Dappled with color, a japonesque puzzle of light and shadow, the bodice pushes and curves into an alluring landscape. Smooth as enamel, complex with embroidery, intricate with embellishment, it invites affection, an exploring grasp around a tiny, artificial waist.
The lady has been asleep in her brocaded room, nestled in a soft atmosphere of flowers and opium. The couch is as lush and indulgent as she is…a forgiving support for flesh that is white and ethereal, like meringue.
But a voice has awoken her: diminutive and sweet; verdant and bright. A sparrow perched on her finger, with a world of stories to tell, so eager to share them that it could not wait for her to wake up. It sang of trees huddled in the blue mist, of twilight skies that ruptured into a hail of stars and planets, of a sun that brought the flowers to life in the spring and then killed them in the summer. It sang stories of love: romantic vignettes played out in the privacy of the forest.
So, in appreciation of the sparrow’s earthy narratives, the lady’s mouth began a lengthy and languid journey towards a smile; her laudanum eyes opened. Roused out of a blithe sleep, her face was a whisper – a soft communication of femininity, of swooning temptations.
The painter of this portrait has not left us with her name. Perhaps he felt that generations later her identity would be irrelevant, a pretty footnote to a decorative age. But he has left a hint of her personality, an idea of what it must have been like to have shared a room with her. He named her: ‘La Charmeuse’.