Over the course of his entire career, Brancusi is thought to have executed no more than two hundred paintings, watercolors, and drawings. Of these, forty-five or fifty--around twenty-five percent of his total output as a draughtsman--are portraits of women. Sidney Geist has written an elegant homage to this small body of work:
These...are, almost entirely, a sheer indulgence in beauty--the beauty of women and children on the one hand, and on the other, of the line marks and designs that the pen, pencil or crayon may produce. Brancusi's technique with these tools is frank, inventive, playful; he is alert to the subject before him, yet not constrained to dutiful representation. Thus, he drew for pleasure, and his pleasure was often an act of homage. Given an attractive woman who was also a willing model, he would run off a string of studies...
Brancusi's line--cursive, sweeping, enmeshed, embedded in monochrome wash, or plain on the page--can be said to continue, certainly in its grace and freshness of touch, some of the qualities of Rodin. Seen against Rodin's broad range of expression, Brancusi seems content to charm by his gentle subjects and the muted style of their rendition: the drawings are informed by the same "pure joy" he attributed to his sculpture. If Brancusi lacks the French master's evident fire, he is himself master of a new serenity.
"There are too many lines," said Brancusi, and he did not add greatly to their sum. The few he left weigh lightly on their fragile supports. Their diversity is that of a quick mind reacting to a present occasion with wit, grace and largesse. (S. Geist, Brancusi: The Sculpture and Drawings, New York, 1975, pp. 31-33 and 36)
Portrait de femme is part of a series of images of a young woman in profile, her gaze cast downward; in addition to the present work, there exist at least three drawings, one watercolor and one other oil painting of this composition. Although Brancusi rarely, if ever, made paintings and drawings as preparatory studies for his sculpture, the approach to form in his two-dimensional works is entirely consistent with the structural vision which informs his marbles and bronzes; works like Portrait de femme show the same stylization, the same simplification of morphology, which is the hallmark of his sculpture. Moreover, the angle of the head in the present work and in related images clearly recalls Brancusi's celebrated sculpture Princess X, a work which the artist himself once described as follows: "It is 'Woman,' the very synthesis of Woman. It is the eternal female of Goethe, reduced to her essence" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Paris, 1995, p. 138). This description could easily apply to Portrait de femme as well.