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Work Portrait of Marie d'Agoult

Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century

Portrait de Marie d'Agoult

Prints and Drawings
19th century

Author(s):
Prat Louis-Antoine

Like his master Ingres, Chassériau liked to depict his friends and acquaintances in pencil-drawn portraits. These drawings enjoyed great popularity at a time when photography was still only in its infancy. We know that Chassériau drew around eighty portraits between 1839 and 1856. The present work depicts one of his women friends, Marie d'Agoult, Comtesse de Flavigny (1805-76), famous for her ten-year affair with Franz Liszt.

A friend and critic

Marie d'Agoult was not just a social acquaintance of Chassériau. Under the pen name of Daniel Stern, she published articles about art, notably reports on the annual Salons. At the time, these Salons performed the same role as art galleries do today. Marie d'Agoult often defended Chassériau, although she also criticized him at times. In 1841, the date of this portrait, she had only just got to know him. The artist had just returned from an eight-month visit to Italy, during which period she had expressed an interest in meeting him in her letters. Her lover, the musician Franz Liszt, disliked the portrait, criticizing Chassériau for having drawn Marie with her mouth open!

A very popular genre

The practice of portrait drawing developed at the end of the Middle Ages with Fouquet, and its importance grew during the Renaissance, especially in France with the Clouets. Anyone anxious to bequeath their features to posterity resorted to this method, which was much faster and less expensive than having one's portrait painted. Ingres, Chassériau's master, made it his speciality and executed almost five hundred portraits in pencil. He sold many of these, unlike Chassériau who almost always offered them to members of his family or to his friends.

The influence of Ingres and classicism

It was in the genre of the pencil portrait that Chassériau drew most inspiration from the influence of his master Ingres. Like him, he portrayed his models in half-length portraits, including props (here, the armchair on the left and the oriental vase on the right). The use of graphite pencil enabled both artists to reproduce their models' features with scrupulous accuracy. However, Chassériau's treatment of his subjects was perhaps more poetic than that of Ingres: here we can admire the lyrical line of Marie d'Agoult's back and the elegance of her pose, her hands crossed in front of her waist.

Bibliography

Prat L.-A., Musée du Louvre, Inventaire général des dessins. Ecole française : Dessins de Théodore Chassériau 1819-1856, Paris, 1988, I, n 1065.
Prat L.-A., Chassériau : Un autre romantisme, Exposition Paris, Strasbourg, New-York, 2002-2003, n 53.

Technical description

  • Théodore CHASSERIAU (Santo Domingo, 1819-Paris, 1856)

    Portrait of Marie d'Agoult

    1841

  • Graphite on cream paper

    H. 34.5 cm; W. 26.5 cm

  • Louis de Ronchaud collection; S. Higgons collection. Purchased by the Louvre in 1969.

    4031884

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Lower left, signature in graphite: Théodore Chassériau / March 1841