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Artist: Couture, Thomas 1 of 1

Reverie, 1840-1841

Thomas Couture

French, 1815-1879
Oil on canvas
21-5/8 x 20-1/2 in. (54.9 x 52.1 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

This delicate painting by Thomas Couture is not a portrait but a tête d’expression: a study of the face intended to evoke a particular state of mind. The practice of infusing the depiction of a model’s face with a dreamy or wistful expression often made its way into portrait painting, particularly in portraits of women. In Reverie, exhibited at the Salon of 1841, a young girl peers suggestively out of the corners of her eyes, sizing up the viewer with adolescent curiosity. Her dewy cheeks, bedroom eyes and exposed décolletage put forth an aura of sexual availability that carried into, if subtly, the more traditional portraits of the mid-nineteenth century. Even though the tête d‘expression was a common academic exercise, Couture’s studies in particular had an impact on the artists of his day. For instance, Gustave Courbet’s moody self-portraits from the 1840s possess the same dreamy undertones. Likewise, Couture’s pupils, among them Édouard Manet and Marcellin Desboutin, were influenced by the veiled feminine seduction at work here.

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Artist: Couture, Thomas 1 of 1