“Fascinated by her own beauty, the countess would attempt to capture all its facets and re-create for the camera the defining moments of her life. Far from being merely a passive subject, it was she who decided the expressive content of the images and assumed the art director’s role, even to the point of choosing the camera angle. She also gave precise directions on the enlargement and repainting of her images in order to transform the simple photographic documents into imaginary visions—taking up the paintbrush herself at times. Her painted photographs are among the most beautiful examples of the genre.
While many of the portraits record the countess’ triumphant moments in Parisian society, wearing the extravagant gowns and costumes in which she appeared at soirées and masked balls, in others she assumes roles drawn from the theater, opera, literature, and her own imagination. Functioning as a means of self-advertisement as well as self-expression, they show the countess, by turns, as a mysterious seductress, a virginal innocent, and a charming coquette. Provided with titles of her own choosing, and often elaborately painted under her direction, these images were frequently sent to lovers and admirers as tokens of her favor. Unique in the annals of nineteenth-century photography, these works have been seen as forerunners to the self-portrait photography of later artists such as Claude Cahun, Pierre Molinier, and Cindy Sherman.”