Leon Makielski, American, 1885-1974. Oil painting on canvas titled "Portrait of Penelope Peterson" 1911. Exhibited at Le Salon, Paris, 1911. Signed in monogram "Leon A. Makielski" lower left. Image 46 x 76", framed 53 x 85" overall.
"Portrait of Penelope Peterson" (1911)
Debuted in 1911 at the world’s premiere art exhibition of its time, Le Salon in Paris, the “Portrait of Penelope Peterson” remains Leon Makielski’s crowning achievement in portraiture. Makielski, raised in Indiana by Polish immigrants, spent his post college graduation years traveling Europe garnering inspiration from the French Impressionists. This influence is most prevalent in his remarkable plein air landscapes. His portraits, however, depart slightly from the movement and “Penelope Peterson” achieves a stunning blend of Impressionism and Realism in a manner similar to that of Eduard Manet. The exact association between Makielski and Peterson is unknown but historic records indicate she was an artistic contemporary - an actress, singer, cellist, pianist and the first woman invited to lecture at Sorbonne University in Paris. In Makielski’s painting, Peterson is traditionally staged with her hand resting lightly on the table behind her, and while it is a stately pose reminiscent of portraits past, her Edwardian evening dress and Gibson Girl pompadour dictate a clear modern sensibility. She is a fashionable woman, her gold and lavender ensemble crafted from seemingly fine lace and silks, yet unadorned by jewelry or other opulent accessories of the time that may signify great wealth or formality. The softly abstracted background conveys a kinetic wet brush and shows Makielski’s keen understanding of color and light by skillfully drawing the viewer’s eye to Peterson's face. Her gaze is direct and the portrait itself life-sized, culminating in what could be an imposing presence if not for the hint of a slight, bemused smile. It is an inviting portrait that masterfully captures the mood of an era and the charisma of its subject. Leon Makielski returned home in 1913 to settle in Ann Arbor where he taught at the University of Michigan and proceeded to build a prolific career in portraiture. Throughout his life he earned national acclaim, receiving honors from several prominent art institutes. His works are listed in The Smithsonian Institute’s Catalog of National Portraits and several remain in permanent collections locally at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.