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The unusual perspective of this composition, looking down on the subject, was influenced by the work of French artist Edgar Degas and the design of Japanese prints. It is used to convey a sense of claustrophobia and confinement. The wife of an art collector, Helen Cyprian Williams was a successful amateur artist renowned for her distinctive features and volatile temperament. The uneasy shift in scale from Mrs Williams to her daughters – and her gaze away from them, lost in thought – reinforces some undefined sense of separation. Her stillness invites us to speculate about what is running through her mind.

May 2007