William Orpen (1878-1931)
Madame Errazuriz, 1915
Oil on canvas signed lower right: Orpen
197 x 91 cm M66
Madame Errazuriz, née Huici, was born in Valparaíso, Chile, in 1860, the daughter of a wealthy silver mining family. She was educated in a convent run by English nuns where she was instilled with strict religious principles and became fluent in English and French. The young girl evolved into one of the beauties of the day and in 1880 she married the wealthy diplomat José Tomás Errazuriz.
Eugenia Errazuriz was a favourite subject of John Singer Sargent, but was also painted by Giovanni Boldini, Augustus John, Charles Conder and, of course, William Orpen. Her most famous admirer, however, was Picasso with whom she had a friendship lasting some thirty years.
When Orpen painted this magnificent portrait Errazuriz was in her late fifties, and a central figure in London’s cultural and social world. Orpen did a series of narrow format full-length female portraits at this time, but Madame Errazuriz is arguably the most striking. The painting is a veritable symphony in hectic red, from the rouged cheeks and glistening lips, through the splendid low cut gown, and down to the stockings and low-heeled shoes. Despite the outré colour of her ensemble Madame Errazuriz retains an air of diffidence, almost self-deprecation, as she gazes at the viewer.