The Art of the Love Letter

These paintings demonstrate the proliferation of women’s love letter, and its impact on artistic production, during the Enlightenment. 


Jean Honoré Fragonard, The Love Letter, ca. early 1770s. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jules Bache Colletion 1949. Accession Number 49.7.49. In this image, Fragonard emphasizes the genre of letter writing over the presentation of the individual. The soft colors, light, and brushwork, paired with details of folding garments, lace, and pink flowers, emphasize the delicate femininity of the scene as a woman sits with her letters.


Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, The Comtesse de Cérès, ca. 1784. Oil on canvas. Toledo Museum of Art. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. The Comtesse de Cérès gazes out at the viewer, as if interrupted in her private space while writing a letter. She curves the paper toward her body, shielding its private contents from the viewer. The image reinforces the privacy of women’s writing spaces during the Enlightenment.


Adelaide Labille-Guiard, Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1787. Oil on canvas. Musée des Beaux Arts. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Labille-Guiard eliminates detail in the background to emphasize the intimate relationship between the woman, her garments, and her letter.