Artist and model first met in London, where the Russian-born Schepeler was working as Secretary to the Illustrated London News. The attraction was instant, John regarding Schepeler as a kindred (and wild) spirit, and quickly elevating her to the status of a muse. In his verbal and pictorial re-imaginings of her, Schepeler assumed different identities; as Undine the water-sprite, or Séraphita, the eponymous character of Balzac's novel. The artist delighted in Schepeler's reputed 'Slavonic' origins (she was actually of German and Irish parentage, although raised in Poland), which set her apart and seemed to heighten her striking appearance.
But there was also a more contemporary side to Schepeler, who shared John's penchant for clothes and costume. The present portrait, centred on the sitter's luminous face framed by a broad-brimmed hat, recalls the fashionable female portraits of the Low Countries in the 17th Century, and in particular Rubens's Portrait of Susanna Lunden, in the National Gallery since 1871, which may have inspired its dramatic backdrop. This comparison, however, only emphasises the stark simplicity of the present sitter's dress, which may be interpreted as a token of her 'Bohemian' character.
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