La Toilette


The toilette, or la toilette, refers simply to the process of getting ready. By the mid-eighteenth century, Madame de Pompadour turned la toilette into a wildly popular public performance by receiving guests to watch the once private morning ritual–affirming the status of both the sitter and their audience. Spanning hours each morning, Madame de Pompadour’s toilette ritual was the most exclusive and coveted ticket in the court of Louis XIV. The performance consisted of several acts, beginning with the  preliminary toilette and ending with a few final touches of jewelry or maybe a patch, layers of powder and rouge in between.  The toilette table was a stage for Madame de Pompadour, a known arbiter of taste, to showcase the latest trends.

Annotated image of François Boucher’s painting of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, ca. 1750 with later additions. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 31 15/16 × 25 9/16 in (81.2 × 64.9 cm). Harvard Art Museums, bequest of Charles. E. Dunlap, 1966. Accession Number:1966.47.  Frame and framing mat removed. Annotated image by Eugenie Pron.

An homage to his long-time patron’s beauty, Francois Boucher’s painting of Madame de Pompadour serves as a road-map for almost every component of her famed toilette performance.