This portrait of Marie Cantacuzène, the companion and muse of the painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, breathes with dignity and melancholy. Her clothes are painted in solid black, except for the knotted ribbon and the veil that covers her hair, thrown into relief by a gentle play of light. The black accentuates the whiteness of her hands and face, whose treatment in full impasto emphasizes the depth and intensity of her gaze.
Here, black does not evoke mourning, but expresses the subject's psychology. The painter says, “This person is not a widow (…). Her spirit is genuine, very dignified, and charitable (…). Pensive people do not think cheerfully but, in this case, there is no immediate grief.”