Madame de Staël as Corrine by Baron François Pascal Gérard (Colnaghi Gallery, London UK)

Colnaghi's description of this work follows:  "On the death of Madame de Staël in 1817 and as a homage to her, Prince August of Prussia, cousin of King Frederic-Guillaume III, asked Madame Récamier, whom he had met in Coppet, to organise the posthumous commissioning of her portrait. In 1818, Madame Récamier wrote to David who was going to portray her as Corinne crowned in the Capitol and remarked 40,000 FF for the commission. As a result, perhaps due to the high price, David’s portrait was refused by Prince August who instead asked Gérard for his assistance. On 6th April 1819, Prince August wrote to Gérard offering him 18,000 FF and the choice between representing Madame de Staël under the guise of Corinne at the time of her triumph in Capitol or at the Cape Miseno. Gérard chose the latter. Finished in 1822, this portrait was given by Prince August to his lifelong friend, Madam Récamier, in exchange for her portrait painted by Gérard in 1805 (located in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris). This painting remained in the apartment of Prince’s Egeria in the Abbaye au Bois (formerly rue de Sèvres) until her death in 1849, from thence it was bequeathed to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon. This painting is larger in size than the Colnaghi portrait and more complex in composition but the pose of Corinne is identical to that in our painting. This version, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, includes the figures of eight onlookers represented on the left of the composition. Amongst these onlookers is an Albanian wearing a turban with his eyes looking downward in meditation, Lord Oswald Nevil (who has similar features to Prince August), who appears to launch himself towards Corinne with his left foot on the rock and between them is the figure of the Prince of Castel-Forte. It is interesting to note that although Gérard resisted doing a direct portrait of Madame de Staël there are similarities in her appearance in the various representations of her as Corinne, for example, one can compare his portrait of her in the Coppet collection, Château de Coppet and a portrait of Madame de Staël as Corinne by Elizaberth Vigée-Lebrun (recently exhibited in the exhibition Citizens and Kings, The Royal Academy, London, 2007). This painting enjoyed a considerable degree of fame in Germany as well as in France demonstrating a wider influence away from Gérard’s immediate ring of supporters - Madame Récamier, Prince August and Chateaubriand. A contemporary critic and journalist, Thiers, wrote that “j’y retrouve surtout cette mélancolie profonde qui me charme dams le roman et me le fair relire souvent malgré ses mensonges de sentiment…” 

Various reduced representations of Madame de Staël as Corinne from the Lyon painting exist and were probably painted during the early 1820s. Among these are the paintings exhibited at the Salon in 1822 and 1824. The first version in which he painted the figure of Corinne alone and life-size is a version which was offered in 1827 by Talleyrand to the niece of the Duchess of Dino, who warmly thanked the painter in one for her letters. This version, formerly located in the Castle of Rochecotte, was removed in 1837 and the current location is unknown. 
The second autograph version, the Colnaghi picture, was commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Paris, Pozzo di Borgo. Both artist and Ambassador had known each other for a long time and in 1823, Gérard painted the full-length portrait of the General and in 1832 also the portrait of his daughter-in-law, Valentine de Crillon. The Colnaghi picture was recorded in the unpublished notes of Miss Godefroid, a pupil of Gérard, who kept the accounts of her Master as well as the numbering of his works, noted: “Corinne figure seule et grande comme l’original, faite exprès pour Pozzo di Borgo”. As the Colnaghi picture was never delivered to its patron, Pozzo di Borgo, it remained in Gérard’s family until very recently. Beautifully preserved, our painting is effectively a ‘muse portrait’, a fascinating synthesis of allegory and portraiture: daughter of Necker, wife of Baron de Staël-Holstein, disappointed egeria and opponent to Napoleon, lover of Benjamin Constant, author of novels and essays, Madame de Staël appears as Corinne wearing a classical dress with a red mantle and looking heavenward for inspiration. She raises her inspired eyes to heaven as she touches her lyre while in the background rises smoke from Vesuvius whose eruptions hint at the torrid emotion. The popularity of this motif, “the lady with the lyre”, was enhanced by the immediate success of the portrait painted by Gérard. In the Colnaghi portrait, the loneliness of the heroine exacerbates the emotion of the situation, however the pictorial processing does not escape from the neo-classical manner in which it was painted. All the savoir-faire of the portraitist at the top of his career is expressed through the excellent rendering of the draping, the purity of the muse’s face, Corinne, and the use of a palette, which combines warm tones to cold tones heralding purely romantic accents."

Gérard portrays Mem. de Staël as her character Corrine posthumously in this portrait.

Keywords:  Gérard, Mme. de Staël, Necker family, Swiss, Baroness, curly coiffure, tiara, strap sleeves, waist band, Empire waistline, close skirt, clasps, wrap, theatrical dress

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