Royal treatment

Royal treatment

Norton Simon’s Countess will crown season’s portrait shows

By Jana J. Monji 08/27/2009

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Fall is a season of rediscovering others — from the people who made Pasadena and Los Angeles culturally rich and diverse creative centers to those individuals who changed the way we look at others.

In Pasadena, Tournament of Roses queen and princess hopefuls will be competing for public attention with a countess when all eyes turn to Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ “Comtesse d’Haussonville,” which goes on display Oct. 30 at the Norton Simon Museum.
Two museums will be giving portraiture a more local flavor.

The Pasadena Museum of California Art will display portraits of 150 Pasadena residents in “Population: Portraits by Ray Turner.” And the Pasadena Museum of History offers a special exhibit on six different Pasadena families in “Family Stories: Sharing a Community’s Legacy,” reflecting the cultural diversity of the Crown City.

The Pacific Asia Museum looks at fusion between Chinese and Latino art in “Calligraffiti: Writing in Contemporary Chinese and Latino Arts,” as well as the Filipina community in their own words and works in “Fashioning Domesticity, Weaving Desire: Visions of the Filipina.”

In the case of Ingres, the general public is perhaps more familiar with his 1814 “La Grande Odalisque,” which hangs in the Louvre. His 1856 portrait “Mme. Moitessier” is displayed in the National Gallery of Art in London. Both portraits use a mirror painted in the background to show the back of the subjects, giving one two views of the subjects and their stylish appearances. But the “Comtesse” still mystifies and delights audiences today.

“This portrait to my mind is one of the most sumptuous, beautiful portraits that Ingres painted,” said Carol Togneri, chief curator of the Norton Simon Museum. “The dress is the first thing that grabs you — the icy blue against the darker, almost violet background. There’s also the splash of the colors in the beautifully painted bowl and in the mirror behind her,” Togneri continued.

“I can’t work out if she is a coquette or a flirt. She’s got a haughtiness about her that is very compelling … I realize it’s the largeness of her personality and the setting that make you think of her as monumental,” Togneri said.

According to Togneri, the young woman first met Ingres in Rome when she was 18 years old. Although the portrait was started a few years later, when the woman was in her 20s, it “took him a couple of years to bring it to its fruition.”

The 1845 “Comtesse” is part of an art exchange between the Norton Simon and the Manhattan-based Frick Collection.
In drawings and studies for the portrait, two of which will be on display, viewers can see the woman’s dress and pose change as Ingres formed ideas on how to portray her, Togneri said.

Opening on the same day is the exhibit “Gaze: Portraiture after Ingres,” which examines how the art of portraiture has changed by becoming less photo-realistic and incorporating emotional content to the point of abstraction.

And in early December, as part of Los Angeles’ city-wide Rembrandt exhibitions, “The Familiar Face: Portrait Prints by Rembrandt” gives a view of European portraiture two centuries prior to Ingres.


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