La belle noiseuse
Collection Fondation Constant, NL
The title La belle noiseuse appears in a short story by Honoré de Balzac, Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu (The unknown masterpiece) from 1831.
Young painter Nicolas Poussin visits the painter Pourbus in his workshop accompanied by the old master Frenhofer. Pourbus has just finished a painting of Mary of Egypt. The work seems unfinished. With some slight touches of the paintbrush, Frenhofer transforms Pourbus' painting. Although Frenhofer has mastered his technique, he admits he is unable to find a suitable model for his own masterpiece, La Belle noiseuse, on which he has been working for ten years. This masterpiece is to be the portrait of Catherine Lescault. Poussin offers his own lover, Gilette, as a potential model. Gilette's beauty is so great that it inspires Frenhofer to finish his project quickly. Poussin and Porbus come to admire the painting, but all they can see is part of a foot that has been lost in a swirl of colors. Their disappointment drives Frenhofer to madness, and he destroys the painting and kills himself.
In 1990 Constant creates a watercolor La belle noiseuse, in 1991 he creates the etching and in 1992 he finishes La belle noiseuse as an oil painting.