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Cicely Alexander, daughter of a London banker, was eight years old when Whistler painted this portrait. The artist exerted considerable control over the picture, posing the girl in the attitude of Manet’s Lola de Valence 1862, and designing her dress in detail.

The portrait demanded over 70 sittings each lasting several hours. Cicely recalled: ‘I used to get very tired and cross, and often finished the day in tears.’ Not surprisingly, the picture was criticised for its departure from the more informal formats usually adopted for child portraiture. One critic called it ‘a disagreeable presentation of a disagreeable young lady’.

February 2010