Auguste Rodin (French, 18401917)
Marble; H. 19 1/2 in. (49.5 cm)
Gift of Thomas F. Ryan, 1910 (11.173.6)
The subject of this portrait, Anna-Elizabeth de Noailles (18761933), belonged to the literary group known as the Nouvelle Pléiade. A contemporaneous photograph shows her to have been an elegant lady, with limpid eyes, high-piled hair, and a prominent nose. One sees that by suppressing the nose, Rodin could have made her look like the fashionable portraits of the time. But Madame X was an aristocrat as well as a poet and intellectual, the daughter of a Romanian princess and granddaughter of a diplomat and man of letters who had translated Dante into classical Greek. Her husband was Count Mathieu de Noailles, scion of a French family who traced its noble lineage to the eleventh century. In the thrust of the nose, tilt of the head, and veiling of the eyes, Rodin has made of her portrait a symbol as well as a likeness. The countess evidently saw only the nose, for the checklist of the Museum's purchases from Rodin in 1910 records her refusal of the marble and Rodin's preferred title: Madame X; "otherwise," he wrote, "she is a very intelligent person."