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Oil painting - Head of a girl
  • Head of a girl
    Blanc, Célestin Joseph, born 1818 - died 1888
  • Enlarge image

Head of a girl

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (painted)

  • Date:

    1867 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Blanc, Célestin Joseph, born 1818 - died 1888 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Célestin Joseph Blanc (1818-1888) was a pupil of the history painter Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) and the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre (1806-1874) in Paris. He mainly produced religious and mythological paintings but also portraits. He regularly exhibited at the Salon in Paris from 1844 to 1882.

This painting is a fine example of mid-19th century portrait for its realist approach however the choice of representing the sitter in profile is rather unusual. It combines child portraiture with a touch of austerity enhanced by the black dress. This may result from an imitation of the first portraits which were engraved on coins and medals and had a mere commemorative function. The grisaille technique resemble a photograph which would eventually supplant portrait paintings in the following 20th century.

Physical description

An oil portrait of a young girl in profile against a grey background; her fair hair is held back with a black ribbon.

Place of Origin

Paris (painted)


1867 (painted)


Blanc, Célestin Joseph, born 1818 - died 1888 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'BLANC Ctin. 1867'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower right


Height: 26.7 cm estimate, Width: 21.6 cm estimate, Height: 408 mm frame, Width: 360 mm frame, Depth: 60 mm frame

Object history note

Purchased for £20 at the Paris Salon, 1867

Historical significance: This painting is a fine example of mid-19th century portraiture grounded in a close observation of nature. This realist portrait shows a young girl in profile dressed in black while her face is subtly modelled by a diffuse light.
Profile portraits go back to the origins of portraiture when the profile of the sitter was engraved on coins and had mostly a commemorative function. This may be the case here as the young girl in dressed in black and shows a somehow morning face. It is not unlikely that this portrait was a posthumous portrait.
The grisaille technique tends here to resemble photography which would eventually supplant portrait paintings.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
Portrait paintings were still fashionable during the following centuries and extended to the rising bourgeoisie and eventually to common people, especially during the social and political transformations of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, painted portraits were challenged and eventually supplanted by the development of new media such as photography.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'Head of a Girl', Célestin Joseph Blanc, 1867

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 6, cat. no. 14.
Morris, E., 'Philip Henry Rathbone and the purchase of contemporary foreign paintings for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1871-1914' in Annual Report and Bulletin of the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, 1975-76, vol IV, p.59.


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting; Grisaille

Subjects depicted

Girl; Portraits; Ribbon


Paintings; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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