Who is this woman depicted by Edwin Blashfield?

Edwin Blashfield - Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, 1889 Why is her hand open?

Obviously, this is a beautiful portrait of a woman who possesses both substance and the gift of apparent grace. She reclines on an elegantly covered chaise, wearing a flowing gown made from rich silks and lace, surrounded by objects indicating a comfortable existence: an ornate fan, a dainty purse on a long chain, a large gold bracelet, silver slippers. . .

The subject is Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, the wife of Edwin Blashfield, who created this portrait in 1889. As a couple, the Blashfields achieved much together, writing a history of Italian cities, as well as a version of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. Evangeline also published biographies and literary criticism. In 1916 she made a special mark by establishing a fund at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which still exists today!

One question. . .as one looks at the portrait, one is drawn to the subject’s left hand, held in an unnatural pose with palm up and fingers held slightly apart . . .  What could this mean? Was it a symbol for something shared only by Edwin and Evangeline?  Had she merely let the fan fall from her fingers?  Is there a hint of the personality of the subject beneath the trappings of her finery and poise? What are your thoughts?  Share them so that we may find out much more  . . .

Abraham Walkowitz’s Women

Abraham Walkowitz - Isadora Duncan, ca.1920

Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), "Isadora Duncan," ca.1920, watercolor and ink, 14 x 8 1/2 inches

Carol Lowrey

As readers familiar with American modernism are no doubt aware, Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965) drew widespread acclaim for his portrayals of the innovative dancer/choreographer Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), whom he met in Auguste Rodin’s Paris studio in 1906.  The most famous performer of her generation, Duncan shunned traditional ballet and instead created a unique mode of dance characterized by free-flowing, interpretive movement.  She would typically wear a fluid, translucent gown––adapted from Greek antiquity––that allowed for unimpeded motion, and she would perform on a darkened stage with only a plain curtain for a backdrop. Walkowitz had never seen anything like it; as he later explained: “She didn’t dance according to rules . . . Her body was music.  It was a body electric, like Walt Whitman . . . Isadora is movement.  I watched her dances, and I never had her pose, I just watched the movement, that’s what makes the dance––the feeling, the movement, the grace.  That’s what I got.”  It’s not surprising that Duncan became Walkowitz’s muse: throughout his career he made over 5000 drawings and watercolors of the dancer based on performances he saw in 1906, 1909, 1915 and 1916, often depicting Isadora in an animated pose with her arms outstretched above her head (see left). He would typically conceive his subject in terms of lively gestural strokes (influenced by the example of Henri Matisse) that convey the spontaneity and idyllic spirit associated with Duncan’s style of dancing and inspired her incisive comment: “Walkowitz, you have written my biography in lines without words.” Read the rest of this entry »

Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy: A Portrait by William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase-Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy

William Merritt Chase (1849 - 1916), "Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy," ca. 1889, oil on canvas, 70 x 40 in.

Carol Lowrey

William Merritt Chase’s (1849-1916) sitters included many female performers, among them Minnie Maddern Fiske and Carmencita.  Spanierman Gallery’s current offerings include what is perhaps his finest portrayal of a member of New York’s theatrical world––namely, his colorful and very picturesque rendition of Elsie Leslie Lyde in the role of Little Lord Fauntleroy.  The story is by Frances Hodgson Burnett and describes the adventures of young Cedric Errol, who lived with his widowed mother in Brooklyn and, upon discovering that he is the grandson of an earl, goes to England to claim his inheritance.  When the play debuted at the Broadway Theatre in New York on December 3rd 1888, Chase was in the audience and was so taken with Lyde’s charms that he arranged to paint her portrait in his Tenth Street studio. Read the rest of this entry »

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