The Lady with the Veil is one of the Nationalmuseum’s best loved paintings. The woman in the portrait is partially hidden by a black silk veil. Beneath the veil she is dressed for a special occasion in white lace and pink silk. During the 18th century, theatre was an important part of the life of the upper classes. Dressing up, disguising oneself and playing dramatic roles was a common pastime. The Lady with the Veil shows how one could dress up à la bolonaise – in the style of Bologna.
The woman is smiling in a tempting fashion yet she seems to want to remain secretive. She only shows part of herself. There are many anonymous portraits of women in collections around the world. Often they have been part of a pair of portraits of man and wife – so called pendant portraits. It is not unusual for such portraits to have become separated over the years. And since the influence of the women has been underestimated in writing the history of art, their names and identities have often been forgotten. For this reason, many of Roslin’s portraits now bear the title “Unknown Woman”. But the Lady with the veil is not one of these forgotten women. For she was Alexander Roslin’s wife: the French portrait artist Marie Suzanne Giroust.
Fans were not just a practical item for social gatherings. Fans could also be used for sending secret messages. There were numerous ways of holding, opening and closing fans. Each way meant something specific. The lady with the veil has folded her fan and is using it to stroke her cheek. This might mean: I love you! It was once the artist himself who received this message while he was painting his wife. Nowadays we are the recipients as we regard the painting and perhaps we let ourselves be seduced by the veiled woman…