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Alfred Stevens, 'The Present', about 1866-71

Key facts
Full title The Present
Artist Alfred Stevens
Artist dates 1823 - 1906
Date made about 1866-71
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 37 × 46 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917, The National Gallery, London. In partnership with Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
Inventory number NG3270
Location On loan: Long Loan to The Hugh Lane (2019 - 2031), Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Dublin, Ireland
Collection Main Collection
The Present
Alfred Stevens

A young woman sits side-on to us. She wears a relaxed but delicate and costly gown, her hair casually caught back in a soft chignon. She looks down, apparently calmly, at a gleaming ceramic statuette of a snarling tiger, poised to pounce. Its expression and stylised pose are reminiscent of mythological creatures in the Japanese art that was of great interest in Western Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The woman is slumped, caught unawares. Her head is erect but her lips are firmly pressed together and her eyes are downcast, held by the tiger that glares back at her. Stevens has paid great attention to the detail of its shell-like surface, its arched tail and bulging eyes. It glints in the light – but not enough to detract from the note in the woman’s hand, about to slide to the floor between limp fingers. What kind of present is this? Stevens leaves the many possible answers to us.

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