Seated on a waterside dock, a young woman smiles out at the viewer in Arvid Nyholm’s Untitled (Woman with Parasol). Her colorful oriental parasol frames her upper body and echoes the bright tints of her face and hair and the deep green bands across the skirt and sleeves of her light-colored dress. Beside her, a broad-brimmed hat, a book, and cut flowers and greenery testify to the pleasurable diversions of a summer’s day. In the distance stretches the glassy surface of a lake, the houses dotting its far shore just visible through a screen of willow fronds sheltering the dock from above. The clapboard structure cut off in the image’s upper right may be a boathouse.
The auburn-haired woman shown here resembles the subject of Nyholm’s Untitled (Woman Playing Piano), painted around the same time. Probably his eldest daughter Agda (or Agate), born around 1897, the same model appears in several earlier paintings by Nyholm. By the early 1920s, however, the artist had turned from his usual format for such works, featuring a close-up focus on the figure in a subdued interior, to introduce greater color and light. As in Untitled (Woman Playing Piano), the composition balances figure and setting. While both are rendered with heightened color, Nyholm treats the figure, especially the face, with more blended brushstrokes and attention to detail than landscape elements such as foliage and water. Like many of his American artistic contemporaries, Nyholm modified his impressionist technique to render the figure in accordance with traditional academic values and practice.
Women engaged in leisure pursuits dominate the subject matter of American figural painting of the early twentieth century. The particular setting of Woman with Parasol, a lakeshore on a sunny summer day, specifically echoes the work of Nyholm’s most influential teacher, Swedish impressionist artist Anders Zorn, who created numerous etched and painted images of women bathing at the water’s edge in the brilliant glare of Scandinavian midsummer. Rather than Zorn’s accustomed nudes, however, Nyholm’s decorous model embodies middle-class gentility, and her welcoming glance toward the viewer evokes the comfortable domesticity of the artist’s family circle.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD