Mildred Barnes and her mother, Anna Barnes Bliss, were in Italy in 1898, and it is likely that this portrait was begun there, possibly at the Storys' villa at Vallombrosa, near Florence. Undated letters from Julian Story ["Papers of Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss: an inventory," Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 76.8 Box 38] allude to this painting. To Anna Bliss he wrote: “I am looking forward with much pleasure to painting a portrait of your charming daughter and would like to call on you whenever most convenient to you and talk it over." And to Mildred Barnes he wrote: “I am so much interested in your little portrait that it is a great disappointment to me to miss even one sitting.” Story signed and dated the portrait in 1899. Mildred Bliss remained a social friend of Julian Story's and of his wife, the opera singer Emma Eames. Anna Bliss displayed this portrait in her music room at Casa Dorinda, Montecito, California.
Story portrayed Mildred Barnes in full length, seated in a three-quarter pose. She wears a full-length, off-the-shoulders, puffed half-sleeve embroidered satin gown with an Empire-style waist and train and sashed by a bowed, green ribbon with long streamers. She holds flower-trimmed broad-brimmed hat in her hand, and at her feet is an animal-skin rug.
Julian Story was regarded as one of the best portrait and figure painters of his time. He was born in 1857 in Walton-on-Thames, England, the youngest child of the American Neoclassical sculptor and poet William Wetmore Story. He grew up in Rome before being educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford University, England. After his graduation in 1879, he studied with the American artist Frank Duveneck in Venice and there began his career as a portrait painter. Story later studied in Paris with Henri Gervex and Ferdinand Humbert and with Jules Joseph Lefebvre at the Académie Julian. In Paris, he continued to paint portraits in a style influenced by the work of his friend John Singer Sargent as well as genre and history paintings. He married the opera singer, Emma Eames, in 1891, and the Storys had a home in Paris and a villa at Vallombrosa, near Florence, Italy. He was named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1901. In 1902, the Storys settled in Philadelphia but continued to travel widely, typically summering in Italy. He became an associate of the National Academy of Design, New York, in 1906, and died is 1919.
Story exhibited regularly in the Paris Salons from the early 1880s through the turn of the century and was received an honorable mention at the 1887 Salon. He also received a gold medal at Berlin in 1891 and silver medals at the Paris Expositions of 1890 and 1900 and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.
Commissioned from the artist probably by Anna Barnes Bliss, ca. 1898;
Collection of Anna and William Henry Bliss, New York, New York, and Montecito, California, 1899-probably until 1935, when it was bequeathed to Mildred Bliss;
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1935 [?]-1/17/1969, when it was bequeathed to Mrs. Gilbert L. (Victoria T.) Steward, Mildred Bliss's god-daughter;
Collection of Victoria T. Steward, Topsfield, Massachusetts, 1/17/1969-11/7/1980, when it was given to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection;
Gift of Mrs. Gilbert L. Steward, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.