ALEXANDER ROSLIN AND THE COMTESSE D’EGMONT PIGNATELLI
“There is a young Comtesse d’Egmont, daughter of Marshal Richelieu, so pretty and pleasing, that, if I thought it would break any body’s heart in England, I would be in love with her.” Horace Walpole (1765)
Minneapolis, August 22, 2008 – In celebration of the 2006 acquisition of a major Enlightenment portrait, The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume (1763) by the court painter Alexander Roslin (1718—93), the Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents an exquisite dossier exhibition on view August 30 through November 30, 2008. Comprising eight paintings, one terra-cotta bust, and a writing tablet case, on loan from international collections, Alexander Roslin and the Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli explores several pertinent themes: Roslin’s stature in Europe, the iconography of the portrait and its elaborately carved frame, the culture of the literary and artistic salons in mid-eighteenth century France, and the sitter’s complex relationship to the king of Sweden. The exhibition is organized by Patrick Noon, Chair of Paintings and Modern Sculpture, and Erika Holmquist-Wall, Assistant Curator of Paintings, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The paintings include Roslin’s grand Portrait of Gustav III and his Brothers from the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, his commanding late Self-Portrait from the Malmö Museum, and the finest of his many intimate renderings of his confrères, the Portrait of Francois Boucher from the Musée National du Château de Versailles. Other major loans include Boucher’s Portrait of Madame de Pompadour from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Allan Ramsay’s equally iconic Portrait of Jean Jacques Rousseau from the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. (The countess was passionately devoted to the Swiss philosopher). This remarkable little show also includes a terra-cotta bust portrait of the countess by Jean Baptiste Lemoyne (1704—78), and the writing tablet case she gave to her great admirer, Gustav III of Sweden, with whom she corresponded on a wide range of political, social, and artistic topics.
The painting,The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume, portrays one of the eighteenth century’s most glamorous socialites, Septimanie du Plessis de Richelieu (1740 – 73), the only daughter of Armand du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu (1696 – 1788), a close friend of King Louis XV. Septimanie’s husband, whom she married in 1756 at age fifteen, was Casimir Pignatelli, Comte d’Egmont (1721 – 1801), himself the progeny of two ancient European houses, the Egmonts of Holland and the Pignatellis of Naples and Aragon. Septimanie’s marriage to the older and more seasoned count was brokered by her father, and although it garnered her tremendous wealth and social stature, it was more a union of convenience than of bliss. By the time she sat for Roslin in 1763, the countess was already widely acclaimed as one of the most perspicacious, captivating, and spirited women of Parisian high society, a veritable Jackie Kennedy of l’ancien régime. Unfortunately she would die of tuberculosis at the age of 33.
Alexander Roslin was born in Sweden, where he initially trained before traveling to Italy in 1750 and eventually settling in Paris in 1752. At an early date he was befriended by François Boucher, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, and the celebrated antiquarian, Comte de Caylus. He rapidly established his reputation as a portrait painter in the court of Louis XV. For twenty years prior to his return to Sweden in 1774, he was one of the most fashionable painters in France, renowned for his extraordinary technical skill, especially in the depiction of drapery, and his intimate characterizations of his sitters. His cool tones, keen observation, and rococo grace made him the principal rival of the great official portraitists in France.
The nobility of Russia, Austria, Sweden, and Poland were equally enthusiastic in their pursuit of his redoubtable talents. His prodigious output, despite an exceptionally meticulous technique, made him one of the most celebrated, and certainly one of the wealthiest, artists in Europe.
The recent Roslin retrospective exhibition in Stockholm and Versailles, assembling nearly one hundred fifty portraits, confirmed that the Swedish artist was at the apex of his creative faculties during the 1760s, that crucial decade of transition in French art from rococo exuberance to neoclassical constraint. It also revealed that, of the formal female portraits emerging from this phase of intense productivity and invention, the Comtess d’Egmont picture remains Roslin’s most brilliant conception and a masterpiece within his oeuvre.
A publication with essays written by Patrick Noon and Erika Holmquist-Wall accompanies this exhibition.
This exhibition is made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Exhibitions Endowment Fund, and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanties.
About the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses more than 80,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt, Poussin, and van Gogh; modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Stella, and Close; as well as internationally significant collections of prints and drawings, decorative arts, Modernist design, textiles, photographs, and Asian, African, and Native American art. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 A.M.–5 P.M.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 A.M.–5 P.M.; Thursday, 10 A.M.–9 P.M.; Monday closed. For more information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit www.artsmia.org.
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