Thayer painted twelve-year-old Margaret McKittrick with tousled hair and an open gaze to capture the innocence and natural beauty of young womanhood. The soft edges of her figure have an ethereal quality that is reminiscent of Thayer's many paintings of angels.
The spontaneous brushwork belies the fact that the artist probably worked intermittently on this painting for several years. He believed that he channeled his inspiration best through three-day bursts of painting activity.
To reinforce a sense of timeless beauty in his portraits of women and children, Thayer often set them in elaborate Renaissance-style frames.
Abbott Handerson Thayer and Naturalism
Thayer was born in Boston and spent his youth in New Hampshire. In the wilds of New England, he learned to observe nature with scientific accuracy, laying the groundwork for his later theories of protective coloring, upon which the art of camouflage was developed in the First World War. He studied painting first in Brooklyn, then at the National Academy of Design in New York, and later in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts. He is most widely known for his portraits of women and children, although animal and flower subjects, still life, and landscape also interested him.
Thayer’s portrait of fifteen-year-old Margaret MacKittrick, a playmate of his children, depicts the natural beauty of young womanhood. Her tousled hair, rough blouse, and open gaze convey both innocence and sensuousness. Thayer’s spontaneous, vigorous brushwork belies the fact that he probably worked intermittently on the painting for several years. Thayer believed that after an initial three-day burst of inspiration, further direct work on a canvas would spoil it. Any subsequent additions to his paintings were made only after they had been tested on replicas of the original work. Thayer chose the elaborate Italian Renaissance-style frame to reinforce the timeless quality of his subject.
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