This painting executed in black crayon by famous French artist who was a major figure of a realist movement. He is largely known for rejecting the Romanticism and appeal of the previous generation of painters. Usually he painted with oil, and Head of a Sleeping Bacchante is a rare case when he used black chalk, but also stumped, lifted and scratched the work to get the needed balance between lightness and darkness. Obviously, dark shadowy gray prevails in the painting but there is still sense of lightness and innocence in the subject matter of the work.
Talking a closer look at the individual portrayed it is interesting that it is a child or really young woman, according to the title of the artwork, it is Bacchancte, so the follower or admirer of Baccchus or Dionysus, the god of grape harvest and wine, consequently no celebration can go on without a remembering or praising of Bacchus. There is also another element that indicates the young girl’s esteem of Bacchus, it is a grape leaf crown. According to the Museum’s archive followers of Bacchus were the ‘revelers who lived lives of drunkenness and sexual abandon in the classical past’ (getty.edu) and the deep careless sleep implies that it is a young person sleeping after loud and rich celebration of the god. The eyes are closed and the lips are parted which indicates the state of sweet dreaming.
However, the painter was tending to realism and there is one element which leads to thinking that portrayed girl is actually a contemporary of the artist. ‘Scholars believe that the young woman depicted is actually one of Gustave Courbet's four sisters, Zélie’ (getty.edu) due to her costume, simple blouse with a little tie in front. Usually, Bacchante was painted naked or covered with rather rich and colorful clothes, with this painting the artist’s choice is inverted.
The choice of painting a girl in the dark shadows instead of a sunny day full of colors contributes to the sense of psychological complexity of the work. It is also denies the idealized representation of contemporary life or a plot from the past. Essentially, the choice is clear due to the state of sleep pictured in the middle of the night, but that makes the artist to spy upon the young girl in nocturnal time, so does the observer who is looking at the painting in the museum.
Looking at the painting viewer experiences the range of emotions, at first the eye is concentrated on the smooth lines of the figure, head and, especially, lips and eyes that absorb the looker-on into the soft and tender state of deep sleep. Later, looking for the clues about the origin of the figure the attention shifts to its crown of grapes and simple shirt that create a contrast between each other. After that the concentration changes to the technique of the work, that is interesting part, as the scratches and rough lines are clearly visible on the canvas. The artist probably put a lot of efforts scratching the face and neck of the Bacchante, as they catch the most of the light. The background is done less carefully and diligently, so the crosses, cuts and marks of the artist’s hand is wide, almost sweeping the painting.
"Head Of A Sleeping Bacchante (Getty Museum)". The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 May 2016.