L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Portrait of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, by Martin Drolling, date unknown, and by Nadar, 1854 and 1859

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786, Douai – 23 July 1859, Paris), French poet and novelist. Among the finest of the French Romantic poets, she has sometimes been marginalized as a minor artist because of her interest in what have been considered “feminine” themes - family, motherhood, female independence - but she was an influential figure in French literature, and her work continues to be studied and to garner critical admiration.

Her father's business ruined during the French Revolution, in 1801 she traveled with her mother to Guadeloupe in search of financial security with a distant cousin. But prior to their arrival the cousin was killed in a slave revolt, his estate lost, and her mother soon died of yellow fever. Marceline managed to return to France, and at the age of only sixteen, began to support herself as an actress and singer. She would appear in Douai, Rouen, the Opéra-Comique in Paris, the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, and would have two illegitimate children, both of whom would die before the age of six. In 1817, she married fellow actor Prosper Lanchantin-Valmore, with whom she would have three more children, only one of whom would survive her.

She published her first collection of verse, Élégies, Marie, et Romances, in 1819 and four years later retired from the theater to pursue her writing. The next decade was characterized by financial insecurity and frequent moves as she endured the vagaries of her husband's acting career, which took their family throughout France and Italy. But by the 1830s, she had begun to enjoy critical and public success, and produced her most important works in the subsequent period. By the late 1850s, though, she was ill with cancer. She produced no new work in the last two years of her life, but was engaged in the editing of her final collection, Poésies inédites, at the time of her death at the age of seventy-three.


The writer, soon to turn sixty-eight, agreed to pose for the famous Nadar in the Spring of 1854. She did so reluctantly, citing her age and "the cruelty of the sun." He would photograph her again, on her deathbed, five years later.


Nadar (the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 6 April 1820, Paris – 23 March 1910, Paris), French photographer, caricaturist, journalist, novelist, balloonist. Probably the most important of the early French photographers, he started as a caricaturist. But he began to take photographs in 1853, opening a studio two years later, and in 1858 he became the first person to take aerial photographs. During the Siege of Paris in 1870-71, he was instrumental in the organization of balloon flights carrying mail to the besieged Parisians and, in so doing, established the world's first airmail service. His studio produced images of nearly all the important French and many foreign personages of the day, thus creating an invaluable visual record of the second half of the nineteenth century. He died at the age of eighty-nine and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.


  1. Mad about the yellow chair with trellis fringes around the base of the seat---and in general, the pleasantly unlabored manner of applying paint in the Drollling picture.

    You've go the post heading "1959"--surely unintended?

    1. Um, well... the varnish took an awwwfully long time to dry...! No. And thank you for calling my attention to that. : )