Tuesday, April 19, 2005

great portraits #7

'Portrait of a Young Girl' by Petrus Christus, c1460

Another Flemish masterpiece, this time by Petrus Christus. 'Portrait of a Young Girl' was painted around 1460, and almost certainly influenced Vermeer's famous 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. All the reproductions show that the paint is now heavily cracked, but I can't help imagining how beautiful it must have been originally, with the skin perfectly smooth and the colours - especially the blue of her dress - more vibrant. I like the simplicity of the composition, but above all I like the sulky, impassive expression on the girl's face. Her averted gaze seems to mask a whole range of feelings - boredom, sadness, suspicion, dreaminess, reserve, self-consciousness; all the conflicting emotions we experience as we pass through the uncertainties of adolescence into adulthood. And I think this is exactly what girls today look like at that stage in their lives. To me, this fragility mingled with a sort of calm self-assurance is what gives the painting its power and durability.