Jacques Emile Blanche: Portrait of Donna Olga Caracciolo dei Duchi di Castelluccio
Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo (born in London 8 August 1871) was the daughter of the Duchess of Castelluccio, and rumored to be the natural daughter of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII, a onetime lover of the Duchess. Olga, given the name Alberta in honor of the Prince who was also her godfather, was the only daughter and heiress to her father’s title of Duke of Castelluccio. Circumstantial evidence and the many favors later shown her and her second husband, the brilliant society photographer Baron Adolphe de Meyer, by the King (whose goddaughter she was), were thought by some to support the rumors regarding her paternity, which were never disproved.
Olga first married at Naples 11 May 1892 an Italian nobleman, Nobile Marino Brancaccio, younger son of Carlo Brancaccio, Prince of Triggiano and Duke of Lustra, but this marriage ended in divorce (7 June 1899) and she remarried to Adolphe de Meyer. Her beauty and elegance inspired not only Blanche, but also Whistler, Boldini, Sickert, Sargent, Conder, and Helleu to paint or draw her. The artist, reminiscing about Olga in his memoirs, wrote: she “has such a wealth of dresses, fans, and jewelry as befitted one who put in an appearance at all important social functions. When Olga enters the Orchestra stalls, the opera glasses of everyone were focused on her, the most elegant woman in the audience, the most thoroughbred of cosmopolitan society: Here is the Baroness de Meyer, they whisper spellbound.”
Jacques Emile Blanche, ten years her senior, first met Olga in Dieppe where his parents had a house and where Olga’s mother, the Duchess, had taken refuge from society in a villa presented to her by the Prince of Wales. Bianca Sampajo (who died in 1891) had married Gennaro Caracciolo-Pisquizi, Duke of Castelluccio, in Paris in 1869 but separated soon after the birth of their daughter two years later. Dieppe, at the time, was a fashionable seaside resort inhabited by a large English colony and the incognito visits of the Prince of Wales to the Duchess and his goddaughter only fuelled rumors and gossip. The villa, described by Blanche as the “Villa of Mystery,” was viewed with a mix of envy and disapproval by those excluded from the Prince’s circle. Olga herself was said by Blanche to be the model for Proust’s Odette (although the author more likely referred to her mother), in À la recherche du temps perdu; Blanche himself was the original of the painter Elstir. Blanche describes how he “painted her in a dress of rose cambric, upright, impassive, a sort of infanta in the style of Velazquez, already wearing the longer skirts in which girls who were to come out used to be dressed.” [Matthiesen Gallery]
Henri Lucien Doucet was born on 23rd August 1856 in Paris. He studied under Boulanger and Lefebvre. He painted in oils and pastels and his subjects varied from historical scenes and portraits but he is best known for his genre scenes. He debuted at The Paris Salon in 1877 at the tender age of 21.
He went on to have a successful career that won him many plaudits and awards. These included ‘Le Grand Prix de Rome’ in 1880 and most notably a Gold Medal at l’Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1889. The paintings that Doucet submitted to the 1877 Salon caused something of a minor scandal - most notably those painted from the time he spent at the Villa Medici. He sent a painting entitled Berenice to Rome. The institute there refused to exhibit the painting at l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts because of “its impudent suggestion”. A confrontational figure, Doucet quarrelled with many of his contemporaries, most memorably with Cabat, who was at the time director of the French Academy in Rome. Cabat had taken exception to the daring composition and timbre of his painting entitled Harem. This elevated Doucet to something of a cause celebre.
In his first canvases Doucet showed the great debt he owed to Bastien-Lepage but on his return to France he had lost much of his emotional fervour and zeal. He became a more mundane and reserved painter often working in pastels. The painting After the Ball shows all the daring that had so upset Cabat 100 years previously. There is a tension that exists between the two figures that must, to a conservative Victorian public, have seemed most improper. After the Ball is a fine example of Doucet’s early work. [Williams & Son]