Count Robert de Montesquiou

Count Robert de Montesquiou

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Title: Count Robert de Montesquiou.

Author : BOLDINI Giovanni (1842 - 1931)

Creation date : 1897

Date shown: 1897

Dimensions: Height 160 - Width 82.5

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 90EE792 / RF 1977-56

Count Robert de Montesquiou.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

At the end of the XIXe century, the social portrait, whether painted or sculpted, arouses considerable enthusiasm. Reflecting the social situation of models from the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie who animate "Paris fin de siècle", it accentuates some of its most prized characteristics: feminine elegance and distinction, sobriety of allure and male authority.
Paris, where the avant-gardes are welcomed with open arms by those who no longer have economic power, retain the brilliance of a name and where fashion contributes to distinguish the elites, plays a central role in the production of such works. . From then on, among the most famous portrait painters will be read the names of the Swiss Louise Breslau, the American Sargent, the Russian Troubetzkoy or the Italian Boldini.

Image Analysis

Giovanni Boldini is, from 1872, one of the most famous Parisian social painters. Adulated and extremely wealthy, the artist, between two trips, immortalizes with an alert brush and in flamboyant ranges of colors a varied international clientele, from the old aristocracy, the business bourgeoisie or the art world. . When he painted the portrait of Count Robert de Montesquiou, seated, in profile, the diagonal of the body counterbalanced by that of the cane, a canvas in shades of pearly gray that he presented at the Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts de 1897, his model is famous as a writer and poet, but perhaps even more so for the mode of existence that is supposed to him. Don't we pretend that his bed takes the shape of a chimera and that nearby is installed a polar bear skin on a sled, in anticipation of a future departure? And above all, do we not repeat, in literary circles, that he is the model of the character of Des Esseintes in the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Backwards, where are his extravagances transposed?


Arousing admiration as much as rejection, the dandy of the years 1880-1900 has nothing to do with Byron or Brummel, the first incarnations of this typical character of the XIXe century. His reputation is generally based on intellectual or artistic activity, often literary, which is the case of Montesquiou, author of convoluted prose that we hardly remember. A subtle spirit and a refined esthete, the dandy also stands out with an intense social life, illustrated in particular by the characters in Marcel Proust's novels. The dress of clothing of extreme refinement, always accompanied by a personal note (the lock of white hair of Whistler, the buttonhole of Proust ...), also plays an important role which owes a lot to the great contemporary couturiers, such as Jean Worth, whose workshops are developing, spreading international fashion around the world. An ultimate characteristic of this type of character is his ease in assuming a difficult character; Whistler wrote, in 1890, The Lovable Art of Making Enemies ? Willingly marginal and haughty, the dandy can pay dearly for his singularity, like Oscar Wilde who, convinced of homosexuality, will end his days, miserable and abandoned by all. The fin-de-siècle dandy no longer espouses great causes: he is deeply selfish, and if history beholds him, he only gives him a furtive glance.

  • bourgeoisie
  • dandyism
  • Parisians
  • portrait
  • Huysmans (Joris-Karl)
  • Proust (Marcel)


Patrick CHALEYSSIN Robert de Montesquiou, patron and dandy Paris, Somogy, 1992. Bianca DORIA and Giovanni BOLDINI Catalogo generale dagli Archivi Boldini Milan, 2000.Philippe JULLIAN Robert de Montesquiou a prince 1900 Paris, Perrin, 1987.Marylène DELBOURG-DELPHIS Singular masculine: Dandyism and its history Paris, Hachette, 1985 Collective Catalog of the exhibition Robert de Montesquiou or the art of appearing , October 12, 1999 - January 23, 2000 Paris, Musée d´Orsay.

To cite this article

Dominique LOBSTEIN, "The Count Robert de Montesquiou"

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