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Portrait of Mrs. Thomas R. Proctor

On view

Portrait of Mrs. Thomas R. Proctor

Artist: Irving R. Wiles (American, 1861 - 1948)

Date: 1906
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 44 x 36in. (111.8 x 91.4cm)
Signed: Upper left: 'Irving R. Wiles 1906'
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 117
Label Text
This portrait of the fifty-four-year-old Maria Proctor was painted fifteen years after she and Thomas were married. Wiles, who was born in Utica, was one of a select group of fashionable, turn-of-the-century American painters like William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and J. Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917) who enjoyed considerable notoriety as portraitists.

The artist used a wealth of pictorial details to denote Maria's social status and refinement. She is shown seated in an elegant, Hepplewhite-style, shield-back armchair. Her fashionable two-part dress features a mono-bosom bodice of silk damask that is fronted with a chiffon panel. The bodice is ornamented at the neck and sleeves with lace that could have been hand or machine made, and is gathered at the waist with a sash. Maria's separate damask split skirt featured what is likely a chiffon underskirt at the center.

The flamboyant passages of creamy white and gray paint that Wiles used for the folds of Maria's bodice and skirt recall the brushstrokes that his contemporary, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the leading portraitist of his generation in both the United States and Europe, used when he painted fabric. Maria is posed in an outdoor setting against an indistinct foliage background that is rendered in warm colors reminiscent of the tonalities favored by the 18th-century English portraitist, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), whose works were extraordinarily popular in the United States during the Gilded Age. The book in Maria's lap and the evening primrose flowers on the table next to her allude to her education and refinement. According to the 19th century's "language of flowers" the evening primrose signifies "silent love."

The formality of Maria's demeanor is reinforced by the presence of the purse hanging from her waist, an unusual detail in formal portraits of this era. Its decorative beadwork (or embroidery) was depicted with painterly flourishes that are reminiscent of the brushwork in 17th-century European portraits by Frans Hals (ca. 1581-1666) and Diego Velásquez (1599-1660) that Wiles saw on his travels to Holland and Spain several years before he painted this work.

Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).