Introducing the Nude and Painting the First Lady
“The papers spoke very well of my works, in fact better than I would have
thought they would, as I was a foreigner. However, harsh observations were
made insofar as the exposed nudity was concerned: . . . I was in fact the
first to have risked exhibiting nude figures in America, in Boston in particular.
I had removed the veil of chastity and purity from Puritanism.”
“I finished the portrait in seven sittings of two hours each. Mrs. Cleveland
posed like a professional model. It was found by most to be a strong resemblance . . . ”
Whatever disappointment he may have felt over the Michigan Capitol commission, Juglaris continued to blaze new trails in Boston. He took particular pride in introducing the nude in Boston, a city famous for its prudery.
Juglaris created his first stir in 1881 with the public exhibition of his Paris Salon painting The Invasion, a large canvas with nude figures shown at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. But Juglaris followed this up in 1886 with his unveiling of an even more commanding, solitary nude figure, entitled Mlle. Yvonne.
For the next 125 years, Mlle. Yvonne remained on display as a veritable landmark at the famous Locke-Ober’s Restaurant near the Boston Commons Exciting attention and comment for decades, the Juglaris painting emerged as a tourist attraction in her own right. It became customary to drape her frame with black crepe whenever Harvard lost to Yale in their annual football match. In the late 1940s Holiday magazine published a photo of bowler-hatted businessmen nonchalantly lunching in front of Mlle. Yvonne. Soon after, the Boston Sunday Herald archly described Juglaris as an artist “with a flair for figure painting that is stunningly apparent.” During the 1980s Locke-Ober patrons organized the Mlle. Yvonne Club. Members loyally sported red fancy dress suspenders emblazoned with double images of Juglaris’s voluptuous lady.
Far more modest was the portrait Juglaris painted of First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland in 1890. The portrait commission was arranged by the influential Helena deKay Gilder. Besides being a founder of both the Art Students’ League and the Society of American Artists in New York, she was the wife of noted Scribner’s editor Richard Gilder and a close personal friend of the president and his wife.
Grover and Frances Cleveland, who annually summered along the Atlantic coast at Marion, Massachusetts, twice cordially entertained Juglaris at lunch. Juglaris was charmed by his young subject whom he addressed in his memoir as the “lovely Mrs. President.” An expansive President Cleveland, who favored immigration, prophesized that Juglaris had a brilliant future ahead of him in America.
At the Studio of Helena deKay Gilder . . .
Tommaso Juglaris was recruited to paint First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland by Helena deKay Gilder. She and her husband, Richard Gilder, were a “power couple” in their day. As a young unmarried woman, Helena deKay studied art at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design in New York City. Further lessons followed under artists Winslow Homer and John LaFarge. deKay was frequently a muse and a model for many artist and literary friends, inspiring paintings, stained glass windows, love poems, and several novels. In addition to Frances Cleveland, she counted among her intimate friends the poet Emma Lazarus, author of the 1883 sonnet The New Colossus with its stirring words about the soon-to-be completed Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to be free…” Richard Gilder was editor of two prestigious magazines, The Century and Scribner’s. His views on literature, culture, and politics were highly esteemed nationally.
As a married couple, the Gilders purchased a home in Marion, Massachusetts. The coastal town was already a gathering place for artists and writers. Helena deKay Gilder converted a small factory building behind their home into a studio. The architect and decorator Stanford White designed a huge stone hearth for the main room. The Gilders developed close friendships with Grover and Frances Cleveland, who chose to acquire a summer home nearby. Helena deKay Gilder not only arranged for the Juglaris portrait of the First Lady but also made her own studio available for the necessary sittings. Juglaris spent two weeks making preliminary drawings of the First Lady at Gilder’s studio “in the woods” and then returned to complete the portrait. According to Juglaris it “was found by most to be a strong resemblance and I was paid 500 dollars"--a handsome sum. The Gilders received one of two preliminary drawings that Juglaris had executed in preparing the portrait.