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Portrait of a Musician

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Portrait of a Musician

oil on canvas
32 in. x 25 3/4 in. (81.28 cm x 65.41 cm)
Museum Purchase: Ralph W. Fracker Fund, 1973.14

Pauline Auzou


Portrait of a Musician is a half-length portrait of a seated male figure, resting his elbow on an open piano near several sheets of slightly rolled manuscript music. The inkwell and quill pen suggest that the arrival of the viewer has diverted his attention from writing either the music or the lyrics. The light, coming from the right of the picture, highlights the top of the feather, his facial features, and his prominent copper-colored ring. It does not manage to illuminate the rather shallow and plain space against which he is portrayed.

Context and Analysis

French artist Pauline Auzou, born in 1775, was one of several successful women artists of her era. Women artists had long been excluded from the classrooms of the Académie, the display rooms of the Salon, and the professional workspaces and residences given to artists at the Louvre. In the years following the French Revolution of 1789, however, women artists gained new opportunities. Many male artists began to open their studios to female students. In 1791 the Salon was opened to all artists, whether Académie members or not, and in 1793 the Académie itself was abolished. Only three women artists exhibited at the Salon in 1789, while fifty exhibited in 1806. 1

Auzou was of the age to take advantage of these new opportunities. She first exhibited at the Salon of 1793 and continued to do so regularly until about 1817, winning a first prize at the Salon of 1806. Most of her pictures were either portraits or genre paintings, although some portrayed subjects drawn from either classical or French history. In addition to private patronage, like other artists of her day she received patronage from the government. For twenty years she ran a studio for female students.

This portrait is typical of what is often called the Neoclassical style of French art, in accordance with the interest of the late 1700s and early 1800s in classical antiquity. In addition to some “antique” elements, such as the ring that seems to show a classical figure, portraits such as this one reflected the “good taste,” or bon gout, of the day. Good taste emphasized a flattering yet recognizable view of the face, simple yet fashionable clothes, and a pose that demonstrated the character and interests of the sitter, yet avoided distractions. 2This portrait fulfills all these criteria in its physical specificity, simple composition, and the inclusion of a few, strategically placed objects, which signal the sitter’s interests or profession.


Auzou’s portrait is part of a long tradition of depicting men with the trappings of their profession, declaring this aspect of their lives as an important and identifying feature of their public representation and self-identification. Other male portraits in the Currier collection from this same time period include John Singleton Copley’s John Greene (Currier, 1935.4 ) and Thomas Ball’s sculpture of Daniel Webster (Currier, 1996.4). The tradition continued with works of photographers, such as Gary Samson’s Grant Drumheller, Durham, New Hampshire (Currier, 1998.8), and grew to include portraits of professional women, such as Francesco Scavullo’s Natalia Makarova (Currier, , 1984.119)

Written by Melissa Geisler Trafton

1 Oppenheimer 2005, 6.
2 Oppenheimer 2005, 24.


Cameron, Vivian Penney. “Portrait of a Musician by Pauline Auzou.” Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin (1974): 1–17.

Oppenheimer, Margaret A. The French Portrait: Revolution to Restoration. Northampton, MA: Smith College Museum of Art, 2005.

1975 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Salute to Women." Nov. 14 - 30.

1976 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Town and Country: American Portraits from the Currier Collection c. 1800-1860." Oct. 16 - Nov. 21.

1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.

1995 Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery, Keene State College, Keene, NH, "Selections of Figurative Art from the Collection of the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 16 - Dec. 3.

Herner Wengraf Ltd./Old Master Galleries Ltd., London
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1973

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