Alfred de Musset

Alfred de Musset

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© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Born in Paris in a cultivated environment, Alfred de Musset made excellent studies and very early attended the romantic cenacle: welcomed by Lamartine, Hugo and Charles Nodier, he befriended Vigny, Sainte-Beuve and Mérimée. Confession of a Child of the Century, a famous novel published in 1836, is the lucid analysis of a moral illness, the distress of French youth in the aftermath of the Revolution and the Empire. The poet of Nights finds its inspiration mainly in suffering (“The most desperate are the most beautiful songs”). Parts like We do not play with love, Les Caprices de Marianne or Lorenzaccio give the measure of Musset's dramatic genius. He died at age 47 of heart disease, worn out by excess.

Image Analysis

Musset is represented three-quarters front, on a neutral background. The hairstyle, beard, dark tie on a dark coat enlivened by a thin white collar are characteristic of romantic fashion. The gaze concentrates most of the expressiveness of this portrait, any staging being rejected by the painter. A psychological study carried out without flattery, this portrait is very much of its time, in its refusal of any accessory, in its desire for sobriety.


This oil-painted portrait, commissioned in 1877 for the Musée de Versailles, is the repetition of a pastel painted by Charles Landelle in 1854 (Musée du Louvre), three years before Musset's death. This is evidenced by an autograph letter from the artist, asking Paul de Musset, the writer's brother, to give him “the pastel that I made of your brother so that I can finish the oil painting that the Ministry instructed me to do for the museum of Versailles ”(May 13, 1878). In the series of portraits commissioned from artists by the Administration of the Second Empire and then the IIIe Republic was a majority of military portraits. The fact remains, however, that the Republic, keen to perfect its galleries of great men by including representatives of science and letters, also had recourse to public commissions to acquire effigies of certain great intellectuals of the 19th century.e century.

  • Sainte-Beuve (Charles-Augustin)
  • Merimee (Prosper)
  • Vigny (Alfred de)
  • Nodier (Charles)
  • Hugo (Victor)
  • Lamartine (Alphonse de)
  • portrait
  • writers


Paul BENICHOU The school of disenchantment: Sainte-Beuve, Nodier, Musset, Nerval, Gautier Paris, Galimard, 1992.Franck LESTRINGANT Alfred de Musset Paris, Flammarion, 1999.

To cite this article

Barthélemy JOBERT and Pascal TORRÈS, “Alfred de Musset”

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