Frank Duveneck was born in Kentucky on October 9, 1848, to German immigrants. He worked as a sign painter and an assistant to a church decorator. In 1870 he traveled to Munich, to study at the Royal Academy and continued his studies in church decorating. Upon his return from Munich, Duveneck began teaching classes where Otto Bacher, Joseph DeCamp, John Twachtman, and Theodore Wendel, were among the artists who attended. Duvenck’s use of a darker color palette in his earlier works is evident in our portrait of Miss Blood. His palette did brighten after he returned from Venice in the late 1870s. It was on this trip that he was better able to paint the outdoor scenes by using the lighter color palette.
In our painting of Miss Blood her aloof countenance masks layers of social precedent and change, even though we cannot discern the sordid details. Gertrude Blood was a socialite from London who pursued Frank Duveneck through their mutual association with a Charcoal Club in Venice. Though she tried to advance his career, she didn’t manage to capture him. By the time Duveneck painted her, she was already engaged to marry Lord Colin Campbell, an alliance that would eventually end in divorce.
With its elegant tonal harmony and vigorously brushed surface, this portrait would have appeared starkly contemporary to viewers in 1880. Her regal posture is noticeably shaped by tight corseting that played a major supporting role in the life of Victorian women. A forceful illumination reveals the simple, clear forms of the figure and the delicate color of her flesh is seen against the slightly astringent primrose color of the dress. She has her delicately painted hands crossed, and the artist’s reduced color scheme lends special prominence to a gold bracelet she wears on her left wrist. This painting is said to have been inspired by seventeenth-century paintings of Velazquez, as well as the much discussed series of women in white by Whistler.