Painted in a harmony of intense blues, this portrait depicts one of Delacroix’s cousins by marriage, Félicie Poissonier, who in 1832 married Louis-Auguste Bornot (1802–1888), owner (from 1841 to 1888) of the Abbaye de Valmont, where Riesener and Delacroix stayed together several times.
Léon Riesener was one of Delacroix’s cousins on this mother’s side. The first husband of their grandmother, Françoise-Marguerite, was cabinetmaker Jean-François Oeben. The couple had three daughters, including Victoire, Delacroix’s mother. After Jean-François Oeben’s death, Françoise-Marguerite remarried another cabinetmaker, Jean-Henry Riesener. Their son, Henry-François, had a highly successful career as an artist (he was a popular portraitist at the court of the Russian czars). Trained as a painter by his father, Léon was somewhat overshadowed by his famous cousin, although he did not seem bitter. The letters between the two confirm this. At his death, Delacroix bequeathed Léon a sum of 20,000 francs and the Champrosay house.
Léon Riesener painted many portraits, including those of his family, in oil or pastel, one of his favorite techniques. One of the most famous is the portrait of his wife, Portrait of Madame Léon Riesener, née Laure Peytouraud, featuring delicate shades of pinks, a work the Musée du Louvre’s Department of Prints and Drawings loans regularly to the Musée Delacroix. Riesener’s name is also linked to Paris through several decorative projects: the library in the Palais du Luxembourg (currently the Sénat; 1840–1848), the Chapelle in the Hospice de Charenton (1843–1849), and the Église Saint-Eustache (1854–1857). A friend of Fantin-Latour and Berthe Morisot, Riesener was also appreciated by the Impressionists. Degas purchased 75 of his drawings at his posthumous sale.
This pastel portrait of Félicie Bornot, wife of Léon Riesener’s cousin, Louis-Auguste Bornot, illustrates the close links between Risener and his family: he was a neighbor in Valmont as his mother lived in Rouen. He made a certain number of drawings there, including those of the library, the staircase leading to it, and the church altar in front of a stained-glass window. He spent time there with his cousin Eugène Delacoix, notably in 1829. The fame of the latter never seemed to have clouded the loyal and affectionate bond between the two cousins.
Geneviève Viallefond, Le peintre Léon Riesener (1808-1878), sa vie, son œuvre avec des extraits d’un manuscrit inédit de l’artiste, Paris, 1955
Jean Bergeret, "Les bénédictines de Lisieux à Valmont. Souvenir d’Eugène Delacroix et de Léon Riesener", in Le pays d’Auge, 44e année, n° 2, février, 1994, p. 2-10
Arlette Sérullaz, Delacroix et la Normandie, catalogue exposition, Paris, musée Eugène Delacroix, 1993, n°8, p. 63.