Two PortraitsThe Art Institute of Chicago displays two portraits of the same individual. His name was Amedee-David Marquis de Pastoret. One is of an arrogant, self-possessed, rather conceited looking French nobleman. It was painted by Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres around 1825. The pose is formal, stiff, and aristocratic. The figure is dressed in a seemingly skin-tight black suit decorated with a bright red ribbon and the Legion of Honour cross. He is a man of considerable privilege and, despite the consummate skill evidenced in its rendering, one has the feeling this is a portrait of a man Ingres seems not to have liked very much. There is a truthfulness and reality to the work, but it is a mocking reality aimed at deceiving no one except the sitter, who apparently appreciated the portrait having so completely captured his own, inflated self-image. Yet the look of a demanding status seeker steeped in ludicrous pretension is all too evident.
Hanging not far away is another portrait, this one by Jacques Louis David, who happened to have been Ingres' art instructor and mentor. David's portrait is of a young mother in her early twenties, a woman of aristocratic bearing gazing warmly out at us as she looks up from her sewing. Next to her is a cradle. In it we see the top and back of her infant son's head. The baby is the same Amedee-David, the portrait, that of his mother, Madame Adelaide Anne Louse de Pastoret. The painting dates from 1792. Unlike the portrait by Ingres of the baby grown into an arrogant manhood, David's rendering is warmly sympathetic. It is uncharacteristically light and bright as compared to much of the artist's other work. It is also unfinished. The young mother sews, but without the benefit of needle and thread. We can only speculate as to what else David might have added in completing the work.
The unfinished portrait was the victim of the French Revolution, as was the young mother. She and her husband, Claude Emmanuel Joseph Pierre, Count de Pastoret were married on July 14, 1789, which, as any francophile will quickly tell you, happens to be Bastille Day - talk about bad timing. One day, not long after her marriage, while she was, indeed, pregnant with her first and only child, Adelaide was passing a Paris tenement when she heard loud crying from inside. Upon going to investigate, she found a five-year-old girl left to look after her baby brother while her parents were at work. The baby had a broken arm. The young mother took both children home temporarily and during the next few years worked to establish a chain of nurseries throughout France for the children of working mothers. Perhaps this is what led David to paint her portrait. In any case, before it was quite finished, the French Revolution divided artist and model. David was a staunch Republican (favouring the new, revolutionary republic) while Madame de Pastoret was of aristocratic blood and loyal to the monarchy.
As an artist, David was a brilliant technician, an expert draughtsman, lucid, sensitive, and intelligent. As a man, he was quite the opposite, vain, fanatical, and politically foolish. Allied with the powerful revolutionary regime, David was instrumental in having the Marquis de Pastoret exiled, and for a time had Adelaide and her young son imprisoned. He could just as easily have had them guillotined. The painting languished in the artist's studio for some 30 years, never to be finished, even as David was, himself, exiled for his support of Napoleon Bonaparte. Upon his death in 1825, the de Pastoret family quickly snapped up the painting from David's executors. Coincidentally, that was the same year Ingres painted the supercilious young heir to the de Pastoret line. There's no moral here, just an interesting set of circumstances. It's the kind of fascinating, ironic circle which permeates history and art history as, every so often, they mix and intertwine, giving visual credence to the old cliché, "What goes around, comes around."
Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 August 2001