More frequently know as a painter of children than as a portraitist, Edward Stott produced studies of country children from the start of his career. Children often appear as foils and focal points in rural scenes such as A French Kitchen Garden, 1883 (Sheffield City Art Galleries) and The High Grasses, 1884 (formerly, Fine Art Society, London, c. 1990). On occasion, as in Feeding the Ducks, 1885 (Manchester City Art Gallery) and The Complete Angler, 1885 (formerly, Fine Art Society, London, c. 1988), they take a more prominent role, dominating the setting, and with these we begin to see the emergence of Stott's distinctive vision of childhood innocence, nurtured in the depths of nature. As with other painters of rural life, like George Clausen and Walter Osborne, larger exhibition pieces were consistently supported by numerous studies in graphite, pastel and oil which, at the turn of the century began to be sought by collectors, for their splendid lucidity and directness.
Portrait of a Young Girl is a particularly interesting example of a work of this type. Its freedom of handling reveals the degree to which Stott was moving away from the strict photographic detail of Feeding the Ducks. Born in Rochdale, Stott attended the nearby Manchester School of Art. He continued his training in Paris from 1880, enrolling first at the studio of Carolus Duran and then at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Cabanel from 1882-84, where Philip Wilson Steer was one of his contemporaries. By the time of his return to England his work, like Steer's, showed the influence of Jules Bastien-Lepage. One of his earliest student experiences in Paris had been the French painter's Jeanne d'Arc ecoutant les Voix (Metropolitian Museum of Art, New York) which was shown at the Salon in 1880. Although Bastien's style continued to inform Stott's painting until the late eighties, he was one of the first to move away from the strict application of square brush technique. This struggle is evident in the present work where the painter opts for a less systematic application of paint than we would see in the work of the Newlyn painters at this date. Stott's paint is lighter and more translucent - as befits the great charm of his subject. This was a painter who was responsive to the casual beauty of the English country girl.