A consummate draftsman, Jean-Baptiste Greuze made many vivid, expressive large-scale head studies in red chalk, his favorite medium for drawing. Here he only quickly indicated the woman's cap and hood, concentrating his attention on the emotional and expressive qualities of her haggard face with its furrowed brow, penetrating eyes, and parted lips.
Greuze made this drawing as a preparatory study for the figure of a woman kneeling at her husband's bedside in one of his best-known paintings, La Dame de Charité, completed in 1775 at the height of his career. Greuze's narrative paintings were highly theatrical, with facial expression and gesture conveying the story. As seen here, Greuze usually heightened the drama by depicting his figures at the peak of emotion.