Portrait of French Countess Heads for Minneapolis
LYNN NEARY, host:
The Minneapolis Institute of Art has just acquired a rare and even more rarely seen oil painting from the mid-18th century. It's a rococo-style portrait by Alexander Roslin, one of the most admired artists at the court of the French King Louis XV. It portrays a rosy-cheeked, bejeweled young brunette, the Comtesse Pignatelli, reclining in a silk white gown and holding open a book with a small black dog at her feet.
Patrick Noon is a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and joins us now by phone from his office. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Noon.
Mr. PATRICK NOON (Curator, Minneapolis Institute of Arts): Good morning.
NEARY: Can you tell us something about this painting? What makes it so special?
MR. NOON: You have one of the great portrait painters of the period, painting one of the most glamorous sitters of the period.
NEARY: And who is this elegant and beautiful countess?
MR. NOON: The Comtesse Pignatelli was married to one of the richest men in Europe, Comte Pignatelli, and she was the daughter of probably the most powerful man in France after the king, which is the Duke de Richelieu - a very, very close friend of Louis XV, and as a result of that she was very much involved in the court scene there with Madame de Pompadour and various other notable nobility from that moment.
NEARY: So she was something of a celebrity during that time.
MR. NOON: She was basically recognized by her colleagues and friends and the people who kept diaries and records of that moment as one of the most refined, elegant, intelligent, glamorous person, and when you think of someone comparable, you would have to think of somebody like Jackie Kennedy, I think.
NEARY: Why has this painting been displayed so rarely up until now?
MR. NOON: Well, you know, she died very young at the age of 33. Her husband outlived her for another two decades, and it stayed in that family for the next 200 years. And mid-1990's, they disposed of the picture, and outside of that, very few members of the public had seen it and didn't know to ask for it.
NEARY: Tell us something about the rococo style, so that people have a sense of what this kind of portrait would look like and what she looks like in the portrait.
MR. NOON: Actually, the moment that this painting is executed is during the period of the rococo, which tends to be noted for its flamboyance and its brilliant handling of brushwork and color. But this artist is actually moving out of that style, more towards neo-classical. He's a much more quiet and refined painter than what we usually associate with the rococo.
NEARY: Why is Roslin not better known?
MR. NOON: Much of his work is either in Stockholm, where he worked for the King of Sweden, or Russia, where he worked for Catherine the Great, and of course in Versailles in Paris. And so he's not an artist with many pictures in American collections. He's very well-known to people familiar with 18th century art, as probably the foremost portrait painter in the court of Louis XV in the middle of the 18th century. He survived the Revolution and died in '93, I guess.
NEARY: Died with his boots on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MR. NOON: Died with his boots on.
NEARY: Thanks very much for joining us.
MR. NOON: Thank you.
NEARY: Patrick Noon is a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. You can see a photo of the portrait of the Comtesse Pignatelli at NPR.org. It's 22 minutes before the hour.
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