Elderly Woman on Vellum
A peaceful atmosphere emanates from this 18th-century portrait of a woman. The woman holds a gentle gaze with something beyond the position of the viewer. She is dressed in a soft, grey outfit, likely a dress or a coat. She also wears a grey hat or fastener, with a blue accent, recalling the blue undertones of her outfit. She is likely an older woman, suggested by the silver-grey colour of her hair. Her features are delicate, with small lips, fine eyebrows, and pink cheeks. These delicate features are enhanced by the watercolour medium, and the vellum (animal skin) canvas, which contributes to creating a realistic skin effect. She is positioned in a three-quarter profile view, with her face towards the viewer but her shoulders slightly turned, a common position for historical portraiture. While the work is unsigned, the visible brush strokes – seen quite clearly at the base of the portrait – give us a sense of the artist’s hand at work. Like the artist, the identity of the woman remains a mystery, inspiring any viewer of the work to ponder who this woman may have been, and what her life must have been like in the bustling streets of 18th-century France.
At this time in history, inspired by the Enlightenment, significant intellectual shifts occurred in 18th-century Europe. Political structures were challenged, and many revolutions – such as the French Revolution of 1789 – took place.