Click the Image to Enlarge

Bobbs, Ruth Pratt Girl in White, 1902 – 1910


Ruth Pratt Bobbs was born in Indianapolis and studied with William Merritt Chase and others at the Art Students League in New York City and later in Paris at the prestigious art school Académie Julian. She married William C. Bobbs, head of Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Company, and maintained a studio (created in a stable) in Indianapolis for several years.

Bobbs told the Indianapolis Star in 1946: “Portraiture is never photography. It is seeing the medium through your own eyes and personality.” Mary Quick Burnet, in her book Art and Artists of Indiana, paired Bobbs with Lucy Taggart, describing them as “conscientious workers in portraiture, often painting in a high key with a dash that holds the observer. They depict their sitters with a subtle grace and wealth of radiant color peculiarly rich in quality.”

  • Girl in White, 1902–1910
  • 47″ x 29 3/8″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: indoors, people, women, hats, chairs

The girl in white is said to be Jessica Penn, a Scottish woman who had just come to America at the time of the portrait. She is wearing an outfit belonging to the artist. The painting is decorative and has a commercial look, as if it were an advertisement for a fashion magazine. The plume on her hat mirrors the plant decoration on the wall and causes the painting to appear flattened. The chair back also blends into the wall decoration.

Some Points To Consider

  • Read to students the statement by Ruth Pratt Bobbs that portraiture is never photography. Ask students to explain what a painted portrait of a person can portray that a photograph cannot. (Art 4.5.2)
  • Remind students about the concept of balance in a painting. Ask them to study this painting’s balance and describe how the artist used line, shape, and color to achieve it. (Art 4.3.1)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Choose examples of contemporary fashion advertisements to share with students in the classroom. Have students use reference books or Online resources to look at fashion advertisements of the early 20th century. Ask students to describe the commonalities and differences in art styles and clothing styles of the two eras.