Politics played an important role in the career of Madame Vigée-Lebrun. A painter to Marie Antoinette since 1779, she was elected to the Royal Academy of Painting by the queen's decree in 1783. Her close ties to the royal family put her life in danger during the Revolution and she fled France in 1789, not to return until 1802. Therefore, it is not surprising that her portraits of society ladies reveal graceful poses, finished surfaces, and sweet, but controlled expressions, that both mask and betray the charged political climate surrounding her sitters.
This young woman's elaborate costume displays three different foreign cultures. Her turban and jacket recall a Turkish harem outfit. The allusions to the exotic Orient signal an escape from the present as well as an Enlightenment acceptance of non-western ideas. Her flowing white gown recalls the costumes of ancient Greece and Rome, meant to inspire republican virtues. The prominent Wedgwood cameo at her sash is English; at this time British imports represented products of another political system, a parliamentary monarchy, that was considered as a potential model for France. In rigorously detailing the costume, Vigée-Lebrun shows how deeply contemporary politics had penetrated daily life. The subject's engaging expression conveys the nascent tensions of the period.