Emily Henderson Cowperthwaite
Oil on canvas
Gift of Emily Henderson Graves Jones, Granddaughter of the Sitter; P.2004.37
Irving Ramsey Wiles enjoyed a career as a successful society portraitist in the first decades of the twentieth century, working in a painterly style similar to that made popular by John Singer Sargent a decade earlier. After receiving initial art training from his father, Lemuel Maynard Wiles, he studied at the Art Students League in New York under Thomas Wilmer Dewing and William Merritt Chase and for two years in Paris, primarily in the studio of Carolus-Duran. He returned to America in 1884 and secured his career as a portraitist in 1902, when he exhibited his portrait of the famous actress Julia Marlowe at the National Academy of Design to overwhelming acclaim. Wiles painted this portrait in 1902 as a wedding present for Emily Henderson and Walter Bernard Cowperthwaite. The newlyweds became prominent figures in New York City society and on Long Island, where they also maintained homes. Wiles depicted Emily Cowperthwaite outdoors, surrounded by greenery, in a shimmering white dress embellished with lace. She holds a partially closed fan that highlights both her fashionable taste and her feminine modesty. Wiles renders Mrs. Cowperthwaite’s face, neck, and shoulders very delicately, carefully blending his paint to suggest the smoothness of her skin. Within the dress, however, his large expressive brushstrokes give a sense of immediacy and truthfulness, as if the portrait were taken on the spot, without any time for pretense. Wiles experimented with impressionism in the landscapes and harbor scenes that he produced for his own pleasure, but otherwise he remained committed to traditional portraiture in the bold style that attracted so many patrons.
Last Updated: 4/17/09