Mauprat (Heinemann)/The Portraits of George Sand

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Mauprat  (1904)  by George Sand, translated by John Oliver Hobbes
The Portraits of George Sand by Octave Uzanne



In 1860
From a photograph
Madame Sand, who was born in Paris in the early years of the nineteenth century, who embraced a literary career with extreme ardour at a very early age, who was a Romanticist as fervent as any young dandy in 1830, a lionne in 1840, idyllic and pastoral in 1850, and a patriarchal Lady Bountiful towards the end of her life, furnished a vast amount of material to the artists of her time under these various aspects. In the few pages at our disposal we must not dream of enumerating a series of portraits that might almost be described as innumerable, portraits which, like those of Victor Hugo, would furnish forth a volume of the most dissimilar images. Her sentimental adventures, which were notorious, her eccentricities of costume and her caprices of coiffure, her facial type, now masculine, now that of a beauty in a Keepsake, now that of a Socialistic blue-stocking, and now that of a worthy farmeress of Berry, could not have failed to interest the painters, lithographers, engravers and sculptors of her epoch. Furthermore, she reckoned many artists among her kinsfolk by marriage,
In 1832
From a lithograph by Jullien
and as she was very accessible to draughtsmen, sketchers, and photographers, her icons multiplied indefinitely for a period of over fifty years. We do not profess to treat of these exhaustively, but they certainly exceed some three hundred in number, if we may judge by such as are still in the hands of the printsellers, or such as have found a place in the national collections. Those of the Romantic period, the most interesting, because of the androgynous aspect the young Baroness Dudevant then delighted to affect, form in themselves a series of relatively important lithographs. In these we see the author of Lélia, either in the guise of a mediæval page, her cropped hair falling in close curls on her neck, a silk handkerchief tied negligently over a bodice cut like a spencer, or in masculine garb, in a fashionable riding-coat, which vainly essays to give her the air of a Brummell. The portraits in masculine costume of the romantic mistress of Alfred de Musset, of Mérimée, of Pierre Leroux, of Chopin, and sundry others, who all left so apparent a trace of their influence on the works of the author of Valentine and of Consuelo, those curious portraits in which the woman, whom her intimates habitually called Georges, is represented sometimes even in a workman's blouse, a cigarette between her teeth,
About 1830
From a drawing by Calamatta
are, perhaps, the most numerous and the most amusing to the collector. Besides those by Calamatta. and by Jullien, which we reproduce, there are many others, in morning coats, in riding-habits, in dressing-gowns, to say nothing of the sketches made by her friends and travelling-companions. Alfred de Musset, who was fond of making pen-and-ink portraits verging slightly on caricatures, illustrated his Italian albums with many outline drawings of her who wrung his heart to the
A medallion by David d'Angers, 1851
point of drawing from his lyre the plaintive threnodies of Les Nuits. Mérimée, though we have been unable to find any evidence in support of this hypothesis, must certainly have amused himself at times by satiric renderings of Madame Sand's features, instinct with all the drollery that characterises his pen-and-ink caricatures.

About 1838
From a lithograph by Aubert
The author of Indiana clung for a long time to that masculine costume which enabled her to set at naught the prejudices and the reserve inseparable from the feminine personality in those days. It was in the habit of a boy that George Sand penetrated to the Grande Chartreuse, which was solemnly "purified" after her passage through the cloisters, so rigorously interdicted to womankind. Clad in the close-fitting jacket and loose trousers of 1830, a cap or a felt hat on her locks à la Jeanne d'Arc, her stick in her hand, with her air, half of student, half of rapin, George Sand frequented all the most renowned masculine gatherings of her time. It was not until her fortieth year when, becoming stout and too pronouncedly feminine of contour to attempt to disguise her sex without appearing ridiculous, she had to renounce the absolute independence assured her by the donning of masculine attire. At this period, Madame Sand paid her tribute to the taste and elegance of her day in her feminine costumes. The portraits of her executed between 1838 and 1840, of which we give two specimens, have the somewhat conscious grace, the languid oval of face, the exquisite smile, and the large deep eyes of the steel plates engraved for the Keepsakes so fashionable at the period. Her hair falls across her cheeks in large ringlets, waved and curled in the form then known as repentirs. A few flowers fastened on tine side, a cross hanging at her neck, which emerges from a drapery of tulle and lace, Madame Sand
About 1840
Engraved from a drawing by Nargeot
is decidedly a pretty woman. In the mezzo-tints of her at this period (c. 1838), she appears in a strong light, her expression gentle yet proud, her eyes brilliant, her figure supple, her skirt pleated on the hips in the Spanish fashion, her whole person full of that vigorous and feline charm, amorous, yet a little fierce, which was so much admired in those who were described at the period We reproduce one of these prints in the as Les Lionnes. frontispiece.

About 1848
After the picture by Couture
Ten years later, the Lionne had become homely and buxom; no corset could give grace and flexibility to that bust. In the portrait painted by Thomas Couture, before 1850, Madame Sand, as will be seen in our illustration, had already become stout of figure and masculine of face, showing, in certain features and in the style of her hair, a considerable likeness to the famous English novelist, George Eliot. From this time forth the author of the Marquis de Villemer and of Mauprat seems to have felt that contemporary fashions were not
In 1869
From a photograph
suitable to her type, and that she must individualise her costume. In 1851 David d'Angers modelled the medallion here reproduced. The profile is still refined, though the forehead recedes, and the nose is prominent and stubborn. After this, George Sand appears almost exclusively as "The good lady of Nohant," as she was called in that district of Berry in which she lived almost entirely for the rest of her life. This was the final incarnation of the extraordinary "Man of Letters," who was at once so ardently a woman and so truly a "good fellow," from the

George Sand 1866.png

In 1866
From a lithograph by Lafosse

day when, retiring to the country like a literary Rosa Bonheur, she renounced all vanity, and all pretensions to please otherwise than by those later works which are so full of tenderness, and often of sound arguments against social injustice.

George Sand 1870.png

In 1870
Photograph by Nadar

Madame Sand, her hair simply dressed in waving bandeaux, clad in an African gandourah—a sort of blouse with wide velvet facings—made no further variations in her costume; so we see her in Lafosse's lithograph of 1866; so we find her in her numerous photographs by Nadar, with placid face and kindly eyes, her whole person expressing the truth of Joubert's charming axiom of resignation: "The evening of life brings its lamp with it."

Was George Sand ever beautiful? This is a question we cannot decide. Portraits are often unfaithful, but her features were probably always rather too virile, and her eyes too large, recalling the epithet given by the ancients to Minerva. She seems, in short, to have been entirely without those qualities which give so much charm to feminine beauty—softness, weakness, morbidezza, as the Italians say. She is the personification of the blue-stocking of genius, the androgynous and Romantic ideal, the woman strong in her fine moral harmony—tender, disinterested, and courageous. Her supreme kindliness breathes from all her portraits. We recognise the creator of La petite Fadette and of François le Champi.


Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co
London & Edinburgh