Ermitage de Passy, 1860

  • by Pierre Louis Pierson

The Countess appeared in a tableau vivant only once. This was at a charity gala at the residence of Baroness de Meyendorff on 16 April 1863. The audience expected something titillating, but the Countess confounded their expectations by appearing as the Hermit of Passy, dressed as a Carmelite nun and kneeling in a grotto. Some weeks later she authorized the sale of a photograph commemorating the scene for the then unheard-of price of 50 francs per copy, the money to be donated to the poor (“La Gazette des étrangers,” 3 May 1863).

The photograph was taken in Pierson’s studio, probably a few days after the event. Three poses are known: one showing the Countess standing, turned toward the viewer, a faraway look in her eyes; another of her in profile, hands joined in prayer, in front of a makeshift altar; and one of the Countess seated, confronting the viewer with an unfathomable gaze. Only the photograph showing the first of these poses was released for sale, and it is intriguing that, despite the large number of prints in circulation, so few seem to have survived. A print similarly retouched in gouache is in the Alinari collection, dedicated by the Countess to the Marquis di Villamarina. An enlargement in the Montesquiou album in The Metropolitan Museum of Art is inscribed on the back in the Countess’s hand: “Sœur Eliza”