Wednesday, September 26, 2012


(A Woman of the Empire, Walter McEwen, 1900, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond)

This beautiful image is titled “A Woman of the Empire.”

It was painted by American artist, Walter McEwen, around the year 1900.

The title of this piece references the model's gorgeous antique gown.

The satin dress has an elevated “waistline.”

Actually, no waistline exists at all.

What does exist could rightly be called a “bodiceline.”

One hundred years before this painting was created, Jane Austin might have been seen strolling around the city of Bath wearing a dress similar to this one.

It is known as an “empire” dress.

Artist McEwen spares no expense highlighting this lavish gown.

The dress shimmers with light.

But what I love about this painting is seen in the mirrored reflection of the woman herself.

I am intrigued by the painter's masterful ability to portray the subject's image in the mirror.

The mirrored image is subtle, of course.

Isn't that what you would expect in such a circumstance?

After all, the woman is viewed through what is in reality - silvered glass.

But the mirror is oh, so important in this painting.

It is the tool, the device McEwen uses to portray the model's face.

Even her very countenance.

McEwen has chosen a soft taupe hue for his massive mirror.

The same shade of soft grayish-brown is found on the floor.

The taupe tones serve to highlight the woman's glowing white gown.

The painting is literally covered in neutral tones.

In fact, the woman's auburn hair is the most striking of all the colors in the painting.

But even that is clearly muted.

I love the golden sheen and curvaceous lines of the mirror frame, wall sconce and pier table.

These objects bring a sense of definition and life to McEwen's painting.

All of these painterly devices combine to bring beauty and a sense of serenity to the artist's work.

In addition, the subject is beautifully and tastefully dressed.

She stands gracefully before the mirror – the tips of her fingers barely skimming the top of the table.

There is an aura of restraint and refinement about her.

She emanates elegance.

And that is why we are drawn into her world.

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