(b. 1855, Philadelphia, d. 1942, Gloucester)
Charles Sumner Bird and His Sister Edith Bird Bass1907
Oil on canvas, 240 x 135 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Bird Corporation, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1995, produced high-quality paper. In 1812, the company was chosen to produce the paper that the new nation's currency was printed on. When Charles graduated from Harvard he joined the company. Eccentric is the word used to describe him; he often spent his evenings at home, performing experiments in his kitchen. In 1880, a devastating fire, followed by the worst flood in Massachusetts' history, left only the equipment that could produce coarse paper unharmed. Charles used his kitchen laboratory to invent new products, of which were roofing papers, and the company became even stronger.
Edith was an eminent member of Boston society. She was also active in hunt circles, which may be why Beaux chose to portray Charles and Edith in their hunting attire. Edith married Robert P. Bass, then the governor of New Hampshire, in 1912.
This portrait of Charles and Edith displays the close relationship they must have shared. They are turned slightly toward each other, and the viewer seems to have interrupted their private conversation. Edith is dressed mostly in white, a colour that Beaux was famously skilled at employing. Her black skirt and boots, a dramatic contrast, anchor her to the floor and mirror her brother's black riding boots. Charles, pulling his glove from his pocket, seems to have a bit of contempt for the viewer or perhaps is merely impatient at having to wait and be painted while there is more interesting and important work to be done.