Alfred Stevens’s art typically depicted the luxurious interiors of upper-class women, whom he often represented in pensive and melancholy moments or seemingly bored. However, Stevens also was one of the first French painters in the 1860s to respond enthusiastically to Japanese art and to the contemporary Parisian interest in Japonism. He often incorporated Japanese objects, sometimes from his own collection, into the décor of his paintings. Beginning in the later 1860s and early 1870s he painted a number of interiors accessorized with Japanese screens, tea chests, painted scrolls, vases, fans, paper lanterns, and dolls, and he occasionally dressed his models in Japanese kimonos, as in the 1872 The Japanese Robe (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 87.15.56). In the ca. 1877 The Japanese Mask (also known as Intrigue, private collection), two elegantly dressed young women sit and stare intently at a Japanese mask, demonstrating western fascination with “the Orient” and visually epitomizing the cultural and artistic distinctions between East and West.
In the Dumbarton Oaks painting, Stevens has posed his model, dressed in a loose, flowing blue kimono, seated on an upholstered couch, her hands outstretched along the back. She inclines her head to the left with her eyes seemingly closed and her mouth somewhat open, as if she is napping. The sketchy, quickly executed brushstrokes are atypical of Stevens’s work, which is usually finished to a greater degree and one more consistent with the expectations of official, Salon-style painting. Nevertheless, Stevens was a close friend of many Impressionist artists, including Édouard Manet, two of whose paintings he convinced the Parisian dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, to acquire, thus beginning that dealer’s famous association with the Impressionists. Stevens occasionally employed the so-called Impressionist brushstroke in his paintings, and in the Dumbarton Oaks painting this sketchy brush work and the Japonism subject matter suggest experimentation with artistic ideas fashionable in the mid-1870s. That the painting is not unfinished or a preparatory sketch is suggested by the inclusion on the artist’s monogram painted almost as Japanese calligraphy at the upper right.
Boucher, François. Alfred Stevens. Paris: Les éditions Rieder, 1930, 23.
Purchased through Francis I. Huard, Paris (dealer), from Catherine Vivier-Stevens, the artist's daughter, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, possibly ca. 1926.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, possibly ca. 1926-1/17/1969.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.