In Untitled (Woman Playing Piano), Arvid Nyholm posed a young woman, seated in profile, absorbed in playing an upright piano in a sun-filled interior. She wears a gown featuring fashionable fly-away panels, their diaphanous lavender fabric emphasizing the brilliant light flooding the room through two windows in the background. The space is comfortably furnished with chairs and a writing desk, and an oriental rug partly covers the polished wood floor. Colorful drapes, vases of flowers and greenery, and art objects above the fireplace complete a setting suggestive of domestic comfort and cultivated ease.
In this image the young woman seems to casually disregard the observer, who is thus invited to feel as much at home in the scene as the artist himself presumably felt. Indeed, this work may portray one of Nyholm’s own daughters. As shown in his Portrait of Miss N., Grete Nyholm was dark-haired, but her older sister Agda (or Agate), who was twenty-five in 1922, may be the auburn-haired beauty seen in both Woman Playing Piano and the nearly contemporary Untitled (Woman with Parasol), as well as other works. Although Nyholm had established a solid reputation for portraiture within a few years of settling in Chicago, the mainstays of his career were domestic genre scenes and figure studies, for which his wife and children frequently modeled. In the early 1920s he shifted from close-up images of individual girls and women engaged in reading, letter-writing, and dressing to scenes in which light-filled settings take on equal importance with the figure. Untitled (Woman Playing Piano) demonstrates Nyholm’s enthusiastic if belated embrace of impressionism’s natural light effects, broken brushwork, and bright color and typifies the emphasis on the theme of domestic leisure in American art at the turn of the twentieth century.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD