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Portrait of the Marquise de Croissy, 1749

Jean-Marc Nattier
Portrait of the Marquise de Croissy, 1749
French, 1685–1766
oil on canvas
32 x 25.5 inches (81.28 x 64.77 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Fred J. Fisher

Jean-Marc Nattier was taught so successfully by his painter father that he won first prize for drawing from the French Royal Academy in 1700. He never traveled to Italy to study, but in Paris he was able to see and copy paintings by famous foreigners, such as those by Peter Paul Rubens in the Luxembourg Palace.

This portrait shows that it was fashionable in the 1740s for even quite young women to powder their hair so it looked gray. The sitter’s gleaming white silk dress sewn with jewels illustrates how court society enjoyed displaying its wealth in public. Her bright pink cheeks and pearly white skin indicate the fashion, popular among members of the nobility, for using cosmetics. During Nattier’s time, some of the philosophes, reform-minded men of the Enlightenment such as Melchior Grimm, complained that cosmetics were harmful to society because they caused people to focus on artificial instead of natural beauty. These puritanical men extended their critique of women who wore make-up to disapproval of paintings in which highly made-up ladies pretended to be figures taken from mythological stories.