Selected by Catharine Johnston Westlake '58
What a pleasure to reflect on why this painting remains my favorite at Smith through the past 59 years. I came to Smith looking for real values to keep me steady in life. This painting embodies those values in straightforward reality without pretense.
This accomplished woman and pianist tells me that one can lean back and survive tragedies in life while retaining the beauty of having lived and the strength to carry on. Time and time again I have returned to this painting to remind me to focus on those qualities in my life: survival, the staying power of living close to unpretentious beauty, strength, and compassion.
As Sylvan Schendler wrote in his biography of Thomas Eakins: “Mrs. Mahon is entirely feminine in the projected quality of her deep sensitivity, but her eyes, turned away from the spectator, express personal injury and pain in a way that drives all comparisons out of mind. The intense light falling upon face and breast has a quality of the absolute about it, the light in which the entire course of a life is revealed.”