Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721–1764), became the official mistress of Louis XV in 1745. Numerous portraits of her were subsequently commissioned; this oval painting is one of the most unusual. In its early decades, the work was reshaped multiple times, modifications that are recorded in the X-radiograph below. The painting was initially a rectangular bust-length portrait—its original size is outlined in dotted line in the image. Seams indicating its first dimensions are also visible on the surface of the painting.
Some years later, Boucher enlarged the rectangular portrait by adding strips of canvas on all four sides. These new dimensions, outlined in solid line in the radiograph, enabled the artist to transform the painting from a bust-length portrait to a larger toilette scene. Boucher prepared these additional strips of canvas with a lead white–based priming, which appears bright white on the radiograph because it is dense and more opaque. In contrast, the low-density earth pigments used to prepare the original, smaller canvas are darker.
The painting underwent a final modification in the last decades of the 18th century. Reconfiguring it to its current oval form—outlined in dashed line, below—involved cutting away its four corners and adding curved canvas pieces to its top, bottom, and right edges. The curved additions appear dark on the radiograph, which again indicates that these pieces were primed with low-density earth pigments. The difference in materials between the first alteration and the second speaks to a shift in painting techniques and artists’ preferences over the course of the 18th century.
[image of x-radiograph]