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MIA Acquires 18th Century Masterpiece

June 1, 2006—The 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 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.

“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.

Image: Alexander Roslin, Swedish, 1718-1798. Comtesse d'Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume, 1763. Oil on canvas.

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