Madame X
Madame X

Decollete is French for a woman’s neck, shoulders, back and chest.

The word’s origin is French decolleter: to cut out the neck (of a dress), from collet collar. Or to cut out the part of a dress covering a woman’s neck, shoulders, back and chest.

Googling the term ‘decollete‘ brings up pages of Christian Louboutin decollete pumps, as in shoes. How did the term decollete come to mean sexy shoes?

This painting sat unnamed on my drying rack for months. Naming paintings is either easy or painful; there’s no in-between. When it became imperative I make a choice, I fell back on my French, purveyor of the beautiful words: cherie, etoile, amour, papillon, coueru, bisous. They roll off the tongue.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette

Having a long neck is considered by many races to be a symbol of beauty, and women go to great lengths to lengthen their necks. I can’t imagine such a thing, but none of the women in paintings I have seen, from the Renaissance to today, have short necks. There is an ethereal beauty in the neck of a woman for the artist. As there was for this artist.

There’s no lack of breathtaking paintings of women with long necks. John Singer Sargent’s Madame X resulted in a scandal over the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon, and contributed to the artist’s failure to build a career as a portrait painter in France, although it did help him in Britain and America.


Gustav Klimt painted Judith, the biblical heroine who seduced and then decapitated General Holofernes to save her home from destruction by the enemy. The subject was quite popular from the Middle Ages on, as an example of virtue overcoming vice.

French painter Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun painted the French queen Marie Antoinette numerous times, including a small minarette for the dauphin, so he could see what his bride looked like. (They didn’t have photographs back then.) We all know what eventually happened to the Queen’s neck.

So many necks, so much mystery.  My painting has none of that intrigue. It has just one necessary element; decollete.

Thus, I’ve named her ‘Decollete.’ The neck.

2012 | 30 x 40 | oil | available

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Decollete, original oil painting by Marie Wise