The little girl in L. C. Earle’s painting looks intently toward the viewer as she poses self-consciously, holding an oriental fan in her lap. Echoing the gold tints of her hair is a swathe of rich fabric that cascades from the back of the oversized chair, softening the composition and reflecting the strong light illuminating the scene unevenly from the left. The girl’s right foot tucked under the skirt of her green dress is the only hint of a child’s natural freedom from the strict rules of grown-up conduct. Earle was known for his perceptive character sketches and single-figure genre works. This image, however, displays a formal portrait’s conventional pose, composition, and individual characterization enlivened by the sitter’s direct gaze. Its diminutive scale marks it as an object for display in a private, domestic setting, perhaps by the fond parents of the young sitter, whose identity is unknown.
The naturalism of this image, along with its subdued colors and emphasis on contrasts of light and dark, testify to Earle’s training in Munich, a city that drew numerous American art students in the 1870s and 1880s. Earle’s work ranged widely, embracing not only portraiture but also still life, landscape, and genre painting. Regardless of subject, his easel paintings and watercolors are characteristically intimate in approach, making Earle a sympathetic portrayer of children.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD
Donated by M. Christine Schwartz to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2021