Madame Vigée Le Brun was part of the world she painted and, like her aristocratic patrons, was under threat of the guillotine after the revolution. She was forced to flee Paris in disguise in 1789. She had been first painter to Queen Marie–Antoinette and her personal confidant. The queen had intervened to ensure her election to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, an honor accorded few women.
More than two–thirds of Vigée Le Brun's surviving paintings are portraits. Most, like this one, are of women and children who are idealized —flattered—into a kind of family resemblance. These unrelated young women, for example, could easily be mistaken for sisters. Their garments, airy silks and iridescent taffetas, are almost more individual than their faces, although both women were friends of the artist. The picture was hailed as a tribute to friendship and maternal love when it was shown at the Salon of 1787.