As was the case for most of the students at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century, Paul Jourdy's training entailed a long period of obscurity. After enrolling in 1820 this pupil of Jérôme Langlois and Guillaume Lethière did not leave until 1834; he emerged with the Rome Prize, but only after numerous failed attempts due more to excessive numbers at the school and in the competition than to lack of skill. As a resident at the Villa Medici in Rome, Jourdy developed a more personal style under the then director, Ingres. The obligation to paint nudes for his submissions to the Academy in Paris suited his obvious interest in the genre: however, going counter to the male nude tradition for these submissions, and encouraged by Ingres's similar inclination, he almost systematically turned to the fair sex for his models. The outcome for his third-year submission in 1837 was Woman Putting on Her Earrings.
The current whereabouts of that work are not known, but our reduced copy – identified thanks to a modello in the Musée Ingres in Montauban – gives an idea of its merits. Rejecting the classical imagery governing the exercise, Jourdy shows a modern woman about to put on her clothes: her dress and a string of pearls are laid out on the bed, and their tactile proximity increases our intimacy with the model. In an interior devoid of all ornament, there is nothing to distract the eye. The treatment of the anatomy is the purest Ingres: the volumes are simplified, the skin tones blend in perfectly and the curves are celebrated; and if the narrowness of the waist does not respect the classical canon it is because the artist has made no attempt to hide the physical deformation caused by the corset. This did not provoke the disapproval of the members of the Academy: "The drawing of the figure is tasteful, the pose graceful and simple, and the limbs well modelled." (for this quote and the following see the Literature above) The only misgiving had to do with the colours, whose "tints were purplish and ponderous." A defect that has been remedied in our version.
Shown at the Salon in 1841, Woman Putting on Her Earrings was generally well received: "The tone may be brownish," wrote the critic in L'Artiste, "but the pose is graceful and the drawing subtle, elegant and accurate; this is more than a study, for the body brims with sensuality and the face with character." The lifesize painting has been lost from sight since it was acquired by King Willem II of the Netherlands when the Salon closed, but this reduced copy points to one of the finest female nudes of the Ingres school, anticipating even such works by the master as Vénus anadyomène (Venus Anadyomene; 1808–1848, Chantilly, Musée Condé) and La Source (The Spring).
Collection of an ambassador until 2018.