Purchase, The Camille M. Lownds Fund, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, Louis V. Bell and 2012 Benefit Funds, and C. Jay Moorhead Foundation Gift, 2015
Not on view
In 1856 Virginia Verasis, Countess of Castiglione, was sent to France and urged to persuade Emperor Napoleon III to champion the cause of Italian nationalism by any means necessary. The unrivaled beauty quickly became notorious not only as his mistress but also for her flamboyant self-presentation. Between 1856 and 1867 she collaborated with the photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, producing an unprecedented body of portraits that reflects both her vanity and her creativity. In this unique painted photograph, the countess flees from a conflagration during a ball. She gave the painter Schad explicit directions about how to embellish the scene. The idea that her photographic image as well as her life were forms of theater prefigures postmodernism’s preoccupation with how mass culture’s images and expectations shape identity.
The exact whereabouts of this photograph for most of the twentieth century remain unknown, although in 1913 it was in the collection of Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézenac (1855-1921). As best as can be determined, the provenance is as follows:
Pierre-Louis Pierson; Virginia Versasis, Countess de Castiglione; Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1913); Corisande de Gramont (niece of Montesquiou); [...]; Private Collector, Paris (after 2005); (Pierre Bergé & Associés, Paris, March 19, 2015, lot 222)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photographs. "Grand Illusions: Staged Photography from the Collection," August 10, 2015–November 15, 2015.
Paris. Musée d'Orsay. "Spectaculaire Second Empire," September 27, 2016–January 16, 2017.
Cogeval Guy. Spectaculaire Second Empire. Paris: Musée d'Orsay, 2016. no. 58, p. 77.
See also 2005.100.406 for a smaller copy of this composition.