The sitter, born in 1853, married into a family whose fortunes came from wallpapers, lived in Buffalo, New York and was the mother of Marion Birge, who was married November 1, 1904 to Thomas B. Lockwood, whose portrait Muller-Ury painted posthumously in 1934 (same location). Her maiden name was Carrie Humphrey, and she was the daughter of the Hon. James H. Humphrey. She died in 1932.
Painted in 1924, probably whilst visiting Mrs Birge in Palm Springs California, as the Carscallen family portraits were also painted before Muller-Ury’s San Marino studio was erected.He seems to have used a postcard he stuck in his photograph albums to create the authentic landscape of Palm Springs.
A letter ostensibly from the sitter, possibly a fragment, dated in the artist’s handwriting Pasadena, April 2, 1924 (date of receipt?) is in the artist’s papers:
‘I have been most anxious to express to you “Mr. Ury” the pleasure you gave me in showing the Portraits at Mr. Brown’s House. I like so much your ability to make such a beautiful painting of a Woman not beautiful. Your art was expressed to one in that one portrait, every detail worked out most artistically – you must feel very proud and happy, I sure neversaw as pleasing and natural Portrait, it embraced the spirit of California, and now I think of your work – and know what you can express on canvases –
Yours, G.K. Birge.’
Mr. Brown was William Brown, ‘Uncle Billy Brown’, a member of the Carscallen family, and the portrait of a ‘woman not beautiful’ is probably the portrait of Mrs. Harriet Carscallen’s mother, Mrs. Louise Seymour.