Thomas Wilmer Dewing
Oil on wood panel
Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1896.33a
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Dewing employed Julia Baird as the model for The Carnation
, painting her as one might render a still life. This detachment was not meant as an adverse commentary on the role of women. Instead, he intended the work to evoke a state of mind as well as present an attractive image. Dewing had earlier painted figures with blue, yellow, and pink dresses. Here he emulated the white girls of Whistler. Another source for this pose was likely the recently discovered second-century terra-cotta statuettes found near the Greek town of Tanagra. Linear and elegant, they inspired Whistler, who kept photographs of them in an album for reference. These little sculptures inspired Dewing and Freer as well. Accordingly, a famous writer at the time called The Carnation
"a modern Tanagra figure," thereby identifying a mere model with the classical past.
The queenly woman, her slender neck echoing the long-stemmed carnation she holds, contemplates, perhaps, the passing of time and fading of beauty. Striking a similar attitude in front of his completed work, the artist seems immersed in the same sort of sad reverie.
Quotation from Sadakichi Hartmann, History of American Art, vol. 1 (Boston: L. C. Page and Co., 1902), 307