Jean-François Portaëls was trained at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Later, he moved to Paris where he became a pupil of Paul Delaroche. It was under Delaroche that he developed an interest in oriental subjects, and in 1842 he embarked on an extensive tour of Spain, North Africa and the Holy Lands, returning to Europe in 1847. He achieved great success exhibiting paintings from his tour, and was subsequently appointed Professor, and later Director of his alma mater, the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Oriental subjects continued to dominate his work and he made a second journey to Morocco between 1870 and 1874.
The pearl necklace combines Portaëls' talent as a portraitist with his skill in depicting the sumptuous detail of Oriental costume. Here we see a Turkish lady dressed in fabrics of rich colour and shimmering texture, who is surrounded by and bedecked in precious jewels, gold and pearls. The pale glow of the pearls, which so fascinate the sitter, resonates against her skin and echo the shade of her veil. These subtle tones stand out against the vibrancy of her costume, emphasising the delicate purity of the necklace.