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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Princess Pauline de Metternich

Key facts
Full title Princess Pauline de Metternich
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made about 1865
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 41 × 29 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Art Fund, 1918
Inventory number NG3337
Location Room 44
Collection Main Collection
Princess Pauline de Metternich
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Princess Pauline Sander (1836–1921) was the wife of Prince Richard Metternich, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at the court of Napoleon III from 1860 to 1871. Known as the ‘ambassadress of pleasure’, she was a glamorous figure in Parisian high society during the Second Empire. A pioneer of fashion, she promoted new styles of dress, including the crinoline.

The Princess had already been painted by the society portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and by the French seascape artist Eugène Boudin. However, Degas, who was still a young artist, did not paint his portrait of the Princess from life. Instead, he made a partial copy of a full-length visiting card photograph of her and her husband taken around 1867.

This is one of the first painted portraits to have been based on a photograph, and Degas makes no attempt to disguise its origin. Unlike the sharply focused photograph, however, Degas’s painting conveys the effect of blurred movement, as if the Princess has just been caught turning her head.

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