Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the neo-classical French artist par excellence, painted this masterpiece toward the end of his life when his reputation as a portraitist to prominent citizens and Orléanist aristocrats had been long established. Pauline de Broglie sat for the artist’s final commission. Ingres captures the shy reserve of his subject while illuminating through seamless brushwork the material quality of her many fine attributes: her rich blue satin and lace ball gown, the gold embroidered shawl, and silk damask chair, together with finely tooled jewels of pearl, enamel, and gold. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, Albert de Broglie, a few years after their ill-fated marriage. Pauline was stricken with tuberculosis soon after completion of the exquisite portrait, leaving five sons and a grieving husband. Through Albert’s lifetime, it was draped in fabric on the walls of the family residence. The portrait remained in the de Broglie family until shortly before Robert Lehman acquired it.
Although the French neo-classical artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres often confessed reluctance to paint portraits, his many splendid paintings of French aristocrats and powerful personalities ultimately glorified his persona, and assured his social ascendancy in the royal circles of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans (r. 1830-48). Ingres returned to France from his years at the Villa Medici in Rome to a steady stream of commissions, and a growing reputation unsurpassed in the genre of portraiture.
Prompted by the success of the beguiling portrait of his sister Louise-Albertine de Broglie, later Comtesse d’Haussonville (The Frick Collection), Albert de Broglie commissioned Ingres to paint his beloved young wife, Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn. A pious Catholic and the author of several volumes on the Christian virtues of Saints, the shy Princesse de Broglie was woefully ill-starred. Afflicted with tuberculosis in her early 30s, she died in 1860 at the age of thirty-five, leaving five sons and a grieving husband. Albert never remarried. While it is said that he drew curtains over the portrait in his Paris residence, he did lend the picture to exhibitions in 1867, 1885, and 1900.
Louis d’Haussonville’s tutor reported in January 1849 that Ingres had dined with the d’Haussonvilles “so that he might see in profile a princess whom he would paint in the month of March, when the days were clear and long.” The tutor further stated, “He seems very pleased with his model.” A faint pencil sketch of Pauline de Broglie seated in an armchair suggests that Ingres was at work on the portrait sometime in 1850. In it the artist has already captured the oval of her face, the arch of her eyebrows, the straight line of her nose, and the gesture of folded arms, with one hand disappearing into the folds of a sleeve.
As Ingres developed his imagery, working up Pauline’s pose, and her relationship to the interior setting, he relied on professional models. For it was his belief that in order to better understand the body’s relationship to its clothing, an artist must first know the contours of the figure in the nude. Ingres was first introduced to this working technique as a student of Jacques Louis David.
Ingres notes his progress on the portrait in several letters to his friend Charles Marcotte. He wrote of having “so much trouble painting from life because of the sun. I am killing my eyes on the background of the Princesse de Broglie, which I am painting at her house, and that helps me advance a great deal; but, alas, how these portraits make me suffer, and this will surely be the last one, excepting, however, the portrait of Delphine.” (Delphine was the artist’s second wife, and indeed the subject of his final portrait.) Ingres mentions painting the shy Pauline de Broglie from life, and confirms that he laid in the background at the de Broglie residence in Paris, 90 rue de l’Université. The walls of the painted interior at first appear neutral in soft grey tones, but they are curiously marked by a fictive heraldic device --an imagined coat of arms uniting the arms of the de Broglie and Galard de Bressac de Bearn families –emblematic of Pauline’s aristocratic heritage while underscoring her marital path.
In December 1854, at his studio on the Quai Voltaire, Ingres unveiled his ravishing portrait. “Voilà,” he wrote, “the painting is finished and finished indeed to the applause of everyone. It is, to tell the truth, really beautiful.” Although not embraced by every critic, the portrait was warmly reviewed at the Exposition Universelle in 1855. Duly noted was the extraordinary materiality and luster of surface effects. “He attended equally to the costume and to the furniture…The satin of the gown, the jewels, the lace, and the marabou feathers of her coiffure have a Chinese precision and an English elegance.”
The portrait of the Princess de Broglie was completed the year that Napoleon III married the Empress Eugenie. Their re-establishment of the Imperial court encouraged a growing opulence in fashion – styles either praised or ridiculed in the press. Ingres has dressed his muse in a blue satin two-piece ball gown, such as one might have seen at the winter ball in the Tuileries or at the Opera’s first masked ball of the season. For evening affairs, ladies of privilege wore lace-edged décolleté necklines and wide, feathery sleeves of ribbon and lace arranged in pagoda fashion from shoulder to elbow, culminating in a crinoline skirt, such as we find in Pauline’s exquisite attire.
We know from Pauline’s writings and from her family history that she was deeply religious . Her necklace pendant clearly alludes to her piety. Historically, this cross called a Cross Pattée or Spire Cross could be found surmounting a spear, where it symbolized the Cross of the Resurrection. The pendant, or bulla, may have been made by a Roman jeweler, Fortunato Pio Castellani, who is credited with reviving taste for such Byzantine jewelry, or by the French jewelry house, Mellerio dits Meller, founded in the seventeenth century. Along with the pendant, Pauline’s pearl drop earrings, ruby and diamond bracelet, rings, and pearl necklace – wrapped informally around her left arm—remained in the family for generations.
Ingres has created the impression that the Princess has just laid her belongings on a chair prior to leaving the house for a soirée. This “still life” of luxuriant materials enabled the artist to expand his repertoire – adding cashmere, silk thread, velvet, leather, and ivory to the portrait’s inventory of textures and textiles. The portrait’s material detail amply describes a social milieu. But for all the finery that accessorized the princess, we have very little understanding of the woman herself. Framing her bodice and head in the spare rectangle of the wall’s moldings, the artist preserves her privacy, idealizing her facial expression. She is, in the end, inscrutable. It is only because history reminds us of her extreme reserve that we read the portrait as we do, inferring a shy demeanor. Pauline exists as the object of her painter’s gaze.
The ravishing portrait remained in the de Broglie family until the mid-twentieth century when it was acquired by Robert Lehman. Today it has pride of place in the Lehman Wing of the Metropolitan Museum, only a few blocks from the equally splendid likeness of Pauline de Broglie’s sister-in-law, La Comtesse d’Haussonville, in The Frick Collection.
[Dita Amory 2016]
Inscription: Signed and dated (left center): J. INGRES. pit 1853
Albert, Prince de Broglie, 1853; by descent, to the subsequent ducs de Broglie; purchased, through Wildenstein & Co., Inc., by Robert Lehman, New York, January 1958.
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