Robert de Montesquiou
Giovanni Boldini --
Italian-French portrait painter
Oil on canvas
Count Robert de
(1855-1921) of noble blood, was one of the most flamboyant and arrogant
men of his time. A somewhat poet, more an art critic but above all, a
society dandy. He was considered the prince of the Aesthetic movement
in Paris and was one of the first to proclaim the virtues of Art
Nouveau. The women of Society flocked to him for advise and he had
immense connections for artists who were in his favor. On a whim he
would crush, like a bug, any artists he didn't like. His ruthlessness
in this regard could be heartlessly curl.
Around him floated a wide
circle of artists including actress Sarah
Bernhardt, composer-friends like Gustave Moreau, and and Gabriel
Fauré; one of his young 'disciples' the pianist Léon
Delafosse; painters James
de la Gandara, Carolus-Duran,
César Helleu and Boldini (all paid tribute to him in
and there was Stephane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine and John Singer
along with writers such as Marcel Proust, and the list
is almost endless.
If you were in the Paris
scene and wanted to be a "somebody", you most certainly had to know
For someone that held so
influence and power over artists and the art scene in Paris, these
overt displays of affection (whether from the artist or the patrons
commissioning it) were as much about fear as it was about friendship.
That so many artists paid tribute to the man -- almost gushing tribute
-- was the equivalent of kissing the feet of a king. All were hoping to
avoid being unlucky enough to fall out of his favor and feel the
scorching sting of
A great example of the
"revenge" Montesuiou might extract is aptly highlighted in Marcel
text from Marcel Proust)
I don’t know if John
Sargent ever kissed the feet of Montesquiou with a portrait. I haven’t
If he didn’t it would have been incredibly bold, but it wouldn’t
me in the least if a portrait were to turn up.
Two very unlikely
of a no-Sargent-tribute are dismissed. The first is that Montesquiou
wouldn't have wanted a portrait by Sargent. This I find unlikely since
Montesquiou was an early supporter of the American (notably during the
Madame X scandal) which leads to the second unlikely explanation that
Montesquiou refused a portrait. The vanity of the man was simply
unmatchable -- insatiable at seeing his own likeness in paint which
would have made it impossible if he felt Sargent was an artist of note
– and he clearly did in the
on Sargent. It was towards the latter part of John’s career.
From: Yuri Suassuna de
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2005
wrote a great essay about the work of Mr. Sargent.
This "etude" was first published in "Les Arts de la Vie, n.18, June
1905, pp.329-348, as "Le pave Rouge. Quelques reflexions sur 'L'Oeuvre'
de M. Sargent" [Some reflections on the Oeuvre of Mr. Sargent]. It was
published after at his fourth book of 'Etudes et Essais': "Altesses
Serenissimes" (Paris, Societe d'editions et de publications, Librairie
Felix June, (1905), 313 pages ) with the title "Le Pave Rouge".
I haven't had the chance of find this rare book yet, but I will keep
you informed with details about these.
It's just amazing the quantity of writings by Montesquiou. He wrote
about almost everything. He was an exceptional person of taste. Mostly
about ART in general.
In the "Dictionary of Arts " edited by Jane Turner, in 34 volumes,
published by Macmillan Limites in 1996 you can find the following:
" ... the Montesquiou highly critical essay on Sargent earned Bernard
Berenson's approval for attacking the artist Berenson called 'that idol
of the Anglo-Saxons'. 
the formidable book "Les curiosités esthétiques by Robert
de Montesquiou (Histoire des idées et critique
littéraire)" by Antoine Bertrand, published by Droz, 1996, 2
volumes, 996 pages,
(by the way, I have this by my side and highly recommend this admirable
kind of encyclopedic book to everyone that really wants to know why
Robert de Montesquiou was and still is
important to the generations)
est une chose tres speciale, qui peut ne pas manquer a certains talents
imparfaits et faire defaut a des plus sures maitreses; Wagner avait
tout le génie posible; avait-il du gout? Ce n'est pas par lui
que brillait Rubens; Whistler et Stevens (Alfred) en avaient, et
MONSIEUR SARGENT qui est un grand peintre, n'en a pas;..."
the chapter entitled "le Meteore" (Edmond Rostand), in the R. de
Montesquiou livre of etudes et essais named " Tetes Couronnees ", E
Sansot, 1916, pp. 190-191 )
Thu, 10 Feb
From the book "Whistler & Montesquiou: The Butterfly
and Bat" de Edgar Munhall, 1995, The Frick Collection/Flammarion,
p.58" I have translated the following passage about the case of Sargent
"... In June of 1885, Montesquiou was planning to
return a second time to London, this time in the company of the surgeon
Samuel Pozzi and the composer Prince Edmond de Polignac. Their
common friend John Singer Sargent, who was then residing in Paris,
wrote to Henry James in
London on June 29, 1885, with this collective letter of introduction:
Dear James, I remember that you once said that an occasional
Frenchman was not an unpleasurable diversion to you in London, an I
have been so bold as to give a card of introduction to you for two
friends of mine. One is Dr. Pozzi the man in the red gown (not always)
a very brilliant creature and the other is the unique extraordinary
human Montesquiou of whom you may
have heard Bourget speak with bitterness, but who was to Bourget to a
certain extent what Whistler is to Oscar Wilde. (take warning and do
not bring them together).
They are going to spend a week in London and I fancy Montesquiou will be anxious
to see as much of Rosseti's and Burne-Jones's work as he can. I have
given him a card to Burne-Jones, to the Comyns Carrs (J.W.
Commyns, art critic and dramatic) and to Tadema (Sir
"There is a letter from Edmond de Polignac to Montesquiou's cousine, then
the Vicomtesse Greffulhe, postmarked Calais/Paris" and dated June 27,
1885. It indicates that the trio had already arrived in London before
Sargent sent the above letter to James, and that they were settled in
the Cavendish Hotel, 81 Jermyn Street.
"James rose to Sargent's bait, leaving for Montesquiou at the
Cavendish Hotel..." 
Yuri Suassuna de
Wed, 23 Feb
the following passage about of Sargent, Graham Robertson and Montesquiou, from the book "Whistler & Montesquiou: The Butterfly
(Edgar Munhall, 1995, The Frick
Collection/ Flammarion, p.89)
"One of the artists who where quick to spot Montesquiou's portrait by Whistler at the Salon of 1894 in Paris was
John Singer Sargent, over from London. Graham Robertson, whom Sargent
was painting at the time, recorded the artist reaction to Montesquiou's portrait."
(Editor's Note - the book then quotes
Graham Robertson's autobiography -- an excerpt is featured at the
JSS Gallery – so jump and see -- Graham
Robertson's "Time Was", pp.236-37, London, 1931)
My note [Yuri]:
I think the opinion of Mr. Graham Robertson is very personal and as a
great fan of Robert de Montesquiou I am not here to agree with him. I
think his "analysis/reflexion" can be read like a point-of-view.
Anyway, his record about what Sargent could have said at that time
about the Whistler portrait of Montesquiou is quite curious . We
must keep in mind that his book is one of remembrances.
and kind regards
Yuri Suassuna de Medeiros
Special thanks to Yuri
Suassuna de Medeiros, of Brazil originally, a friend of the
JSS Gallery, for his help.
Note - I assume
toward Sargent would have been
around 1905 when Montesquiou wrote his
essay. By 1957 Berenson's opinion changed.
He wrote in his diary: "The contemptuous indifference toward [Sargent]
is sure to pass, and I prophesy he will be appreciated at his value" see
2) a footnote
posted in the rear the book of "Whistler & Montesquiou: The
Butterfly and Bat" sources the information as:
Manuscript Division Houghton Library, Harvard University,
Cambridge (( b MS AM 1904 (396)), quoted by T. F. Fairbrother in A New
World: Masterpieces of American, 1760-1910, ed. J.G. Silver, exhib.
cat., Boston, 1893, p.300, n.i." (Edgar Munhal thankful Nigel Thorp for
direceted him to this letter) "