Portrait Day: Comtesse d’ Haussonville at the Norton Simon

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780–1867), Comtesse d’Haussonville, dated 1845; Oil on canvas, 51 ⅞ x 36 ¼ inches (131.8 x 92); The Frick Collection, New York. Photo; Michael Bodycomb

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780–1867), Comtesse d’Haussonville, dated 1845; Oil on canvas, 51 ⅞ x 36 ¼ inches (131.8 x 92); The Frick Collection, New York. Photo; Michael Bodycomb

School portraits.  You either loved ‘em or hated ‘em.  Mostly you love them now because they are a time-stamp of the then-you.  My silly senior photo was complete with red lipstick and black, thick bangs à la Louise Brooks.  Call it cliché or call it high school; once you discard those glasses, braces, and bad skin, portraits are a signifier of not only you, but also the world around you.  And who would have thought flannel shirts would have ever made their way back into school portraits nearly twenty years after Nirvana hit the airwaves…

The Norton Simon and The Frick Collection have a portrait they are dying to share with you.  And might I say, it’s not one of those awkward portraits of teenage yesteryear.  Instead, it’s a jewel of their collection– the Comtesse d’ Haussonville painted by none other than Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

The portrait of Louise-Albertine de Broglie, Comtesse d’Haussonville, depicts the young woman in her fashionable blue robe de petit diner standing before a fireplace and mirror.  Ingres’s treatment of  both her face and dress are expert as well as the way he manipulated the light and colors.

The face of the sitter, 27-year-old Princess de Broglie, is softly molded with a smooth, creamy complexion.  Eyes gaze contemplatively and calmly towards the viewer showing that she is “confident, thoughtful, and refined.” She was the daughter of the Duc de Broglie and the wife of Comte d’ Haussonville.

Her pose, an S-curve, harks back to ancient sculptures of deities and to canonical women’s portrait poses of the 19th century.  Her left hand cradled underneath her chin and her right arm resting across her waist forms an X-shape that invites the viewer to continue the compositional line downwards to admire the gorgeous and finely detailed drapery of her frock.  Her silk dress by itself is stunning with a multitude of delicate ruffles near the arms and pleats of the skirt.

The painting’s light comes from an unknown source.  It brushes down the Comtesse’s face, arms, and across her dress to form drapery of a caliber suited to ancient sculptors.  The cool light makes her golden jewelry glisten.

Furthermore, the colors are divine.  The entire painting is made up of a multitude of blues, from the rich, royal blue of the fireplace cover, the creamy color of her dress, to the dash of turquoise in her Cleopatra-style jewelry.  A shock of red hits the canvas in the form of a ribbon tied into her hair.

The furniture behind the Comtesse appears compressed and unusually positioned, although very luxurious.  Opera glasses and calling cards set upon the fireplace as well as  thrown away shawl on the chair next to her signals the beginning or, most likely, the end of an evening at the opera.

It is a sneak peek into the grandeur of Ingres – a master of painting.  Unlike your school photographer, Ingres is known for anatomical impossibilities that create a stronger composition and aesthetic value.  No Photoshop to be seen, try to spot the things that your school photographer could never do.

Ingres’s Comtesse d’Haussonville will close January 25, 2010.  For more information about the exhibition, please click here.

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