Portrait of Miss Helen Freeman, c. 1907
60 in. x 30 in. (1524 mm. x 762 mm.)
Will Howe Foote,
(June 29, 1874–January 27, 1965)
Medium and Support:
oil on canvas
Florence Griswold Museum; Gift of Katherine Foote Thompson
Shortly before their marriage, Foote painted this portrait of his future wife, Helen Kirtland Freeman. The couple met in Old Lyme, where Foote taught summer art classes and Miss Freeman studied with the artist Henry Rankin Poore. Foote portrays his bride-to-be as both a fashionable woman and as someone appreciative of the arts. She clasps a book in her gloved hand, and her profile posture and feathered hat echo the graceful form of Nike of Samothrace, a copy of which appears behind her.
Foote’s skills as a portraitist were honed in France, where he studied at the Académie Julian between 1897 and 1900. The ambitious scale of this portrait, the attention to the figure, and the presence of a sculpture cast all harken back to the French system of art instruction, which emphasized mastery of the human form through drawing from engravings, plaster casts, and, ultimately, live models. This portrait’s restricted palette and the fact that Foote exhibited this painting under the title "Young Woman in Black and White" suggest his lingering exploration of the tonal values favored by James MacNeill Whistler, with whom he studied briefly in France.