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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
M.2010.1.199.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

This picture is not a portrait likeness but a tête d’expression intended to evoke a particular state of mind. Invented in the seventeenth century, the tête d’expression remained a common academic exercise two hundred years later, when Couture used this study to capture the distinctly modern mental state of an alluring adolescent daydreamer. Though he had earned his reputation with grand historical and religious paintings, the artist here adopted a casual, fluid manner to describe what one critic called the “harmonious disorder” of his model’s hair and clothing, her “ravishing air of melancholy.” Couture’s têtes d’expression inspired more radical works both by his contemporary (and arch-enemy) Gustave Courbet and by his own great pupil, Édouard Manet.

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