• Portrait of Stendhal

    LEHMANN Henri (1814 - 1882)

  • Portrait of Stendhal

    SODERMARK Johan Olaf

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Title: Portrait of Stendhal

Author : LEHMANN Henri (1814 - 1882)

Creation date : 1841

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 26 - Width 23

Technique and other indications: Pencil

Storage place: Stendhal Museum website

Contact copyright: © Stendhal Museum - Grenoble - France

Picture reference: MSt.836

© Stendhal Museum - Grenoble - France

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: October 2003

Historical context

Stendhal, whose real name is Henri Beyle, was born in Grenoble in 1783 into a conservative family. In 1800, he enlisted in Napoleon's army and began a career which then took him to the Council of State, where in 1810 he became Auditor and then Inspector of Crown Furniture and Buildings. The fall of the Empire put an end to his high office: freed from all obligations, he moved to Milan, which he declared to be his chosen homeland. It was then that he both made his debut in literature (Lives of Haydn, Mozart and Metastasium, 1815, History of painting in Italy, 1817) - signing for the first time with the pseudonym “de Stendhal” his essay Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817 - and the first steps in a tumultuous love life. Returning to Parisian salons in 1821, he delivered a scientific "analysis" the following year, Of love, in which he explains his famous concept of "crystallization": the loved one, "like a branch stripped of winter leaves" is adorned with "an infinity of mobile and dazzling diamonds". After engaging in the romantic battle with his Racine and Shakespeare (1823-1825), where he sided with the English playwright, Stendhal finally published his first masterpiece in 1830, The Red and the Black, a novel which at the time had no impact.

Image Analysis

It was in the winter of 1839-1840 that the Swedish painter J. O. Sodermark painted the portrait of Stendhal. Consul of France in Civitavecchia since 1831, the writer published in April his second great novel, written, or rather dictated, in the space of two months, The Charterhouse of Parma. Studied in close-up, the image does not allow the eye to dwell on the details of the decoration as in the contemporary portraits of Ingres. You can hardly guess the carved and gilded back of an armchair, while the background of the painting is covered with a solid brown. Dressed in the dark official costume of a consul that barely lights up the collar of the shirt, Stendhal stares at the viewer with the same keenness, the same lucid and uncompromising gaze that he has on his contemporaries and on himself. Influenced by the ideological theories of Destutt de Tracy, the writer also views his characters through rigorous, quasi-scientific analysis, avoiding the overflows of the imagination. Impregnating himself, for his writing work, with the daily reading of the Civil Code, he said: "I have only one way to prevent my imagination from playing tricks on me, and that is to walk straight ahead. 'object. […] I do my best to be dry. I tremble to have written only a sigh, when I think I have noted a truth. ". Barely later, Lehmann's portrait reveals a more familiar Stendhal, almost easygoing, but also more tired. Struck with apoplexy on March 15, 1841, the weakened Stendhal no longer has that imposing and impenetrable presence which would have almost made him pass for a lawyer in Sodermark's painting. The plane has widened and the posture is that of a man who, as he himself puts it, "has grappled with nothingness."


In his Critical and historical essays (1866), Hippolyte Taine devotes an article to Stendhal, of which he was the fierce defender. His "analysis" of the character of Julien Sorel could be confused with that of his creator: "He emerges an excessive pride, passionate, skittish, ceaselessly hurt, irritated against others, implacable to himself, and an attentive imagination. and ardent, that is to say the faculty of producing ideas in droves upon the shock of the slightest event and of being absorbed in them. Hence a habitual concentration, a perpetual return to oneself, an attention incessantly withdrawn and occupied in questioning, examining himself, in building an ideal model to which he compares himself, and according to which he judges himself and himself. behaves ”.

Of love.

  • literature
  • writers
  • novelists
  • Republican novels
  • Stendhal (Henri Beyle, dit)


Georges BLIN, Stendhal and the problems of the novel, Paris, Corti, 1953.Michel CROUZET, Stendhal ou Monsieur moi-même, Paris, Flammarion, 1990. Jean GOLDZINK, Stendhal, l'Italie au coeur, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Discoveries", 1992.


1. Life of Henry Brulard.

To cite this article

Emmanuelle GAILLARD, "Stendhal"

Video: French Passions: Alain de Botton on Stendhal