Cecilia Beaux: A Highlight in New American Art Galleries

Hood Quarterly, winter 2019

Recently, Russell and John L. "Jack" Huber, Class of 1963, significantly enhanced the museum's American collection through their gift of Cecilia Beaux's virtuosic 1899 pastel of her longtime friend Maud DuPuy Darwin. This exquisite portrait, housed in its original English frame, will be among the highlights featured in the opening installation of American art in the Sack and Rush Galleries.

Not only is Maud DuPuy Darwin the museum's first work to represent celebrated artist Cecilia Beaux (1855–1942), it also ranks as one of the finest pastels in the Hood's collection. Beaux created this vivid likeness of her Philadelphia friend—daughter-in- law to famed naturalist Charles Darwin—in Cambridge, England. At the time, Beaux was making her way back to Philadelphia from her nearly two-year period of formal study and plein-air painting abroad. Her experience creating pastel and oil portraits of the Darwin family and their circle put her "in raptures over pastel," a medium that ideally suited the more expressive handling and brighter colors that she had adopted
in Europe.

In this likeness Beaux used sweeping, energetic strokes to describe the flounces of Maud's muslin costume, while she applied controlled, artfully blended touches of pastel to render her delicate features, flawless complexion, and "grand braids of golden hair." The dark, semi-abstracted beech tree frames the figure and sets off her white costume, which Beaux rendered with strokes of peach, pale blues, grays, and soft whites. Maud Darwin's alert, assessing gaze would seem to express her ease with her new, elevated station in British society, as well as her affection for the artist, her longtime friend.

Despite her facility with the medium, Beaux ultimately considered pastel a means to advance her work in oils. When she returned to Philadelphia, she would further explore the nuanced chromatic harmonies of the color white in a spectacular series of paintings, including many of her most revered works.

The Hubers generously donated this pastel in honor of Barbara "Bonnie" MacAdam, Jonathan Little Cohen Curator of American Art, with whom they have enjoyed a professional and personal friendship for over three decades.

Written January 02, 2019