The subject of Arvid Nyholm’s Portrait of Miss N. is a pretty young woman who glances appealingly at the viewer, one hand to her bosom and the other holding her place in an illustrated magazine or book. Her gold-toned floral brocade dress and necklace of green beads are stylish complements to the bobbed hair that closely frames her face. A mottled-brown curtain forms a soft backdrop. The slightly elevated perspective on the figure, as if from a standing position, allows a full view of the objects on the chest of drawers that serves as her reading stand, notably a tall blue vase of peony blossoms. In 1911 Chicago Tribune art critic Harriet Monroe had lauded Nyholm for “a fluent style and a convincing intuition of character,” but faulted his “restricted range of color.”I This portrait’s strong, contrasting hues almost seem intended to counter such criticism. Reviewing the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual “Chicago and Vicinity” exhibition of 1917, critic Lena McCauley judged Portrait of Miss N. “one of the best [portraits] he has done.”ii
By the mid-1910s Nyholm was well-established as a painter of commissioned likenesses and figural works. The latter included both domestic genre scenes and portrait-like studies of individuals, such as this work. The artist’s wife and their five children frequently served as his models, wearing either traditional Swedish peasant garb or, as here, fashionable contemporary dress. Portrait of Miss N. apparently portrays the artist’s second daughter, Greta, earlier his model for a painting that won the Municipal Art League Prize for Portraiture in the 1915 “Chicago and Vicinity” show. Born in 1899, Greta Nyholm aspired to follow her father into an artistic career. She exhibited alongside him at the Swedish Club in the mid-1920s before becoming a high school art teacher. In Portrait of Miss N., the young woman’s direct, warm gaze hints at her special bond with the painter.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD
i Harriet Monroe, “Scattered Art Shows for Week; Swedish-American Group Here,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 19, 1911.
ii Lena M. McCauley, “38 Canvases Show New Ideas in Color,” Chicago Post, Feb. 6, 1917.