Feb 7, 2007
Oct 30, 2009
Oct 30, 2009
Oct 30, 2009

Sweet Melancholy

Sweet Melancholy


Joseph-Marie Vien

(French, 1716–1809)

Oil on canvas

Framed: 86.4 x 76.2 x 6.5 cm (34 x 30 x 2 9/16 in.); Unframed: 68 x 55 cm (26 3/4 x 21 5/8 in.)

Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1996.1

Did you know?

Look closely—three strands of pearls appear in this painting.


The chair, brazier, table, and the setting all show Vien's interest in bringing archaeological accuracy to a new level of precision. Yet his delicate handling and graceful palette derive squarely from 18th-century French painting. The gesture of the melancholic figure, with her head on her hand, has roots going back to the Renaissance. Nonetheless, the painting has a wistful rather than tragic tone. Indeed, images of women in interiors, contemplating a letter with longing or sadness, derive from earlier Dutch paintings of daily life, here transformed into an ancient context.

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