“Ain’t She Sweet,” a song that was published the year this portrait was modeled, was a hit song that typified the Roaring Twenties and became a standard in the repertoire of popular music. “Oh me oh my, ain’t that perfection!” This portrait is sweet perfection.
Short-cropped hair replaced the long tresses of the Victorian Era. Perfect for the popular close-fitting cloche cap, daring girls at first had to go to barbers to get a crop cut and then had to withstand considerable social pressure for being unladylike. Considered very modern and “smart,” rebelling women, like art students, wanted to look more like men. The Orchid Bob popular from 1924-29 had a curl in front of the ear and was the classic style of the times. The shortest of the “bobbed” styles was the Eaton Crop from 1926-27 when this portrait was created. Named after the boys’ school, it was used by those who were strong-willed and confident.
In this portrait, an art student was walking the edge of acceptability with her boyish bob. Allen has captured the style of the times with refined and elegant modeling. A refined look was expected of young women. Coarse features were unseemly. This girl has a cupid’s bow top lip ad a little turned-up nose. Her long neck and youthful skin look porcelain smooth and her hair is free, as if she had styled it with her fingers, not with a curling iron.
She has chosen a cut very close to the shortest style and accentuates the masculine look with a collared shirt or jacket instead of the soft open neckline of a stylish dress. She was an individual and probably from a family of means if they commissioned her teacher to do her portrait.
As for the composition and technique, it is simple and superb. The girl is in profile facing toward the viewer’s left, featured with no distracting elements on a simple slightly textured background. There appears to be a faint design in the lower left that has the shape of tulip-like flowers over a geometric pattern of triangles. The edges of the profile are sharp and stand out in the light. The contours of the face have depth and definition, highlights and shadows. In the details of the hair, the viewer can see the artist’s tooling and thumb strokes that bear the marks of a master of his craft. The portrait is a superb example of the best in bas relief technique.