Edith Mahon, an accomplished pianist, emigrated from England to Philadelphia at the turn of the century. She played numerous times at the Eakinses’s home, and the artist inscribed this portrait “To my friend Edith Mahon” on the back of the canvas. In its poignant depiction of melancholy it is considered one of the artist’s finest works.
Mrs. Mahon was forty when Eakins painted her, although she appears older. The artist’s widow recalled her as having suffered from “great unkindness,” and it is perhaps a sense of fundamental sadness that Eakins sought to capture. She appears lost in thought, her face pale and eyes reddened. Although she did not elaborate, Mrs. Mahon later stated that she did not like the portrait, but had sat for it and accepted it as a favor to the artist. Her reaction to Eakins’s work was one shared by many who sat for him, as he never wavered in his attempts to mirror the character of his sitters—respectfully, if not always charitably—in their outward appearance.
Oil on canvas
Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund
ID Number: SC 1931:2