The pale blue, wide-open eyes of Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc, under their large geometrically-perfect lids, are placed high on the canvas, to the left of its centre, and it seems a great distance down her long neck and the gently undulating slopes of her black satin dress - over which a gold watch-chain drops, and beside which a languid arm, veiled in tulle, is arranged - to her hand in the lower right corner of the painting, which reposes upon a diamond rivière, as upon a tiny pet, half-concealed in the folds of what must be her lap. This cunning emphasis on marginal detail, so characteristic of Ingres, may prompt the visitor to the Metropolitan Museum in New York to wonder whether it was modesty which made Madame Leblanc decline to exhibit so very valuable a possession more ostentatiously in her portrait, or the painter's reluctance to let sparkle distract from form in the centre of his painting. Readers of Metropolitan Jewellery will learn of another possibility. Two years before the painting was completed, in 1823, a French fashion journal had suggested that diamond rivières should only be worn by dowagers. There is much else to be learned from Metropolitan Jewellery, a picture book with stimulating illustrations, juxtaposing real jewellery in the Metropolitan Museum with paintings there in which jewellery appears.
LRB 9 April 1992 | PDF Download