Quintessential Victorian
Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:09PM

My title expresses my opinion that this is a prime example of the best CDVs of the Victorian photographers. The convention of composing a head-and-shoulders portrait with the face near the center is typical; today we would tend not to have so much blank background above the head and hat.

This 1880s image is as charming as they come. A very attractive young woman, quite well dressed without any pretensions to being a fashion plate – she is the subject, not her clothes, yet she has a certain flair with the tiny ruffled edge to her standing collar and pin offset by the informality of the way she has tied the velvet ribbon around her throat. Women's styles of the time often interpreted the dress of a country maid in a high style fashion, but it worked very well when it was not too extreme.

Another thing that attracted me to this portrait is that the young woman makes me think of the models that the French Impressionist artist Auguste Renoir painted during this same period. One always wonders whether an artist paints an image true to a particular model who sits for him or if he paints an ideal based on what he sees before him (some of the Pre-Raphaelite painters' models are very well documented in photographs – perhaps because they had a propensity for marrying them – so we know they were often guilty of painting to a particular ideal), but here I see a face that Renoir might well have painted. This image looks like the portraits he painted that are famed for their naturalism and the certainty that you are looking at an identifiable person and true likeness; this young woman's no-nonsense persona leads you to suspect that she would never have countenanced being the subject in one of his nude bathers scenes for which he is also quite famous.

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