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Full-length Portrait Features One of the
Most Celebrated Women in the Court of King Louis XV

Minneapolis, MN, June 1, 2006—The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) has purchased a beautiful and important full-length portrait by Alexander Roslin (1718–1793), one of the preeminent painters at the court of King Louis XV of France. Completed in 1763, the painting depicts the Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli, who was among the most celebrated women in eighteenth-century Paris. The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume is a major addition to the MIA’s collection of European art and is the museum’s most important old master acquisition since the purchase of Claude Lorrain’s Pastoral Landscape in 1998. On view in the MIA’s recently renovated and reinstalled galleries, the painting has already been requested for several exhibitions, including a major Roslin retrospective in Stockholm and Versailles.

“This extraordinary picture is among the masterpieces of French portraiture of the second half of the eighteenth century,” said Dr. William Griswold, director and president of the MIA. “It’s not often that we can add to our collection a work of such significance, which depicts such an exceptionally elegant and historically important figure.”

One of Roslin’s most ravishing society portraits, the oil painting depicts the young and lovely Septimanie de Richelieu (1740–1773) in a relaxed pose, with an open book in her hand, and a small dog by her side. The daughter of the duc de Richelieu, Septimanie married the Casimir Pignatelli, the Comte d’Egmont, when she was sixteen years old, becoming the Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli. When this painting was commissioned, the comtesse was twenty-three, and at the height of her fame. She was beautiful, intelligent and a frequent guest at the salon of Madame Geoffrin, the confidante of Madame de Pompadour. She was also a key figure at the court of the French king, a close friend of the King of Sweden, Gustav III, and an acquaintance of some of the most important artistic and literary figures of her day. The Comtesse d’Egmont died at age thirty-three from tuberculosis.

The portrait depicts the comtesse in a dazzling white gown, or Spanish costume, which is bedecked with ribbons, lace, and multiple strings of pearls adorning her neck, earlobes, and lightly powdered hair. Her feet, clad in white satin shoes, are crossed on the parquet floor. A small black-and-white spaniel tries to capture his mistress’s attention by raising its left forepaw. The languid pose, open book, and spaniel relate the painting to François Boucher’s monumental portrait of Madame de Pompadour, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1756.

“The comtesse was described repeatedly by her contemporaries as one of the most intellectually astute and glamorous women of Parisian high society and certainly Roslin has magnificently captured those traits in his portrait,” said Patrick Noon, curatorial chair and the Patrick & Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings and Modern Sculpture at the MIA.

The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume retains its original hand-carved frame, which is integral to the work and is an outstanding example of an early neo-classical French sculpture. The frame’s classical elegance is the perfect complement to the shimmering fabric and luminous flesh depicted in the painting. The frame’s upper pediment includes carvings of the torch of Hymen and the bow and quiver of Cupid, both allusions to matrimonial bliss and a confirmation that the comtesse’s husband commissioned the painting as a gift to her. Roslin is known to have collaborated with several Swedish frame makers who trained in Paris.

The painting has been exhibited publicly only four times in the last two hundred fifty years: at the Paris Salon of 1763, the year it was painted; at a major exhibition of historical portraiture in Paris in 1879; at an exhibition on literary salons at the Musée Carnavalet in 1927; and most recently at Wildenstein & Co., New York, from which the MIA acquired the masterwork. A smaller replica of this picture by Roslin is in the Sorbonne, but was badly damaged during the student riots of 1968. A nineteenth-century copy by Joseph Albrier was commissioned for the portrait gallery at Versailles, where it presently hangs.

“Our only great rococo female portrait, it exemplifies the sensibility of the Enlightenment, and vividly evokes the taste and aspiration of the men and women for whom our outstanding French gilt-wood furniture and our magnificent period room, the Grand Salon of the Hôtel de la Bouëxière, were made,” said Dr. Griswold.

Alexander Roslin (1718–1793)
Alexander Roslin was born in Sweden, where he trained as a painter before traveling to Italy in 1750 and eventually settling in Paris in 1752. At an early date, he became a friend of Boucher, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, and the celebrated antiquarian, Comte de Caylus. Roslin rapidly established his reputation as a portrait painter in the court of Louis XV and for twenty years prior to his return to Sweden in 1774, he was one of the most fashionable painters in France. He was renowned for his extraordinary technical skills, especially in the depiction of drapery, and intimate characterizations of his sitters. His cool tones, keen observation, and rococo grace made him one of greatest official portraitists in France at that time. Roslin’s portrait of the Comtesse d’Egmont was executed at the peak of his powers and celebrity.

About the Minneapolis Institute of Art

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses nearly 100,000 works of art representing more than 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolas Poussin, and Vincent van Gogh, as well as internationally significant collections of Asian art, decorative arts, Modernism, photographs, and 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.; Closed Monday. For additional information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit www.artsmia.org.

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