Dr. Pozzi at Home

Following on this morning’s John Singer Sargent posting on my blog — “Man Wearing Laurels”, here — Ken Rudolph reported on finding a stunning example of Sargent’s male subjects in the Hammer Museum at UCLA, and sent me a photo of it: a full-length portrait of Dr. Samuel Jean Pozzi cutting a regal figure in a bright red gown. Which I inexplicably had never posted on.

(#1) Sargent’s Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881)

From the Hammer Museum site, “Dr. Pozzi Comes Homes” by Leslie Cozzi on 10/7/14:

Last Friday, October 3, the Armand Hammer Collection reopened in galleries newly designed to show off the museum’s impressive array of old master and 19th Century paintings, drawings, and sculpture.

… One of the most impressive works on display is Dr. Pozzi at Home, John Singer Sargent’s 1881 portrait of Samuel Jean Pozzi. Standing in his scarlet dressing gown with characteristic panache, the Parisian gynecologist appears quite at home (pun intended) in his newly-designed apartments here at the Hammer. Pozzi, a close friend of Sargent and a renowned dandy, was described by a contemporary as “himself a kind of beautiful work of art.” Swaddled in a plush robe with crisp ruffles peeking out from the collar and sleeve, shod with embroidered slippers, and flanked by a velvet curtain, Pozzi boasts all the grandeur of a Renaissance prince combined with the casual élan of a turn-of-the-century aesthete.

One of the most notable aspects of the portrait are the figure’s hands. Elegantly attenuated fingers grasp the collar of his robe and pull demurely against the tie around his hip. Along with the face and neck, they are the only exposed areas on Pozzi’s body, a distinction which makes them appear precious. It has been suggested that the emphasis on the hands may be a reminder of Pozzi’s trademark examination method that involved manual exploration of his female patients’ anatomies. More recently, the art historian Alison Syme has read the delicacy of Sargent’s painted hands as ciphers of homoerotic desire. Certainly, the sumptuousness of this painting in particular lends it an erotic charge.

Pozzi (10/3/1846 – 6/13/1918) was an advocate of Lister’s antiseptic procedures and a tireless pioneer of gynecology in France, introducing new techniques and serving a wide range of patients. He was a heroic military surgeon in the Franco-Prussian War and in World War I. And he was a staunch Dreyfusard. Beyond all that, still more complexity.

From Daily Art Magazine, “Fifty Shades of Dr. Pozzi” by Zuzanna Stańska on 2/13/22:

In 1879, Pozzi married Therese Loth-Cazalis, heiress of a railroad magnate, and had three children: Catherine, Jean, and Jacques. Despite this Pozzi had plenty of affairs, including with: the opera singer Georgette Leblanc; the actress Rejane; the widow of Georges Bizet; and the daughter of an art dealer, Emma Sedelmeyer Fischof. Emma who was married to a horse breeder, was a beautiful, cultured woman of Jewish descent who became Pozzi’s mistress in 1890. Pozzi’s wife refused to grant him a divorce, but Emma remained his companion for the rest of his life.

He was also one of Sarah Bernhardt‘s lovers.

And then Julian Barnes’s book The Man in the Red Coat (2019). From Wikipedia:


The book concerns Samuel Jean de Pozzi, a French surgeon and pioneer in the field of gynaecology whose portrait in a red coat John Singer Sargent painted, and other people of Belle Époque Paris, including Robert de Montesquiou, Prince Edmond de Polignac, Jean Lorrain, Sarah Bernhardt, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Oscar Wilde.

From The Guardian‘s review by Tessa Hadley on 11/6/19:

The story opens in 1885 when the doctor, aged 38, arrives in London with two improbable travelling companions, for what they call “intellectual and decorative shopping”: meaning they go to Liberty’s (where Pozzi will order 30 rolls of “seaweed-coloured curtain material”), and to the Grosvenor Gallery to see the Edward Burne-Jones (French aesthetes often preferred the faux-medievalism of English painting to impressionist experiments going on at home). Henry James takes them to dinner at the Reform Club. Pozzi’s two friends are the Prince de Polignac and Count de Montesquiou-Fezensac; they are improbable because, however inspired and successful the doctor, and however princely Sargent has made him look, he is by his birth and profession irremediably bourgeois. His grandfather was a patissier, his father a Protestant pastor, and Pozzi has risen through good fortune, along with his own efforts and his wife’s money, into the upper tiers of French society, which, despite several revolutions and much turbulence, is still cut fiercely across by caste distinctions.

In his portrait the doctor’s swagger is unmistakably sexual, too – Barnes says the scarlet gown’s tassels look like a “bull’s pizzle”. To the lifelong chagrin of his wife Thérèse and his adoring, jealous daughter, Pozzi is incorrigibly a womaniser; another difference between him and his two companions in London, in that they are both homosexual

Life is complicated.

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