The Comtesse d’Haussonville is back in New York

Madame d’Haussonville (she was not yet the Comtesse d’Haussonville when this portrait was painted, circa 1842) has returned home after a three-month stay in sunny California, at Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum. She awaits the pleasure of your company on Wednesday, March 3, at 6 in the evening for a free lecture at The Frick Collection.

Ingres Comtesse d Haussonville

Ingres Comtesse d Haussonville

To quote the Frick website Edgar Munhall will cast a fresh look at this iconic image. Situating it within the artist’s vast oeuvre and introducing its little-known subject as one of the more remarkable women of her time, he will also trace the fitful evolution of the portrait, illustrate its varied sources, and consider the significance of its myriad details that make it, as one early critic noted, “one of those images that appear in dreams.” No reservations are necessary; lecture seating is first come, first served.

New Yorkers have little excuse not to attend. For the rest of us, a few words on the painting and the model. The ancestors of Madame d’Haussonville, née Louise de Broglie, were directly linked to the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s reign. Her great-grandfather was Jacques Necker, the last Comptroller General of Finances of the Ancien Regime, immensely popular at the start of the Revolution. Her grandmother was the great novelist, and fierce opponent to Bonaparte, Germaine de Staël.

Do not assume, based on this supremely elegant image, that Louise d’Haussonville was simply a pretty face or a mere socialite. She was also a writer, and left biographies of Robert Emmet, Marguerite de Valois (the Reine Margot) and Lord Byron. Her husband was also a historian, as would later be her son. Incidentally, her grandnephew Louis de Broglie would go on to receive a Nobel Prize for Physics. To say that the family had a strong intellectual tradition would be an understatement.

The painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (yes, the French love those long names) was no less interesting a character. He was then in his sixties. He would continue painting for another 25 years, until his death at the age of 87, and his last works are among his most famous and accomplished. Though one cannot tell from this work, Ingres hated painting portraits. “Accursed portraits that prevent me from marching on to great things.. such a difficult thing a portrait is.”

It took him around three years to complete this painting, with sixty recorded studies for the gown only. The result is captivating: a complex harmony of blues: the satin of the clothing, the gems on the ring and bracelet, the velvet mantel top, the walls, the cord to call the servants. The scant other notes, the red of the ribbons in Louise’s hair, the yellow of her shawl, become almost strident. The textures are so smooth as to foreshadow modern photography. The right arm is anatomically incorrect, which, coming from Ingres, hardly results from an oversight. See how he uses the mirror to give us a view of the back of the young woman, an idea he had already applied in the much earlier, and also iconic, portrait of Madame de Senonnes. Ingres aimed at giving “une idée complète de son modèle”, a complete idea of his model. And he did…

If you want to learn more, you will need to go to that lecture.

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