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French portrait painter/teacher

Count Robert de Montesquiou in the role of the traveler  

<>Jacques-Emile Blanche
French portrait painter

Robert de Montesquiou

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
American painter/etcher, 1834-1903 
Arrangment in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquios-Fezensac

Antonio de la Gandara
French portrait painter (1861-1917)

Comte Robert de Montesquiou
c. 1892

Philip Alexius de Laszlo
British portrait painter, 1869-1937

Comte Robert de Montesquiou

Paul César Helleu
French portrait painter 

Robert de Montesquiou
Maybe 1900s? 

 Count Robert de Montesquiou
Giovanni Boldini -- Italian-French portrait painter
Oil on canvas
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) of noble blood, was one of the most flamboyant and arrogant men of his time. A somewhat poet, more an art critic but above all, a society dandy. He was considered the prince of the Aesthetic movement in Paris and was one of the first to proclaim the virtues of Art Nouveau. The women of Society flocked to him for advise and he had immense connections for artists who were in his favor. On a whim he would crush, like a bug, any artists he didn't like. His ruthlessness in this regard could be heartlessly curl.

Around him floated a wide circle of artists including actress Sarah Bernhardt,  composer-friends like Gustave Moreau, and and Gabriel Fauré; one of his young 'disciples' the pianist Léon Delafosse; painters James McNeill Whistler, Antonio de la Gandara, Carolus-Duran, Paul César Helleu and Boldini (all paid tribute to him in paint); and there was Stephane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine and John Singer Sargent; along with writers such as Marcel Proust, and the list is almost endless.

If you were in the Paris art scene and wanted to be a "somebody", you most certainly had to know Montesquiou.

For someone that held so much influence and power over artists and the art scene in Paris, these overt displays of affection (whether from the artist or the patrons commissioning it) were as much about fear as it was about friendship. That so many artists paid tribute to the man -- almost gushing tribute -- was the equivalent of kissing the feet of a king. All were hoping to avoid being unlucky enough to fall out of his favor and feel the scorching sting of his wrath.

A great example of the "revenge" Montesuiou might extract is aptly highlighted in Marcel Proust, Correspondence.  

(See text from Marcel Proust)

I don’t know if John Singer Sargent ever kissed the feet of Montesquiou with a portrait. I haven’t seen one. If he didn’t it would have been incredibly bold, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a portrait were to turn up. 

Two very unlikely explanations of a no-Sargent-tribute are dismissed. The first is that Montesquiou wouldn't have wanted a portrait by Sargent. This I find unlikely since Montesquiou was an early supporter of the American (notably during the Madame X scandal) which leads to the second unlikely explanation that Montesquiou refused a portrait. The vanity of the man was simply unmatchable -- insatiable at seeing his own likeness in paint which would have made it impossible if he felt Sargent was an artist of note – and he clearly did in the beginning.

Predictably, Montesquiou turned on Sargent. It was towards the latter part of John’s career. 

From: Yuri Suassuna de Medeiros

Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2005

Montesquiou wrote a great essay about the work of Mr. Sargent.

This "etude" was first published in "Les Arts de la Vie, n.18, June 1905, pp.329-348, as "Le pave Rouge. Quelques reflexions sur 'L'Oeuvre' de M. Sargent" [Some reflections on the Oeuvre of Mr. Sargent]. It was published after at his fourth book of 'Etudes et Essais': "Altesses Serenissimes" (Paris, Societe d'editions et de publications, Librairie Felix June, (1905), 313 pages ) with the title  "Le Pave Rouge".

I haven't had the chance of find this rare book yet, but I will keep you informed with details about these.

It's just amazing the quantity of writings by Montesquiou. He wrote about almost everything. He was an exceptional person of taste. Mostly about ART in general.

In the "Dictionary of Arts " edited by Jane Turner, in 34 volumes, published by Macmillan Limites in 1996 you can find the following:

" ... the Montesquiou highly critical essay on Sargent earned Bernard Berenson's approval for attacking the artist Berenson called 'that idol of the Anglo-Saxons'. [1]

In the formidable book "Les curiosités esthétiques by Robert de Montesquiou (Histoire des idées et critique littéraire)" by Antoine Bertrand, published by Droz, 1996, 2 volumes, 996 pages,

(by the way, I have this by my side and highly recommend this admirable kind of encyclopedic book to everyone that really wants to know why Robert de Montesquiou was and still is important to the generations)

[English translation]
"Le gout est une chose tres speciale, qui peut ne pas manquer a certains talents imparfaits et faire defaut a des plus sures maitreses; Wagner avait tout le génie posible; avait-il du gout? Ce n'est pas par lui que brillait Rubens; Whistler et Stevens (Alfred) en avaient, et MONSIEUR SARGENT qui est un grand peintre, n'en a pas;..."
(passage of the chapter  entitled "le Meteore" (Edmond Rostand), in the R. de Montesquiou livre of etudes et essais named " Tetes Couronnees ", E Sansot, 1916, pp. 190-191 )

Thu, 10 Feb 2005

From the book "Whistler & Montesquiou: The Butterfly and Bat" de Edgar Munhall, 1995, The Frick Collection/Flammarion, p.58" I have translated the following passage about the case of Sargent and Montesquiou:

"... In June of 1885, Montesquiou was planning to return a second time to London, this time in the company of the surgeon Dr. Samuel Pozzi and the composer Prince Edmond de Polignac. Their common friend John Singer Sargent, who was then residing in Paris, wrote to Henry James in London on June 29, 1885, with this collective letter of introduction:

Dear James, I remember that you once said that an occasional Frenchman was not an unpleasurable diversion to you in London, an I have been so bold as to give a card of introduction to you for two friends of mine. One is Dr. Pozzi the man in the red gown (not always) a very brilliant creature and the other is the unique extraordinary human Montesquiou of whom you may have heard Bourget speak with bitterness, but who was to Bourget to a certain extent what Whistler is to Oscar Wilde. (take warning and do not bring them together).

They are going to spend a week in London and I fancy Montesquiou will be anxious to see as much of Rosseti's and Burne-Jones's work as he can. I have given him a card to Burne-Jones, to the Comyns Carrs (J.W. Commyns, art critic and dramatic) and to Tadema (Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema).

"There is a letter from Edmond de Polignac to Montesquiou's cousine, then the Vicomtesse Greffulhe, postmarked Calais/Paris" and dated June 27, 1885. It indicates that the trio had already arrived in London before Sargent sent the above letter to James, and that they were settled in the Cavendish Hotel, 81 Jermyn Street.

"James rose to Sargent's bait, leaving for
Montesquiou at the Cavendish Hotel..." [2]

From: Yuri Suassuna de Medeiros
Wed, 23 Feb 2005

I found the following passage about  of Sargent, Graham Robertson and Montesquiou, from the book "Whistler & Montesquiou: The Butterfly and Bat"
(Edgar Munhall, 1995, The Frick  Collection/ Flammarion, p.89)

"One of the artists who where quick to spot
Montesquiou's portrait by Whistler at the Salon of 1894 in Paris was John Singer Sargent, over from London. Graham Robertson, whom Sargent was painting at the time, recorded the artist reaction to Montesquiou's portrait."

(Editor's Note - the book then quotes Graham  Robertson's autobiography -- an excerpt is featured at the JSS Gallery  – so jump and see  -- Graham  Robertson's "Time Was", pp.236-37, London, 1931)

My note [Yuri]:

I think the opinion of Mr. Graham Robertson is very personal and as a great fan of Robert de Montesquiou I am not here to agree with him. I think  his "analysis/reflexion" can be read like a point-of-view. Anyway, his record about what Sargent could have said at that time about the Whistler portrait of  Montesquiou is quite curious . We must keep in mind that his book is one of remembrances.

My best and kind regards
Yours truly
Yuri Suassuna de Medeiros


Special thanks to Yuri Suassuna de Medeiros, of Brazil originally, a friend of the JSS Gallery, for his help. 

1) Editor's Note - I assume Berenson's opinion toward Sargent  would have been around 1905 when Montesquiou wrote his essay. By 1957 Berenson's opinion changed. He wrote in his diary: "The contemptuous indifference toward [Sargent] is sure to pass, and I prophesy he will be appreciated at his value" see source]

2) a footnote posted in the rear the book of "Whistler & Montesquiou: The Butterfly and Bat" sources the information as:

Manuscript Division Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge (( b MS AM 1904 (396)), quoted by T. F. Fairbrother in A New World: Masterpieces of American, 1760-1910, ed. J.G. Silver, exhib. cat., Boston, 1893, p.300, n.i." (Edgar Munhal thankful Nigel Thorp for direceted him to this letter) "

By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 2/28/2002