Cecilia Beaux had the opportunity to view Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black, no. 1: Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1871) when it visited the Pennsylvania Academy in the fall of 1881, and it seems (to me, at least) that the asymmetrically-balanced composition must have lodged itself in her lively eye, only to be echoed two years later in this canvas. Here, though, the somber grays, black and isolated, aging mother have been replaced with the more natural palette befitting a young mother holding a squirming three year old on her lap.
We are looking at a double portrait of Beaux's sister (and only sibling) Aimée Ernesta ("Etta") Drinker, née Beaux (1852-1939), and first-born nephew Henry ("Harry") Sandwith Drinker (1880-1965), sitting amidst family heirlooms atop a lush Oriental carpet. This ambitious painting marked the start of Beaux's International fame. She exhibited it first at the American Art Association Prize Fund in 1885, and then at the Pennsylvania Academy's annual exhibition that same year. There, it won the Mary Smith Prize for "best painting by a woman resident of Philadelphia"--the first of many, many prizes that Beaux's work would go on to garner over her career.
By happy circumstance, a friend of Beaux's was headed towards Paris and cajoled her into allowing Les Derniers... to go, too, to be entered in the 1887 Salon. Well-received there, the canvas eventually returned home with any number of French exhibition labels affixed to it. The success of her painting gave Beaux the impetus to go and study in France, herself.
Side note: the donor in the credits, Cecilia Beaux Saltonstall, née Drinker (b. 1917) is the daughter of that darling little boy, Harry, the granddaughter of Etta and the grand-niece of Cecilia Beaux.
About the Show:
With nearly 100 oil paintings, works on paper and decorative objects drawn from a variety of public and private collections, Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter seeks to place noted Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts alumna, professor, and Philadelphia native Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) in a new position in American art history.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta: May 12-September 9, 2007
Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington: September 29, 2007-January 6, 2008
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia: February 2-April 13, 2008