OIL PAINTING: The Reading Girl, 1886-7
Lacking classical reference, still a dangerous practice when painting the nude on such a scale, Roussel's The Reading Girl excited some strong criticism, no doubt exacerbated by Roussel's nationality. The reactionary Spectator demonstrated what fervent responses such treatments of the nude could elicit. Reviewing the NEAC show it commented:
"There is one picture here of which we feel inclined to speak in terms of severe depreciation, if only because of its wantonness in taking a beautiful subject and making it all at once odious and ugly. And this is M. Theodore Roussel's life-size work of an entirely nude model sitting reading the newspaper in a small folding chair. Our imagination fails to conceive any adequate reason for a painting of this sort. It is realism of the worst kind, the artist's eye seeing only the vulgar outside of his model, and reproducing that callously and brutally. No human being, we should imagine, could take any pleasure in such a picture as this: it is a degradation of Art."
Roussel's model was Harriet Selina Pettigrew (1867-1953), known as Hetty. She was the oldest of three sisters who were popular artist's models. Hetty met Roussel in 1884, became his mistress and bore him a child.