Reflection in a Mirror
Born in London in 1850, Helena Darmesteter (née Hartog) was the second child of five children, to parents Alphonse Hartog (1815-1904), and Marion Hartog (1821-1907, née Moss). Alphonse was a French teacher, while Marion was a successful writer, having articles published in numerous Jewish and Non-Jewish journals throughout her career. Marion also founded the first Jewish women’s periodical ever published, entitled The Jewish Sabbath Journal: A Penny and Moral Magazine for the Young (1854-5). Helena’s younger sister Cécile Sarah Hartog (1857-1940), whom she later painted, was a composer and pianist. Her older brother Numa Edward Hartog (1846-1871) went on to be the first Jewish Senior Wrangler at the University of Cambridge, while here younger brother Marcus Manual Hartog was a professor of Natural History and Zoology, and her other brother Philip Joseph Hartog (1864-1947) became a chemist and educationalist.
Helena moved to Paris as a student, training under French painter Gustave Courtois (1853-1923). In 1877, she married Arsène Darmesteter, Professor of Philology and Mediaeval French at the Sorbonne. She became an established portrait painter exhibiting in the Salons and in the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. She was a member of the Société des Artistes Français and of theSociété Nationaledes Beaux-Arts. Her paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions in 1907 and 1908.
In the painting Reflection in a Mirror, it is through the reflective object that the viewer encounters the female figure’s portrait, as well as the environment she occupies. The use of the mirror as a tool with which the viewer observes the scene depicted recalls the well-known painting Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet. This work depicts a woman at the famous Parisian nightclub standing in front of a large mirror. With Manet’s painting completed and exhibited in 1882 at the Paris Salon, it is likely Darmesteter would have come into contact with it.
The title of this artfully contrived composition refers not only to the subject, who is viewed both in the mirror and from behind, but also to her reflective state of mind. The painting showcases Darmesteter’s skill in combining flesh tones, drapery, still life and the interior, highlighting the fall of light on the young woman’s shoulders and picking out the folds of her dress.
The painting Reflection in a Mirror is the only work by Helena Darmesteter in the Ben Uri collection.