This painting portrays Marie-Antoinette, Vigée Le Brun's most significant subject and patron, who stands with her body turned slightly to the right, facing the viewer with a look of quiet amusement. She holds a bundle of a rose and some leaves, which she ties together with a ribbon, as if she just picked them from the beautiful gardens of Versailles, as suggested by the rosebush, small patch of sky, and large tree in the background. Although this portrait meets the requirements of a royal painting, the queen's knowing smile implies that there is something more to the story.
The painting of Marie-Antoinette that we see today is actually a replacement for a scandalous work that was originally displayed at the artist's first Salon entry in 1783. The original painting depicted the queen in a simple chemise dress, without the restrictive corset, and her natural hair, slightly tousled, pulled back under a straw hat, instead of the refined blue silk and lace gown and required royal accoutrements. Additionally, she held a pink rose, which was interpreted as a symbol of her Habsburg identity, rather than symbolizing the wealth and grandeur of the luxurious royal gardens. After facing public outcry, it was promptly removed and replaced with the portrait we see here.
The intricate and luxurious textures of the queen's attire, from the crisp satin and delicate lace of her dress to the feathery puffs of her wig, signify her wealth, elegance, and royal status. The features of the Habsburg family are softened, as in all of Vigée Le Brun's portraits of the queen, producing an exceptionally flattering image. Her elongated neck, erect posture, and composed gaze all convey a sense of power. This is juxtaposed with the delicacy of her extended little finger, and the fact that she does not touch the rose directly at all. The brightness of her skin and sky-blue dress contrast with the darkness of the foliage and evening sky, giving her the appearance of being illuminated by a divine light.