What can you tell me about this?
Bessie and Clara Stillman reportedly posed up to thirty times for Thayer to paint this portrait. They look very much alike (as sisters often do!) but their facial expressions and their gestures give us hints about their different personalities.
Both Bessie and Clara Stillman were artists in their own right, as well. Bessie Stillman would become known for her watercolors, while Clara Stillman painted landscapes. Thayer was known for his idealized depictions of women, and this is a good example!
How did the sisters feel about the painting?
Thayer said that they posed for him 30 times for this painting!
Thayer's biographer said that he went up to view this portrait in an exhibition after Thayer's death, and saw two "elderly women" also looking at it. They turned out to be the Stillman sisters, and he could see the resemblance even decades later!
Thanks I appreciate your help and scholarship.
Can you tell me about the subjects?
The women in Thayer's painting are Clara Frances Stillman and Bessie Gray Stillman. They were sisters of a financier who was an associate of the artist.
These women posed often for Thayer in 1883 and Clara mentioned the sittings in her diaries, so we have some good firsthand reports about the work! Clara was older than Bessie and Bessie left the painting to this museum in 1935.
I'm interested in the history of the repair work on this painting.
I don't have a full report of the conservation on this painting immediately available, but I do know of a few factors to consider:
When a canvas like this get folded, like it looks like this one did, it damages the paint surface in a way that it cannot be repaired unless the old paint is entirely removed and the canvas is repainted. This sort of paint replacement is almost never done.
Conservators try to strike a balance between restoration and keeping as much of the original artwork intact as possible.
I see the fold line and definitely understand the repairs there. The fingers on the hips is what distracts me, especially since the other fingers are so subtly detailed.
I see what you're saying! That's actually original to the painting. It seems that Thayer himself struggled with that hand. I do know that this was a relatively casual painting that Thayer made of two of his students rather than a more elaborately finished commissioned work.
I would have never guessed, fascinating! And thank you.