In 1850, young 25-years old countess Katarzyna Potocka née Branicka, posed for the leading portrait painter in Paris, Ary Scheffer.
Through her grandmother on father’s side, Alexandra Branicka née von Engelhardt, the countess was putative descendant of Catherine the Great, while the connection with other famous woman, Delfina Potocka, mistress of her sister’s husband Zygmunt Krasiński and of Chopin, allowed her to be introduced to high Paris society.
Scheffer treated Krasińskis and Delfina Potocka as real friends, not as patrons and in 1846, after painting portraits of Delfina and Katarzyna's sister, Eliza Krasińska, the artist refuses to accept payment for his work. Poles shared this feeling and as a proof of friendship they offered him a silver-gilt cup, which can be seen in the museum in Dordrecht. Around 1847, the sitter is Chopin, in 1849 Eliza Krasińska with two of her children, later, the same year, again Eliza Krasińska, in 1850 Katarzyna Potocka and Zygmunt Krasiński.
Delicate, sublime, Raphaelite beauty of the countess fitted perfectly the artist’s style. Her white skin, the long neck, oval face, small lips, the large and open eyes and dark hair make her a model of feminine beauty of the time, exemplified by the young Queen Victoria. The countess leans seductively against the arm of a chaise-longue, half- smiling, dressed in a tunic gown with styling similar to Greco-Roman loose-fitting chiton with a daring bateau décolletage and fashionable Indian shawl. Her hair dressed simply, middle parted with the sides puffed over the ears, her hands crossed.
Her facial features are statuesque and in passages display the quality of porcelain. The portrait captures the sitter melancholia. The reason could be difficult situation of her family in Partitioned Homeland. "It is very cold today; they call me to Wilanów, but I have neither permission nor time to go there, but I hope to go there in a few days" wrote on January 7th, 1850 Eliza Krasińska to her sister in Paris. Katarzyna in turn promissed her a copy of a portrait painted by Scheffer.
The effigy is painted in frigidly classical style colorization of “casting coolness” drew from Neoclassicism and arranged in harmonious, circular manner that heightens eroticism of the painting.
The canvas was signed and dated by the artist on bottom left side: Ary Scheffer 1850. Few years after creation the portrait was placed among other splendid works from Potocki collection in their newly build Neo-Renaissance palace in Krzeszowice, near Kraków. After the World War II the collection was transferred to the National Museum in Warsaw.
oil on canvas, 1850, 83 x 63 cm (32.6 × 24.8 in), inventory number 128905, on permanent display in the Gallery of 19th century art, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (MNW)
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