Henriette Fortuny: Portrait of a Muse

Palazzo Fortuny

The Woman behind the Artist

Portrait of a Muse
Henriette Nigrin Fortuny was a woman who, by her intelligence and sensitivity, succeeded in supporting and inspiring one of the most fervid and refined artists of the past century. Henriette applied her acute intelligence, love and devotion to form an essential part of an extraordinary artistic partnership. 
Henriette Fortuny
Adèle Henriette Élisabeth Nigrin was born in Fontainebleau on 4 October 1877. The meagre biographical notes do not tell us much, but what is clear is that for no less than 47 years, Henriette was at Mariano Fortuny’s side, contributing in a decisive manner to the success of his splendid textile creations.
1902: Falling in love with Mariano Fortuny
In 1902, still in Paris, she met Mariano Fortuny, probably within the circle of acquaintances of Federico “Cocò” de Madrazo, Mariano’s cousin, a frequent visitor to the most exclusive artistic circles of the French capital.

Mariano Fortuny
Already a well-known artist, Mariano Fortuny was a handsome, cultured, tall and robust man. He was born in Spain but brought up in France and lived in Venice with Cecilia de Madrazo, his mother, and María Luisa, his sister.

Cupola Fortuny
He had been staying in Paris for a number of months and had installed a studio in the house on Boulevard Berthier to study the theatre, and in particular to improve a complex lighting system called Cupola Fortuny.

A love story began

Henriette was beautiful, diaphanous, graceful and charming, with a delicate and harmonious figure. Her beautiful face, a slightly elongated oval, was framed by soft copper-blond hair. Her eyes were luminous and had an intense look. Mariano was soon won over. Thus a deep love story and a long creative adventure began.

Moving to Venice

In 1907, in the huge attic of Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei on Campo San Beneto, their adventure in the textile sector could begin. Mariano declared: “Ma Femme et moi, nous avons fondé, au Palazzo Orfei un atelier d’impression suivant une méthode entièrement nouvelle … Cette industrie a commencé par des châles en soie et s’est développée avec des robes”.

A creative adventure

Henriette truly shared Mariano's passions. A photograph depicts a very concentrated Henriette next to a large worktable while she is preparing to spread some colour over a wooden printing block: these are the early experiments for the Knossos scarf.

The true inventor of the Delphos dress
With an autograph note written in the margin of the patent for the dress, Fortuny recognises that the true creator of the Delphos was Henriette.

The Delpohs
The second model to be produced, after the Knossos scarf, was a tunic in silk taffeta, characterised by extremely fine pleating reminiscent of a Ionic chiton; this was called the Delphos in tribute to the severe Charioteer, a bronze statue found at Delphi in 1896.

Thus attired - with Delphos and Knossos -, she was immortalised by Fortuny in a large painting entitled Portrait in Pompeian Costume.

Her Legacy

Henriette was the muse who inspired him, his faithful companion who was always by his side and who shared his aesthetic positions. She supported and comforted him, was a friend to whom he could confide his doubts and uncertainties, and the person who protected and safeguarded the inner spaces in which the artist found his creative force.

In the house and workshop of Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, Henriette worked alongside her husband in the creation of fine printed fabrics and silk lampshades, coordinating the work of the craftsmen they employed.
It was she who maintained the delicate relations with an increasingly numerous and international clientele.

And Mariano never tired of portraying her in hundreds of photographs and paintings. After all, who better than she could accompany the laborious genesis of the creative process and embody its artistic ideals with her gestures, posture, facial expressions and body language?

For the occasion of the exhibition at Palazzo Fortuny “Henriette. Portrait of a Muse”, a vast number of paintings and photographs depicting her were exposed: a real “book-of-life” of the Woman behind the Artist and his love for her

After the death of her husband (1949) and the sale of the Società Anonima Fortuny to her friend, Elsie McNeill, Henriette dedicated the rest of her life to fulfilling Mariano’s testamentary wishes – donating numerous works to Italian and Spanish museums – and to creating an inventory of the works of art in the palazzo, which upon her death was bequeathed to the city of Venice.

Credits: Story

Museo Fortuny Venezia Palazzo Orfei

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