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Head of a Woman with Veil, c. 1878-1880

Jean-Louis Forain

French, 1852-1931
Oil on canvas
13-7/8 x 10-7/8 in. (35.2 x 27.6 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Jennifer Jones Simon
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

Though Jean-Louis Forain participated in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, this early portrait speaks more clearly to his kinship with Édouard Manet than it does to the light and airy palette he would inherit from the group and adopt later in his career. The blacks and deep blues in the sitter’s hat, hair, veil and coat contrast with the stark white of her collar and the creamy background that delineates her pink face. The strict profile pose is reminiscent of Renaissance portraiture, and yet the gravity of the picture, too easily assumed by the sobriety of the color, is somewhat lifted by her polka-dotted veil and the feathery mound of her fabric hat. Portraits of women wearing the latest in millinery trends were extremely common at the time, and artists such as Manet, Degas and Renoir had explored similar subjects. The draw of this particular subject may also be attributed to the wide circulation of fashion plates in
magazines displaying seasonal trends. However, the realistic pronouncements of this bourgeois sitter’s pudgy chin and ruddy cheeks, completely absent in those idealized illustrations, speak instead to Forain’s focus on the details of a real sitter.

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