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
Thomas Eakins painted this portrait of his friend, the English pianist Edith Mahon, in 1904. Eakins’s portraits, however, were underappreciated in his day, as Eakins sought to show his sitter as he saw them, “warts and all,” as the saying goes. Portraits in Eakins’s day usually covered up what were perceived as flaws, and endeavored to show the sitter in a somewhat idealized manner. Mrs. Mahon is depicted with a somewhat ruddy complexion and signs of aging around her nose and mouth. Her face likewise may hold some sadness or despair. While likely quite close to her actual appearance, Mrs. Mahon was not fond of the portrait, and she left it in the United States when she returned to Great Britain. Eakins’s truthfulness and uncompromising desire to depict his subject with near scientific precision, both physically and perhaps psychologically, is a hallmark of his work. These are also some of the reasons that Eakins did not enjoy wide popularity in his day, and why his fame is almost entirely posthumous.