Albert BESNARD | Madame Roger Jourdain (Portrait of Mrs R. J...) [Portrait de Mme R. J...]

France 1849 – 1934

Madame Roger Jourdain (Portrait of Mrs R. J...)
[Portrait de Mme R. J...]
oil on canvas
canvas 200.0 (h) x 153.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift Mrs Roger Jourdain, the sitter 1921
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Albert Besnard’s portrait of Madame Roger Jourdain was highly regarded at the 1886 Salon, which was held at the same time as the last Impressionist exhibition. Besnard, like some other conservative Salon painters, adopted aspects of the Impressionist painting style after it became popular with the French public.

The annual Salon captured the imaginations of Parisians as they scrambled to view the celebrities of the day. The elegance of this portrait of Henriette Roger Jourdain contrasts with the many scandals she suffered during her lifetime. These included a morphine addiction, a string of lovers and finally her death from an overdose of sleeping pills.

Besnard delights in painting the glistening fabric of her stylish gown. A diagonal sash fastened with a sparkling brooch rests on Henriette’s hip with long, ochre coloured gloves completing the ensemble. The society hostess was well known in Paris in the late nineteenth century and was a muse for many artists. Several painted her portrait and Gabriel Fauré dedicated one of his musical compositions to her.

The painting is infused with light coming from a number of directions. As Henriette sways slightly a combination of white and yellow light accentuates the folds of the dress and her fine features. A hazy, blue atmosphere lights the figure from behind. The setting is difficult to discern- is Henriette standing in an internal space or possibly on a terrace?

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay