Helena de Kay Gilder

Cecilia Beaux American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 768

This tender and introspective late work by Cecilia Beaux—the most celebrated turn-of-the-20th-century woman painter of figures and portraits working in the U.S.—has dual importance due to both the painter and sitter. The intimate portrait depicts Beaux’s close friend, mentor, artist, and New York cultural tastemaker Helena de Kay Gilder (1848-1916), in mourning for her recently deceased husband, the progressive cultural leader, editor, and poet, Richard Watson Gilder. Beaux painted de Kay Gilder wearing a shoulder-length widow’s veil and holding a shoot of geranium ivy, a symbol of bridal favor and fidelity in the Victorian language of flowers. Beaux inscribed the painting to Rosamond Gilder, the couple's youngest daughter, who at the time was in the process of publishing her father's letters. Full of feeling, the work reveals the artist’s growing sensitivity to more experimental compositions—as suggested by the abstract backdrop for the figure and the delicate play of dark tones and diffused light emanating from the window at right.

Helena de Kay Gilder, Cecilia Beaux (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1855–1942 Gloucester, Massachusetts), Oil on canvas, American

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