A girl in black clothes holding a black umbrella is staring straight ahead. A sense of wariness and anxiety is felt in her deep eyes and red cheeks, but resoluteness is also seen in her tight lips. This impressive portrait is painted by Marie Bashkirtseff, a Ukrainian artist who worked in Paris in the late 19th century. Who is the girl in the painting that captured the eyes of the painter from abroad?
Bashkirtseff, who was born to a wealthy noble family, wandered around Europe after her parents’ divorce when she was 12 and settled in Paris. Determined to become a great artist, she entered the private art school Académie Julian at age 20 because École des Beaux-Arts, the national art school, did not accept female students. She built her career, exhibiting at the Salon every year since age 22. This portrait was painted when she was 24. The girl in the painting was an orphan she met at a local orphanage. “I’m painting a girl in a black skirt holding an umbrella over her head. I’m painting outside and it keeps raining,” wrote Bashkirtseff in her diary.
So this painting was drawn outdoors on a rainy day. This explains why the painting has dark colors and the girl’s face looks dark. Bashkirtseff painted the umbrella and the girl’s clothes in black while painting the girl’s face in bright tone. This means the key point of the painting is the girl’s look on her face. What would Bashkirtseff have felt watching an orphan girl standing alone in the rain holding a broken umbrella? As a foreign female painter, who dreamed of becoming a great artist, fighting against the prejudices, was she projecting herself on the girl?
The year after Bashkirtseff completed the portrait, she received favorable reviews at the Salon, but got frustrated as she did not win the award. She suffered from tuberculosis and died that year at the age of 25. Bashkirtseff, who was not recognized during her lifetime, rose to fame three years after her death, when her diary was published.