Lot 59
  • 59

FRANZ-XAVER WINTERHALTER | Portrait of Mélanie de Bussière, comtesse Edmond de Pourtalès (1839 - 1913)

120,000 - 180,000 EUR
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  • Franz-Xaver Winterhalter
  • Portrait of Mélanie de Bussière, comtesse Edmond de Pourtalès (1839 - 1913)
  • Signed and dated center left F.Winterhalter 18...
  • Oil on canvas
  • 99,5 x 74 cm ; 39 1/8  by 29 1/8  in


Winterhalter, Portraits de dames du Second Empire, Jacques Seligmann et fils, Hôtel de Sagan, Paris, 1928, n°11 ;
Beautiful women of the 19th Century, Knoedler & Company, Inc., London, 1933, n°16 ;
La femme 1800 - 1930, Galerie JH Bernheim Jeune, Paris, April - June 1948, n°98 ;  
Le Second Empire, de Winterhalter à Renoir, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, 1957, n°280 ;
Expositions de Portraits, Château de Maisons, Maisons-Lafitte, 1964, n°22a ;
Franz Xaver Winterhalter et les cours d'Europe de 1830 à 1870, National Portrait Gallery, London, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, October - May 1988, n°57, illustrated p.134, p.205, mentioned p.232 (n°189)


Franz Wild, Nekrologe und Verzeichnisse der Gemalde Franz & Hermann Winterhalter, Zürich, 1894, p. 40 ;
F. Loliée, Les femmes du Second Empire, pp. 309-332, illustrated p. 312 ;
A. Dayot, "A propos de Winterhalter", in L'Art et les Artistes, May 1928, n°87, p. 255, illustrated ;
A. Dupouy, "Winterhalter et ses portraits de femmes", in Le Monde illustré, 2 June 1928, illustrated p. 354 ;
Richard Ormond and Carol Blackett-Ord, Franz-Xavier Winterhalter and the courts of Europe (1830 - 1870), illustrated p.134, p.205, mentionned p.232 (n°189);
Emmanuel Burlion, Portraits de F-X Winterhalter, 2007, n° 222, reproduced (engraving)
Emmanuel Burlion, Franz-Xaver Winterhalter 2011, p.62 n°309, reproduced (engraving)
Emmanuel Burlion, Franz Xaver & Hermann Winterhalter, 2016, p. 53-54, reproduced p. 55 (engraving)


To the naked eye: - Relined canvas, with a good tension. - Sound and stable canvas. - No tears and no distortions. - Paint layer in good condition. Slightly flattened when the work was relined, but there is still some impasto. - Slightly worn out, especially in the landscape. - No lack, no paint lift, no repainted part, no restoration visible to the naked eye. - The signature and date seemed to have been slightly reinforced. - The varnish is light and the work has no dirt. - In a modern golden frame. With the UV light: - The examination is rendered difficult due to different varnishes. - Scattered retouchings on the painting: on the chin, in the hair, in the subject’s dress near her shoulder, on her wrist, and some linear retouching measuring about ten centimetres on the lower left part in the dress. - Older retouching near the date and the signature, maybe due to a tear in the canvas.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Mélanie, Countess of Pourtalès is one of the most remarkable and influential personalities of the Second Empire's Parisian society. Her beauty as well as the elegance of the Salon she skilfully hosted made her a prominent figure amongst the socialites of her time. Marcel Proust himself mentions her in À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Sodome et Gomorrhe), through the voice of the Duchess of Guermantes, who praises the quality of the social gatherings organised by the Countess. 

The Countess's father was the Baron Alfred Renouard de Bussière (1804-1887), banker and captain of industry in Strasbourg ; her mother was Laure Sophie Mélanie de Coehorn, daughter of a General at the service of the French Empire, who died in 1813, at the Battle of Leipzig. In 1857, Mélanie married Edmond de Pourtalès-Gorgier (1828-1895), who also came from a family of financiers from Switzerland. The couple had five children, including Hubert (1863-1949, see lot 162), who married Marguerite de Schickler (1870-1956), owner of Martinvast.


Mélanie de Pourtalès lived with her husband in the famous Hôtel de Pourtalès, built in 1820 by Félix Duban. The Countess hosted one of the most fashionable and brilliant Salons in Paris. She was a good friend of Princess Pauline de Metternich (1836-1921), whose Salon competed with hers, as well as of Empress Eugénie, who often invited her to her "Mondays" and to her receptions in Compiègne.


However, her reputation did not only stem from her position as a hostess and figure of the Parisian high society. Generous, gentle, and gifted with a sense of humor, she was also renowned for her elegance and legendary beauty. As it happens, her beauty was the subject of many stories : one of these tales tells of a soirée hosted by the Minister Duchâtel, just after he bought Ingres's famous Source. As the guests were admiring the beautiful nudity of Ingres' nymph, one of them exclaimed, while pointing both at Mélanie and the painting,"Ah! Here is Madame de Pourtalès in her daytime clothes and in her night-time clothes"


According to tradition, Winterhalter's portrait was executed in 1857, the year in which the Countess and Edmond de Pourtalès married and were expecting their first child. This splendid painting was most likely commissioned to commemorate one of these two events, and the artist pours all his virtuosity into his depiction of the seventeen years old Countess's gracious beauty.


In a skillful rendering of precious fabric such as silk and muslin, Winterhalter recalls the XVIIIth century golden age of French aristocratic portrait. Set against a background of barely distinguishable foliage, the Countess gazes out softly at the viewer.


Kept in the family until today by her descendants, the Portrait of the Countess Mélanie de Pourtalès is an admirable testimony of this young woman's remarkable beauty, the rich intellectual and socialite life in Paris during the Second Empire, and Winterhalter's talent at his best.