A lady is wearing a fancy off-shoulder blue evening dress adorned with gold, diamonds and pearls. She wears her hair in an elegant style and the gold-embroidered shawl that hangs over the chair and everything about her hints that she is attending a party or a ball. Her expression is down, however. Who is she and why does she look so worn out?
The model of the women in this painting, drawn by 19th-century artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, is Pauline de Broglie, a French aristocrat also known as Princesse Broglie and who married Albert de Broglie, who later became the Prime Minister of France in 1845. The painting was commissioned by her husband and Pauline was 28 years old at that time. Bright, intelligent and beautiful, she had always been the center of attention at balls but she suffered due to her shyness. No doubt that posing in front of an artist must have been a challenge, while an uneasy model would be difficult for the artist as well.
Despite 50 years of drawing portraits and nudes, Ingres struggled to finish the painting and even wrote about how challenging it was in a letter to a friend, saying that it would be his last portrait of a woman. The painting actually became the last portrait of a female model aside from his wife. The artist drew more than 10 sketches, first starting with the body and adding clothes and decorations. Of course a professional model had been commissioned for this role. The painting perfectly captures the characteristics of neoclassicism: detailed description, perfect proportion and composition, distortion of the body for ideal beauty.
Perhaps the model’s weariness was an ominous sign to the artist who had been over his eighties at that time. As soon as the painting was completed, Pauline caught tuberculosis and passed away seven years later at the age of 35. Albert lived to the age of 79 but did not remarry. He spent the rest of his life alone and kept the portrait until the last moment of his life.