Théodore Chassériau (French, 1819–1856)
Oil on canvas
52 x 37 1/4 in. (132.1 x 94.6 cm)
Signed and dated, lower left: T. Chassériau / Rome 1841
Wrightsman Fund, 2002 (2002.291)
For Chassériau, this portrait of the comtesse de La Tour-Maubourg, wife of the French ambassador to the Holy See, expressed a subtle defiance of his teacher J.-A.-D. Ingres. Chassériau subverted Ingres's approach by casting a melancholic mood over the painting, by banishing bright colors, and by abandoning Ingres's meticulous naturalism and smooth polish for a stylized and painterly depiction of sitter and setting.
In 1840, Charlotte de Pange, the second wife of Armand-Charles-Septime de Fay, comte de La Tour-Maubourg, posed in the garden of the French embassy in Rome: the domes of the churches in Trajan's Forum and the top of the Colosseum, dark ocher in the light of the sunset, are visible at right. When the portrait was shown at the 1841 Salon, critics objected to the expressive elongation of the head, the gazelle-like eyes, the pallor of the skin, and the delicacy of the hands—qualities that today make the picture seem truly remarkable.