Ingres’ Comtesse d’Haussonville (1845)

Sixteen years ago Lillian Schwartz, a computer scientist at Bell Labs, made a dramatic announcement in the pages of a science magazine: the proportions of the Mona Lisa's face as measured by computer match those of Leonardo's. The difference is so slight that the chances of their proportions being coincidentally similar is near zero.1 Then, last year I revealed how Parmigianino, another Italian artist in the Renaissance, painted Anthea, his own Mona Lisa, in like fashion, basing her features on his own.2 Now comes a third iconic female, this time from nineteenth-century France: Comtesse Louise d'Haussonville by Ingres.

Ingres, a consummate portraitist, took three years to complete the commission, drawing and painting numerous studies in preparation. When it was finally shown, Ingres announced that it had met with complete success and that the sitter's family were delighted with it. Her former tutor, meanwhile, disagreed, remarking in a letter that it was under universal attack.3 His report is probably more accurate because given how closely Louise's face resembles Ingres' there must have been some criticism.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Ingres, Comtesse d'Haussonville (1845) Oil on canvas. Frick Collection, New York, NY

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The lower half of Louise's face - the chin, mouth and button nose - is obviously similar to Ingres' but so are the eyes. Note how the shape of their eye-openings are identical, the pupils in the same position but hers somewhat larger. The broad expanse of her eyelids, however, disguises the similarity because his are mostly unseen.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail rotated of Ingres' Comtesse d'Haussonville
R: Detail of Ingres' Self-Portrait (1835) Graphite on paper. Louvre, Paris

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In a study drawing for the portrait, the similarity is even more apparent, most notably in the lop-sided chin and off-center lower lip. The mouth curls down in his portrait, and up in hers, but their upper lips are similar, as is again the button nose.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail rotated of Ingres' Study for Comtesse d'Haussonville (1843-5)
R: Detail of Ingres' Self-Portrait (1835)

Click image to enlarge.

A further study includes notations in Ingres' hand on how to alter the face, instructions that have puzzled those who believe portraits are likenesses of the sitter. Was he correcting the portrait to improve the resemblance to Louise or making changes to improve on nature?4 Now that we know an accurate copy of reality was not Ingres' prime motivation, the instructions seem less puzzling.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L : Detail rotated of Ingres' Study for the Portrait of Louise d'Haussonville: The Face (1843-5)
R: Detail of Ingres' Self-Portrait (1835)

Click image to enlarge.

The pose, with many possible sources, is evidently one of meditation and thought as has been recognized in the literature.5 However, given that Louise is a female alter ego of Ingres, her thoughtful pose before a framed mirror takes on new meaning. She is both "artist" and "model" imagining "her creation", the framed mirror/painting behind her. Since every painter paints himself the mirror is a perfect symbol for the painting.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Ingres, Comtesse d'Haussonville

Click image to enlarge.

In the Portrait Galleries you will find dozens of comparisons like the one shown here. Try studying them closely because they will help you recognize such similarities in other paintings by other artists making you a more informed, more perceptive art viewer in the process.

Notes:

1. Lillian Schwartz,“The Art Historian’s Computer”, Scientific American 272, April 1995, pp. 106-11.

2. See our blog: "Face It! Anthea is Parmigianino"  (26th Sept. 2010)

3. Edgar Munhall, Ingres and The Comtesse d'Haussonville (New York: Frick Collection) 1985, pp. 53-4

4. Andrew C. Ritchie, "The Evolution of Ingres' Portrait of the Comtesse d'Haussonville", Art Bulletin 22, Sept. 1940, p.124; Munhall, ibid., p.66

5. Munhall, ibid., pp. 69, 72

It has been pointed out that Louise's arms are slightly out-of-scale with her figure, larger than they should be. Like many of Ingres' figural distortions this is thought to be a compositional issue without meaning. In light of these new discoveries, though, it may signal two different levels of reality in the one figure: "the arms of the painter" in the foreground "painting" her figure in the background. Remember the scene, like all scenes in art, takes place in the artist's imagination where anything is possible.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 02 Jan 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.