Isabey helped to popularize portrait drawings in late-eighteenth France with a style he developed about 1789, inspired by English mezzotint engravings. His drawings, like mezzotints, emphasized tonal gradations rather than linear contours. They became known as dessins noirs (black drawings) or dessins à manière noire (drawings in the black style) after the French term for a mezzotint, gravure à la manière noire (engraving in the black style). The name may also have reflected the fact that they were drawn in black chalk or conté crayon (artificial chalk).
Portrait of a Young Woman Seated at a Window shows Isabey’s technical mastery of the medium’s possibilities. The flat planes of the curtain and parapet are softened by the dark foliage of the trees seen through the ironwork and the asymmetry of the Venetian blind. Traces of the blinds are just visible beneath the left edge of the curtain, suggesting that the artist may have moved the curtain while composing the work, possibly to prevent the sun from backlighting the sitter’s face or to better set off the lace mantilla.
Black and white chalk
Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund, the Diane Allen Nixon, class of 1957, Fund, and the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund
ID Number: SC 1999:31