I got many splendid presents (Spitalfields Life! Upstairs, Downstairs season two! Desperate Romantics! L’Occitane Ambre!) for my birthday but chief amongst them has to be a brand spanking new copy of Portraits de Femmes: Artistes et modèles à l’époque de Marie-Antoinette by Olivier Blanc, which is simply one of the most superb books ever written. In fact if a book was written just for me it would be something like this as it has pretty much everything that I like.
I’ve wanted a copy of Portraits de Femmes for MANY years now, having first longed for it when it made its first appearance on Amazon.fr and then lovingly stroked copies in the Musée Carnavalet, Louvre and FNAC during trips to Paris. It was too expensive for me to buy back then but if I’d known that its going out of print would lead optimistic merchant booksellers on Amazon to charge £390 for it when the RRP is only £37.77 for it then I would have gone without curry for a month and bought it when I had the chance!
All’s well that ends well though and after three years of hunting for a copy, my husband placed one in my hands for my birthday. He’s feeling a bit smug now, as you can imagine.
The book though. Oh, the book. I almost didn’t dare remove the pristine cellophane wrapping but I’m so glad that I did as inside there are 348 pages with hundreds upon hundreds of gorgeous and often full page colour portraits of women from the era of Marie Antoinette, many of which are in private collections and that not even I have seen before. There’s special chapters devoted to self portraits by female artists such as Vigée Lebrun as well as portraits of Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Madame de Polignac, the Princesse de Lamballe, Madame Élisabeth, the Comtesses d’Artois and Provence as well as pieces on portraits of famous actresses of the day and celebrated women such as Joséphine de Beauharnais, Lucile Desmoulins and Charlotte Corday.
In summary it is a sumptuous FEAST of a book that I feel VERY fortunate to own. It’s also an amazing resource for my writing and this blog as, as always, Olivier Blanc (who is one of my heroes) delivers a very vivid and informative narrative alongside the gorgeous imagery that he has selected, which gives additional insight into the art of portraiture in the late eighteenth century and particularly so when it comes to depiction of women.
It makes me thoroughly glad that I can read French. The fabulous pictures alone are well worth buying this book for but I’d seriously hate to miss out on the text too. I feel inspired to write another French Revolution book once I’ve finished with Miss Mycroft and Minette. I think I know what it’ll be about too…