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The Countess of Desart as a Child
Louis-Gustave Ricard
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Louis-Gustave Ricard (1823–1873) worked primarily as a portraitist. He moved to England during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, when he probably painted this portrait of a young Ellen Odette (1857–1933), the eldest daughter of Henri Louis Bischoffsheim, a wealthy Jewish banker. Ellen would have been 13 or 14 years old at the time.

Ricard has used soft tones and muted lighting. The dark neutral background and Ellen’s own hair highlight her pale face. Although the portrait shows the influence of Dutch painting, Ellen’s open expression – now rather obscured by varnish – also reveals Ricard’s awareness of eighteenth-century British portraiture, particularly portraits of children by Reynolds and Romney.

In 1881 Ellen married William Cuffe, 4th Earl of Desart. Following William’s death in 1898, Ellen, as Countess of Desart, became a significant figure in the Gaelic revival and pursued her own political career in the Irish Free State, which existed from 1922 to 1937.

Key facts
Artist Louis-Gustave Ricard
Artist dates 1823 - 1873
Full title The Countess of Desart as a Child
Date made probably 1870-1
Medium and support Oil on mahogany
Dimensions 54.6 x 45.7 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Presented by the sitter's sister, Lady Fitzgerald, to the Tate Gallery, 1944; transferred, 1956
Inventory number NG5573
Location in Gallery Not on display
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