New England Woman
After the success of "Les Derniers jours d'enfance" Cecilia Beaux spent several years in France studying at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colorossi. Besides her formal instruction, the artist spent a good deal of time working in Brittany, where she became increasingly interested in atmospheric effects. Upon returning to the United States, Beaux became one of the most sought-after portraitists in Philadelphia and New York. Painted the same year that she began teaching at the Academy, this portrait of Cecilia Beaux's second cousin Julia is an outstanding example of the artist's technique,reflecting both her facility with the figure and an atmospheric evocation of setting. Rather than a traditional portrait, the sitter's period costume evokes the idea of colonial America when nostalgia for the country's past was fashionable. But if Beaux pays tribute to the values of earlier days, the formal characteristics of the painting are up-to-the minute. The flattened, dramatic diagonal composition, bold passages of paint, and exploration of white tones are reminiscent of the highly decorative paintings of the Aesthetic Movement, particularly James McNeill Whistler. Like "New England Woman," some of Beaux's most compelling portraits are of relatives, whose familiarity doubtless allowed her more freedom to experiment than would a commissioned work.