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Girl with Cat

1845
Origin: America, New England (probably)
Unframed: 36 x 28 7/8in. (91.4 x 73.3cm) and Framed: 40 5/16 x 33 3/8 x 1 3/4in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Juli Grainger
Acc. No. 2008.100.3
A full-length portrait of a young girl standing nearly head on to the viewer, her proper left foot turned out. She wears a pink, short-sleeved, off-the-shoulder dress having a tucked bodice and having white ruffles at the neckline and sleeves, also white pantaloons, black shoes, and a blue bow in dark brown hair, which is parted in the middle and pulled back away from her face, with the appearance of a braid over her proper right temple. She has blue eyes. Around her neck, she wears a double-strand of red beads that are joined at the center front to support a gold heart. She holds a long yellow feather in her proper right hand; her left hand hangs down by her side. Beside her, to the viewer's right, on the ground, sits a large black and white cat. The two are portrayed in an ambiguous space, with rocks and foliage at lower left indicating that they stand outside, and with a distant landscape appearing at the left beneath a tumultuous sky. Behind the girl, however, straight, grayish brown verticals seem to define a wall or columns.

The 2 1/2-inch cyma recta gilded frame is a 20th century replacement.
Label:William Matthew Prior's depictions of children rank among his most engaging efforts, and this ambitiously composed, large-scale painting is one of his best. Pets appear in many youngsters' likenesses, but few paintings so successfully capture the special bond between children and animals. The long yellow feather in the girl's hand reveals that Prior has interrupted a moment of light-hearted play shared by child and cat.

As evidenced here, Prior mastered sophisticated painting techniques. Yet throughout his career, he continued to offer flatly-painted portraits, like the adjacent likeness of Phoebe Ann Hawes that incorporated minimal modeling. This was done by simplifying or eliminating the subtle transitions between lights and darks used to produce the convincing illusion of three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. Because such works could be executed more rapidly, they cost less and, therefore, appealed to a far greater range of clients.

Provenance:David Pottinger (dealer), Goshen, Ind.; purchased from the preceding by Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, NY, 16 December 1986; purchased from the immediately preceding on 5 February 1987 by Juli Grainger, who was AARFAM's donor.
Inscription(s):According to a photograph taken before the painting was lined, the primary support is inscribed in block letters: "By W M Prior [year?] 45". Interpretation of the bracketed word is uncertain; it appears above the main line of lettering.