Madame Recamier

Madame Recamier
Madame Recamier

Throughout the history of painting there have been some works that changed the stylistic parameters of the moment, the work that we are analyzing here today has been one of these key pieces to understand the world of painting and more specifically, the evolution of the female portrait. The importance of this portrait was such that it was copied on countless subsequent occasions, but it is also true that in its history real elements are intermingled with other legendary ones, which has made its trail last even longer, if possible.

The work we are analyzing here bears the title of the protagonist, Madame Recamier, and is an oil on canvas in a horizontal format measuring almost two and a half meters wide and one meter seventy tall. The piece dates from the early 19th century, specifically the year 1800, and was painted by the neoclassical artist Jaques Louis David.

David (1748 – 1825) was one of the most outstanding painters of the neoclassical style not only for the quality of his paintings but also for being an active part of the social and political life of his nation in years of tremendous upheaval political and social. On this occasion, the artist represents one of the most influential ladies in French society, Juliette Recamier, the woman – and according to the gossips of the time also the daughter – of a prominent banker from Lyon. The lady was very popular at her time not only because of her great beauty and her splendid singing voice, but also because she organized outstanding meetings withthe intellectuals of his time.


Perhaps it was in one of these meetings that Recamier contacted David to order the painting; According to legend, at that time David was considered a dangerous man and Juliette's husband would not have agreed to make this canvas, so the lady would secretly meet with the painter to make the canvas. It seems that Juliette was having a hard time posing for David and her continual complaints caused the painter toleave the work completely unfinished

Be that as it may, the truth is that the portrait laid the foundations for female representation; the lady appears lying on a divan – which after the canvas would be known as Recamier – dressed according to classicist tendencies, that is: with a light and flowing tunic-type dress and curly hair tied back in the Greek style. Actually, more than a XIX Recamier lady, she appears as if she were a true vestal.

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