Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon (Virginia Purdy Barker, 1862–1919)

Anders Zorn (Swedish, Mora 1860–1920 Mora)
Oil on canvas
67 1/4 x 42 1/2 in. (170.8 x 108 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon, in memory of her husband, 1917
Accession Number:
Not on view
Zorn found a loyal and enthusiastic clientele among upper-class Americans like Virginia Bacon and her family; her brother-in-law, Edward, commissioned this portrait along with one of himself, now also in the Metropolitan (19.112). Virginia sat for Zorn in 1897, during his third visit to the States. With assured, fluid brushwork and soft color harmonies, he portrayed his sitter in a moment of unaffected grace, hugging her collie dog. The dynamic, diagonal composition and high vantage point, unusual in the artist’s work, may be a bid to rival John Singer Sargent, who painted Virginia the previous year (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina).
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Zorn / 1897
the sitter's brother-in-law, Edward Rathbone Bacon, New York (1897–d. 1915); the sitter, Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon, New York (1915–17)
Paris. Salon. April 24–?, 1897, no. 1271 (as "Portrait de Mme. B.").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "La Belle Époque," December 6, 1982–September 4, 1983, unnum. checklist.

Birmingham, Ala. Birmingham Museum of Art. "Zorn: Paintings, Graphics, and Sculpture," March 27–June 6, 1986, no. 13.

Memphis, Tenn. Dixon Gallery and Gardens. "Zorn: Paintings, Graphics, and Sculpture," June 15–August 10, 1986, no. 13.

St. Petersburg, Fla. Museum of Fine Arts. "Zorn: Paintings, Graphics, and Sculpture," September 14–October 26, 1986, no. 13.

Boston. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. "Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America," February 28–May 13, 2013, no. 3.

New York. National Academy Museum. "Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter," February 27–May 18, 2014, no cat. number (fig. 23).

"Fine Pictures for Museum." American Art News 16 (December 29, 1917), pp. 1, 3, ill., writes that it is "said to be the finest woman's portrait the Swedish modern master ever produced" and dates it 1897; notes other portraits of the sitter by Zorn, Sargent, Carrier-Belleuse, and Ramon Casas.

James B. Townsend and W. Stanton Howard. Memorial Catalogue of Paintings By Old and Modern Masters Collected by Edward R. Bacon. New York, 1919, pp. xi, 72, no. 83, ill.

Karl Asplund. Anders Zorn: His Life and Work. Ed. Geoffrey Holme. London, 1921, p. 44.

Douglas K. S. Hyland. Zorn: Paintings, Graphics, and Sculpture. Exh. cat., Birmingham Museum of Art. Birmingham, Ala., 1986, pp. 32–33, 82, no. 13, colorpl. VI, writes of a supposed private competition held by Zorn and Sargent in which this portrait took first prize.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Från två hav Zorn och Sorolla. Exh. cat., Nationalmuseum. Stockholm, 1991, p. 31, ill.

Hans Henrik Brummer. Till ögats fröjd och nationens förgyllning: Anders Zorn. Stockholm, 1994, pp. 203–4, 216, 299, 329 n.14, discusses the supposed private competition held by Zorn and Sargent in which this picture won first prize and argues that with it, Zorn emerged as a true rival of Sargent in the field of society portraiture; quotes a letter to Zorn from the sitter's brother-in-law and commissioner of the portrait, Edward Bacon, on the reception of it and Zorn's portrait of himself (MMA 19.112) at the 1897 Salon.

Carlos Reyero in Joaquín Sorolla, 1863–1923. Ed. José Luis Díez and Javier Barón. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, 2009, p. 169.

William Hagans and Willow Hagans. Zorn in America: A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age. Chicago, 2009, pp. 116–17, 354 n. 10, details the circumstances surrounding the commission and Zorn's rivalry with Sargent over depicting the sitter, and translates a letter from the sitter's brother-in-law regarding the picture's reception at the 1897 Salon.

Hans Henrik Brummer in Johan Cederlund et al. Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter. Exh. cat., Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. San Francisco, 2013, pp. 34–35, 38, fig. 23 (color), recounts Zorn's comment that Edward Rathbone Bacon asked him to portray his sister-in-law "better than [John Singer] Sargent had painted her for George Vanderbilt," and Sargent's own affirmation that Zorn had bettered him; states that Zorn seems to have appropriated the pose from Sargent's large portrait "Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children" (1896, Tate Britain, London), though the two seated poses differ substantially.

There is a study for the painting in red pencil on tan paper, measuring 25.6 x 18.8 cm, in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (image in Department of European Paintings files).

A half-length portrait of the sitter by Zorn, executed in Paris in 1891—two years before the artist's first trip to America—is now in a private collection (see Brummer 1994, p. 202); it formerly belonged to Zorn's great American patron, Charles Deering of Evanston, who lent it to the Zorn exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1924.
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