At The Dressing Table, 1909, by Zinaida Serebriakova.

If you were asked to write from memory what you can remember of a painting in words, it is quite a task, but quite a revealing one, because it highlights the details you focussed upon. I for example remember a young woman in her early twenties, sat before a mirror, she is attending to her hair. The painting is exuberant, even cheerful in its characterisation of the sitter and in the choice of the palette. I got the impression of youth and joy of life. It was a portrait of optimism and above all confidence in being a woman. The other impression was that it seemed very modern despite being painted a century ago.

Now I am looking at the portrait. It is an autobiographical portrait – the sitter is the painter herself, Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967). Notice the use of white in the modelling of the face and in nearly every object. It is white that reflects back to us as the viewer and gives us here a sense of the brightness – look how the linen in the reflection is used to contrast and delineate her face and hair, how the planes of white lead into each other.

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