The young Mrs. Seriziat is half sitting on a corner of table whose red carpet brings out the whiteness of the dress. She is wearing a country dress, and the sheaf she holds in her hand seems to indicate that she is returning from a walk in the fields. A broad straw hat lined with lace, frames her pretty blonde head and is held there by a green velvet ribbon tied under the chin. The waist is tightened by a big bow belt of the same color. The dress has no pretensions to elegance. Widely indented on the chest, it reveals a shirt by the opening of which appears a naked shoulder. The right hand, falling along the body, holds a bouquet of wildflowers where the scarlet note of the poppy dominates; his left hand, leaning against the table, squeezes the handcuff of a very young child, his son, who turns his cheeky figure three-quarters.
Everything is simple in this charming picture: simplicity in the attitude and simplicity in the execution. As for the face of Mrs. Seriziat, it is simply exquisite: without being absolutely regular, it attracts and seduces by the very grace of lines and especially by the smile of eyes and lips. It’s a happy youthful poem and fresh springtime.
It is in works of this kind that David must be judged more than in the great compositions inspired by the antique. There, he completely strips off his somewhat cold school head character only to remember that he is a painter, a great painter.
In the presence of living nature, he thinks only of scrutinizing it, of understanding it, of expressing it; he is going to search for the soul in the depths of his eyes. This impeccable draftsman, so often accused of coldness, animates his portraits with a vibrating heat that makes them breathe, think, live. What portraits of David could be quoted, such as that of Madame Chalgrin, of Pope Pius VII, in whose eyes the interior sentiments are read as an open book! Is it possible to express with more eloquence and truth the tranquil beauty and the smiling happiness of the pretty Madame Seriziat? And what a sense of harmony! Everything is composed, structured for the satisfaction of the eyes and the balance of the whole: the colors are chosen with an incomparable art, the one arguing the other, and assembled discreetly, without hype or excess. For his portraits of women, David seems to have purposely cleared the colors of his palette; more bitumen, more gloomy tones, the color is clear, transparent; she vibrates, she sings on delicate skins and waving hair.
“To paint without ulterior motive, it is the unique pleasure that offers the portrait to David. He does not even have to deal with composition, perspective and, in fact, he does not put himself in charge to camp his characters; he simply puts them on a chair or in an armchair, puts them in front of their desk. If he paints a group, he does not seek more; he proceeds with the carelessness of a photographer … Whether he combs attractive girls or women by their beauty or their grace, or simply by the charm of their age, he paints them with ingenuousness, an ease devoid of any kind of affectation which immediately seduces the heart.” (Leon Rosenthal.) Before a portrait, David no longer watches himself. Not attributing to these works, in his work, a very minimal importance, he forgets all constraint of school and abandons himself.
Mrs. Seriziat, “the good Emilie” as she was called in the family of David, was the painter’s sister-in-law. He had performed this portrait during his imprisonment in the Luxembourg prison, after 9 Thermidor. When he appeared in the Salon of the Year IV, his author was still kept in his house.
It is well known that David, an exalted conventionalist, had made friends with Robespierre and that he had voted the most revolutionary motions of the fierce Assembly.
He is even accused of having gibed at the passage of the cart which led the queen to the scaffold. Be that as it may, David’s character was never equal to his genius. When, Robespierre being shot down, he himself was decreed, he mounted the tribune to defend himself. “He was pale,” wrote an eyewitness, “and the sweat that fell from his forehead rolled from his clothes to the ground, where he printed large spots.” He cowardly denied Robespierre, accusing him of having “deceived him by his hypocritical feelings. It is not to this baseness, but to his genius alone, that he must not have worn his head under Samson’s ax.
Acquired by the State in 1902, the portrait of Mrs. Seriziat appears in the Hall of Seven Chimneys, also called Salle du Sacre, along with most of David’s other works.
Height: 1.32 – Width: 0.97 – Life-size figure.