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© Estate of the artist

Lady in Gray, 1889

Artist: Edward A. Bell, American, 1862 - 1953

Medium: Oil on canvas

Painting: 76 1/8 x 49 1/2 in. (193.4 x 125.7 cm)
Frame: 80 3/8 x 54 3/8 in. (204.2 x 138.1 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of the Artist

Object Number: 33.1

Copyright: © Estate of the artist

Not on view

Edward A. Bell, Long Island, New York, 1933

Lady in Gray, Edward Bell’s most celebrated work, was painted during his ten-year residency in Munich. A native New Yorker, Bell went abroad in 1881 and studied at the Bavarian Royal Academy. He was trained in the Munich style of painting that favored realistic portraiture and historical scenes rendered with thick brushstrokes in warm brown tones, derived from Baroque masters such as Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals. Bell’s early work from this period reflects this influence, as well as that of William Merritt Chase, also a Munich graduate, who was Bell’s instructor at New York’s Art Students League from 1879 to 1881.

 

The majority of Bell’s work is figurative; many of his later paintings depict graceful female subjects. These women, elegantly dressed and set in decorative interiors that often include objets d’art, are similar to the romantic style and subject matter of Belgian painter Alfred Stevens, who also inspired Chase. In contrast, Lady in Gray, with its simple draped background, fur rug, life-size format, and narrow tonal range, correlates more closely with James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862).1 Bell’s young model, gazing wide-eyed at the viewer, is portrayed unpretentiously in a plain gray blue dress before a gray background of nearly the same value. The plush white rug rendered in thick feathery strokes accentuates the dark hemline of the dress, while the flesh tones, ocher hat, and pink ribbon and flowers provide subtle contrast. The painting’s cooler and lighter palette was a departure from that of the Munich school, but the artist’s broad, textured brushstrokes and realistic interpretation of the subject still reflect his Munich training. The title, which includes the predominant color scheme of the work, is also a Whistlerian trait.

 

This portrait depicts a seventeen-year-old music conservatory student who later became a successful concert singer, but was killed during the post World War I riots in Munich. The painting received silver medals at both the Bavarian Royal Academy Exposition and the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889. It was also included in the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville in 1897.

 

1 Lacey Taylor Jordan in Linda Merrill, After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting (Atlanta, Georgia: High Museum of Art, 2003), pp. 142-143.