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Bust of an Unknown Woman, 1750

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne
Bust of an Unknown Woman, 1750
French, 1704–1778
terra-cotta on contemporary stand
17.5 x 9 x 7.5 inches (44.45 x 22.86 x 19.05 cm) Acquired with funds provided by the Walter and William Klauer Purchase Fund

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne was one of eighteenth-century France’s most successful sculptors. Over the course of his career, he produced more than one hundred portrait busts, at least sixty of them in terra-cotta, or fired clay. Lemoyne’s sitters included courtiers, the bourgeoisie, aristocrats, and members of the royal family. He was eventually named the official portraitist of King Louis XV himself. His portraits of women were particularly well received. Their intimacy and charm reflected a discerning understanding of the work of the day’s popular painters, such as MauriceQuentin de La Tour and Noël Coypel.

Those qualities are readily ascertainable in this bust of a young woman whose identity has yet to be determined. Lemoyne endowed his sitter with a coquettish air, capturing a sidelong glance and an enigmatic half smile. The lifelike quality of the work is heightened by his skillful incising of the eyes and masterful handling of the terra-cotta, which seems to tremble with life. The artist’s acute sensitivity toward society’s demands for fashionability is evident in the sitter’s stylish coiffure, an element that— together with stylistic analysis—dates the work to approximately 1750.