"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Alice Butt

This 1895 portrait of Alice Butt by James McNeill Whistler hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Little is known about this painting's subject, whom Whistler identified as “a little child called ‘Alice Butt’ —charming— quite Italian in type.” Set against a red background, Alice Butt is noteworthy for her disheveled hair and full, red lips; she looks directly at the viewer.
In the 1890s, Whistler often toured London's poorest neighborhoods in search of engaging subjects to paint. He was particularly drawn to young children, whose innocent faces and tattered clothing appealed to the artist's sense of the picturesque. The result was a series of full-face bust studies of young street children, of which Alice Butt —a vivid and adeptly painted portrait— is an outstanding example.
Until the publication of the Whistler catalogue raisonné in 1980, this painting was identified only as “Head of a Girl.” The authors determined that it was one of two nearly identical portraits of the same sitter that had both been stolen from Whistler's Paris studio in the late 1890s; they speculated that the other, more spontaneously executed portrait may have been a preparatory study for this painting. Whistler eventually recovered the paintings in 1901 and they remained in his studio until his death two years later. -- NGA

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