frontal upper torso portrait of a woman with reddish hair, dark, high necked dress with white neckpiece and white front ruffle and red band; woman; portrait; costume/uniform
This painting of the Irish wife of Whistler’s friend was rendered rapidly in a narrow range of subdued colors. It was one of many paintings he executed in the decade of the 1870s, when he was particularly concerned with portraiture. Though the bust format was, for him, atypical, Mrs. Lewis Jarvis is fully representative of his highly aesthetic, consciously distilled style.
Rendered on a rough, irregular canvas, the sitter’s likeness never fully covers the surface. Instead, her image seems to hover, faint and thin, stained onto the fiber instead of being painted. The hues, low in tone, range from the light coppery green of her dress to the pale lavender-gray of the background. Here, Mrs. Lewis Jarvis’s form is calm, restrained, and iconic. Though she confronts the viewer directly, it is impossible to fully meet her gaze. This effect is accentuated by Whistler’s burnished gold-leaf frame that further quiets the fleeting, wan image within.
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