"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Thérèse Louise de Sureda

This c. 1803/1804 portrait of Thérèse Louise de Sureda by Francisco de Goya hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Although the general consensus is that “little is known about the sitter”, Jonathan Brown and Richard G. Mann in their 1990 book Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries say this about Thérèse Louise de Sureda:
Little is known of the sitter, who was born as Thérèse Louise Chapronde Saint Amand in France. She was a friend from childhood of the renowned horologist and designer of scientific instruments, Abraham-Louis Bréguet. Bréguet, in turn, was a friend of Bartolomé Sureda's protector, Agustín de Betancourt, and it is probably through this friendship that Sureda met his future wife.
The Bréguet archive preserves fourteen letters from Thérèse Louise (who signed as "Louise") to the Bréguet family in Paris; the earliest is dated 1803, the latest 1831, after the Suredas had retired to Mallorca. The letters written between 1803 and 1808 often touchon the affairs of Betancourt and his French wife, who was thoroughly disliked by Señora Sureda for her extravagant ways, but especially because Señora de Betancourt considered the Suredas to be socially inferior and excluded them from her circle of friends. Thérèse Sureda's occasionally scathing assessments of Señora de Betancourt's conduct fit well with her character as represented in Goya's picture, which ranks among his masterpieces of portraits of female subjects.
The sitter's costume, a tunic of changing blue silk over a white chemise, is influenced by the short waisted fashions of the empire style. Her hair is oiled and arranged in curls low on the forehead, or in the “antique” manner current in French fashion around 1800. The armchair with caryatid support and sloping back is also in the French empire style. Here, as in the companion portrait, Goya shows the sitter as a follower of the current French fashions. -- Brown & Mann, 1990

John Walker in his 1975 book considered this painting, Doña Teresa Sureda, in relation to the pendant portrait of her husband, Bartolomé Sureda y Miserol.
Sometimes a painting is more interesting when considered in conjunction with its pendant. To appreciate fully the portrait of Dona Teresa, look at  {The portrait by Goya of her husband}. He was a painter, one of the first Spanish lithographers, an authority on the manufacture of glass, porcelain, and textiles, and, from 1804 to 1808, the director of the royal porcelain factory of the Buen Retiro in Madrid, where he introduced the production of Sevres porcelain. He was also Goya's friend, and they must in all probability have spent many late and companionable evenings together. On their return one can easily imagine that they were confronted by this icy, outraged woman. Goya has painted not only a portrait but a point of view the intolerance of uncompromising rectitude. Note the stiff line of Dona Teresa's back and how her resentment is conveyed by her hard, staring eyes and her sullen mouth. Here is a whole novel in two pictures.

Goya's portraits are different from those of earlier artists. Velazquez, for example, portrays his sitters with complete detachment, imposing no mood whatever, permitting us to make our own judgment; Rembrandt sees his subjects as an opportunity to convey his own tragic feelings; Frans Hals presents his men and women with a photographic superficiality which makes them seem acquaintances who will never become friends. Goya, on the other hand, studies character in relation to social position and environment. Occasionally one seems even to sense the sitter's reaction to a particular situation. This type of analysis, a combination of Sociology and psychology, was a distinct innovation in portraiture and a remarkable contribution to art.  – Walker, 1975

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