Pretty Ladies

Portraits can be arresting because the artist has captured some quality of the subject in a way that complements the style of the first and the personality of the latter. They can also be of interest because they are pictures of very influential or otherwise interesting people. It rarely happens that figures who are not very important on the pages of history or the great scheme of things give pause. These are paintings that don’t really have great big stories to tell or warrant speculation over technical matters. They’re just nice pictures of beautiful people and interesting as such. At least that’s what it seems like when one is ignorant of both art and history.

Walking through Musée d’Orsay I bumped into at least three of these portraits. They stopped me in my tracks before I knew who the subject or the painter was. These are not very famous paintings, so it’s unlikely I’d seen them before and was simply struck by their familiarity.

Source: Wikipedia

This first one is by Winterhalter and depicts a Countess Barbara Dmitrievna Rimsky-Korsakova. I don’t know much about her, but she was a member of the Russian nobility and famous for her beauty and ability to shock the French court. Winterhalter was a great and popular portrait artist, although his paintings do seem a bit old-fashioned. Anyway, she’s stunning.

The second is a pastel by Manet and it’s a picture of a Irma Brunner and its charm is quite different from the Romanticist gloss in Winterhalter’s painting.

Source: Wikipedia

I’m told she was a friend of Manet. She is dressed very elegantly in the dress of the late 1800s, a time when people still knew how to dress up for things. It’s a dramatic silhouette that ends in those strikingly red lips.

The third is by Henri Fantin-Latour and presents a stark contrast to the glamorous pastel-lady with her make-up and candy wrapper outfit as well as the flamboyant Countess.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s one of his sisters reading a book, and it’s a different kind of portrait because she’s not posing like the other two. It’s calm, serene, and it looks very Protestant and pious. This is something that came from the Dutch and the northern schools, I suppose, both the piousness and the model engaged in an everyday activity. Maybe that’s the reason she’s my favorite of the three.

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