bust portrait of a middle aged woman turned one-quarter toward her proper right, head slightly toward proper left, with brown hair, wearing dark square necked dress, leaning against plain wall; woman; portrait; costume/uniform
Edith Mahon, (born London 1863; to the US in 1897; died London 1923) an accomplished pianist, emigrated from England to Philadelphia before the turn of the century. She played numerous times at the Eakins's home, and the artist inscribed the portrait, "To my friend Edith Mahon," on the back of the canvas. In its poignant depiction of melancholy it is considered one of the artist's finest works. Mrs. Mahon was forty when Eakins painted her, although she appears somewhat older. The artist's widow recalled her as having suffered from "great unkindness," and it is perhaps a sense of fundamental sadness that Eakins sought to capture. She appears lost in thought, her face pale and eyes reddened. Although she did not elaborate, Mrs. Mahon later stated that she did not like the portrait, but sat for it and accepted it as a favor to the artist. Her reaction to Eakins's work was one shared by many who sat for him, as he never wavered in his attempts to mirror the characters of his sitters--respectfully, if not always charitably--in their outward appearance. Additional writing on this object can be found at
Paper + People the Cunningham Center Blog.