniture with its straight, orderly lines,” observed Isabelle Cahn, curator at the Musée d’Orsay. Vuillard painted what he saw—he knew Lanvin since they were children, growing up in poor conditions in the same building on Rue du Marché Saint-Honoré.
Lanvin was quite pleased with the painting. It hung in her arty townhouse at 16 Rue Barbet de Jouy, side by side with the portrait of Marie-Blanche, who arranged for them to be given to the museum after her death.