When I saw this portrait, above left, last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was puzzled by the lady's hair. Here on the blog, we're no strangers to 18thc Big Hair (see here and here), but the exaggerated styles don't come into fashion until the mid-1770s, and this woman's dress with the wealth of bows is firmly around 1760, which is where the museum places it, too.
So how did she manage to be so fashion-forward for her portrait? Turns out it's a case of 18thc celebrity Photoshop. Marie Rinteau and her sister Geneviève were celebrated beauties who, according the museum's notes, converted fleeting musical careers into the more profitable ones as "cultured courtesans known as les demoiselles de Verrières." Marie was the mistress of soldier and courtier Maurice de Saxe, and bore him an illegitimate daughter, Marie Aurore.
In 1761, the two sisters had their portraits painted by François Hubert Drouais (1727-1775), an artist who specialized in beautiful portraits of beautiful women; among his sitters was Louis XV's mistress Madame du Pompadour. The sisters were painted in rich settings, wearing lavish silk gowns with costly lace. To indicate their musical talents, Marie is holding sheet music, while Geneviève is shown gracefully playing her harp. They were also originally painted with the hairstyles of 1760, which were tightly curled and close to the head, much like another lady that Drouais painted around the same time, below left.
Fifteen years later, however, the demoiselles decided that their portraits needed to be updated. Either Drouais or another artist added the latest hairstyles sweeping upwards from their foreheads and decorated with plumes and festoons of silk flowers and faux pearls. Yet like the infamous portrait of Dorian Grey, their painted faces remained unlined and youthful.
Marie died in 1775, aged around forty-five. Perhaps this refurbishing was a final small vanity before her death, or perhaps it was her way of stalling the inevitable in a "career" that would have become increasingly difficult to maintain as the years passed. Either way, I'm sure she'd be pleased that her portrait is now admired by hundreds of visitors a day in one of the greatest museums in the world - and her hair is perfect.
Extra: One of our friends of the blog, art historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, recently published an article about other 18thc portraits that were altered to update them. You can read it here in the magazine of the Huntingdon Library; search for Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow to go directly to the article in the issue's pdf.
Above left: Detail, Marie Rinteau, called Mademoiselle de Verrières, by François Hubert Drouais, 1761, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Right: Geneviève Rinteau de Verrières by François Hubert Drouais, 1761, private collection. Bottom left: Detail, Countess Darya Petrovna Saltykova, by François Hubert Drouais, c1760.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.