William Adolphe Bouguereau was very much a traditionalist when it came to painting, and this delightful, formally executed piece is of a piece with, what for him was a style drawn from the grand history of academic painting in the classical style.
Portrait of Mlle Brissac is a typically Bouguereauvian portrait. The titular Mlle is seated, with her head slightly inclined in a favourable aspect (a manner one sees even in modern day photos of models). She is gazing directly at the viewer in a manner suggesting a cool and composed intelligence, a trait further suggested by the open book upon her lap. Formally dressed in white, signifying purity, but with a sash of a rich blue to offset it this is a portrait of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, but one who is confident and ready to face it.
The blue is a significant use of colour within this portrait, which is otherwise executed in muted tones. Mlle Brissac sits on a dark yellow sofa, against a black background. In this context, the blue picked out against the whiteness of her dress serves not only to highlight its radiance, but also to enrich the paleness of her skin, which would otherwise seem lost, as her bare arms and neck would disappear into the white dress. Bouguereau's skill is to use one small touch to bring the rest of the painting to life.
This skill was part of why Bouguereau was very much in demand as a portrait painter. Another reason was his ability to bring out the subjects inherent natural beauty without exaggeration, and this piece is a fine example of that. Mlle Brissac is beguilingly portrayed, her dark eyes and clear skin are highlighted by Bouguereau's sympathetic brush, her bone structure and lips are charmingly depicted.
Bouguereau was influenced heavily by the neoclassical tradition. Indeed, it was a copy of Raphael's "The Triumph of Galatea" which helped him gain the arts scholarship the Prix de Rome. Bouguereau was very much an admirer of traditional methods, and would work within them, working up to full oil paintings from many sketches. It is this meticulousness which makes him a consummate portrait artist, and this portrait is a fine example of his skills.