Jacques Emile Blanche
Portrait of Desiree Manfred
Signed J. E. B. (lr); inscribed Jacques Emile Blanche on the stretcher
Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 15 inches
Private collection, London
One of the most successful portraitists of his generation--often compared to John Singer Sargent--Blanche had a steady clientele of patrons in his native France as well as in England, where he painted fashionable society types, as well as fellow artists, writers, and other members of the cultural elite. The sitter in the present work is Denise (or Desiree) Manfred, one of Blanche's favorite models. The artist first painted her when she was a young girl of ten or eleven, and he went on to depict her on many occasions thereafter. Described in his autobiography as a "child with a gift for music and literature" whose presence "delighted" him, Manfred became Blanche's secretary, as well as his muse. Known for her dazzling beauty, she also attracted the attention of the French writer and politician, Maurice Barres (1812-1923), who used her as the model for the heroine in his novel, Le Jardin de Berenice (1891), and "[wove] a poetic legend about her." In fact, Blanche referred to many of his portraits of Manfred as "Berenice studies." Blanche's portraits of Manfred often show her seated on a fauteuil, sometimes in a coquettish pose that directly engages the viewer. However, in other works he takes a different tact, portraying the lovely Desirée (whom he often referred to as "Daisie") in front of or next to a mirror that shows her reflected form. Such is the case with the present example, which features her slumped in a chair, leaning her head on her right arm. The fact that Blanche has chosen to portray his sitter in a quiet moment, seemingly withdrawn from her environment, reminds us that as well as being "delightful," Desirée was also, in Blanche's words, a "strange sensitive" girl, and it is this aspect of her personality that he captures here through a skillful handling of pose and gesture.
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