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A Maid combing a Woman's Hair

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This small preparatory oil sketch was painted as Puvis de Chavannes worked on a larger picture, The Toilette of 1883 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris). There are many differences between the two versions, not least that the finished work shows a more idealised scene. The topic of a young, partially clothed woman attending to her hair has a long history as it allowed painters to conjure up a scene of beauty and intimacy. This is what Puvis does here: the women do not speak to each other but are lost in reverie, while the close cropping of the two figures puts the viewer into the room with them. The artist is prompting the viewer to ask: what is this beautiful young woman thinking?

The National Gallery, London



A Maid combing a Woman's Hair


about 1883


Oil on millboard


H 32.5 x W 24 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

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