Belgian artist Adèle Kindt’s Full length portrait of a woman in a landscape (Portrait en pied de Mlle. D.M.) features a life-size portrait of a young woman, with the sitter known to us today only as Mademoiselle D.M. The young woman is the epitome of fashionable in the late 1820s with her sumptuous silk gown, wide gigot (colloquially known as “leg-of-mutton”) sleeves and matching bonnet and shawl.

Depicted leaning against an earthen embankment amid a beautiful rolling landscape, the sitter holds white or pale-pink roses in her hand. The roses appear to be Rosa centifolia, or the cabbage rose, developed by Dutch breeders in the mid-to-late 18th century.

Tansy Curtin with Full length portrait of a woman in a landscape (Portrait en pied Mlle D.M.) by Adèle Kindt, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photo: Saul Steed

Roses, particularly this variety, became a well-recognised motif in aristocratic portraits during this time. Perhaps the most famous of these portrait types is the painting of Queen Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée le Brun (1783). Marie Antoinette delicately holds the stem of a pink-hued centifolia rose in much the same way as Mademoiselle D.M.

Marie-Adélaïde (Adèle) Kindt was born into an artistic family in Brussels in 1804, with both her younger sisters becoming artists. Kindt was trained in a neoclassical style by a fellow female artist Sophie Frémiet (later Rude), as well as by François-Joseph Navez.

Renowned French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David was a formative influence on Kindt and other artists of her generation. David had arrived in Brussels in 1815 in exile from France, a consequence of his role as a supporter of the French Revolution – he had voted for the execution of King Louis XVI – and as a result feared for his life and freedom under the newly restored Bourbon monarchy.  While it does not appear that Kindt trained directly under David, her teacher Frémiet was one of David’s pupils and later gave lessons from David’s townhouse in Brussels.

The influence of David’s neoclassical style is unmistakable in Kindt’s work; however, her awareness of romanticism, and its underlying principles, is also clearly discernible. David’s best-known portraits are generally depicted in beautifully appointed interiors; for her part, Kindt has elected to include her sitter in a natural and untamed environment, highlighting her own belief in the importance of nature, a key tenet of romanticism.

Kindt’s arresting portrait of the mysterious Mademoiselle D.M. offers an alternative representation of women in the first decades of the 19th century. As she gazes out of the canvas at us, the young woman is not shy or retiring; she exudes strength and confidence. While her fashion may feel alien to us today, she is the very essence of a fashionable and empowered young woman.

The sitter’s confidence is reiterated by the bold artistic rendering of the work – this painting is extraordinary and demonstrates Kindt’s comprehensive understanding of her sitter, the environment, light and shade, and of course her remarkable mastery of her chosen medium.

Adèle Kindt may not be a household name today, but in her lifetime she was a distinguished portrait painter, highly sought-after by the upper echelons of Belgian society. As her work is rediscovered by museums and collectors across the globe, her name is likely to become more familiar, with the works themselves undoubtedly attracting favourable acclaim.

Kindt’s portrait, acquired with the assistance of the James and Diana Ramsay Fund and on display in the Frank and Gladys Penfold Hyland Gallery (Gallery 12) of the Melrose Wing, sits within the thematic display of Neoclassicism and celebrates the enduring power of Classical Antiquity in art. Mademoiselle D.M. is surrounded by art from across the centuries – including ancient Roman marble sculptures, 17th-century paintings depicting classical ruins, Regency furniture and decorative arts – alongside works by contemporary artists who embrace the forms and ideals of classicism.

Tansy Curtin is curator of international art pre-1980 at the Art Gallery of South Australia. This article is part of InReview’s Off the Wall series, in which AGSA curators offer an insight into specific works or displays at the gallery.

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