Marie-Madeleine Guimard and the French ballet of the XVIIIe century rediscovered

Marie-Madeleine Guimard and the French ballet of the XVIII<sup>e</sup> century rediscovered


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Home ›Studies› Marie-Madeleine Guimard and the French ballet of the XVIIIe century rediscovered

  • Marie-Madeleine Guimard. (new name: presumed portrait of the Countess of Graves)

    FRAGONARD Jean-Honoré (1732 - 1806)

  • Edmond de Goncourt.

    BRACQUEMOND Félix (1833 - 1914)

To close

Title: Marie-Madeleine Guimard. (new name: presumed portrait of the Countess of Graves)

Author : FRAGONARD Jean-Honoré (1732 - 1806)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 81.5 - Width 65

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 00-003542 / RF 1974-1

Marie-Madeleine Guimard. (new name: presumed portrait of the Countess of Graves)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

To close

Title: Edmond de Goncourt.

Author : BRACQUEMOND Félix (1833 - 1914)

Creation date : 1880

Date shown: 1880

Dimensions: Height 55 - Width 35

Technique and other indications: Charcoal, stump, canvas.

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 00-022311 / RF22889

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: June 2009

Agrégée in Italian, Doctorate in Contemporary History at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Historical context

The gallant spirit of the XVIIIe century and its protagonists returned to fashion in the second half of the XIXe century: composers examine the music and world of the 18th centurye century to draw their inspiration, an interest that continued in the twentiethe century and contributes to the development of the neoclassical movement. References to the Enlightenment are very frequent, especially in opera: Auber in 1856 and Massenet in 1884 were inspired by the novel by Abbé Prévost for their lyrical versions of Manon Lescaut. Musically, the interest in the XVIIIe century and the cult of Mozart and Viennese classicism are sometimes indicative of a desire to "repress romanticism", for example in Saint-Saëns.

Historians and men of letters are also interested in the artists of the Age of Enlightenment. Edmond, passionate about art and a great collector, was able to pull the painters of the previous century from oblivion (The Art of the XVIIIe century, in two volumes, 1874), notably Watteau, to whom he devoted a monograph in 1876.

In his exploration of the XVIIIe century, Edmond de Goncourt met Marie-Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816), nicknamed "the Terpsichore of the XVIIIe century ", which had charmed the courts of Louis XV and Louis XVI, becoming one of the most acclaimed and influential artists at the Opera. Goncourt devotes a long detailed biography to him, published in 1893 under the title La Guimard, according to the registers of Menus Plaisirs, the Opera library, etc., etc.

This interest in 18th century dancerse century is confirmed by the publication, a year later, of unpublished memories of the husband of Guimard, the dancer, choreographer and poet-singer Jean-Étienne Despréaux (1748-1820), by Albert Firmin-Didot. The latter does justice to an intelligent, witty and multi-talented artist, who was not unworthy of the charming Guimard, contrary to what Edmond de Goncourt claims.

Image Analysis

The magnificent portrait produced by Fragonard shows a Guimard radiant with grace and beauty: the softness of his gaze and the playfulness of his smile illuminate his face and reveal all the power of seduction of the dancer, represented here at the height of her charm. We cannot look at this portrait without having in mind the lines that her husband Jean-Étienne Despréaux wrote for her in the second Chant de The Art of Dance : "Like a shepherdess, on the most beautiful feast day, / Superb rubies do not load her head, / And, without mingling with gold the brilliance of diamonds, / Gather in a neighboring field its most beautiful ornaments , / Such, Guimard, to please, imitating nature, / Seems to have from Venus, stole the belt. / There is nothing glitzy about his simple and naive air; / She intoxicates both the heart and the eyes: / Through her, everything receives a new grace. / She constantly charms us, and never tires us; / And his delicate arms, with charming contours, / We paint the soft movements of the reed.

Edmond de Goncourt is represented by Bracquemond in his office, surrounded by works of art. Like his brother Jules, who died prematurely in 1870, he lives for art and writing and finds an inexhaustible source of inspiration in the lives of the men and women of the past, which he carefully traces in his biographical and historical works.

Interpretation

At a time when French ballet has now taken root in bourgeois life, Edmond de Goncourt is reviving the splendor of Versailles. At the end of the century which celebrated ideal and aerial women like Sylphide, Peri and Giselle transformed into Willi, he traces the story of a woman of spirit, known as much for her artistic qualities as for her gallant adventures. Although her detractors accuse her of excessive thinness and more than ordinary beauty, Marie-Madeleine Guimard knows how to use her charms, which allows her to become the richest artist in the Royal Academy of Music. At the height of her fame, she owned a private mansion in Paris and another in Pantin, and had a theater built in each of these residences. Pantin's is called, in her honor, "the Temple of Terpsichore": it is here that she has erotic pieces performed - and sometimes herself performs. Luxury and lust are forgiven for her generosity towards the poor: Guimard has not forgotten the misery she experienced during her childhood and adolescence.

Courtesan coveted by the most influential men of the court, the Guimard leaves to Jean-Benjamin de Laborde and Charles de Rohan, prince of Soubise, the respective roles of useful lover and honorary lover, while she chooses as "Gréluchons" (lovers of the heart) some of his fellow dancers. A free woman, La Guimard did not enter into any marriage of interest but united in 1789, at the end of her long career, with Jean-Étienne Despréaux. Although Goncourt regrets that this extraordinary woman, seeing herself growing old, only married a dancer much less famous than her, the choice of such a husband is, in reality, the ultimate proof of the spirit of independence from La Guimard: she decides to live alongside a man of spirit, who shares his love for dance and for the pleasures of life. In addition, Despréaux is a poet and famous in his lines for the beauty, charm and talent of dancer and mime of his wife.

Marie-Madeleine Guimard represents the peak of theatrical dance of the second half of the XVIIIe century. Instead of giving in to the attractions of a soulless virtuosity which is beginning to contaminate the stage of the Opera, she will know how to preserve the purity of style and the authentic spirit of French academic dance. Throughout her career, she will cultivate an elegant and measured dance, based on grace, lightness and expressiveness. By its exceptional qualities of mime, the Guimard excels in the creations of Jean-Georges Noverre, who theorizes the ballet-pantomime as the form of theatrical dance most adapted to tell a story and to express the emotions and feelings of the characters.

  • Old regime
  • dance
  • Guimard (Marie-Madeleine)
  • Paris Opera
  • court life
  • ballet

Bibliography

Edmond de GONCOURT, La Guimard, according to the registers of Menus Plaisirs, the Opera library, etc., etc., Paris, G.Charpentier and E.Fasquelle, collection “The actresses of the eighteenth century”, 1893. Jean-Étienne DESPRÉAUX, Mes Passe-Temps, songs followed by the Art of Dance, Poëme en quatre chants, modeled on the Poetic Art of Boileau, Despréaux, by Jean-Étienne Despréaux, adorned with Engravings after Drawings by Moreau the Younger, with the noted tunes, 2 volumes, Paris, Imprimerie de Crapelet, 1806.

To cite this article

Gabriella ASARO, "Marie-Madeleine Guimard and the French ballet of the XVIIIe century rediscovered ”


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