William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
Portrait of Mrs. C. (Lady with a White Shawl)
Oil on canvas
75 x 52 in. (190.5 x 132.1 cm.)
Joseph E. Temple Fund
There has been much speculation about the identity of the subject of this portrait, whom Chase described as "the perfect type of American womanhood." It has been suggested that she was Chase's wife or perhaps Emily Jewell Clark, a wealthy art collector. The same unnamed woman appears in several of Chase's other undated paintings of the period: "The Opera Cloak (Grand Rapids Museum of Art, Michigan), Portrait of a Lady in White (private collection), and "A Lady in Evening Dress" (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). One of the artist's favorite models during the early 1890s was Minnie Clark, also a frequent subject for the popular magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who used her features in creating his famous "Gibson Girl." Chase's use of only the subject's initial and a generic title for the Pennsylvania Academy's painting suggests a similar tendency to conceive of his portrait as an ideal type.
"Portrait of Mrs. C." was one of sixteen works by Chase shown in the annual exhibition of 1894 at the Pennsylvania Academy. The portrait was also shown abroad in Paris (1899 and 1900) and in Berlin (1908). in such exhibitions , Chase's work was often hung next to the society portraits of John Singer Sargent because both artists were adept at suggesting the suavity and aloofness of the upper class with their elegant costumes and haughty poses.