This sensitive portrait by Louise Bouteiller has been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. The daughter of an affluent planter in Santo Domingo, Bouteiller learnt her skills in painting alongside Pierre Bouillon, who was himself a pupil of Jacques-Louis David in Paris.
Painted in 1818, the portrait depicts the young Césarine de Houdetot, the Baronne de Barante. A friend of the artist, and a painter herself, she has been painted in an idyllic setting evoking the island of Mauritius, where she lived until she was four years old. Bouteiller herself was born in Haiti, and the two women's shared childhood memories of exotic landscapes are in evidence here.
Césarine de Houdetot poses casually in a white muslin dress, with an orange Indian shawl draped across her lower body and two scarves made of madras fabric tied around her waist and hair. She pauses, looking up from her reading of Paul et Virginie, a popular romantic novel of the period by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre set in Mauritius. In the background one can clearly recognise the church of Pamplemousses, where the lovers at the end of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's novel are buried, as well as where Césarine de Houdetot was baptised.