Delacroix rarely portrayed anyone other than his closest family and friends. His affection for Madame Riesener, an aunt by marriage, is expressed through the frank tenderness of this portrait. She was once known for her beauty: some thirty years before the date of this portrait she served as a lady-in-waiting to empress Josephine, and having caught Napoleon’s eye, engaged in a brief liaison with him. After she died, Delacroix wrote to George Sand, "each of the beings necessary to our existence who disappears, takes away with him a whole world of feelings that no other relationship can revive."
Delacroix was not a prolific portraitist, and almost all of his portraits are of intimate friends or members of his family. About the present sitter he wrote, "Upon waking my thoughts turn to such pleasant and sweet moments held in my memory and in my heart, of times spent close to my aunt in the country" (Journal, Michèle Hannoosh, ed., vol. 1, p. 758, under April 28, 1854). His portrait of her conveys this affectionate feeling. It is a remarkably tender and human record of someone Delacroix loved dearly. Despite the busy frills of her lace bonnet or the coruscating color of her foulard, the portrait is serene and unspectacular in a way that few of the artist’s works are.
Delacroix was related to Mme Riesener through his mother, one of the daughters of the master cabinetmaker Jean François Oeben (1721–1763). When Oeben died, he left his widow (Delacroix’s grandmother) with an unfinished piece of furniture, the celebrated desk of Louis XV now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, which was eventually completed by Oeben’s assistant Jean Henri Riesener (1734–1806), who signed it in 1769 with his name alone. Before he completed the desk, Riesener married Oeben’s widow, with whom he had a son, Henri François (1767–1828). It is the latter’s wife who is portrayed here.
Born Félicité Longrois, the sitter was the granddaughter of Pierre Longrois, who was in charge of the furniture at the Château de la Muette. Through one of her uncles she was introduced to the imperial service, where she became a dame d’annonce (lady-in-waiting). Napoleon took a fancy to her, and she became his mistress for a brief period during the winter of 1805–6. During the following summer she was married off to Henri François Riesener, with Empress Josephine signing the prenuptial contract. Riesener was then almost forty years old, his wife not yet twenty (Gavoty 1963, pp. 252–54). Her appearance at this time is recorded in the large double portrait Riesener painted of his fiancée and her sister, which Delacroix unquestionably saw many times (now Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans).
After the deaths of Delacroix’s father in 1805 and his mother in 1814, the Rieseners were his closest relatives, aside from his sister and a surviving brother, and he often spent his holidays with them in the country at Frépillon near Montmorency, about nine miles north of Paris. He grew devoted particularly to his aunt, and even as an adult frequently stayed with her. In a letter written on August 7, 1832, immediately after he had returned from his trip to North Africa, he expressed how much she meant to him. Proposing to see her within the week, he wrote, "Suffice it to say, dear aunt, that I have thought of you and of the small number of people whose lives are dear to me" (Correspondance, ed. André Joubin, Paris, 1935–38, vol. 5, pp. 159–60).
It was probably through Mme Riesener’s husband that Delacroix took an interest in painting. A student of Antoine Vestier (1740–1824), Henri Riesener was a tolerably successful painter who specialized in Neoclassical portraits. In a letter of July 8, 1820, Delacroix wrote to his sister, Henriette de Verninac: "M. Riesener [ . . . ] thinks it would be to my advantage to go and study with M. David in Brussels; I have often considered this, but I must think it over still further." (Correspondance, vol. 5, p. 61; trans. Jean Stewart, Eugène Delacroix: Selected Letters, 1813–1863, London, 1971, p. 73). It is hard to imagine what course Delacroix’s career would have taken had he followed his uncle’s advice.
The Rieseners’ son Léon (1808–1878) also became a painter and a close friend of Delacroix’s, and they were often together at Frépillon. Léon Riesener sat for Delacroix in 1834: the result is a strikingly vivid and handsome portrait (Louvre, Paris) that is not so large or so elaborate as the present work, although it has the same immediacy and betrays a similarly direct rapport between artist and subject. Madame Riesener sat for her portrait shortly after. According to Moreau (1873, p. 236), it was executed at Frépillon in the summer of 1835. Although this is the only evidence for the date, there seems to be no reason to question it. Moreau knew Delacroix personally, and he interviewed the Riesener family when he gathered the material for his monograph, the first book on Delacroix. Moreover, the style of the portrait, as much as one can deduce from comparisons with documented works of 1835, seems plausible for that year, and the apparent age of the sitter also corresponds with this period (Mme Riesener was then a widow, about fifty years old). Some writers claim that the portrait was done in February 1835, since that is the only time during the year when it is certain that Delacroix was at Frépillon, but one need not be so precise, since Delacroix was a regular guest there.
[2014; adapted from Fahy 2005]
?the sitter, the artist's maternal aunt, Frépillon, near Montmorency, and Paris (until d. 1847); her son, Léon Riesener, Paris (1847–d. 1878); his widow, Mme Léon Riesener (1878–at least 1885); their daughter, Louise Riesener, later Mme Claude Léouzon-le-Duc, ?Paris (by 1916–at least 1936); Léon Salavin, Paris (by 1952–at least 1969); [Galerie Schmit, Paris, until 1971, sold on January 11 to Rosenberg]; [Paul Rosenberg, New York, 1971; stock no. 6409; sold on February 22 to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1971–his d. 1986; cat., 1973, no. 8); Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1986–94)
Paris. École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition Eugène Delacroix au profit de la souscription destinée à élever à Paris un monument à sa mémoire," March 6–April 15, 1885, no. 167 (as "Portrait de Mme Riesener, mère," lent by Mme Léon Riesener).
Paris. École des Beaux-Arts. "Portraits du Siècle," April 20–?, 1885, no. 49 (as "Mme Riesener," lent by Mme Riesener).
Paris. Paul Rosenberg. "Expositions [sic] d'oeuvres d'Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) au profit de la Société des amis du Louvre," January 16–February 18, 1928, no. 10 (lent by Mme Riesener Louézon [misprint for Léouzon] -Le Duc).
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Centenaire du romantisme: Exposition E. Delacroix," June–September 1930, no. 73 (lent by Mme Léouzon Le Duc, née Riesener).
Paris. Petit Palais. "Gros: Ses amis, ses élèves," May–July 1936, no. 241 (lent by Madame Léouzon Le Duc).
London. Wildenstein. "Eugène Delacroix, 1798–1863," June–July 1952, no. 18 (lent by a private collector [Salavin], France).
Paris. Musée Carnavalet. "Chefs d'oeuvre des collections parisienne: Peintures et dessins de l'école française du XIXe siècle," December 1952–February 1953, no. 32.
Venice. Biennale. "Eugène Delacroix," June–September 1956, no. 18 (lent by L. Salavin) [see Ref. Johnson 1986].
Copenhagen. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. "Exposition des portraits français de Largillierre à Manet," October 15–November 15, 1960, no. 13 (lent by M. Salavin).
Rome. Palazzo Venezia. "Il ritratto francese da Clouet a Degas," April 1962, no. 75 (lent by private collection, Paris).
Milan. Palazzo Reale. "Il ritratto francese da Clouet a Degas," June–July 1962, no. 75.
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Centenaire d'Eugène Delacroix 1798–1863," May–September 1963, no. 222 (lent by a private collection, Paris) [memorial ed., no. 219].
Kunstmuseum Bern. "Eugène Delacroix," November 16, 1963–January 19, 1964, no. 41 (lent by a private collection, Paris).
Kunsthalle Bremen. "Eugène Delacroix, 1798–1863," February 23–April 26, 1964, no. 36 (lent by a private collection, Paris).
Edinburgh. Royal Scottish Academy. "Delacroix," August 15–September 13, 1964, no. 36 (lent by a private collection, Paris).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Delacroix," October 1–November 8, 1964, no. 36.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Exposition Delacroix," May 10–June 8, 1969, no. H-14.
Tokyo National Museum. "Exposition Delacroix," June 14–August 3, 1969, no. H-14.
Théophile Silvestre. Histoire des artistes vivants: Français et étrangers. Paris, 1856, p. 82, lists among works of the artist a "Portrait de Mme Rr (1835)," probably this painting.
Adolphe Moreau. E. Delacroix et son œuvre. Paris, 1873, p. 236, claims it was painted during the summer of 1835 at the sitter's estate in Frépillon, where Delacroix was a frequent visitor.
Alfred Robaut. L'œuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix. Paris, 1885, p. 161, no. 606, ill. (engraving), dates it 1835.
Eugène Véron. Eugène Delacroix. Paris, 1887, p. 66, mentions it among works painted in 1835.
Étienne Moreau-Nélaton. Delacroix raconté par lui-même. Paris, 1916, vol. 1, pp. 155–56, fig. 126, lists the portrait in the collection of M. et Mme Léouzon Leduc [sic], and observes that the brushwork is very English in its handling.
Raymond Escholier. Delacroix: Peintre, graveur, écrivain. Vol. 2, Paris, 1927, pp. 214, 226, 230, ill. opp. p. 220, states incorrectly that it is signed and dated; calls the color very British, and compares the portrait's classical harmony to works by David and Ingres.
André Joubin inExposition d'oeuvres d'Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). Exh. cat., Paul Rosenberg. Paris, 1928, unpaginated [preface], no. 10.
Louis Hourticq. Delacroix: L'œuvre du maître. Paris, 1930, ill. p. 60.
André Joubin. Journal de Eugène Delacroix. Paris, 1932, vol. 1, p. 104 n. 2.
René Huyghe. Delacroix. New York, 1963, p. 32, pl. 26.
Maurice Sérullaz. Mémorial de l'Exposition Eugène Delacroix. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1963, p. 165, no. 219, ill., lists it in the Salavin collection, Paris, and dates it February 1835.
André Gavoty. "La 'Bonne tante' de Delacroix." Revue des deux mondes no. 10 (May 15, 1963), p. 258, notes [p. 248 n. 1] that while her parents and grandparents spelled their name "Longrois," Félicité and her sister used the form "Longroy".
Jean Cau et al. inDelacroix. [Paris], 1963, pp. 55, , fig. 59, states that it was painted in 1834, the same year that Delacroix executed the portrait of the sitter's son Léon Riesener.
Preface by Raymond Escholier inLéon Riesener, 1808–1878. Exh. cat., Pavillon des Arts. Paris, [1966?], unpaginated, lists it under 1835 in a chronology of Léon Riesener's life, stating that this portrait was painted in February of that year.
Luigina Rossi Bortolatto. L'opera pittorica completa di Delacroix. Milan, 1972, pp. 102–3, no. 275, ill., dates it February 1835.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 63–71, no. 8, ill. p. 65 (color), figs. 1–2 (details), notes that almost all of Delacroix's few portraits are of close friends or family members; discusses the biography of the sitter and her family; dates the portrait to the summer of 1835, shortly after Delacroix painted Léon Riesener; misidentifies an entry in the artist's journal as referring to this painting, rather than to a portrait of Delacroix's great-aunt Anne Françoise Bornot [Robaut 1460 and Johnson 65].
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Lee Johnson. The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue. Vol. 3, Oxford, 1986, pp. 44–45, no. 226, states that it can be dated 1835, if not certainly to that summer; compares it to David's portrait of his mother-in-law, Madame Pécoul (Musée du Louvre, Paris), calling this work more refined and more animated; discounts the possible influence of English painting.
Lee Johnson. The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue. Vol. 4, Oxford, 1986, pl. 47.
Carol Vogel. "Inside Art." New York Times (February 17, 1995), p. C26, ill.
Everett Fahy in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1994–1995." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 53 (Fall 1995), pp. 4, 43, ill. (color).
Everett Fahy. "'Mme Henri François Riesener' by Delacroix." Metropolitan Museum of Art Calendar (May–June 1995), unpaginated, ill. (color).
Alan Wintermute. The French Portrait, 1550–1850. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1996, p. 82, fig. 55 (color), discusses Delacroix's depiction as full of the tender feelings he had for his aunt; calls Constable the "artistic godfather" of this portrait.
Lee Johnson. "Fourth Supplement and Reprint of Third Supplement." The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue. [3rd supplement, 1993]. Oxford, 2002, p. 330, no. 226.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 338–41, no. 95, ill. (color).
Everett Fahy inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 31, fig. 45 (color).
Colta Ives inUne passion pour Delacroix: La collection Karen B. Cohen. Exh. cat., Musée National Eugène Delacroix. Paris, 2009, pp. 31, 34.
Marion Doublet. "'Heureux qui possède un coin de terre': Frépillon, la résidence de campagne de la famille Riesener." Bulletin de la Société des Amis du musée national Eugène Delacroix no. 8 (2010), p. 42, fig. 7, notes that it was painted at Frépillon.
Gavoty (1963) states that the sitter and her sister spelled their name "Longroy," but no other sources follow this form.