fig. 1
Edward Burne-Jones

The celebrated nineteenth-century British artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) is well represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Notable works that demonstrate his wide-ranging talents include two major subject paintings, The Wheel of Fortune, 1871–85, and The garden of Pan, 1886–87, as well as a coloured embroidery, Poesis, 1880, and a stained-glass window depicting St Paul, designed 1892, manufactured 1911, both made after designs by the artist. Another key work in the collection is Burne-Jones’s portrait Baronne Madeleine Deslandes, 1895–96 (fig. 1), which was acquired by the NGV in late 2005 through the support of generous donor Andrew Sisson.

In this work of art, rendered using a steely blue-green colour palette, the sitter is shown in three-quarter length and seated so that her body faces the viewer, while her large, dark, heavy-lidded eyes gaze to the left. A crystal globe is placed in the sitter’s lap and held by her delicately entwined fingers, while behind her there seems to be a balcony draped with fabric and branches of laurel leaves set against a backdrop of curtains. One of few portraits by Burne-Jones, this work reflects the artist’s singular view of portraiture in his search for an ideal female beauty. While ostensibly conforming to the mild-eyed, contemplative type often depicted by the artist, the female sitter was, by contemporary accounts, a flamboyant character. This painting offers a unique realisation of portraiture with an intriguing narrative surrounding the commission and the life of the sitter.

Edward Burne-Jones and his view of portraiture

Contemporary critics characterised Burne-Jones’s portraiture as depicting his own perception of beauty rather than capturing a sitter’s likeness. In 1894 The Times asserted that the portraits by this artist ‘do not show his sitters as the world sees them, but as he sees them, and to find portraiture in them one has to see as much as possible with his eyes’.1 The Times, 28 April 1894, p. 10. As Associate Professor Alison Inglis, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, has noted, even though the famous actress Lillie Langtry served as the model for Fortuna in The Wheel of Fortune (fig. 2), of which a number of versions exist, it is admittedly difficult to discern any clear likeness to Langtry in the shadowed features of the goddess.2 See Alison Inglis, ‘Deathless beauty: Poynter’s Helen, Lillie Langtry and high Victorian ideals of beauty’, in Angus Trumble et al., Love and Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2001, p. 82. While this depiction was not intended as a portrait, it is insightful to note that despite the opportunity to capture Langtry’s well-known, robust appearance, Burne-Jones returned to the depiction of his own ideal type. His sitters were typically shown with an enigmatic gaze, which reflected his belief that external appearances are incapable of portraying the inner qualities of a person.3 Refer to comments by the artist recorded in Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, vol. 2, Lund Humphries, London, 1993, pp. 140–1 (first published in 1904 by Macmillan and Co. Ltd). Further discussion surrounding Edward Burne-Jones’s perspective on portraiture can be found in Martin Harrison & Bill Waters, Burne-Jones, Putnam, New York, 1973, p. 129. In 1877 Henry James highlighted this repetition, aptly noting Burne-Jones’s figures ‘conform to this languishing type with a strictness which savours of monotony’.4 Henry James, ‘The picture season in London, 1877’, first published in Galaxy, Aug. 1877 and reprinted in John L. Sweeney (ed.), The Painter’s Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts by Henry James, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1956, p. 146. As asserted by a contemporary critic for The Architect and Contract Reporter, the perception at the time was that regardless of appearance to reality, Burne-Jones ‘sets before us his ideals of beauty’.5 The Architect and Contract Reporter, 11 Nov. 1898, p. 316.

A distinctive approach to portraiture is evident in the art of Burne-Jones through the similarities his depiction of the baronne shares with his other well-known portraits. One such example is the oil on canvas portrait of the artist’s wife, Georgiana Burne-Jones (fig. 3), who is depicted in a black dress, staring out at the viewer, with her children Philip and Margaret in the background.6 Edward Burne-Jones commenced this portrait in 1883 and reworked the painting on several occasions. According to the sitter, Georgiana Burne-Jones, he worked on it ‘for years at intervals, but never finished [it] to satisfy himself’ (Burne-Jones, p. 134). Contemporary reviews of Burne-Jones’s women as ‘melancholy’, ‘pensive’ and ‘mild-eyed’ are applicable to both paintings.7 Daily News, 25 April 1896, p. 6; The Times, 9 May 1888, p. 10; Claude Phillips, ‘Edward Burne-Jones’, The Magazine of Art, vol. 8, 1885, p. 288. Each sitter can be described as appearing introspective in a manner that conformed to the artist’s desired model. The inclusion of symbolic items in each portrait is another notable similarity between the works. His wife is shown holding a herbal book open at an illustration of a pansy or heartsease, an actual specimen of which rests on the page. This flower symbolises undying love thus reflecting the sitter’s loyalty to her husband.8 See Stephen Wildman & John Christian et al., Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, p. 260 (cat. 116). In a similar fashion, laurel leaves and a crystal ball act as symbolic accessories in the portrait of the baronne, albeit with different connotations, to be discussed. As a critic for The Builder wrote in 1898, the women depicted by this artist ‘have many different names, different draperies and different accessories, but they are all the same woman’.9 The Builder, 25 June 1898, p. 603. This analysis argues, however, that Burne-Jones was attuned to representing the individuality of his sitters, such as Madeleine Deslandes, through a more subtle distinction between his ideals of beauty and likeness in reality.

The baronne’s portrait

Burne-Jones primarily painted only family members and close friends, as these sitters shared interests and sensibilities that conformed to his personal style. The circumstances surrounding the commission of the baronne’s portrait are therefore intriguing, as Deslandes was a foreigner to England with no prior ties to the artist. Baronne Deslandes was an accomplished writer, and on 7 May 1893, under her literary pseudonym ‘Ossit’, she published in Le Figaro an article entirely devoted to the work of Edward Burne-Jones. In undertaking the research for this article in March 1893, she had travelled to England to interview the artist.10 See Philippe Saunier, ‘Edward Burne-Jones et la France: Madeleine Deslandes, Une Préraphaélite Oubliée’, Revue de L’Art, no. 123, 1999, p. 60; and Gabriel Naughton, ‘Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones: Portrait of Baronne Madeleine Deslandes’, in Christie’s: Important British and Irish Art, auction catalogue, 23 Nov. 2005, Christie’s, London, 2005, p. 77. According to a letter Deslandes wrote to Maurice Barrès, a French writer and politician, it was ‘love at first sight’ for Burne-Jones and he enthusiastically offered to paint her portrait.11 The following is the original French text cited by Philippe Saunier. ‘Coup de foudre … pour lui … Son enthousiasme va même jusqu’à vouloir faire un portrait de moi – ce qui paraît-il est une chose dont je devrais être fière, car il a horreur de faire des portraits’ (Saunier, p. 60). I wish to thank Catherine Cardinet and Roberta Crisci for their generous assistance in translating the French sources cited in this article. Indeed, an article in the New York Daily Tribune on 3 August 1908 claimed that ‘among her most fervent admirers was the late Sir Edward Burne-Jones’.12 Marquise de Fontenoy, ‘Ossit’, New York Daily Tribune, 3 Aug. 1908,  p. 5. This reported admiration could be seen to support the contention that the artist had eagerly volunteered to paint the baronne. Modern scholars such as Philippe Saunier, Stephen Wildman and John Christian have argued, however, that in light of Burne-Jones’s known preference for depicting family and friends, it is more likely that Deslandes lobbied the artist to undertake her commission.13 See Saunier, p. 60, and Wildman & Christian, p. 318. Little is known of the painting ’s progress, and there is no record of how many sittings were involved.14 See Naughton, p. 77. On 12 December 1895, Burne-Jones’s assistant T. M. Rooke noted that the artist was working on the dress and background, and it is therefore possible that work on the portrait had not commenced until that year.15 See Mary Lago (ed.), Burne-Jones Talking: His Conversations 1895–1898 Preserved by His Studio Assistant Thomas Rooke, John Murray, London, 1982, p. 65. Within months, the painting was on display to the crowds of people who attended the 1896 Paris Salon at the Champ de Mars.

The NGV’s 2007 acquisition of a preliminary drawing (fig. 4) by Burne-Jones for Deslandes’s portrait enables one to trace the journey from the artist’s initial concept to the finished painting. The drawing was presumably sketched at an early sitting to establish the pose, which essentially remains unchanged. One notable contrast to the finished portrait is the absence of the laurel leaves and the globe. The baronne’s garment also lacks the bows present in the painting and it forms a tighter fit around the sitter’s waist, which translates into a stiff pose. Rather than allowing her arms to rest against her sides, Deslandes holds them away from her body, with her hands placed forward on her lap, heightening the reading of a tense, formal posture. The baronne’s impassive gaze to the viewer’s left is echoed in the finished painting, indicating a degree of consistency in Burne-Jones’s portrayal of this famous French sitter. Adding to the interest in this drawing is the artist’s inscription in the top right corner, which reads ‘wildly jolly/x’. Offering a hint of his well-known self-deprecating wit, the text seems to provide an ironic contrast to the statuesque pose of the sitter, which was characteristic of Burne-Jones’s depiction of women. It is therefore unlikely that the inscription was meant to be critical of Deslandes for appearing still and impassive. Rather, these words provide greater insight into the relationship between the artist and the sitter, implying that the baronne’s manner during her sitting prompted comment by the artist, whether to be read as a literal observation or an ironic joke.

Madeleine Deslandes

Perceiving Madeleine Deslandes’s outgoing and artistic character from Burne-Jones’s painted portrayal requires bold imagination on the part of the viewer, as the portrait is subdued and enigmatic. This woman was a French celebrity of the day, and although her significance and notoriety were subjects of a key article by Philippe Saunier in the Revue de L’Art in 1999, she has been largely overlooked in modern English-speaking art history.

Madeleine Annette Edmé Angélique Vivier-Deslandes was born in Montluçon, France, on 16 April 1866 to a family of prominent social standing, with her father bearing the title of baron.16 Naughton, p. 76. As a writer, she began publishing a series of novels under her pseudonym Ossit in 1892.17 Her first novel, which was published by Alphonse Lemettre in 1892, was titled A quoi bon?  (What’s the use? ). It was a resounding success for the new author, being sold in seven editions and receiving notable praise from the critics. One contemporary, Hippolyte Buffenoir, recounted the novel’s ‘delightful landscapes of Egypt, scenes of passion and melancholy treated with inexhaustible charm’, further suggesting ‘that the fine pen that has written it is saturated with tears’. See Hippolyte Buffenoir, Les Salons de Paris, Grandes Dames Contemporaines: La Baronne Deslandes (Ossit), Librairie du ‘Mirabeau’, Paris, 1895, p. 7. Eight years earlier, at the age of eighteen, in September 1884, she had married the aristocratic historian and journalist le Comte Fleury and they had a son the following year, although little is known of the child and the marriage was annulled in 1894.18 Comte Fleury’s full name was Maurice Napoléon Emile (see Naughton, p. 76). The New York Times stated in 1902 that the marriage had been annulled ecclesiastically and civilly at the request of Madeleine Deslandes (see The New York Times, 14 March 1902,  p. 9). Her second marriage years later to Prince Robert de Broglie in November 1901 lasted only four months before ending in divorce.19 Naughton, p. 77. According to The New York Times in 1906, while a civil divorce had been attained following the efforts of de Broglie’s father, Prince Amédée, ‘a religious divorce, unfortunately, was impossible’ (see The New York Times, part four, second magazine section, 2 Dec. 1906, p. 8). Despite her private troubles, Deslandes pursued a glittering social life in Parisian literary and artistic circles. She was celebrated as a hostess of a cultured salon that attracted the presence of renowned artists, poets and composers. Among the famous attendees were James Tissot, Jean Lorrain, Count Robert de Montesquiou, Maurice Barrès and Oscar Wilde.20 Naughton, p. 77. Indeed, the modern writer Philippe Jullian described how even a famous figure like Wilde brought Deslandes armfuls of lilies and was often to be found in respectful admiration at her feet. Deslandes was evidently a key member of what Barrès then termed ‘the little class’, meaning the select circle of cultured and aristocratic individuals in the upper echelons of Parisian society.21 Philippe Jullian, Prince of Aesthetes: Count Robert de Montesquiou 1855–1921, trans. John Haylock & Francis King, Viking, New York, 1968, pp. 67, 98, 109.

Madeleine Deslandes became the subject of public interest and was discussed in several newspapers; her fame even extended beyond Europe to distant countries like Australia. In The Sydney Morning Herald in 1895, Deslandes, referred to by her nom de plume Ossit, was described as ‘a young new authoress, who, by her last book especially, “Ilse”, has made a quite separate place for herself’.22 The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1895, p. 7. The baronne also acquired a reputation in the United States; in 1906, for example, The New York Times provided a detailed description of Deslandes for its readers. She was portrayed as ‘a lady of great gifts and charming manners’, deserving praise for her literary talents. At the same time, her reported ‘capricious’ character and ‘temper’ were offered as an explanation for her divorce from Robert de Broglie.23 The New York Times, part four, second magazine section, 2 Dec. 1906, p. 8. Furthermore, two years later an article about Deslandes appeared in a 1908 edition of the New York Daily Tribune. The columnist, the Marquise de Fontenoy, first mentioned the baronne’s two failed marriages then emphasised that ‘her salon has become the rendezvous of much that is witty and brilliant in the literary and artistic world’.24 De Fontenoy, p. 5. While Frederick Cunliffe-Owen was a member of the editorial staff of the New York Daily Tribune and was known to use the pseudonym ‘Marquis de Fontenoy’, the female title of ‘Marquise’ points to his wife Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen, who was also a noted writer (see James Howard Gore, American Legionnaires of France: A Directory of the Citizens of the United States of whom France has conferred her National Order, the Legion of Honour, W. F. Roberts Co., Washington, DC, 1920, pp. 113–14). Evidently Madeleine Deslandes’s public and private lives were deemed worthy of constant scrutiny and remark.

Picturing Deslandes

The baronne cultivated her fame by commissioning artists to depict her image. Hippolyte Buffenoir, who wrote a twenty-page pamphlet about the baronne in Paris in November 1894, noted that numerous leading artists had reproduced her image; in addition to Burne-Jones, they included Paul César Helleu and Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel.25 Buffenoir, p. 10. Buffenoir wrote a series of thirteen pamphlets about society women, titled ‘Grandes Dames Contemporaines’, with the pamphlet on the baronne being printed in 1895. The portraits of Deslandes by these two artists convey an atmosphere that is both glamorous and fashionable. Helleu’s narrow, vertical pastel portrait of c. 1891, titled La comtesse Fleury, as she was married to le Comte Fleury at the time (fig. 5), and Portrait de la baronne Deslandes, c. 1894, by Boutet de Monvel (fig. 6), similarly present Deslandes dressed in chic, stylish clothing while gazing out at the viewer in an alluring, self-assured manner. Set in bare interiors, these paintings refrain from any detail that would distract from her image.26 The painting by Boutet de Monvel was shown at the 1894 Champ de Mars, two years prior to the exhibition of the portrait by Edward Burne-Jones. Saunier reported this painting as missing in his 1999 article, which included a reproduced image of the work taken from the catalogue illustrating the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts of 1894 (see Saunier, p. 61). Since the sitter commissioned these works of art, they allow one to gauge her artistic sensibility and her desire to participate in the fashioning of her public persona through portraiture.

Photography was another medium Deslandes employed in order to shape her self-image. For instance, she appears in a collection of photographs acquired by the famous fin-de-siècle writer and aesthete Count Robert de Montesquiou.27 These photographs are held in the Bibliothèque Nationale, France. See Saunier, pp. 57, 69. In one distinctive example (fig. 7), Deslandes is shown dressed in an eccentric costume with flowing material resembling the wings of a bat, which she displays with her outstretched arms as she tilts her head to one side, while her raised eyebrow assertively engages the viewer. A hairpiece in the style of a winged creature appears perched atop her curls, while a frilled collar, held in place by a black band, circles the back of her neck. In a further enhancement to the theme, there seems to be a bat-like silhouette attached to the bust of her tight bodice. Montesquiou may have suggested the bat motif for this image, as it inspired both the decor of his apartment on the Quai d’Orsay and the title of his book of poetry, Les chauvesouris (1892).28 See Janis Bergman-Carton, ‘“A vision of a stained glass Sarah”: Bernhardt and the decorative arts’, in Carol Ockman et al., Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama, Jewish Museum and Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, pp. 200–1, n. 19. By means of costume, accessories and her dramatic pose, this staged photograph presents Deslandes as a decided individual who is confident, stylish and creative.

Deslandes’s participation in posed self-images can be compared to the determined self-promotion of her contemporary, the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. In a similar fashion to Deslandes, Bernhardt was an expert in the creation and control of her celebrity status, commissioning numerous painters, photographers and sculptors to represent her likeness.29 See Meri Llawen Machin-Roberts, ‘Dramatic publicity: portraiture as creative collaboration: Sarah Bernhardt, Nellie Melba and Bertram Mackennal’, MA thesis, University of Melbourne, 2004, pp. 2, 67. Interestingly, Bernhardt also incorporated the bat motif in some of her self-consciously composed images by wearing a ‘bat hat’ that was possibly inspired by her friendship with Montesquiou.30 Bergman-Carton, pp. 116, 200–1, n. 19. A significant example of Bernhardt ’s constructed self-images is the Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, 1876, by Georges Jules Victor Clairin.31 This portrait of Bernhardt was placed on display at the 1876 Salon, where it received both positive and negative reviews. See Heather McPherson, The Modern Portrait in Nineteenth-Century France, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, p. 109. Dressed in white, Bernhardt lounges on a deep-red velvet divan with a slender wolfhound at her feet. The work emphasises the actress’s unmistakably thin physique, her chic yet racy corsetless gown, as well as her passionate love for wild animals, feathers and fur.32 See Carol Ockman, ‘Was she magnificent? Sarah Bernhardt’s reach’, in Ockman et al., pp. 28–9. Deslandes similarly shared a desire for the promotion of her fame and reputation through visual imagery, as evidenced by her portraits and photographs. Consequently, she can be seen to fit the contemporary mould of a female celebrity in high society or the dramatic arts, utilising self-images in order to achieve her desire for widespread recognition.

Perception versus reality

Burne-Jones’s portrait of Deslandes is remarkable for its visual contradiction of her reputation as a flamboyant character. According to the contemporary critic for LArt Moderne in May 1896, ‘the portrait is of an impassivity in contradiction with the nature of the model’.33Le portrait est d’une impassibilité en contradiction avec la nature du modèle’. See LArt Moderne, 3 May 1896, p. 140. In the painting, Deslandes appears mild-eyed and pensive, and yet this introspective figure corresponded to the colourful woman who, as recorded by Count Robert de Montesquiou, would gesture her arms ‘widely like wings heavy with rain’ and who once decided to appear in a cage with lions during a Castellan fête.34 Count Robert de Montesquiou quoted in Jullian, pp. 67, 235. Deslandes played up the contrast between the portrait’s grave, formal mood and her own quirky, ostentatious character by majestically lying on a precious carpet beneath the painting when she received guests, while playfully pretending to feed jewels to a bronze ornament of a toad.35 Jullian, p. 67. The baronne’s artistic eccentricity was further reflected throughout her apartment, which was lavishly furnished with an array of bizarre, expensive ornaments, including a full-size bronze unicorn.36 Noted by Albert Flament, quoted in Saunier, p. 62.

While the still, solemn mood of Burne-Jones’s portrayal contradicts Deslandes’s charismatic persona, the portrait symbolically reflects the creative and mystical imagination of this multifaceted individual. Under her pseudonym Ossit, the baronne demonstrated her prowess in the art of literature. According to The New York Times in 1906, Madeleine Deslandes’s ‘literary talents were of a high order, and she wrote many a fascinating story’.37 The New York Times, part four, second magazine section, 2 Dec. 1906, p. 8. It is therefore probable that Burne-Jones included the laurel branches, with their well-established tradition of representing literary talent,38 For a discussion of the historical connotations of laurel, see J. B. Trapp, ‘The owl’s ivy and the poet’s bays: an enquiry into poetic garlands’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 21, no. 3, 1958, pp. 227–55; Irma B. Jaffe, Shining Eyes, Cruel Fortune: The Lives and Loves of Italian Renaissance Women Poets, Fordham University Press, New York, 2002, p. 223; and James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 2nd edn, Westview Press, Boulder, 2008, p. 196. as a gracious acknowledgement of Deslandes’s reputation as a gifted writer. This interpretation may be supported by the artist’s earlier portrait of the American woman Caroline Fitzgerald (fig. 8). Aged sixteen, Fitzgerald is depicted holding an open book and seated in front of what appears to be a fabric-draped balcony or structure and branches of laurel leaves. The formula of depicting a sitter in front of a background featuring drapery and foliage is therefore not unique in Burne-Jones’s oeuvre. On the occasion of this sitter’s engagement to Lord Edward George Fitzmaurice in 1889, The Daily Picayune noted, ‘she has published several volumes of poems, is a thorough classical scholar and is a member of the American Ornamental Society’.39 The Daily Picayune, 17 July 1889, p. 4. The shared presence of laurel in the portraits of these two women, both noted for their skill in the written word, suggests its role in symbolising their literary talents in the same manner that the book Fitzgerald holds in her hands reflects her reputation as ‘something of a bookworm’.40 The Milwaukee Sentinel, 1 Sep. 1889, p. 9. Together with my thological works such as The Wheel of Fortune, in which the poet is identified by a crown of laurel leaves, the portraits by Burne-Jones share in a visual language of symbolic accessories that speak to the character of the figures depicted.

Contemporary critics also considered the crystal sphere in the baronne’s portrait to be representative of the sitter’s character. Hippolyte Buffenoir contended that the sphere was ‘most of all a sign of the universe as it obviously appears to this young woman who has written the book Ilse and only wants to accept from life the reflections that can be held in a crystal ball’.41Mais c’est surtout le signe de l’univers tel qu’il apparaît évidemment à la jeune femme qui a écrit Ilse, et qui de la vie ne veut admettre que les reflets qui peuvent tenir dans une boule de cristal’ (see Buffenoir, p. 13). Buffenoir described the novel Ilse as having ‘all the charm of a fairy-tale’, in which ‘the theme is light, like the scent of wild carnations that flower on old walls’. The main character of the story, Ilse, is a young, naive girl, aged seventeen, who has grown up protected from the world. She meets a handsome man at the festivals at Bayreuth, who at first plans to take advantage of her naivety. In the end, he refrains from ‘the vile act’, instead taking pity on her, and merely kisses her hand. Ilse is left to wallow in the ‘beautiful heavenly dream’ in which ‘her heart was aroused’, and sadly chooses to end her longing by seeking the ‘peace of the dead’ (see Buffenoir, pp. 15–6). Buffenoir therefore suggested that the globe was a sign of Deslandes’s view of reality in terms of ‘beauty and generosity’, where everything that touches her ‘is pure and delicate’.42L’univers, pour elle, est fait de beauté et de bonté; elle n’y distingue rien que d’épuré et de délicat, sous tout ce qui la touché’ (ibid., p. 13). Similarly, in June 1894 the French newspaper Le Gaulois described the globe in the baronne’s portrait as reflecting the world ‘infinitely pure, idealised, detached from all appearance of impurity’.43Infiniment pur, idéalisé, dégagé de toute apparence de souillure’ (Le Gaulois, 14 June 1894, p. 1). In this dream world Deslandes was to be a ‘little queen of Celtic fairies’.44Une petite reine de féeries celtiques’(ibid.). Furthermore, in the New York Daily Tribune, de Fontenoy commented that Deslandes was depicted ‘as one of the Muses, holding in her hand a globe of pure crystal’.45 de Fontenoy, p. 5. Such reports from contemporary critics attest to the public perception of the baronne as a wistful, creative woman who was preoccupied by thoughts of an otherworldly ‘fairyland’, reflected in both her writing and her role in inspiring painters and poets. This pensive, wistful side to the baronne’s character complemented her still, reserved appearance in the portrayal by Burne-Jones.

Deslandes’s introspective demeanour in Burne-Jones’s painting is but one example of the multiple personas she self-consciously acted out in public. In another instance, a writer for The New York Times in 1895 reported meeting Deslandes, who was dressed in a ‘short, thick robe of sealskin, the throat cut out low and studded with turquoises … with a coronet of Autumn leaves forming a mysterious bonnet’. The critic summarised her appearance as resembling ‘a woodland fairy’.46 The New York Times, 9 Aug. 1895, p. 6. Such a characterisation is not surprising when also considering a print (fig. 9), a copy of which is held by the NGV, in which Deslandes is depicted standing profile in a full-length, sleeveless dress with a train, pensively gazing at a flower blossoming from a vase. Accompanying this image is a brief passage, handwritten and signed by the subject herself. In a fanciful fashion she wrote:

We all know that dwarves are shoemakers to fairies but what we did not know is that when they are overworked on long summer nights they drink Vin Mariani wine because this delicious beverage is made in fairyland. – Ossit47 Vin Mariani was created in the 1860s by Angelo Mariani, a French chemist, and was marketed as a ‘tonic wine’. Each fluid ounce contained 6 milligrams of cocaine. See Howard Markel, An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine, Pantheon Books, New York, pp. 54–8.

The image and text elicit thoughts of the dreamy, otherworldly woman who had acquired a reputation as ‘une fée préraphaélite’.48 Saunier, p. 58. ‘Une fée préraphaélite’ describes a Pre-Raphaelite fairy. Alternatively, when she was not in ‘fairyland’, she was ‘the queen of purple and mauve bats and of the soft little singing toads’, as stated by André Germain in his book Portraits Parisiens (1918).49La reine des chauves-souris mauves et des doux petits crapauds chanteurs’ (André Germain, Portraits Parisiens, G. Crés, Paris, 1918,  p. 95). This characterisation of the baronne is supported by the photograph of her wearing a bat-inspired costume, as well as her ‘pet’ toad sculpture. Madeleine Deslandes was a flamboyant and notable society figure ready to adopt different personas. She was therefore suitably inclined to play the spiritual, pensive individual in the portrait by Burne-Jones, whose work she admired for its ‘delicate and troubling’ beauty.50 Ossit, ‘Edward Burne-Jones’, Le Figaro, 7 May 1893, p. 1.

Edward Burne-Jones represented the baronne according to his own defined artistic vision. Paradoxically, the mysterious and solitary sitter proved to be an outgoing, flamboyant individual with an international reputation. The colourful Madeleine Deslandes was also suited to the subdued ‘fairyland’ depicted by Burne-Jones, which reflected her own creativity and mystical imagination. The portrait by this renowned British artist was another string in Deslandes’s impressive bow, aimed at cultivating her fame. Taken together, the painting speaks of Burne-Jones’s idealised view of portraiture, Deslandes’s desire for public recognition, her eccentric role-playing and what the French newspaper Le Gaulois described in 1894 as the ‘spiritual affinities’ shared between these two artistic souls.51Affinités spirituelles’ (see Le Gaulois, 14 June 1894, p. 1).

Emily Wubben, Exhibitions Research Officer, Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, and recipient of the 2015 Ursula Hoff Fellowship (in 2015)

Notes

1   The Times, 28 April 1894, p. 10.

2     See Alison Inglis, ‘Deathless beauty: Poynter’s Helen, Lillie Langtry and high Victorian ideals of beauty’, in Angus Trumble et al., Love and Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2001, p. 82.

3     Refer to comments by the artist recorded in Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, vol. 2, Lund Humphries, London, 1993, pp. 140–1 (first published in 1904 by Macmillan and Co. Ltd). Further discussion surrounding Edward Burne-Jones’s perspective on portraiture can be found in Martin Harrison & Bill Waters, Burne-Jones, Putnam, New York, 1973, p. 129.

4     Henry James, ‘The picture season in London, 1877’, first published in Galaxy, Aug. 1877 and reprinted in John L. Sweeney (ed.), The Painter’s Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts by Henry James, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1956, p. 146.

5    The Architect and Contract Reporter, 11 Nov. 1898, p. 316.

6     Edward Burne-Jones commenced this portrait in 1883 and reworked the painting on several occasions. According to the sitter, Georgiana Burne-Jones, he worked on it ‘for years at intervals, but never finished [it] to satisfy himself ’ (Burne-Jones, p. 134).

7     Daily News, 25 April 1896, p. 6; The Times, 9 May 1888, p. 10; Claude Phillips, ‘Edward Burne-Jones’, The Magazine of Art, vol. 8, 1885,  p. 288.

8     See Stephen Wildman & John Christian et al., Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, p. 260 (cat. 116).

9     The Builder, 25 June 1898, p. 603.

10   See Philippe Saunier, ‘Edward Burne-Jones et la France: Madeleine Deslandes, Une Préraphaélite Oubliée’, Revue de L’Art, no. 123, 1999, p. 60; and Gabriel Naughton, ‘Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones: Portrait of Baronne Madeleine Deslandes’, in Christie’s: Important British and Irish Art, auction catalogue, 23 Nov. 2005, Christie’s, London, 2005, p. 77.

11   The following is the original French text cited by Philippe Saunier. ‘Coup de foudre … pour lui … Son enthousiasme va même jusqu’à vouloir faire un portrait de moi – ce qui paraît-il est une chose dont je devrais être fière, car il a horreur de faire des portraits’ (Saunier, p. 60). I wish to thank Catherine Cardinet and Roberta Crisci for their generous assistance in translating the French sources cited in this article.

12   Marquise de Fontenoy, ‘Ossit’, New York Daily Tribune, 3 Aug. 1908,  p. 5.

13   See Saunier, p. 60, and Wildman & Christian, p. 318.

14   See Naughton, p. 77.

15   See Mary Lago (ed.), Burne-Jones Talking: His Conversations 1895–1898 Preserved by His Studio Assistant Thomas Rooke, John Murray, London, 1982, p. 65.

16   Naughton, p. 76.

17   Her first novel, which was published by Alphonse Lemettre in 1892, was titled A quoi bon?  (What’s the use? ). It was a resounding success for the new author, being sold in seven editions and receiving notable praise from the critics. One contemporary, Hippolyte Buffenoir, recounted the novel’s ‘delightful landscapes of Egypt, scenes of passion and melancholy treated with inexhaustible charm’, further suggesting ‘that the fine pen that has written it is saturated with tears’. See Hippolyte Buffenoir, Les Salons de Paris, Grandes Dames Contemporaines: La Baronne Deslandes (Ossit), Librairie du ‘Mirabeau’, Paris, 1895, p. 7.

18   Comte Fleury’s full name was Maurice Napoléon Emile (see Naughton, p. 76). The New York Times stated in 1902 that the marriage had been annulled ecclesiastically and civilly at the request of Madeleine Deslandes (see The New York Times, 14 March 1902,  p. 9).

19   Naughton, p. 77. According to The New York Times in 1906, while a civil divorce had been attained following the efforts of de Broglie’s father, Prince Amédée, ‘a religious divorce, unfortunately, was impossible’ (see The New York Times, part four, second magazine section, 2 Dec. 1906, p. 8).

20  Naughton, p. 77.

21   Philippe Jullian, Prince of Aesthetes: Count Robert de Montesquiou 1855–1921, trans. John Haylock & Francis King, Viking, New York, 1968, pp. 67, 98, 109.

22  The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1895, p. 7.

23  The New York Times, part four, second magazine section, 2 Dec. 1906, p. 8.

24   De Fontenoy, p. 5. While Frederick Cunliffe-Owen was a member of the editorial staff of the New York Daily Tribune and was known to use the pseudonym ‘Marquis de Fontenoy’, the female title of ‘Marquise’ points to his wife Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen, who was also a noted writer (see James Howard Gore, American Legionnaires of France: A Directory of the Citizens of the United States of whom France has conferred her National Order, the Legion of Honour, W. F. Roberts Co., Washington, DC, 1920, pp. 113–14).

25   Buffenoir, p. 10. Buffenoir wrote a series of thirteen pamphlets about society women, titled ‘Grandes Dames Contemporaines’, with the pamphlet on the baronne being printed in 1895.

26   The painting by Boutet de Monvel was shown at the 1894 Champ de Mars, two years prior to the exhibition of the portrait by Edward Burne-Jones. Saunier reported this painting as missing in his 1999 article, which included a reproduced image of the work taken from the catalogue illustrating the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts of 1894 (see Saunier, p. 61).

27   These photographs are held in the Bibliothèque Nationale, France. See Saunier, pp. 57, 69.

28   See Janis Bergman-Carton, ‘“A vision of a stained glass Sarah”: Bernhardt and the decorative arts’, in Carol Ockman et al., Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama, Jewish Museum and Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, pp. 200–1, n. 19.

29   See Meri Llawen Machin-Roberts, ‘Dramatic publicity: portraiture as creative collaboration: Sarah Bernhardt, Nellie Melba and Bertram Mackennal’, MA thesis, University of Melbourne, 2004, pp. 2, 67.

30   Bergman-Carton, pp. 116, 200–1, n. 19.

31   This portrait of Bernhardt was placed on display at the 1876 Salon, where it received both positive and negative reviews. See Heather McPherson, The Modern Portrait in Nineteenth-Century France, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, p. 109.

32  See Carol Ockman, ‘Was she magnificent? Sarah Bernhardt’s reach’, in Ockman et al., pp. 28–9.

33  ‘Le portrait est d’une impassibilité en contradiction avec la nature du modèle’. See LArt Moderne, 3 May 1896, p. 140.

34  Count Robert de Montesquiou quoted in Jullian, pp. 67, 235.

35  Jullian, p. 67.

36  Noted by Albert Flament, quoted in Saunier, p. 62.

37  The New York Times, part four, second magazine section, 2 Dec. 1906, p. 8.

38   For a discussion of the historical connotations of laurel, see J. B. Trapp, ‘The owl’s ivy and the poet’s bays: an enquiry into poetic garlands’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 21, no. 3, 1958, pp. 227–55; Irma B. Jaffe, Shining Eyes, Cruel Fortune: The Lives and Loves of Italian Renaissance Women Poets, Fordham University Press, New York, 2002, p. 223; and James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 2nd edn, Westview Press, Boulder, 2008, p. 196.

39  The Daily Picayune, 17 July 1889, p. 4.

40  The Milwaukee Sentinel, 1 Sep. 1889, p. 9.

41   ‘Mais c’est surtout le signe de l’univers tel qu’il apparaît évidemment à la jeune femme qui a écrit Ilse, et qui de la vie ne veut admettre que les reflets qui peuvent tenir dans une boule de cristal’ (see Buffenoir, p. 13). Buffenoir described the novel Ilse as having ‘all the charm of a fairy-tale’, in which ‘the theme is light, like the scent of wild carnations that flower on old walls’. The main character of the story, Ilse, is a young, naive girl, aged seventeen, who has grown up protected from the world. She meets a handsome man at the festivals at Bayreuth, who at first plans to take advantage of her naivety. In the end, he refrains from ‘the vile act’, instead taking pity on her, and merely kisses her hand. Ilse is left to wallow in the ‘beautiful heavenly dream’ in which ‘her heart was aroused’, and sadly chooses to end her longing by seeking the ‘peace of the dead’ (see Buffenoir, pp. 15–6).

42  ‘L’univers, pour elle, est fait de beauté et de bonté; elle n’y distingue rien que d’épuré et de délicat, sous tout ce qui la touché’ (ibid., p. 13).

43  ‘Infiniment pur, idéalisé, dégagé de toute apparence de souillure’ (Le Gaulois, 14 June 1894, p. 1).

44  ‘Une petite reine de féeries celtiques’(ibid.).

45  de Fontenoy, p. 5.

46  The New York Times, 9 Aug. 1895, p. 6.

47  Vin Mariani was created in the 1860s by Angelo Mariani, a French chemist, and was marketed as a ‘tonic wine’. Each fluid ounce contained 6 milligrams of cocaine. See Howard Markel, An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine, Pantheon Books, New York, pp. 54–8.

48   Saunier, p. 58. ‘Une fée préraphaélite’ describes a Pre-Raphaelite fairy.

49  ‘La reine des chauves-souris mauves et des doux petits crapauds chanteurs’ (André Germain, Portraits Parisiens, G. Crés, Paris, 1918,  p. 95).

50   Ossit, ‘Edward Burne-Jones’, Le Figaro, 7 May 1893, p. 1.

51   ‘Affinités spirituelles’ (see Le Gaulois, 14 June 1894, p. 1).