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Louise Marie Jeanne Mauduit (1784-1862)
Portrait of Pauline Bonaparte
1806
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This is a half-length, seated portrait of the Emperor Napoleon's favourite sister, Pauline Bonaparte (1780-1825). She is dressed in the typical court style of the time, and is shown with one arm resting on a chair. The wooden scroll of the chair’s arm is just visible underneath a green drape. Her dress is simple and she is wearing just one gold-coloured bracelet.

Does she look like the sister of an emperor?

The background is plain and gives us no clue as to the subject's identity or character. Her eyes do not completely meet ours so that she seems lost in her own thoughts. The overall tone of the portrait is one of stillness, as if the Emperor's sister were a statue just coming to life.

The painter has taken great care to show the difference between the crisp white cloth of the dress with its lace trimming, carefully showing every fold and crease, and the soft, plump skin of the young woman's arms, chest and face.

Perhaps the most striking element in the painting is the pose. The hands are inverted, the elbows rounded, so that our eye completes the circle formed by her arms, shoulders and the curve of the chair. The more we look, the more the painting seems to be organised into circles and scroll-like shapes. The composition is extremely elegant.

Just through looking at this painting, what would you say her character was like and why?
In fact, Pauline Bonaparte was infamous for her wild and extravagant ways! The difference between the portrait and the person suggests that the painter was trying to give her a different image from the one she had in real life.
You could discuss with your pupils how they might like to be seen if someone painted a portrait of them.
Louise Marie Jeanne Mauduit (1784-1862)  Portrait of Pauline Bonaparte   1806
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 71.9 x 52.5 cm
The Bowes Museum: B.M.307
Colour and Technique
Types of Painting
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