The judgement of Jean-François Portaels' contemporaries was that he 'is and will remain the painter of everyday elegance and feminine grace' (Edmond-Louis de Taeye, Les artistes belges contemporains. Leur vie - leurs oeœuvres - leur place dans l'art, Brussels, 1894), and with hindsight it may be added that through his art and his directorship of the Royal Academy in Brussels he was a great influence on a whole generation of Belgian artists, including his student Théo van Rysselberghe (see lot 53).
Portaels was the first Belgian artist to paint exotic and Orientalist subjects at first-hand, travelling widely through Italy, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Judea, Spain, Hungary and Norway. He achieved great success exhibiting a series of portraits of beauties he had encountered during his travels, exemplified by the present lot, a portrait of a young woman in the traditional dress of Trieste.
Choosing the Rose probably dates from 1864, when Portaels visited Trieste, which was at the time a free port within the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The status of the city as a trading centre and its location on the Adriatic Sea, a meeting point between the East and West, gave it a cosmopolitan and exotic appeal which attracted the artist.