I decided to paint Lavinia's portrait with Rembrandt lighting to honor her Dutch heritage. Although she grew up in western Massachusetts, her father had immigrated to the United States from Zeeland, Holland, when he was a young boy by himself without speaking a word of English. Upon arrival, he lived with cousins already in the United States. Soon enough, he learned English and graduated from Harvard University. He later taught as a professor at Smith College.
Lavinia chose the red coral necklace because it is traditional jewelry from her father's home in Holland. In addition, the coral references the region's historical importance to maritime trade.
She said that her father would not often speak Dutch at home, but there were a few rare exceptions. He would sometimes swear in Dutch if he had a momentary frustration, imagining that his three daughters would not learn foul language from his mouth. Unfortunately for him, they did. All three of them carried on that tradition of swearing in Dutch in front of their children.
In her seventies and recently widowed, her family suggested she sit for a portrait to commemorate her life and appreciate her contributions to stable and productive family life. Although uncertain and nervous at first, she enjoyed the family support and was shocked to find in her likeness a similarity to her sister, who had passed from Alzheimer's complications several years ago.
I have known Lavinia for a long time. Although she is a very private person, I attempted to show worldly understanding through lived experience. Her mouth almost opens to say a kind word. To demonstrate her characteristic modesty, I selected a simple dark background. I had to insist that she wear clothing and include a chromatic object to complement her flesh tone.