This likeness of the wife of the French ambassador to the Vatican expresses Chassériau’s subtle defiance of J. A. D. Ingres, his teacher. He subverted Ingres’s approach by casting a melancholic mood over the picture, by banishing bright colors, and by abandoning the master’s meticulous naturalism and smooth polish for a stylized and painterly depiction of sitter and setting. (The countess posed in the garden of the French embassy in Rome.) When the portrait was shown at the 1841 Salon, critics objected to its Romantic qualities—the expressive elongation of the head, the gazelle-like eyes, the pallor of the skin, and the delicacy of the hands.
Chassériau arrived in Rome in August 1840 with the painter Henri Lehmann, who was vying with him to be Ingres’s favorite pupil. On the trip south, Lehmann confided that he hoped to portray Dominique Lacordaire (1802–1861), the charismatic French priest who had revived the Dominican order. To Lehmann’s everlasting chagrin, Chassériau won permission to paint the priest instead (the portrait is now in the Louvre; Sandoz 1974, no. 72). Luckily for Chassériau, the wife of the French ambassador in Rome, comtesse Latour-Maubourg, visited his studio on November 21 to see the portrait of father Lacordaire, and she admired it greatly.
Chassériau described this encounter and subsequent developments in a letter written to his brother Frédéric (1807–1881) two days later. Of the negotiations which took place the prior day, he stated that the ambassador was ill and confined to his bed, but still managed to bargain the price down from 2500 francs; he wrote, "[W]ith that the husband, who wants to give a present without ruining himself, painfully turned in his bed and said that I was too expensive, that I had enough talent to be [expensive], that he was sorry, but that he did not want to pay more than 1,000 francs." Terms notwithstanding, Chassériau exulted in the commission, bragging that the countess was "a woman beautiful like an angel," adding that she was "very sweet and perfectly elegant. M. Ingres was jealous when I told him that I was painting her." Indeed, work proceeded without delay: "Since yesterday I have been installed at the Palazzo Colonna, where the ambassador lives. We met yesterday and get along very well." (Chassériau, November 23, 1840)
Once again, Lehmann vainly aspired to win the commission. On December 16, 1840, he wrote to his confidant Marie d’Agoult (1805–1876) of his hope to take a stab at a portrait of the ambassador’s wife "but as Chassériau is doing her portrait it would have been most inappropriate." When the painting was completed, Ingres, out of professed solidarity with Lehmann, refused to see it. Lehmann reported to d’Agoult on January 16, 1841, "M. Ingres had a marvelous intuition [against Chassériau] that, as a good friend, I fought with all my power, but which [now] I have to acknowledge. He did not even go to see the portrait of the ambassador’s wife, although M. de Latour Maubourg had expressly asked him to, and although I had told him that I found this utterly harsh and unfair, and that he owed this to Chassériau as his student. In short, he really mistreated him." The jealous Lehmann could not resist taking a swipe and continued, "[t]he one of the ambassador’s wife is weak beyond words, she is like a little sheep who dreams of the taste of the flowers of the surrounding countryside—and she looks as if she has already been grazing. It is badly drawn, badly painted (except for some very subtle color relationships—of the hands with the dress, the sky with with earth, etc…) not a very good likeness, in short, the mistake of a man of talent."
The extant preparatory drawings are now in the Louvre (see Notes). They show that from the beginning Chassériau conceived the countess standing with a parasol in her garden at the Palazzo Colonna. In some sheets the countess is posed at an angle to the picture plane, with her head turned sharply toward her left shoulder, her right shoulder fading from view. In one (RF 26083, folio 19v), the corners of the composition are rounded, conforming to the fashion for lozenge-shaped frames, and the initial composition as a whole smacks strongly of the theatrically-staged portraits of the Romantic era. The long-sleeved day dress found in the first drawings was changed to a more formal, short-sleeved costume, without parasol, in a subsequent drawing (RF 26.488), in which the countess turns her head to her right.
Having made only a few preparatory drawings, Chassériau continued to improvise the composition directly on the canvas, bringing it closer to the classicizing conventions of Ingres’s portraits while contrasting with the master’s approach of transferring an already finished design to the canvas. Examination of the painting under infrared light shows that he continued to make adjustments after he had lightly sketched the figure in pencil onto the ochre-buff ground. The figure initially faced the spectator directly, but pentimenti reveal that he made further adjustments to the position of the head and hands, the necklace, the contours of the dress, and the height of the parapet at right. There is a fine study of the dress (RF 26.114) and another for the hands with interlaced fingers (RF 26.511). The confidence of the elaboration of the portrait directly on the canvas would be remarkable in the work of any artist, but it becomes astonishing when one considers that the painter was only twenty-two years old.
The countess’s dress, ivory satin with lace flounces at the half-sleeves, represented up-to-the-minute Paris fashion at its most elegant and refined. The absence of strong color and contrast shows sophistication and restraint, as does the choice of modest jewelry. The short sleeves indicate that the costume was worn in the late afternoon, perhaps to receive visitors (long sleeves were the custom for morning and noon); the absence of hat, purse, and gloves indicate that the countess is at home. Out of modesty, she wears a matching lace fichu to cover her décolletage and to protect her from Rome’s cool autumn breezes. The realization of the dress is a tour-de-force of subtly nuanced tonal variation that even detractors like Lehmann were forced to acknowledge.
The view (for which there are two drawings in the Louvre, RF 26.107 and RF 26.108) was taken from the back corner of the garden at the Palazzo Colonna, two blocks from the bottom of the Corso (near the Piazza Venezia), facing southeast. Beyond the countess are the domes of two churches in Trajan’s Forum, Santa Maria di Loreto (1508) and Santissima Nome di Maria (1738); Trajan’s column, though not visible, is nearby. The top of the Colosseum, dark ochre in the light of sunset, is at the horizon.
When the portrait was shown at the 1841 Salon, the reception was generally unfavorable. It would seem that Ingres’s partisans were fully aware of the rift between master and student, and what they objected to were precisely the Romantic qualities of the picture—the expressive elongation of the head, the gazelle-like eyes, the pallor of the skin, the delicacy of the hands—all of which seem so remarkable today (see, for example, Délécluze 1842 and L’Artiste 1842). A few critics, however, understood the picture in more sympathetic terms (Pelletan 1841). At Chassériau’s death fifteen years later, Paul Mantz (1856) summed up the reaction to the picture: "The austerity of execution and the dryness of the rigid silhouette of the portrait of the comtesse de La Tour-Maubourg frightened Parisians. Strange in effect—a sort of phantom of sepulchral whites that seemed to be enveloped in lace as if in a shroud—the fiery come-hither eyes and transparent pallor nevertheless allowed one to guess the radiance of the countess’s inner lamp."
Needless to say, the countess, in Rome and with child during the showing of the Salon in spring 1841, heard of the torrent of opinion heaped upon her portrait. On May 15, 1841, Ingres’s disciple Dominique Papety (1815–1849) communicated gleefully to the sculptor Auguste Ottin (1811–1890), "Mme de Maubourg (who is pregnant) is furious with Chassériau; he has lost all favor and it is we who will replace him."
[2014; adapted from Tinterow 2005]
Inscription: Signed and dated, lower left: T. Chassériau / Rome 1841
?Armand-Charles-Septime de Fay, comte de La Tour-Maubourg, the husband of the sitter (commissioned from the artist for Fr 1,000 in 1841; presumably given to de Pange); his mother-in-law, Élisabeth-Victoire-Charlotte-Henriette Thomas de Pange (née Riquet de Caraman), marquise de Pange, later comtesse de Pange et d'Empire (from 1841); her granddaughter, Gabrielle-Marie-Charlotte de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg, later baroness de Mandell d'Écosse, called the marquise de La Tour-Maubourg; her son, Fernand-Joseph-Guillaume-Septime de Mandell d'Écosse, called the marquis de La Tour-Maubourg, château de Locquénolé, Kervignac, Morbihan, Brittany (after 1892–d. 1900); his widow, marquise de La Tour-Maubourg (née Anne de Perrien de Crenan), château de Locquénolé (from 1900); her daughter, Marguerite de Mandell d'Écosse de La Tour-Maubourg, later Mme Blanchet de La Sablière, Paris (until d. 1983; ?her estate); private collection (until 2002; sale, Sotheby's, Paris, June 27, 2002, no. 165, as "Portrait de la Comtesse de Latour-Maubourg," to MMA)
Paris. Salon. March 15–?, 1841, no. 328 (as "Portrait de Mme la comtesse de L. T. M. . . .").
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Éxposition Chassériau, 1819–1856," 1933, no. 16 (as "Portrait de la comtesse de La Tour Maubourg," lent by Mme la comtesse de la Tour Maubourg).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856): The Unknown Romantic," October 22, 2002–January 5, 2003, unnum. addendum.
Louis-Antoine Prat. Inventaire général des dessins école française: Dessins de Théodore Chassériau. Paris, 1988, vol. 1, pp. 89–90, under nos. 87–92, ill., illustrates six sketches for this composition.
Henri Lehmann. Letter to Marie d'Agoult. December 16, 1840 [published in Solange Joubert, "Une Correspondance romantique: Madame d'Agoult, Liszt, Henri Lehmann," Paris, 1947, p. 138]
, admits that he also wished to paint a portrait of this sitter, but Chassériau had already begun.
Théodore Chassériau. Letter to Frédéric Chassériau. November 23, 1840 [published in Valbert Chevillard, "Un peintre romantique: Théodore Chassériau," Paris, 1893, pp. 47–48]
, remarks that the sitter's recent enthusiasm for his portrait of Lacordaire led her husband to commission this portrait; notes that he moved into the Palazzo Colonna the day before and began work immediately, despite receiving only Fr 1000 rather than the 2500 requested; comments that he gets along well with the sitter, whom he calls "très douce et parfaitement élégant"; mentions that Ingres was envious when told of the commission.
Théodore Chassériau. Letter to Oscar de Ranchicourt. December 4, 1840 [published in Léonce Bénédite, "Théodore Chassériau, sa vie et son oeuvre," Paris, 1931, vol. 1, p. 142], remarks that he is finishing this portrait and will leave for France immediately after the last brushstroke.
Un Bourgeois. "Salon de 1841." Le Siècle (April 11, 1841), p. 2.
Louis Peisse. "Salon de 1841." Revue des deux mondes 26 (April 1, 1841), p. 43, calls Chassériau's style in this picture unpleasant, bizarre, and poorly suited to the portrait genre.
?U. Ladet. "Salon de 1841." L'Artiste, 2nd ser., 7 (1841), p. 332.
[Étienne-Jean] Delécluze. "Salon de 1841 (Cinquième et dernier article)." Journal des débats politiques et littéraires (May 29, 1841), p. 1, criticizes the three works exhibited by Chassériau at the Salon, including this one, for lacking "d'éclat de force, de vie dans leur ensemble".
"Salon de 1841." Journal des artistes (May 16, 1841) [see Ref. Tinterow 2002].
Cantagrel. "Salon de 1841 (5e article)." La Phalange (May 30, 1841), p. 209.
Théophile Gautier. "Salon de 1841." Revue de Paris 28 (April 1841), p. 165.
Fabien Pillet. "Salon de 1841." Le Moniteur universel (March 22, 1841), praises both of Chassériau's portraits at the Salon.
Prosper Haussard. "Salon de 1841." Le Temps (May 21, 1841) [see Ref. Tinterow 2002].
Eugène Pelletan. "Salon de 1841 (Dernier article)." La Presse (June 3, 1841), p. 1, defends this portrait from Salon criticism, asserting that it represents an excess of talent.
Henri Lehmann. Letter to Marie d'Agoult. January 16, 1841 [published in Solange Joubert, "Une correspondance romantique," Paris, 1947, pp. 144–45], harshly criticizes this picture and notes that Ingres refused to see it, releasing Chassériau from all obligations as his pupil.
Mme Monnerot the Elder. Letter to Jules Monnerot. February 11, 1841 [excerpt published in English transl. in Ref. Tinterow 2002, p. 181], remarks that Chassériau has returned to Paris and that his two portraits, including this one, are very good and should be exhibited.
Sessions of the Salon jury. February 26 and 28, 1841 [7th and 8th session of the Salon jury, Archives des Musées Nationaux, *KK. 35, *KK. 58, nos. 1912–13; published in Ref. Tinterow 2002, p. 181], states that the portrait of Lacordaire and this one were accepted as the 1912th and 1913th paintings, after a vote of 13 to 5.
Anonymous. Letter to Frédéric Chassériau. ?March 15, 1841 [published in Léonce Bénédite, "Théodore Chassériau," Paris, 1931, vol. 1, p. 160], observes that in this picture "il y a là abus d'un système ultra-ingriste".
Victor-Louis Mottez. Letter to [Hippolyte Fockedey]. March 16, 1841 [published in René Giard, "La peintre Victor Mottez d'après sa correspondence (1809–1897)," Lille, 1934, p. 151], comments that Chassériau has some good portraits in the Salon.
Dominique-Louis-Féréol Papety. Letter to Auguste Ottin. May 15, 1841 [published in François-Xavier Amprimoz, "Lettres de Dominique Papety à ses parents et ses amis, Rome, 1837–1842," in "Archives de l'art français," 1986, vol. 28, p. 263], notes that the criticism of this picture has reached the ears of the sitter: "Mme de Maubourg (qui est enceinte) est furieuse contre Chassériau, il a perdu toute faveur... ".
Marie d'Agoult. Letters to Henri Lehmann. March 1 and April 21, 1841 [published in Solange Joubert, "Une correspondance romantique," Paris, 1947, pp. 156, 164], comments that she does not generally care for Chassériau's portraits, except for those of Lacordaire and this one, which she finds superior; remarks upon the artist's lack of success at the Salon, especially with this picture.
"De la peinture religieuse monumentale." Journal des artistes 2 (1845), pp. 17–19 [see Refs. Sandoz 1974, Tinterow 2007], describes this portrait as "teintes blanc et vert . . . fraîches et brillantes, sur un fond clair".
Armand Baschet. "Les ateliers de Paris. - M. Chassériau, I." L'artiste: Beaux-arts et belles-lettres, 5e sér., 12 (June 1, 1854), p. 135.
Paul Mantz. "Théodore Chassériau." L'Artiste, 6th ser., 2 (October 19, 1856), p. 222, asserts that although its austerity and strange "silhouette rigide" frightened Salon visitors, this picture also exuded "une sorte d'attrait repoussant".
Aglaus Bouvenne. "Théodore Chassériau." L'Artiste 2 (September 1887), p. 175.
Valbert Chevillard. Un peintre romantique: Théodore Chassériau. Paris, 1893, pp. 51–52, 276, no. 60, notes that it was owned by the sitter's family in 1841.
Auguste Dalligny. "Peintres français: Théodore Chassériau." Journal des arts (January 13, 1894) [see Ref. Sotheby's 2002].
V. Chevillard. "Théodore Chassériau." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 3 (February 10, 1898), pp. 251–52.
Jean Laran inChassériau. Paris, 1911, p. 55.
Jean Laran. "Un portrait inédit." Archives de l'art français 8 (1914), pp. 322–28, describes the events leading to the commission of this portrait; states that it was begun on November 22, 1840 and finished early in 1841; sees Chassériau's female figures as the direct predecessors of those by Puvis de Chavannes and Moreau.
Paul Jamot. "Don (le) Chassériau au Musée du Louvre." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 37 (February 1920), pp. 68–69, calls it a charming female portrait.
Lloyd Goodrich. "Theodore Chassériau." The Arts 14 (August 1928), pp. 68, 71, ill., remarks that it is "almost pure Ingres".
Léonce Bénédite. Théodore Chassériau, sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris, , vol. 1, pp. 20, 150, 154, 157–58, 160, ill.
Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. "Chassériau's Portraits." Formes no. 25 (May 1932), ill. opp. p. 272.
Jean Alazard. "Théodore Chassériau." Gazette des beaux-arts 9 (January 1933), pp. 49–51, ill., points out unusual elements such as the elongated oval of the face, the lassitude of the body and the hands, and the sitter's apparent reflection and melancholy.
Marc Sandoz. "En l'honneur de Théodore Chassériau." Les Cahiers de l'oeust no. 2 (September 1956), pp. 19–20.
Marc Sandoz. "Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856) et la peinture des Pays-Bas." Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique 17 (1968), p. 182, includes it in a list of portraits of young women painted outdoors during Chassériau's trip to Italy; considers it close to the style of Ingres.
Marc Sandoz. Théodore Chassériau, 1819–1856: Catalogue raisonné des peintures et estampes. Paris, 1974, pp. 186–87, no. 87, pl. LXX, notes that it is still owned by the La Tour-Mauborg family, in Morbihan; lists preparatory studies in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Jean-François Méjanès. Ingres et sa postérité: Jusqu'à Matisse et à Picasso. Exh. cat., Musée Ingres. Montauban, 1980, p. 96, under no. 144, suggests that a drawing with the comtesse as the central figure is the first study for this painting (Louvre, no. 24917; see Ref. Prat 1988, no. 92).
Marc Sandoz. Cahiers Théodore Chassériau. Vol. 2, Paris, 1986, pp. 24–25, under no. 13, ill., calls it the first of the artist's great portraits and compares it to "Portrait of Madame Mottez" (1841; Fogg Museum, Cambridge).
Christine Peltre. Théodore Chassériau. Paris, 2001, pp. 87–89, fig. 98.
Carol Vogel. "Inside Art: A Retrospective That's a First." New York Times (October 18, 2002), p. E32, ill.
Gary Tinterow inThéodore Chassériau (1819–1856): The Unknown Romantic. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, pp. 20, 402–5, ill. (color) [not in French ed.], remarks that this picture subverts Ingres's formula for portraiture with its melancholy mood and "artful, highly aestheticized, almost anti-natural depiction of sitter and setting".
Stéphane Guégan inThéodore Chassériau (1819–1856): The Unknown Romantic. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, pp. 38–39, 116, 118 [French ed., "Chassériau, un autre romantisme," Paris, pp. 40, 116, 118].
Vincent Pomarède inThéodore Chassériau (1819–1856): The Unknown Romantic. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, pp. 63, 104, 179–82 [French ed., "Chassériau, un autre romantisme," Paris, 2002, pp. 63, 104, 180–82].
Louis-Antoine Prat inThéodore Chassériau (1819–1856): The Unknown Romantic. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, pp. 118–19, 122, 124 [French ed., "Chassériau, un autre romantisme," Paris, 2002, pp. 118, 122, 124], discusses the studies for this composition, noting that Chassériau originally considered inscribing the portrait in an oval; observes that the position of the arms is repeated, in reverse, in the portrait of the artist's sisters (1843; Louvre).
Gary Tinterow. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2002–2003." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 61 (Fall 2003), pp. 5, 34, ill. (color).
Louis-Antoine Prat inMaestà di Roma, da Napoleone all'unita d'Italia: D'Ingres à Degas, les artistes français à Rome. Ed. Olivier Bonfait. Exh. cat., Villa Medici, Rome. [Milan], 2003, pp. 116, 122, fig. 1.
Gary Tinterow inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 355–60, no. 100, ill. (color).
Colta Ives inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, p. 368.
Gary Tinterow in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2004–2005." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 63 (Fall 2005), p. 27, suggests that Henri Lehmann's "Faustine Léo (1832–1865)" (MMA 2004.243) may be a response to this picture, which Lehmann had seen in Rome.
Eight studies for the painting, all of which were in the artist’s studio at the time of his death, are in the Musée du Louvre, Paris:
RF 26083 [sketchbook] folio 19v. Standing Woman in a Landscape, Three-Quarter View from the Left, Partially Repeated, pen and brown ink on buff paper, 5 5/8 x 8 3/8 in. (14.2 x 21.2 cm); Prat 1988, no. 2240 folio 19v.
RF 26083 [sketchbook] folio 20r. Standing Woman, Seen Almost Directly, Arms Crossed, pen and brown ink and graphite on buff paper, 5 5/8 x 8 3/8 in. (14.2 x 21.2 cm); Prat 1988, no. 2240 folio 20r.
RF 26083 [skecthbook] folio 20v. Standing Woman in a Landscape, graphite with touches of white heightening on buff paper, 5 5/8 x 8 3/8 in. (14.2 x 21.2 cm); Prat 1988, no. 2240 folio 20v.
RF 26.107. Study of Leaves and Compositional Sketch for the Portrait, graphite on blue paper, 12 ¾ x 9 3/8 in. (32.3 x 23.7 cm), mounted to folio 6v of Album Factice 1; Prat 1988, no. 90.
RF 26.108. Study of Trees and Plants, graphite on blue paper, 12 5/8 x 9 1/2 in. (32 x 24.1 cm), mounted to folio 7v of Album Factice 1; Prat 1988, no. 91.
RF 26.114. Dress Study, graphite and white heightening on cream paper, 11 3/8 x 8 7/8 in. (28.8 x 22.4 cm), mounted to folio 11r of Album Factice 1; Prat 1988, no. 88.
RF 26.488. Standing Figure, almost Three-Quarters view, with Two Head Studies, graphite on buff paper, 11 7/8 x 6 3/8 in. (30.3 x 1.62 cm), mounted to folio 42r of Album Factice 3; Prat 1988, no. 87.
RF 26.511. Study of Hands and Arms, Neck, and Dress, graphite and touches of oil on blue paper, 12 3/8 x 9 3/8 in. (31.6 x 23.7 cm), mounted to a fragment of folio 49v of Album Factice 3; Prat 1988, no. 89.
Artist: Théodore Chassériau (French, Le Limon, Saint-Domingue, West Indies 1819–1856 Paris)Date: 1838Medium: Graphite and touches of black chalk on beige laid paperAccession: 46.177.1On view in:Not on view
Artist: Théodore Chassériau (French, Le Limon, Saint-Domingue, West Indies 1819–1856 Paris)Date: ca. 1837–38Medium: Brush, ink and gray wash, heightened with white over graphite on beige laid paperAccession: 1975.131.94On view in:Not on view
Artist: Théodore Chassériau (French, Le Limon, Saint-Domingue, West Indies 1819–1856 Paris)Date: 1851Medium: Conté crayon, with touches of white chalk, on wove paperAccession: 2008.538.23On view in:Not on view