Born Princess Bibesco Bassaraba of Brancovan, Anna of Noailles was an important poet and a close friend of Marcel Proust. The two often wrote to each other during Proust’s stays in Cabourg. Anna de Noailles was the daughter of a Romanian prince and a Greek pianist, and in 1897 she married the Count Mathieu de Noailles. Together with her husband, she led a brilliant social life, receiving the intellectual, literary and artistic elite of the beginning of the century in her salon on Avenue Hoche and later Rue Scheffer. Some of those grand figures included Francis Jammes, Claudel, Colette, Gide, Valéry, Cocteau, Max Jacob or Mauriac.
She had an intense but complicated sentimental relationship with Maurice Barrès, whom she met at Jacque-Émile Blanche’s house, which at the time of this painting had ended in a break-up. This powerful personality with an irresistible eloquence fascinated almost all those she approached, not without sometimes arousing a touch of irony, sensitive, for example, in the pages that Blanche devoted to her in « La Pêche aux souvenirs ». Anna de Noailles established her reputation as a poet with the publication of “The Innumerable Heart,” her first collection, in 1901, followed by “The Shadow of Days” in 1902, and “The Dazzle” in 1907. Her novels « La Nouvelle Esperance », « Le Visage émerveillé » and « La Domination », published between 1903 and 1905, were equally successful.
On May 19, 1909, she attended the dress rehearsal of Prince Igor's Polovtsian Dances at the Châtelet with Blanche, Cocteau and Reynaldo Hahn, and later contributed to the social patronage of the revolutionary shows conceived by Serge Diaghilev on Fokine's choreographies. Affected by serious health problems from 1911 onwards, she imposed on herself intermittent periods of reclusion during which she received her guests amidst a mess of vials, medicine and droppers. Blanche reports in « La Pêche aux souvenirs » that he painted the two studies in the poetess' home, 13, rue Scheffer, in 1912-1913, at a time when she was abusing the chemical substance ether.
This sketch and another existing one are characteristic of Blanche's method in his studies, which was to fix the physiognomy of her models in small, quickly brushed canvases, sometimes executed in succession, as if trying to capture the movement of the personality and its expression.