Portrait of Miss L. (Angelica Hamilton Lawrence), William Merritt Chase, 1892

I absolutely love portraits of women. There are so many layers to them that any other kind of portrait seems to lack. Especially in older portraits like this one, there are all sorts of things to wonder about. Like did she want to be portrayed this way, and which parts of the portrait exist because of her input and not that of the painter or her father/husband? She was a New York society girl with a well-off family, but did she dress herself or did she have others do it for her? And my biggest question: why does her pinky linger at her mouth? It seems to be a pose representing deep thought and high status, but some part of me wishes she was doing it ironically.

Oil on canvas.

According to differing reports from Ancestry.com and Geni.com, she was between 16 and 19 when this portrait was painted. The white dress makes it seem as if it’s to commemorate her wedding to Frederick Philip Nash, but I think that probably came later, since the reasons for portraiture went well beyond event-marking by the late 1800s.

Her eyes are so deep-set that you nearly fall into the painting looking at them; they’re dark and round, contrasting with her long pale face and narrow nose. Only her hair styling keeps her from looking too doll-like– it’s a sophisticated up-do that continues the long vertical line of her body down the center of the canvas. Her head tilts back enough to invite us in, and even though her stance might seem pretentious, her face is soft and empty of judgement. 

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