The painting shows the one-time mistress of Louis XV in the last year of her life. Born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson in 1721, she married in 1741 and became royal mistress and Marquise de Pompadour four years later. She was a patron of the arts and letters and a leader of fashion who exercised considerable influence on the public policy of France.
The canvas is signed and dated on the work-table as begun in April 1763. The head, painted on a rectangle of canvas inserted into the painting, was presumably taken from life, and the rest of the picture completed in May 1764, the month after the death of Madame de Pompadour. Drouais's painting is the last of numerous portraits of the sitter by some of the best-known painters of the day, including Boucher and Carle van Loo.