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Attributed to Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun
French, 1755 - 1842

Portrait of a Woman as a Bacchante, probably 1790s
French Painting
Oil on canvas
25 x 20 3/4 in. (63.5 x 52.7 cm), without frame

Partial and promised gift of Dr. and Mrs. James Aquavella,  2005.277

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About the Object

The woman in this painting appears as a Bacchante-a female follower of Bacchus, the god of wine and mystical ecstasy. The cluster of grape leaves symbolize wine; her disheveled hair, scanty dress, and enticing gaze suggest the decadence of Bacchanalian festivals.

During the 1700s, artists frequently portrayed their patrons as figures from classical mythology. Portraits of women in the guise of Bacchantes were also a popular theme for other leading portraitists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney. This is possibly a portrait of Emma, Lady Hamilton, the infamous mistress of Lord Nelson. She was known as a performer of "attitudes," or theatrical poses of Greek mythological and historical characters.

[Forman Gallery, Summer 2015]