Exhibition for hire :

La Comtesse de Castiglione

  • Pierre-Louis Pierson-La Comtesse de Castiglione-1
  • Pierre-Louis Pierson-La Comtesse de Castiglione-2
  • Pierre-Louis Pierson-La Comtesse de Castiglione-3
"From 1856 to 1895, the Countess de Castiglione (1837-1899) posed hundreds of times before the camera of Pierre-Louis Pierson (1822-1913), a partner in one of the most successful Parisian portrait studios of the day. The resulting images ranged from depictions of the celebrated beauty in extravagant ball gowns to close-ups of her naked feet. Embracing the theatricality of the portrait studio’s stage-like setting, the Countess performed numerous roles for the camera, dressed as the Queen of Hearts or the Queen of Etruria, in Chinese costume or draped in nothing but a bedspread. She reclined on sofas or on the floor, stood tall in profile to show off the silhouette of her dress and coiffure, or turned her back on the camera to gaze at her own image in a mirror. She commissioned many of the photographs to be embellished in hand-painted colour (a specialty of the Mayer & Pierson studio), further enhancing their artificiality. Motivated by Castiglione’s unquenchable narcissism and authored as much by the model as by the photographer, the photographs recorded the Countess’s renowned beauty, commemorated her social triumphs and aspirations—on several occasions she posed in ball gowns that she had worn to significant events, sometimes years after the fact—and, as she aged, her struggle to maintain her good looks and mental stability. (...) The Countess’s photographs have been a source of fascination for over a century. For the Symbolist poet and dandy Robert de Montesquiou, who wrote one of the first biographies of Castiglione, the 434 photographs he bought at the auction of her estate in 1901 were among numerous talismans, including a mirror and a shoe, of the legendary beauty he had worshipped from afar but never met. Today, the photographs retain their appeal as evocations of the romantic and tragic life of a great character of the Second Empire, but their allure for contemporary viewers stems from more than their status as artifacts of a dramatic biography." Extract from the exhibiton tex, by Marta Weiss, Curator of Photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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130 silver prints, with frames

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