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The Mom Tapes (excerpt), by Ilene Segalove


[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass]

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822–1913)

Salted paper print from glass negative
Image: 14.5 x 15.4 cm (5 11/16 x 6 1/16 in.) Mount: 17.1 x 17.3 cm (6 3/4 x 6 13/16 in.) Mat: 43.2 x 35.6 cm (17 x 14 in.)
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
Accession Number:
  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed in pencil on mount, verso C: "8 [boxed]"

  • Provenance

    Maurice Levert; (Pescheteau-Badin, Godeau & Leroy, Paris, January 28, 1995, lot 8); Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York

  • Notes

    Women, and occasionally men, seen from the back, displaying "the other side" to advantage, appear regularly in the photographs of the Second Empire. The effects of trailing skirts, low-backed dresses, or complicated coiffures were regarded as the culminating effects of a successful costume. The Countess submits to current fashion but transcends the genre as she stands in front of her cheval glass in her imposing "Elvira" gown. She offers herself to the viewer front and back at the same time, manipulating her reflection with consummate artistry. The long mirror, seen here in Pierson's studio, will appear in her photographs year after year, until the final sittings. An indispensable prop, it allowed the Countess to check her poses before submitting to the photographer's lens.

    The so-called Elvira series comprises ten poses. The salted paper used for this print indicates that it may have been made to be painted. There is no negative. [PA; "La Divine Comtesse", p. 182]

    Painted versions of the Elvira dress can be found in the Gilman Collection (2005.100.409a–d). There are many soprano leads in opera named "Elvira"; two examples are in Verdi's Ernani (1844) and Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787), both of which were performed regularly during the Second Empire. [Alteveer/IFA]

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History