22 Items in this Learning Collection

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Figure of a Girl in Blue (portrait of Miss Minnie Clark)

Accession Number

Figure of a Girl in Blue (portrait of Miss Minnie Clark)

Thomas Wilmer Dewing

Object Creation Date
circa 1892

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

29 5/16 x 36 3/8 in. (74.3 x 92.39 cm);29 5/16 x 36 3/8 in. (74.3 x 92.39 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Mr. Raymond C. Smith

Label copy
March 28 2009
The sitter in this evocative portrait is Minnie Clark, the celebrated Irish-American woman who became the original model for the “Gibson Girl,” a standard of American beauty in the 1890s. Dewing specialized in paintings of elegant female figures in minimally rendered settings, usually lost in reverie before some object of beauty. His paintings are often dominated by a single color and infused with a diffuse, gentle light. Here Clark is presented in a space devoid of anecdotal detail, which focuses the viewer’s attention entirely on her attenuated and ethereal—though also subtly eroticized—form.
The painting’s distinctive frame was created for the picture by the prominent American architect Stanford White (1853–1906). White, a close friend and associate of Dewing, custom fitted almost all of his paintings with gilded frames. He also introduced Dewing to patrons, including the influential collector Charles Lang Freer, who shared Dewing’s taste for images of pure and noble women. Freer commissioned Dewing to create paintings specifically for his home in Detroit, which Dewing also helped to decorate. The artist, who preferred to exhibit his paintings in environments specially created for them, was even flown to Detroit to help pick colors to complement his paintings.

Subject matter
This work is typical of many of Dewing’s paintings, depicting young, fine-boned, elegant women wearing the highest fashions of the day amid a sparse background and executed in muted tones of blues and grays lending to the overall mood of the piece. The painting is a portrait of Miss Minnie Clark, a 28-year-old working-class, Irish immigrant, who worked as an artist’s model in turn-of-the-century New York. She was in reasonable demand, and was considered to be very beautiful and the picture of youthful vigor, but in reality she was in poor health and could not afford the medicines she needed. She was a widow, and she modeled because she had no other skills with which to support her two children. Eventually Minnie married an architect and vanished into the American middle class.

Physical Description
Portrait of a woman with dark hair and fair skin seated in a chair wearing a blue dress amid a sparse background of blues, greens, and browns; her body is positioned at an angle towards the right, while she looks directly out at the viewer.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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chairs (furniture forms)
figures (representations)
women (female humans)

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& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved

On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ AMH, 2nd floor ➜ 206 (Thomas H. and Polly W. Bredt Gallery)