Comtesse Charles d'Agoult, née Marie d'Agoult, and her daughter Claire d'Agoult

When Ingres visited her apartment in rue Plumet (now rue Oudinot in the 7th arrondissement) in Paris in early May 1849 to draw this portrait of her and her daughter Claire, Comtesse Marie d'Agoult made a few notes in telegraphic style in one of her notebooks (first published by Dupêchez in the 1989 auction catalogue, op. cit.):

'Wednesday May 2. Two o'clock. Ingres, fat, short, in greatcoat, eyes singularly expressive, fiery gaze. Lively appearance, hair smoothed down, dark going gray... After having tried out a composition where we are both standing, he finds that fussy, and chooses one with Claire leaning over. Ingres comments: one needs informality. The composition must be carefully studied, yet must seem quite natural, coming by itself'

('Mercredi 2 mai. A deux heures, Ingres, gros, court, redingotte éclaboussée. Oeil singulièrement vif, plein de feu. Physionomie mobile, cheveux plats, noirs grisonnants... Après avoir essayé une composition debout, il la trouve prétentieuse et choisit une pose de Claire penchée. [Commentaire d'Ingres:] Il faut de l'intimité, de l'abandon dans ces compositions. Il faut que cela soit très cherché, très étudié, mais que cela semble venir tout seul')

Ingres returned on 4 May for the second sitting. He discussed politics, religion ('we need the Pope and the cardinals in Rome, without that we would be ruined'), music (Mozart, his favourite, and Meyerbeer whom he admired). He also gave some advice to Claire who was herself a gifted draughtsman:

'There's only one way to learn: copy Raphael, learn to see beauty from him ('Il n'y a qu'une manière d'apprendre, dit-il à Claire, copier Raphaël, apprendre de lui à voir le beau...')

Marie d'Agoult (1805-1876) was one of the great figures in French society of the first half of the 19th Century. She inspired the central character in Balzac's Béatrix published in 1839. George Sand - one of her great friends and supporters before a dramatic fallout - made her the Comtesse de Chailly in her novel Horace which appeared in 1840, and Chopin (he died in 1849, the year the present portrait was made) dedicated to her twelve of his Etudes, while Alfred de Vigny, Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Eugène Sue attended and sometimes read some of their works in her famous Salon. Ingres, Achille Devéria, Luigi Calamatta, Théodore Chassériau (fig. 2), and Henri Lehman to whom she was very close (fig. 3) made her portrait and Lorenzo Bartolini and Pierre-Charles Simart executed her sculpted bust. She was a writer under the nom de plume of Daniel Stern, published the novel Nélida, some philosophical and historical essays and a large number of articles. But she she may well be remembered more for her passionate and tumultuous relationship with Franz Liszt with whom she had three children.

She was born in Frankfurt in the house of her mother, who was from a wealthy German banking family, and who had married a French aristocrat in exile after the Revolution of 1789. The family returned to France in 1809 and Marie went to boarding school. She was a gifted pianist and as a teenager, she met Goethe and Châteaubriand. In 1826 she married Charles d'Agoult (1790-1875) and had two daughters, Louise, born in 1828 (she died in 1834) and Claire in 1830. In December 1832, invited to a concert in the Salon of Marquise Le Vayer, she met Franz Liszt (1811-1886) a brilliant virtuoso pianist seven years her junior. For two years they would meet in secret before Marie became pregnant. The lovers fled to Basel in June 1835, and settled in Geneva in September where their daughter Blandine was born. They had two more children, Cosima (later to marry the German composer Richard Wagner) in 1837 and Daniel in 1839. It was during one of their frequent trips to Italy that Liszt and the Comtesse met Ingres, director of the Académie de France in Rome who welcomed them to the Villa Medici. The artist, himself a passionate music lover, and the great pianist soon established a friendly relationship, one that certainly extended to Madame d'Agoult.

An account of a concert Liszt gave at the Villa was published in La Mode eight years later:

'The symphony was about to end... M. Ingres was in front of me, thrashing about like the devil in holy water. I would have never believed that human flesh could be charged with so much electricity; his every pore seemed to sparkle, all his muscles were rippling, his eyes were dancing in their sockets, his hands flew constantly from his knees to his head, from his head to his knees... When the final note had faded away, he leapt from his chair and rushed into Liszt's arms; the two artists wept with enthusiasm and held each other tight.'

On her departure from Rome in May 1839, Ingres presented the Comtesse d'Agoult with a drawn portrait of Liszt (fig. 1; now in the Richard Wagner Stiftung, Bayreuth; New York, exhib. cat. Portraits by Ingres..., 1999-2000, no. 116). Soon the relationship between the Comtesse (she never divorced from her husband) who relocated to Paris and the pianist who gave concerts all over Europe and whose philandering was notorious began to deteriorate. It officially ended in 1844. At this time Marie d'Agoult began a serious career as a journalist, under the guidance of Emile de Girardin, editor of the liberal journal La Presse. She introduced the French reading public to a variety of foreign authors, and she drafted political commentary based on regular attendance at parliamentary debates. In 1846 she published under the name of Daniel Stern, Nélida, a thinly-veiled fictional account of her affair with Liszt. The book was a succès de scandale. It was her only novel. She then focused on journalism and writing essays. Her Essai sur la liberté, published in 1847, was well received, winning the praise of numerous critics. D'Agoult greeted the Revolution of 1848 with enthusiasm and took an active part in Parisian events. Her Salon became a meeting-place for liberal Republicans like Hippolyte Carnot, Jules Simon, Alphonse de Toqueville, and the young Emile Ollivier (who would later marry Blandine Liszt, one of d'Agoult's daughters, and who would become France's prime minister at the fall of Napoleon III). The Comtesse published her Histoire de La Révolution de 1848 in three volumes between 1850 and 1853. Her incisive portraits of political leaders, and her reasoned analysis of the social factors influencing the outcome of the revolution, were to have a profound impact on many subsequent treatments of the events of 1848. During the Second Empire she continued to receive in her Salon and to write, notably for the Revue Germanique. At the time of her death in 1876 she had been preparing her memoirs for publication. These were published posthumously as Mes Souvenirs 1806-1833 (1877) and Mémoires 1833-1854 (1927).

Ingres returned to Paris in triumph in 1841, following the exhibition there the previous year of Antiochus and Stratonice (Chantilly, Musée Condé). He attended the Comtesse d'Agoult's Salon on a few occasions and was one of the guests along with Balzac, and the architect Duban, at a memorable dinner she organized in 1843 in honor of Victor Hugo. Marie D'Agoult praised Ingres in articles published under the name of Daniel Stern, most notably a paeon on the Portrait of Cherubini and the Muse of Lyric Poetry (Paris, Louvre) published in La Presse in January 1842. She was one of the few critics continuing to celebrate the importance of Ingres whose art she judged appropriate to great classical themes and whose followers she noted with approval.

In 1849 the Comtesse organized the marriage of her daughter Claire, then eighteen years old, to the Comte Guy de Charnacé and it was probably to mark this union that the Comtesse asked Ingres to draw this double-portrait. Claire had been brought up in a convent and was reunited with her mother only in 1847. She was endowed with her mother's keen intelligence and was equally independent, determined to be free to follow her own path. In the notes quoted above Marie d'Agoult wrote that Ingres commented that there was still milk on Claire's chin ('Il y a encore du lait dans ses joues'). Claire was an artist of some talent and had asked Ingres for his advice and the painter recommended that she train with one of his students, Atala Stamaty. Two years after her marriage, Claire Charnacé bore her husband a son, Daniel, but by then their relationship was already going sour. She consoled herself with writing and with her art. She died in Versailles in 1912, some 36 years after her mother. Ingres drew two other portraits of her, both imitating a cameo, in bust and in profile to the left (fig. 4; Montauban, Musée Ingres, Vigne, Dessins d'Ingres..., 1995, nos. 295-6).

In 1849 Ingres was still mostly occupied with the decoration of the Château de Dampierre commissioned by the Duc de Luynes, on which he had been working since 1842. Because of this Ingres had stopped painting portraits. His latest one, The Baronne de Rothschild (private collection), he started in 1842 but only finished in 1848, and he only produced one more in 1851, the celebrated Madame Moitessier (Washington, National Gallery of Art). Of drawn portraits we have only one from 1848, and just five from 1849, including the present example. Indeed it was in the spring of 1849 when he was drawing this portrait that Ingres' wife Madeleine became gravely ill. She died just a few months later, on 27 July, leaving the painter devastated. He was forced to abandon the frescoes in the Château de Dampierre.

Ingres executed this portrait on a prepared tablet bought from A la palette de Rubens, Rue de Seine. A few days before the first sitting was done he had to postpone it as the tablet was not ready:

'Madame, n'ayant pas le temps de faire d'ici à demain les préparatifs nécessaires pour commencer notre dessin, je vous prie, Madame, de bien vouloir remmetre notre séance à vendredi. Vous me pardonnerez et me croirez, Madame, le plus dévoué de vos serviteurs.'

The portrait is quite exceptional in size, composition, ambition and minute detail of execution. Of the some 450 portrait drawings listed by Naef, this is the largest in upright format (the Famille Bonaparte in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Naef 146 and the Famille Gatteaux, Geneva, Collection Krugier-Poniatowski, Naef 417, are of larger dimensions but are both horizontal). While Ingres usually made his portrait drawings in a few hours without preparation, the present portrait was not one of those. At least two sittings are documented, and three studies for it, all squared in pencil, are in the Musée Ingres, Montauban (G. Vigne, Dessins d'Ingres..., op. cit., 1995, nos. 2592-4). The first one shows Claire standing, echoing Marie d'Agoult's notes that Ingres had first planned to represent them standing. The second is also of Claire, this time seated but looking towards the spectator (fig. 5), while the third, on tracing paper, is of the two women in poses which are very close to the final composition (fig. 6). The Comtesse and her daughter are shown full length (another rarity in Ingres' portrait drawings) seated in comfortable chairs in a richly decorated interior. On the mantlepiece and on the back wall are Chinese 18th Century porcelains mounted in lamps and decorated with figurative scenes and there are plants in the background including a large and leaning ficus tree. Ingres has carefully studied the dresses of both women which recall the great folds of the elaborate pink silk dress of Baronne James de Rothschild finished the year before.

The portrait was engraved by Louis-Adolphe Salmon (1806-1895) in 1851, and Ingres expressed his pleasure with this in a letter to the Comtesse dated 3 December 1851:

'It is my pleasure to express my perfect satisfaction with the engraving executed by M. Salmon after the portrait of the Comtesse d'Agoult. This engraving has all the qualities that distinguish a perfect work in its genre. As the author of the drawing, I am happy for having been so well interpreted and assures the Comtesse d'Agoult of my approval.' ('Je suis heureux d'exprimer ma parfaite satisfaction de la gravure exeécutée par M. Salmon d'après le portrait de Mme la Ctesse d'Agoult. Cette gravure réunit toutes les qualités qui distinguent un ouvrage parfait en ce genre. Pour mon compte, à titre d'auteur, je suis heureux de me voir si bien interpreté et d'assurer Mme la Ctesse d'Agoult de ma parfaite satisfaction').

Signature: Signed and dated 'J. Ingres Del/1849'

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Comtesse Charles d'Agoult, née Marie de Flavigny, Paris;

Her daughter, Marquise Guy de Charnacé, née Claire d'Agoult, Versailles;

Her son, Marquis Daniel de Charnacé, Croissy-Beaubourg, until 1942;

His daughter, Comtesse de Saint-Priest d'Urgel, née Claude de Charnacé;

Her daughter, Marquise de la Garde de Saignes, née Anne-Dauphine de Saint-Priest d'Urgel, Paris;

Anonymous sale; Drouot Montaigne, Paris, 17 March 1989, lot 18.

About Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Studying under Jacques-Louis David for four years, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres developed a Neoclassical approach that changed little as his career unfolded. Known for his extraordinary drawing skills, Ingres believed that line, not color, conveyed the expressive content in an image. He did not share his colleagues’ enthusiasm for battle scenes, preferring to depict revelatory moments and intimate confrontations that rarely included movement or violence, and his early work was criticized for stylistic and historical idiosyncrasies. Ingres despised the more fashionable work of the Romantics such as Eugene Delacroix, and was despondent when his work was poorly received in the Salons. Inspired by Orientalism, Ingres painted a series of odalisques that were originally panned for their exaggerated anatomy and depiction of odd accessories, but were later hailed as Romantic masterpieces.

French, 1780-1867, Montauban, France, based in Paris, France

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