Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Art of Portraying

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent (1893)

American painter John Singer Sargent turned Gertrude Vernon - the young wife of Andrew Noel Agnew, a barrister who in 1892 inherited the baronetcy and estates of Lochnaw in Galloway, Scotland - into something of a celebrity after painting her portrait. It’s considered one of Sargent’s best, full of all the beautiful and expensive fabrics a woman of that era could want. The expression on Lady Agnew's face is very captivating, with a slightly raised eyebrow, a knowing, almost careless gaze and set lips.


madame rimsky-korsakov
Madame Barbe de Rimsky-Korsakov by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1864)

Her name is Varvara (in Russian Варвара), often called Barbe (Demetrievna Morgassov). She was the wife of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and reportedly the aunt of the famous composer by the same name. Her husband was from a rich aristocratic family. He was a VERY handsome man. They married in Moscow when she was 16 or 17 and he was 20. This couple was mentioned in "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. They had three sons: Sergei, Alexi and Nikolay.

However, the marriage ended in divorce and Varvara left for France. She was a regular at the Court of Napoleon III and Eugenie and was reportedly one of his lovers. Prince Obolensky wrote that she was known everywhere in France thanks to her beauty and charm. The French called her "La Venus Tartare". During her time in Paris, she was painted twice by the portrait painter of the day, Franz Xavier Winterhalter. The second portrait, painted in 1845, became the most well known, and is now in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

After the Franco Prussian War, Barbe went to live in Nice, where it is believed she died at age 45 and is buried in the Russian cemetery. Cause of death is unknown. Other royal ladies of Napoleon's Court lived much longer, into their '80's and even 100's.

At this time there was large Russian community in Nice. The Czar would come in his yacht to Nice in the summers.

Her son Nikolay went back to Russia to his father and later married one of the daughters of Natalia Pushkina-Lanskaya. What became of the other two sons is unknown.

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Thank you for the inspiration, rauf, these two paintings are most definitely worth a post of their own. Your favourites just became mine.


Ruth said...

The composition of the painting of Lady Agnew is remarkably pleasing. I am a little astonished though at her waist. Where are her ribs? Her eyes are wonderful.

Mme. Rimsky-Korsakov's is a little too flouncy for me, but her face is lovely. The skill of the painting -- imagine making fabric look so thin and light. Look at all her hair! I wonder how often she washed it . . .

rauf said...

sorry about War and Peace Claudia, i got mixed up

Claudia said...

Ruth, I bet hygiene standards in the 19th century left much to be desired when compared to present day obsession with cleanliness.

I wasn't very surprised when I found out Lady Agnew bore no children. She has an impossible waist, doesn't she?

Claudia said...

rauf, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I've never read neither "Anna Karenina" nor "War and Peace". They're both on my neverending "Must Read" list.

Ruth said...

I haven't read War and Peace, but I read Anna Karenina finally a couple years ago and loved it. Do read it.

rauf said...

i have read only the abridged version in my younger days Claudia.

Jase said...

Hi I have an original painting of the above which as been passed through many generations of our family would it be worth much?