The provenance of the present bust is known since mid-19th century. It was mentioned in the collection of Charles Haas, an influential man known to have inspired the character of Charles Swann, in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time
, and for being Sarah Bernhardt's lover. The bust later appears in the collection of the Marquis de Ganay and his wife Emily, described as that of Anne-Adélaïde de Lignereux, daughter of a merchant-mercier who married François-Honoré-George Jacob-Desmalter, the famous cabinetmaker and close friend of Houdon. Before 1918, the bust was published several times as by Jean-Antoine Houdon. However, in the Marquise de Ganay posthumous sale, held in 1922, it was described as a presumed portrait of Mlle de Lignereux, attributed to Houdon.
A marble of this model in the collection of the Knight Stuers was published in 1909 as by Houdon (see F. Vitry, op. cit). According to Réaud, it would have previously been in the Wildenstein collection (cf L. Réaud, op. cit.). In the 1960s, another marble was exhibited in London, catalogued as 'by Houdon', by the Heim Gallery (see Conway Photographic Archive, B97 / 1873). Réaud also mentioned a Sèvres biscuit with General Mouchet, a descendant of Anne-Adélaïde. The current locations of both the marbles and the biscuit are unknown. Thus, the attribution of this model to Houdon was based on old publications without any mention of a known signed version. The features of our young girl, the treatment of her eyes, mouth and hair are closely comparable to other busts by Jean-Louis Couasnon, who was active in the circle of Houdon. Employed by the Menus Plaisirs since 1777, he exhibited at the Salon de la Correspondance in 1779 and 1785 and at the Louvres Salons, from 1795 to 1802. He excelled in making portraits of children, which were praised for their accurate likenesses and the softness of their features. In 1784, he modelled the bust of Alexandrine-Emilie Brongniart
, daughter of the prominent architect (Louvre Museum, inv. no. RF2822), a few years after Houdon's portrayals of her older brother and sister, Alexandre
(1777, Louvre Museum, inv. nos. RF1197 and RF1280). He modelled other portraits of children, including that of Charlotte Cruchy (1775, Musée Carnavalet) and François-Benoît-Fortuné of Pluvié
(Louvre Museum, inv. no. RF 2039). Couasnon also exhibited the terracotta Portrait of a Girl
at the 1779 Salon des Correspondances, together with another Young Girl
. Lastly, in the 1799 Salon, he exhibited the busts of Two Children
Beyond the classical conventions of commissioned portraits, this bust testifies to the new position of children within the society during the Age of Enlightenment, as promoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is related to the intimate portraits which were in vogue in the circle of Houdon. Her evanescent smile and the hint of melancholy in her eyes portray a thoughtful little girl, absorbed in her thoughts.