Alexander Roslin (1718-1792), The Artist and his Wife, Pastellist Marie Suzanne Giroust (1734–1772), Portraying Henrik Wilhelm Peill 1767, Oil on canvas, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Alexander Roslin was a Swedish portrait painter who lived and worked in Paris. In this double (or triple!) self-portrait, the artist depicts himself, greeting the viewer with a smile and gesturing towards his wife, Marie Suzanne Giroust. Sixteen years Roslin's junior, Giroust is pictured wearing a robe à la française in mint green silk and cream-colored lace and holding the tools of her trade (1).
Giroust specialized in pastel, a particularly popular medium in the eighteenth century, prized for the soft, powdery effects of color. In Roslin's painted portrait, Giroust appears to be overshadowed (and slightly put-out!) by her charismatic husband; yet in a similar pastel self-portrait, now in a private collection (pictured below) Giroust pictures herself fully in command of her craft. Giroust was admitted to the French Royal Academy in 1770, a few months after Anne Vallayer Coster; yet her professional career was short lived, as she died of breast cancer the following year (2).
In the Nationalmuseum painting, Roslin depicts his wife at work on a portrait of Henrik Wilhelm Peill, a Swedish aristocrat who visited Paris in the 1760s. It is thought that Roslin's oil painting (and Giroust's pastel portrait of Peill, now lost) were intended as "going away" gifts to Peill upon his return to Sweden. The painting remained in the possession of Peill's descendants, before entering a different private collection; it was acquired by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm in 2013 for a reported 2.2 million euros (3).
For more on the popularity and materiality of pastels in eighteenth-century Europe, see the two videos below. The first documents an exhibition hosted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Pastel Portraits: Images of Eighteenth-Century Europe), featuring Met curator Katharine Baetjer and paper conservator Marjorie Shelley. The second describes the difficulties preserving these delicate works on paper today.
(1) Roslin, The Artist and his Wife Marie Suzanne Giroust painting the Portrait of Henrik Wilhelm Peill, 1767, Nationalmuseum Online Catalogue Entry. <http://collection.nationalmuseum.se/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=154624&viewType=detailView>
(2) Neil Jeffares, "ROSLIN, Mme Alexander, née Jeanne-Suzanne Giroust," Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 (last updated December 2015), <http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/RoslinMS.pdf>
(3) Didier Rykner, "Two Paintings by Alexandre Roslin for Versailles and Stockholm," The Art Tribune, December 6, 2013. <http://www.thearttribune.com/Two-Paintings-by-Alexandre-Roslin.html>