Elegant woman looking at herself in a mirror
(1839 to c. 1888 France)
Representations of domestic life were extremely popular in the mid to late nineteenth century in both Europe and America. This artistic practice, established by Dutch painters in the seventeenth century, was continued by artists such as Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. It is within this tradition that Camille Léopold Cabaillot-Lassalle worked.
As a young man, he studied under the tutelage of two exponents of genre paintings, his father, Luis Simon Lassalle, and Pierre Edouard Frère. Frère’s representations of the incidents of daily life earned him popular acclaim, as the art critic Albert de la Fizelière attested in 1864: ‘Edouard Frère has for a long time being a favourite of collectors and one of the artists whose work brings high prices in the sales rooms.’ He received Salon medals in 1851, 1852 and 1853, as well as the Légion d’honneur after the 1855 Exposition Universelle. Cabaillot-Lassalle frequently exhibited at the Salon between 1864 and 1889.
However, while Frère was primarily interested in the activities of children, Cabaillot-Lassalle specialised in painting domestic genres scenes chronicling the lives of middle-class women, as his works Woman in the Garden (1873) and At the Bird Seller’s (1873) exemplify. Our painting, Elegant woman looking at herself in a mirror, introduces the onlooker into the privileged, secluded life of educated women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Depicting a woman inspecting herself in a mirror before going out, the painting is illustrative of the strict social conventions within which the bourgeoisie lived. Far removed from the world of work, middle-class females were expected to remain within the confines of the home, embodying the ideal of the lady of leisure. Cabaillot-Lassalle has positioned his subject in the corner of a room, with the mirror and dado angled to create the impression that she is being forced further back into the recess of the room. In doing so, the artist may be commenting on the woman’s confinement or place within the domestic sphere, an idea reinforced by the notion of domesticity suggested by the presence of a dog sitting at her feet.