Becky Sharp

Thomas Pollock Anshutz

In his lifetime, Anshutz was better known nationally as a teacher than as an exhibiting artist, yet he maintained a position of authority and respect in the Philadelphia art world throughout his career. Influenced by the stylistic tradition of Thomas Eakins, his former mentor and predecessor at the Pennsylvania Academy, Anshutz did not flatter his sitters but sought to convey personality as well as outward appearance. Such attention to temperament is apparent even in this "literary portrait," a study of a model in the guise of Becky Sharp, the scheming, social-climbing anti-heroine of William Makepeace Thackery's satirical novel "Vanity Fair." The model was, at one time, identified as Virginia Henderson, sister of Helen Henderson, and Academy alumna who wrote the first published history of the institution and is the subject of both a pastel and an oil portrait by Anshutz in the Academy's collection. Later assessments agree the model was more likely Katherine Rice. This piece displays Anshutz's great affinity for the pastel medium, which he adopted late in his career. He even made his own colors in order to achieve desired effects. The work was exhibited in the Academy's third watercolor annual, in 1906, where it won the Temple Prize and was purchased for the collection. In 2001, the Academy acquired a pastel study for this work, likely executed by Anshutz as a classroom demonstration.
Date of Birth
late 19th century
Pastel on canvas
42 1/8 x 34 in. (106.9975 x 86.36 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
Temple Purchase