“Me” illustrates Eulabee Dix’s talent with the demanding watercolor-on-ivory medium. Rosalba Carriera had developed the technique in 18th-century Venice. In early 19th-century America, artists such as Anna Claypoole Peale helped make watercolor-on-ivory miniatures the favored means of capturing the likeness of a loved one. By the end of the Civil War, however, inexpensive and equally portable photographic portraits had supplanted miniatures in popularity.
Unlike photography, watercolor on ivory was an extraordinarily painstaking process and yielded a fragile artwork not easily replicated. The ivory had to be soaked, cut thin, flattened, and then abraded so the watercolor would adhere to the surface. Throughout preparation and painting, the artist had to take care not to shatter the thin slice of ivory.
This self-portrait is considered an excellent likeness of Dix, resembling written descriptions and photographs of the artist. Rendered about the time she relocated from her family’s home in Grand Rapids to New York City, the image captures her appraising gaze and youthful self-confidence.
A close look at the miniature reveals the different brushstrokes Dix used to render her likeness—myriad tiny dots, or stippling, for the highly detailed face and broader strokes for the scarf and blouse.