Charles Sprague Pearce lived in abroad most his life. Even though he married a French women and died in his beloved city of Auvers (Vincent Van Gogh’s Hometown), he still connected himself with Americans during his life. He became friends with expatriate artists like Paul Wayland Bartlett, the successful sculptor. Bartlett and Pearce actually exchanged a portrait and cast bronze of each other. Their friendship was strong and when the two men got married, their wives became friends as well. Pearce went on to paint several portraits of Mrs. Bartlett including this painting.
In 1872 Pearce was diagnosed with pulmonary disease that forced him to live in warm climates for the rest of his life. During the winter months of the 1870s Pearce and another young American painter, Frederick Arthur Bridgman whose works are in several museums across the country including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts went to Egypt. While painting oriental scenes, Pearce developed a great skill in drawing kaffiyeh. Kaffiyeh is the shawls or scarves that Egyptians wear to protect themselves from the incredible heat. His ability to draw kaffiyeh is displayed in this painting. The woman being painted is wearing a bow and a scarf and Pearce is able to display the women perfectly. Also, the personality of the woman that is given off in this painting is a technique that a contemporary commentator at the 1877 Salon in Paris explains when referring to one of Pearce’s portraits of a woman that won the gold medal. He explains how Pearce’s composition demonstrates a “certain superiority” for “the graceful inclination of the pose, the truthful restraint and soberness of flesh color, the solid handling and sound drawing, and correct but not labored finish, the clan revelation, frank, unforced and unaffected, of character” revealed “the thoughtfulness, judgment, vast knowledge, technical strength and repose of an accomplished painter.” Pearce’s skill in showing off the personality and character of his subjects is evident in this painting.
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