The Countess of Trobriand was a daughter of Edith Wharton's great-aunt, Mary Mason Jones, the model for the "high and mighty" Mrs. Mingott in The Age of Innocence. The countess herself appears in the novel only fleetingly (as the daughter whose marriage to "an Italian marquis" was arranged by Mrs. Mingott), but this portrait, with which Edith Wharton may have been familiar, depicts her as an imposing presence on her own. She married Count Philippe R‚gis de Trobriand in Paris in 1843. After several years abroad, the young couple settled in New York, where she took her place in fashionable society and he was welcomed for his charm and accomplishments as a novelist, poet, editor, and painter. Having become an American citizen, he joined the Union army as a colonel of a volunteer regiment when the Civil War began. He served with distinction, and after the war, entered the regular army, retiring in 1879 with the rank of brigadier general.
While the general lived quietly for the rest of his life in New Orleans, the countess resided in Paris, entertaining lavishly. She appears in regal splendor in this portrait, sitting on a golden throne with an ermine wrap at her side. The egret feather in her hair shows that she has been presented at the court of Napoleon III. According to Jones family legend, Frederick MacMonnies painted this portrait in Paris (where he lived for thirty years), working only during the countess's Sunday-afternoon salons.