Alexander Roslin: The Lady with the Veil (1768); Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

While largely forgotten today, Alexander Roslin (1718-1793) was one of the leading portraitists of his time and surely the most successful Swedish artist from the 18th century era. Roslin, who was born in Malmö, got his training and developed his skills as an artist in Stockholm, but decided to leave Sweden in 1745, in hope of important commissions abroad.
This decision proved wise: soon he was given the opportunity to demonstrate his qualities as a portrait painter at the courts of Bayreuth, Parma and Rome, among others. Roslin found his final destination in Paris, where he would live – with an exception of two years in service of Catherina the Great - from 1752 until his death. In Paris, he was admitted to the French Academy of Fine Arts and painted numerous portraits of significant figures of the leading political and cultural circles.
The reason why he was in such high demand as a portraitist, particularly among the rich and famous, must be sought in the fabulous way that Roslin could render the texture of precious materials such as fabrics and jewels, as well as his talent to show people at their best. His work possesses Classicist elements, but also bears characteristics of the Rococo style in its elegance and charm.
Ironically, Roslin’s best-known portrait by far, The Lady with the Veil, is not of a member of the high society, but of his own wife, Marie-Suzanne Giroust. Roslin depicted her as a Bolognese lady dressed up for the carnival. Her mischievous smile, the veil and the fan in her hand have strong amorous connotations. The seductive quality was not lost on the famous philosopher and critic Denis Diderot, who, when he saw the painting on show at the Parisian Salon, characterized it as ‘très piquante’.
(text: Maarten Levendig)