About this artwork

MacNicol’s promising career was cut short when she died at the age of thirty-four from pregnancy complications. Little is known of the artist. After her widowed husband died, his second wife sold all of his and MacNicol’s paintings and many of them are now lost. This painting is one of few known works by her and relates to two other portraits (which she called ‘fancy heads’); titled ‘The Ermine Ruff and Portrait of a Lady with her Fan’. The influence of American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) can be seen in the decorative design and subdued tonality of this picture.

  • title: Portrait of a Lady ('Phyllis in Town')
  • accession number: NG 2393
  • artist: Bessie MacNicolScottish (1869 - 1904)
  • gallery: Paxton House
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Glasgow Girls
  • materials: Oil on panel
  • date created: Dated 1904
  • measurements: 35.50 x 24.80 cm (framed: 54.00 x 44.00 x 5.80 cm)
  • credit line: Presented by Mrs Isabel M. Traill 1979

Bessie MacNicol

Bessie MacNicol

MacNicol studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1887 to 1893. Under the directorship of Fra Newbery her contemporaries included the Macdonald sisters Margaret and Frances, Jessie Keppie and Kate Cameron. In 1893 MacNicol exhibited at the Royal Academy in London before undertaking further studies at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. Contributing almost annually to the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts exhibitions from 1893 to 1904, she began to attract attention and in 1896 opened her first studio at 175 St Vincent Street. Her one solo exhibition was held at Stephen Gooden’s Art Rooms in Glasgow in 1899. Otherwise showing very occasionally at the Royal Scottish Academy, her reputation was enhanced by exhibiting in Ghent, Munich, Vienna, Pittsburgh and St Louis. In 1904 MacNicol died of eclampsia. Press obituaries deplored the premature loss to Scotland of a potentially brilliant painter ‘worthy to rank with the best of her artist sons’

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