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Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, A Maid combing a Woman's Hair

Key facts
Full title A Maid combing a Woman's Hair
Artist Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes
Artist dates 1824 - 1898
Date made about 1883
Medium and support Oil on millboard
Dimensions 32.5 × 24 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917, The National Gallery, London. In partnership with Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
Inventory number NG3267
Location On loan: Long Loan to The Hugh Lane (2019 - 2031), Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Dublin, Ireland
Collection Main Collection
A Maid combing a Woman's Hair
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes

This small preparatory oil sketch was painted as Puvis de Chavannes worked on a larger picture, The Toilette of 1883 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris). There are many differences between the two versions, not least that the finished work shows a more idealised scene. The topic of a young, partially clothed woman attending to her hair has a long history as it allowed painters to conjure up a scene of beauty and intimacy. This is what Puvis does here: the women do not speak to each other but are lost in reverie, while the close cropping of the two figures puts the viewer into the room with them. The artist is prompting the viewer to ask: what is this beautiful young woman thinking?

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