Rothenstein was one of the principal artistic links between the younger, avant-garde artists in London and Paris in the 1890s, and this is his most important surviving work from that period. He was a member of a circle which included the British artists Charles Conder and Arthur Studd, and the French artists Toulouse-Lautrec and Lucien Pissarro. In 1892, Toulouse-Lautrec persuaded the dealer Père Thomas, who specialised in Impressionist paintings, to put on a show of works by Rothenstein and Conder at 13 rue Malesherbes. This drawing was included in the exhibition, where it attracted some press attention and was admired by Whistler and Degas, who sent word that Rothenstein should call on him. At the exhibition, Rothenstein was introduced to Camille Pissarro by Camille's son, Lucien.

This picture shows the strong influence of Puvis de Chavannes' paintings of the poor, which were admired in England as well as in Paris. The model in this picture brought Rothenstein two paintings by Puvis which she wanted to sell, but Rothenstein's allowance did not cover their cost, and so Studd bought them. Rothenstein wrote that 'In appearance this model recalled a phrase of Henry James': "The wanton was not without a certain cadaverous beauty." I made many pastel drawings of her' (Rothenstein, I, p.100). The gold painted background of this drawing is unusual. Rothenstein's interpretation of Puvis's pictorial methods anticipates the mood of Picasso's blue period (by coincidence, Rothenstein and Conder were then sharing a studio in the rue Ravignan in Montmartre, where Picasso later had his studio).

Rothenstein dedicated this painting to Studd. He decorated the inscription and the poem with a spiral monogram, a device he seems not to have used again. The verse inscribed at the bottom right is a quotation of Robert Browning's poem of the same title (Rothenstein substitutes 'cliff' for Browning's 'cape'):

Round the cliff on a sudden came the sea,
And the sun looked over the Mountain's rim:
And straight was a path of gold for him,
And the need of a world of men for me.
The artist later used the first line of the poem as the title for a picture he made of the Vaucottes cliffs.

Further reading:
William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, I, London 1931, p.100
Robert Speaight, William Rothenstein: The Portrait of an Artist in his Time, London 1962, p.45
John House and Mary Anne Stevens (eds.), Post-Impressionism: Cross-Currents in European Painting, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1979, pp.204-5, reproduced p.205

Terry Riggs
December 1997