Georges Seurat painted the nineteenth century work "Young Woman Powdering Herself" between 1889-1890. It is an oil painting, on canvas, and belonged to Samuel Courtauld. His collection is on display in the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, in central London, within the art collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art.
The painting is known for being an excellent example of pointillism, a technique developed by Seurat in which an image is created by applying small dots of colour in patterns. His interest in light is noticeable in the way light and shadow is created on the wall behind the woman.
The dimensions of the canvas are 79.5 cm (width) and 95.5 cm (height), and it is signed on the bottom right by the artist in a painted border.
The painting depicts Madeleine Knobloch, the artist's mistress for many years, although he kept this relationship a secret and it was not revealed when the painting was first exhibited.
The painting shows a woman sitting at a small dressing table. On the table stands a mirror, some beauty products, and a flower. The woman is partially dressed, wearing a corset which accentuates the curvaceous shape of her body. With her hair piled up high and her earrings, there is a sense the model is preparing for a social occasion and has been captured by the artist in the private moment of her preparations. Her face is strong and proud, and the presence of curves and circles in the flow of her dress and the wall combine to create a soft, gentle atmosphere, which is enhanced by the use of colour.
There is something almost comical about the scale of the picture, with the large woman perched next to the little dressing table, thereby accentuating the size and shape of her figure. She holds her head up proudly, but the artist's intention is unclear. Is he aiming to flatter or mock? Some have suggested the latter, but other critics point to the painting as a celebration of her figure and an affectionate portrayal of an intimate relationship.
The artist even included himself in the work, originally, within the bamboo frame on the wall, that is thought to have been a mirror. His self-portrait wasn't revealed until 2014 using special technology to reveal the hidden face, which the artist had covered with a vase of flowers.
As such, it can be viewed as a glimpse into the romantic relationship between the artist and his model, a celebration of her body and his connection to her.