CECILIA BEAUX (1855-1942, American)

Cecilia Beaux , like Mary Cassatt, was a Pennsylvania native who travelled to Paris where she became acquainted with the Impressionist movement.  However, after admiring the classic artists such as Titian and Rembrandt, Beaux soon found that she preferred Realism over Impressionism, and developed a style somewhat similar to that of John Singer Sargent.  At the turn of the 20th century, Beaux became a sought after portraitist painting and/or sketching George Clemenceau, Teddy Roosevelt, his wife Edith and their daughter among many others.  In 1923, after breaking her hip, she was unable to continue producing works as she once had done.  Popular during her lifetime, she was awarded several honors including one from Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, and in 1942, a gold medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Perhaps Beaux’s most famous portrait is that of Sita and Sarita, a portrait of her cousin, Charles W. Leavitt’s wife, Sarah. At first we could conclude that the kitten perched on Sarah’s shoulder is simply a metaphor for a witch’s familiar, but when asked about the kitten, Sarah herself said that it was just a whim to have it sitting on her shoulder.  What became more questionable was the placement of her left hand in her lap.  Some thought it reminiscent of Manet’s Olympia, a prostitute, who clearly is declaring her sexual independence by the same position of her hand.  Olympia, too, is accompanied by a black cat, a symbol of promiscuous sexuality.  Clearly, the portrait evokes a certain sensuality.  The dreamy green eyes of Sarita are in line with those of the cat Sita’s.  The cat’s fur contrasts with the pale white of Sarita’s dress, bringing about a dramatic effect.  But it is the cat’s eyes that peer out from the darkness of the painting’s background that draw our attention.