Black gouache and brush and gray wash, over black chalk and graphite, heightened with white gouache
Support: Green laid paper
Sheet: 41.3 x 48.3 cm (16 1/4 x 19 in.); Secondary Support: 43.6 x 52.1 cm (17 3/16 x 20 1/2 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1980.91
The ritual seen here, in which women cut their hair and offer it to a god, is rarely depicted in the visual arts.
The leading landscape painter of the late 18th century, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes was also an important theoretician whose book Elements of Practical Perspective influenced generations of French artists who followed. In the book, the artist described two ways of envisioning nature: "seeing it as it is," and "seeing it as it could be." He preferred the latter, believing that it demanded more of the imagination than merely copying the natural world. The perfection of the setting in this drawing reflects the noble, classical subject: three maidens cutting their hair and offering it on an altar to a river god.
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