Pauline Viardot as Saint Cecilia by Ary Scheffer Pre-empted by the Musée de la Vie Romantique

1. Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)
Portrait of Pauline Viardot as Saint Cecilia, 1851
oil on canvas - 82 x 51 cm
Paris, Musée de la Vie Romantique
Photo : SVV Mathias/Baron Ribeyre & Associés, Farrando

11/4/14 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée de la Vie Romantique - Pauline Viardot was a well known figure during the Romantic period in Paris. Initially a pianist, she turned to singing after the death of her sister, Maria Malibran, also composing melodies and operas for private circles. In 1863, following the political opposition of her husband, Louis Viardot, to Napoleon III, she left Paris for Baden-Baden, later returning to France after 1870.
The Musée de la Vie Romantique made an excellent move this afternoon at the Hôtel Drouot (auctioneers Mathias - Baron Ribeyre & Associés, Farrando) by pre-empting for 8,000€ (before charges), a portrait of Pauline Viardot sold by her heirs and presented as being attributed to Henri Lehmann. In fact, this is a famous canvas by Ary Scheffer which decorated the organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1851 for the singer’s music salon at her house, located rue de Doaui. The organ is represented in three engravings, two of which allow us to easily identify the work now acquired by the Parisian museum (ill. 2 and 3). The instrument followed its owner when she moved to Baden-Baden, then in 1871 to her residence in Bougival. Sold in 1883 to the Collégiale Notre Dame in Melun, the organ was slightly modified so as to install it on the tribune. At this point, the painted medallion was removed and kept by Pauline Viardot ; a clock then replaced it (ill. 4).

Engraving of Pauline Viardot’s organ at the
Exposition Universelle of 1855
Back cover of La Maison Cavaillé-Coll
« Orgues de tous modèles », Paris 1889
Photo : D. R. (Domaine public)

Orgue de Pauline Viardot à Baden-Baden
Engraving published in L. Bietsch, « Eine Matinée in der Villa »
Der Bazar , n° 11, 8 December 1865, p. 401
Photo : D. R. (Domaine public)

4. Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899)
Pauline Viardot’s organ
Melun, collégiale Notre-Dame
© Région Ile-de-France/Inventaire général
du patrimoine/Stéphane Asseline

Contrary to information which appeared in various sources, the painting does not represent Maria Malibran but indeed Pauline Viardot herself. This is confirmed by an article of 19 March 1853 in L’Illustration, quoted on the website [1] : "On top of the organ’s buffet, in a medallion, there is a suave painting in which Mr. Ary Scheffer depicted musical inspiration with the vague features of a young woman : Saint Cecilia or Pauline Garcia [2]".
Pauline Viardot’s likeness is known thanks to various portraits (photographs and paintings). The Musée de la Vie Romantique already held a painting by Ary Scheffer, just recently donated (see news item of 29/4/10) but this one is quite different. Represented as Saint Cecilia with a halo against a gold background, the model raises her eyes piously to heaven. Often described as being extremely plain (confirmed by known photographs), she nonetheless seemed to possess great charm and attracted suitors. Although her features are easily recognizable here, she is rendered attractive by the painter’s talent. Ary Scheffer himself said to Louis Viardot, when the latter asked him his opinion of Pauline : "She is horribly ugly, but if I were to see her again, I think I would fall hopelessly in love with her [3].
We would like to thank Stéphane Grodée (also an organist !), the highest bidder and potential owner for a few seconds before the pre-emption occurred, of informing us immediately and, even more, providing us with all the necessary elements to write this news item.

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 11 avril 2014


[1] See entry for 15 May 1851.

[2] Garcia was Pauline Viardot’s maiden name.

[3] Quoted by Patrick Barbier, Pauline Viardot, Grasset, 2009.

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