My Favourite Painting: Sir Peter Osborne

'There’s that extraordinary gaze of hers, how confident and proud – she was, after all, born a princess – but, at the same time, how alluring and seductive, her eyes following you as you walk past her.'

Sir Peter Osborne chooses Comtesse d’Haussonville:

‘My favourite museum is the Frick in New York. I probably could have chosen half a dozen “favourite paintings” from there alone. There are couple of reasons why I finally picked this one: in the first place, no one painted silk quite as well as Ingres.

‘The ruffles and creases and shimmers are unbelievably lifelike; you just want to take a handful of the taffeta and crunch it between your fingers. And then there’s that extraordinary gaze of hers, how confident and proud – she was, after all, born a princess – but, at the same time, how alluring and seductive, her eyes following you as you walk past her.

‘Add to this what we know about her, a formidable intellect and prolific essayist, and I have to say it’s an obvious favourite ’

Sir Peter Osborne is chairman of Osborne & Little, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

John McEwen comments on Comtesse d’Haussonville:

Louise de Broglie, Countess d’Haussonville (1818–82), was a daughter of the long-established Broglie dynasty, her father a statesman, a diplomat and a member of the French Academy. She was a granddaughter of Madame de Staël, a formidable writer and saloniste. The Countess’s husband, a diplomat and writer, was also an academician. She was outspokenly liberal and independent and would later write novels, essays and biographies – of Byron, among others.

By the 1840s, having achieved fame as a portraitist, Ingres was devoted to the higher, but less lucrative art of history painting. This portrait was one of only two he accepted at the time. It was a second attempt. The Countess had found the long sessions wearisome, complaining that nine days had been taken to paint one hand, and then she became pregnant with her third child.

The new portrait shows her in a silk-taffeta dress, a robe de petit dîner, today’s equivalent of a cocktail dress. Daywear would have prescribed a hat; an afternoon or evening at the Opera or Comédie Française called only for combs and a decorative ribbon. An apparently discarded shawl and handkerchief enforce this interpretation, as do the barely visible opera glasses standing beside the pile of calling cards. The apparently all-seeing eye for detail is balanced by a strict and pleasing sense of formal design.

At its finish, Ingres was disappointed, but the Countess’s father was delighted and, as Ingres wrote: ‘Finally to crown the work, M. Thiers [acquaintance, former Prime Minister and future President]… came to see it… and repeated this wicked remark: “M. Ingres must be in love with you to have painted you that way.”’


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