Minor variations on the title have been suggested:
'Rose et vert: L'Iris – Portrait of Miss Kinsella' is the preferred form of the title.
A full-length portrait of a woman with dark brown hair, in vertical format. She stands in three-quarter view to left and holds an iris in her right hand. Her left arm hangs at her side, with a mauve scarf or stole dangling from her hand, and draping across the skirt. Her dress is light pink/lilac, low cut, with a deep lace trim around the bodice, and a long skirt that swirls to left in the foreground. The background is dark brown.
In 1896 Whistler mentioned 'I bought an old chasuble of a lovely colour'. 6 A chasuble is an ornate vestment worn by priests, and it is obviously not being worn by her but may be the purple material that she is holding in her left hand.
Louisa ('Louise') Kinsella (b. ca 1865, d.1923) was born on 26 July 1864. She was the daughter of the Irish-born American newspaper editor Thomas Kinsella (1832-1884) and his wife Elizabeth (Bess) née Lawless. In the 1875 census for the Brooklyn Ward, New York, his age is given as 44 and his wife's as 42 (they were born in County Wexford), and their children (all born in King's, New York) are listed as Hannah aged 20, Frances aged 12, Louisa aged 10, and Catherine aged 9. 7
The sisters were considered very beautiful. After attending a Catholic convent in Paris three of them stayed on, a popular focus of expatriate society. In the Spring of 1894 they rented a house at Giverny.
Louisa ('Louise') was described as 'golden-haired and dove-like but for sudden flashes.' 8 William Rothenstein (1872-1945) made a drawing of Louisa, and Charles Conder (1868-1909) fell in love with her, and painted her several times, including in The Green Apple (Tate, 1894). She attended Whistler's funeral in London in 1903. She died on 12 October 1923.
Hannah married first Robert Payne, and after his death, Alfred Pagelow, and died in Brooklyn in 1934; she was survived by two of her sisters, Mrs Margaret Burton, in London, England, and Catherine ('Katharine', 'Kate'), the Marchesa Presbitero. 9 The Marchesa, who was a painter and based in Rome, inherited Whistler's portrait of her sister.
The Terra Foundation website comments:
'The title of Miss Kinsella’s portrait makes the sitter secondary to the color scheme and the floral reference. The work makes little pretense of characterizing, describing, or individualizing its subject – except perhaps obliquely, by likening her to the elegant flower delicately held in her extended hand. While Whistler’s portrait of his mother and other early portraits play the figure against the flat, decorative background in harmonious color schemes, in this work this shadowy rendering of the figure against a darkened background, along with her artificial pose proffering the iris, hint at symbolic meaning. In this respect, Rose et Vert, l’Iris: Portrait of Miss Kinsella echoes precedents in medieval and Renaissance art, in which flowers often have emblematic value, as well as more recent developments in European art with whose principal players Whistler had associated: the English Pre-Raphaelite movement, whose adherents used medieval legends and modern themes as moral allegories; and symbolism, a movement in poetry as well as the visual arts to give form to ideas from the subconscious. In this suggestive portrait, Whistler aimed to infuse an ideal of female form with an aura of timelessness and subtle mystery.' 10
2: Written on verso.
3: Ouvrages de Peintures, Sculpture, Dessin, Gravure, Architecture et Objets d'Art, 14th exhibition, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1904 (cat. no. 1315).
4: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 44).
7: The 1870 census for Brooklyn recorded Thomas's wife as aged 40, and the girls as Hannah, 14; Frances, 9; Margaret, 7; Louise, 5; and Katie, 4.
8: Galbally, Anna, Charles Conder: the last Bohemian, Melbourne, 2004, p. 116.
Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret