23 April 2011

Lady in Blue

"Comtesse d'Hausonville" Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1845)

One of my favourite things to do on a rainy afternoon is to stroll around a museum. And one of the best places to do this is at the Frick Collection. Housed in the beautiful Fifth Avenue mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the collection is small enough so as to not overwhelm but impressive enough to make you want to return again and again. I love the garden court with its sunken pool and skylight, the delightful Boucher room, and the wonderful “Mistress and Maid” by Vemeer. But my favourite thing at the Frick is the portrait of a woman in blue—“Comtesse d’Haussonville” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Louise de Broglie, the Comtesse d’Haussonville (1818-1882), was the granddaughter of the great salon hostess and writer Madame de Staël and great-granddaughter of Louis XVI's finance minister. The wife of a diplomat, she was an author and wrote biographies on Lord Byron and the Irish patriot Robert Emmet. It was in Rome that she first met Ingres who would begin work on her portrait in Paris in 1842 and finish it three years later.

One of her mother’s friends called her “the girl with eyes like smoldering embers” and indeed there is something mesmerizing about the Comtesse’s gaze. Although she was in her early 20s, there is a wiseness in her eyes. It also makes you wonder, what was she thinking about? Was she contemplating Ingres? Was she dreaming up a story to write? Or could she have simply been bored? Her direct gaze combined with the plump curve of her arms against the blue silk folds of her gown and the pop of a red ribbon in her hair, create a striking portrait that stays with one long after you've left the museum. I always save the portrait for last when I visit so later when I walk down Fifth Avenue and look at the trees in the park, I can think about the Comtesse and imagine her moving around a room, gown dragging lightly across the floor while her dark eyes dart around, taking in her surroundings.

The Frick Collection is always a nice place to visit but if you go on Sunday mornings 11-1 the admission is pay what you wish.

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