Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A young lady holding a pug dog

I find this portrait by François Boucher, dated to the mid-1740s, interesting because she is so very clearly made up. Rouge is usually quite easy to see on paintings, but white makeup can be harder to spot. This young lady is having it a, though.

She is wearing white makeup, probably lead white as it seems rather opaque, but she also seems a bit shiny. That could be because the white pigment is mixed with pomade, but it could be that the white pigment is Bismuth, which has a shine to it. Regardless of pigment, her face and neck are liberally painted, but her ears looks quite rosy. Her bosom isn’t painted either, though pale it isn’t as white as the face.

Source; Wikimedia. Follow the link back for a high-res version.

Her cheeks are heavily rouged covering just about the whole of the middle of the face, if one disregards the nose. The tone is quite warm, so the pigment may very well be the mercury-based Vermillion. However, rouge made of Red Sanders or Brazil wood also gives a warm red shade, so let’s hope she has left off the mercury. She is also a little red around the eyes. There are indications that rouge could be applied around the eyes too, so perhaps that is what she has done. But it can also mean that she hasn’t used white makeup around her eyes and it is the natural skin tone we see. Her lips are also painted, probably with the same red makeup as the rouge. Her mouth is quite small, but the lip colour is painted on the whole of the lips. The contour is also quite soft; there were no lip liners around to give a sharp and defined shape to the lips.

The eyebrows are quite dark and may be painted, but as her hair is fashionably powdered we don’t really know what her natural hair colour is. She might be dark haired and the eyebrows left au naturel. That the hair looks more grey than white may support that, dark hair powdered white turns grey, but as grey hair powder was used as well, it is next to impossible to tell. Worth noting is that her eyebrows looks quite natural and are not overly groomed. To finish off her makeup she is wearing a rather small patch at the corner of her eyes. She is dressed, but is still wearing the loose garment that provided protection of the clothes at the toilette.


  1. I wonder how much of that was added by the artist. Obviously not all paintings are accurate representations of their subjects. I wonder if the artist thought she would be prettier this way? Either way, it makes a very interesting study indeed!

    Tine Hreno

    1. That is of course something to think about- a painting can be made up compelötely of fantasy. But looking at Boucher's painting he seems to have preferred painting ladies with much less makeup, especially when it comes to the stark whiteness, so it is probably the wish of the person who comissioned the portrait. Painter's pigments and makup pigments were very much the same in the 18th century, especially when it coomes to white pigment.

      It's a pity that we don't know who the lady is. I have read suggestion that she is an actress, and in that case her makeup may be aimed for teh scene. But lead white do give a very white skin andtehre is plenty of evidence that ordinary ladies wore it too. On the otehr hand, other white pigments of the time only makes the skin tone lighter, not white, quite contrary to what one may believe. Real peral powder, for example, are quite tranclusent, but evens out and brightens the skin in a rather natural way.

  2. I love this portrait! You're right, a great example... Plus bonus pug action!


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