Dramatically illuminated from below as if by stage footlights, Louise Sellergren is draped in a wide-sleeved Chinese coat in this portrait by Otto Hake. Gathering the glamorous embroidered silk garment about her, she holds a red rose between her fingers. Sellergren casts a lavender-and-blue shadow on the pastel-tinted folds of what appears to be a stage curtain just behind her. Notwithstanding these references to the subject’s theatrical career, the portrait presents her not in character but as a fashionable woman of her time. Her hair is bobbed according to 1920s fashion and she wears a black dress or blouse with a simple neckline beneath her colorful coat. Lending a touch of sophisticated elegance and exoticism, such striking apparel was common in portraits and images of women by American artists beginning in the late-nineteenth century—as also seen, for example, in George Oscar Baker’s The Chinese Coat.
Hake’s portrait was exhibited in the Palette and Chisel Club’s “studio show” in April 1928. When it was shown again in the club’s thirty-fourth annual members’ exhibition the following month, the critic for the Chicago Daily News remarked that “Otto Hake’s imposing canvas of a blond [sic] young woman in a Mandarin coat” was one of several works “that bespeak the serious artistic intentions of this club.”i Although Hake was better known as a painter of landscapes and figural murals, this work testifies to his ability as a portrait painter. The graceful monogram with which he signed it also hints at his career as a designer and illustrator.
How Hake came to portray Louise Sellergren is unknown, and no portrait commissions are associated with his career. Sellergren was born in 1902 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and studied at the Chicago College of Music. Between 1923 and 1935 she enjoyed a minor career as a singer in concert, church, and radio recitals and in light opera, including one season in New York. The ring she wears on her left hand in Hake’s portrait is likely not a wedding band, for Sellergren was single until 1935, when she married physician Johnson F. Hammond. Thereafter, Louise Hammond became active in various music and arts organizations, serving as director of the Chicago-based Musicians Club of Women, for example. She died in Chicago in 1994.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD
i “Spring Exhibitions,” Chicago Daily News, May 2, 1928.