Languid and elegant, the pretty young woman in Karl Buehr’s painting leans back in her garden chair as she rests on her lap a small tray bearing a teapot and cup. On the table at her side are other implements of an alfresco breakfast—a bowl and silver coffeepot—as well as a small vase filled with bright red blossoms whose tints are echoed in the potted plants at the lower right, a hanging paper lantern, and the woman’s necklace and skirt. These notes of intense color are set off by the dominant cool greens and blues of the trellis and fence screening the distant view of a sunny summer landscape. Buehr’s model wears a broad-sleeved open jacket of flowered gold fabric over her low-cut white bodice and striped tiered skirt. This eclectic and somewhat fanciful outfit complements the informality of a private breakfast—one at which, as her outward gaze suggests, the viewer is a privileged guest.
Like Buehr’s In the Garden, Giverny, this painting no doubt dates to the years the artist spent in the village of Giverny, France, in an international colony of artists working in the impressionist mode. The Americans who gathered there between about 1909 and the outbreak of World War I typically focused on painting women relaxing in luxuriant gardens and well-furnished interiors, using rich color and the dashed and blurred effects of rapid on-site paint application typical of impressionist practice. Many of their images featured articles of unusual, even exotic dress and models enjoying informal open-air meals, as seen here and in Pauline Palmer’s Untitled (Woman in a Garden), also painted in Giverny. Buehr’s associates in the colony, who included Chicagoans Lawton Parker and Louis Ritman as well as Richard Emil Miller and Frederick Frieseke, shared not only themes and compositions but also models, settings, and props. For example, the smaller of the two pale green chairs seen here, with the distinctive V-shape in its upper back, is of a type that appears in several paintings by Miller and Frieseke. Although those artists typically rendered the female figure as yet another beautiful object, this work by Buehr is distinctive for the woman’s direct gaze, by which she both acknowledges the viewer’s presence and demands equal recognition. This blonde model appears in other paintings by Buehr wearing the same yellow jacket and red-and-white striped skirt.
This work has been speculatively identified with A Restful Moment, listed in the catalogue for the Art Institute’s “Chicago and Vicinity” annual exhibition of 1914. Following his return to the United States that year, Buehr continued to produce images of girls and young women posed against sunny landscapes. This work may have set a precedent for them in several features, notably the figure’s visual engagement with the viewer; the porch-like setting, which adds an element of rigid geometric structure to the composition; and the contrast between the shaded foreground occupied by the figure and the bright sunlit background.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD