James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903)
Oil on canvas
85 3/4 x 43 1/8 in. (217.8 x 109.5 cm)
Gift of George A. Hearn, 1911 (11.32)
Connie Gilchrist (1865–1946) was both an artist's model and a performer on the English music hall and vaudeville circuit. In 1877, when she was twelve years old, she became a "Gaiety Girl." Her obituary in the New York Times noted: "She made her stage debut . . . in a skipping rope dance at the Gaiety Theatre in London, taking the fashionable frequenters of the place by storm, her ingenuousness capturing all hearts, especially in contrast to the precocious cynicism of her stage dialogue." When the author and photographer Lewis Carroll saw Gilchrist perform in January 1877, he called her "one of the most beautiful children, in face and figure that I have ever seen." In this lifesize canvas, Whistler depicted Gilchrist performing her rope-skipping routine on stage. The curtain is inscribed with her name at the upper left and his butterfly monogram at the lower right. The portrait reveals Whistler's dual interests in recording his model's likeness and creating a harmonious arrangement, this one based on a golden monochrome inflected with only three small red accents in Gilchrist's lips and the jump-rope handles.