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Permission of the artist


By Mary Curtis Richardson


First Recognized American Women Painters.

Vinnie Reams Hoxie was the first American girl to gain recognition in the art world with her brush. We know little of her early life, nor was she prolific with her painting. We have an example of her work that shows decided talent, a picture of charming naturalness—a child at the edge of a wood is followed by her kitten. The little girl is out at the toes and minus her hose, but she is a dainty maid, native to her surroundings, and as free from self-consciousness as her kitten. The picture is painted with far more freedom and purer color than was usual with the men painters of her time.

Here was a small beginning, but it was woman's beginning in the field of American Art.

In 1869 she went to Italy, and the result of her study there is noted in another chapter.

During the next twenty-five years few if any women exhibited paintings in the National Academy of Design in New York, or in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. But a few had the impetus and instinct for art, and like bulbs beneath the Winter snows were persistently growing toward the season of buds and blossoms; and as the reasons rotate, so came their time for flowering.

The first painters in America, like the first discoverers, carpenters, and farmers, came with more or less talented souls from over seas. We all feel that Scotland might have become an art center if eight or ten of her artist sons had not migrated to the New World, unconsciously to help in the cultivation of native talent that began to show signs of art instinct, from Boston to Philadelphia.

Women were too busy with practicalities incidental to new homes and new families to spend time and thought on non-essentials. Time had rolled along till the calendar indicated 1820, in which year a little girl was born in Ireland, where she lived till 1836, when, like the painter-men who came before her, she took ship for America. We know not what circumstances brought Mrs. Eliza Greatorex, but we do know that she studied with William and James Hart in New York, under Lambinet in Paris, also at the Pinakothek in Munich. In 1857 she visited England, and five years later spent a summer in France, Germany, and Italy, another in old Nuremberg, and 1871 in Ober Ammergau. In 1872 she returned to New York to spend the summer in Colorado. Here as everywhere she was studying and sketching, sending paintings to various exhibitions.

In the Spring of 1878 Eliza Greatorex took her two daughters to Paris, doubtless for some art study, for three years later Kate, the eldest daughter, began sending pictures to the Academy of Design, the first being "The Last Bit of Autumn." Her Centennial painting (1876) represented "Goethe's Fountain, Frankfort," and in 1877 it was "Thistles and Corn"; for a number of years thereafter similar subjects from her brush were to be seen at the Academy. Miss Eleanor also exhibited in 1876, "From Yuba's Kitchen, Ober Ammergau," but later turned her art ability to the decorating of china.

To return to Mrs. Greatorex: In 1869 she was elected Associate of the National Academy, New York, the first women who received that recognition. She is the only woman member of the Artists' Fund Society of New York.

Among the more important works of Eliza Greatorex, A. N. A., are "Bloomingdale," (belonging to Robert Hoe); "Chateau of Madame Cliffe," (belonging to Dykeman Van Dorn); several pen and ink drawings in the collection of Charlotte Cushman; "Amsterdam Landscape"; "Old St. Paul's"; "Bloomingdale Church," painted on a panel taken from the North Dutch Church, Fulton Street, and "St. Paul's Church," painted on a panel from that old church. Eighteen of her pen drawings illustrative of "Old New York" were at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

Susan M. L. Wales was born in Boston, Mass., in 1839, thoroughly educated in the principles and methods of art expression of that "rolling stone" wanderlust that gives knowledge and polish with various contacts in this international laboratory we call Earth.

A born artist, she seems to have found her most pleasurable art expression in depicting large masses of light and shade, working them into suggestive groupings, as when a huge cathedral full of imprisoned shadows becomes softly illumined by a stray sunbeam, and its reflected glory from polished marble; or when a flood of unexpected light from the rose window in the transept drives the shadows to refuge in corners and behind clustered columns. She has worked much magic with the medium of charred wood, accomplished beautiful and tender effects with the "hide and go seek" of mere charcoal. An unlighted suspended lamp over a church aisle shows its beauty against the almost impenetrable shadow that veils the altar piece, making a seeming night by the starlight of tapers on the altar. Her aquarelles from camel hair point or broad sweep produce even more charming results, for even in shadows a blending of color has a place and charm.

Miss Wales studied first under Grundman, then with William Morris Hunt, "that great apostle of art who exerted a great influence on the art of America through the medium of his teaching."

Be they in charcoal or color, the interiors done by Miss Wales remind one of the same subjects painted by Bosboom and others by Bloommers. Her evident enjoyment of interiors may have led her to study in Holland with Bloommers. In Paris it was Carolus-Duran who aided her art study, and later still she painted with Vincenzo Povda, a Spanish painter of note in Rome.

Miss Wales is still in working trim, and as ever, in her long life, is full of appreciation of truth and beauty in art.

Few women are natural landscape painters; they do not love it seriously. It was the little town of Waterville in the center of New York state that became the home of Charlotte Buell-Coman in 1833. Her childhood was spent amid the picturesque rolling hills and valleys of that peaceful part of the country, hence those phases of life and beauty found expression in her later years on many a canvas, and in her exquisite water colors as well as in oils.

She was a remarkable woman in many ways: strong and cheerful under severe trials, not the least of which was the affliction of deafness which was a handicap through most of her life; yet she made herself known to art lovers through her poetic interpretations of the nature she loved and painted.

Mrs. Coman began landscape painting as a pupil under James R. Brevoort in New York, and later with Harry Thompson and Emil Vernier in Paris, where she lived for some years, studying also the works of Daubigny and Corot.

The spirit of Corot's painting was by far more akin to her own, a native endowment in both. She, too, loved the ideal in nature, as when morning mists soften and blend sky, earth and water into almost a dream of what one sees at mid-day. Before she had seen a Corot her own color schemes were often in the silvery tones.

Many of her best paintings are in Boston, New York, and Paris. To the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia (1876) she sent "A French Village," and to the Paris Exhibition of 1878 a choice canvas, "Near Fontainebleau." A "Sunset at the Seaside in France" was on exhibition in Boston in 1877, and the next year two others, "On the Borders of the Marne" and "Peasant's Home in Normandy."

One of Charlotte Coman's most characteristic canvases portrays "Pocony Hills in Winter," a charming delicate landscape; the violet of the distant hills beautifully expressed.

In 1910 Charlotte Coman, at the age of seventy-seven, became an associate of the New York Academy of Design. She was already a member of the National Academy of Women Painters and Sculptors of New York, the New York Water Color Club, Society of Painters of New York, and the Art Workers' Club.

At the Midwinter Exposition in San Francisco, 1894, Mrs. Coman was awarded the bronze medal for her work, and from that time on, each year she exhibited, her paintings called for a medal or prize. She was one of the first women wholly devoted to landscape painting, and with the picture she unfailingly caught the peace and restfulness that belong to the blessed out-of-doors. There is no doubt as to her knowledge of how a landscape should be painted. A New York critic and writer speaking of an exhibition said, "Mrs. Charlotte B. Coman more than holds her own with the men in a lovely stretch of hilly country, which she has painted with artistic feeling and thorough knowledge of landscape construction."

"Early Summer" represents Mrs. Coman in the National Gallery at Washington, D. C., and another, "Clearing Off," is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

She lived to the proverbial age of scores of good artists, having passed away on November 11, 1924, in her ninety-first year. Among the women she may be classed as a pioneer painter of landscape in America, and a poetic painter she certainly was.

The question is asked why do artists—many of them—live to very old age? To put it another way, is art rejuvenating and if so, why? Because art calls into play the creative thought and power within us. The Creator is eternal, man is His offspring. His attributes shared with His children are spirit, for He is spirit. Those attributes are unseen except in the result of their activities—their use. We have bodily functions wherewith to use all of our spirit powers; power is spirit, love is spirit, wisdom is the spirit-guide. Thought is the emanation of spirit through the brain. Love becomes emotion in contact with kindred emotion, it exalts the spirit; beauty of sunset or flower, face or form; grandeur of mountain or storm; horror of fire or flood; any and all excite in the spirit of the beholder the thing each expresses or stands for.

Aside from self-preservation, the dominant faculty in the human is the creative faculty. A very young child wants to do something, to make something, is in perpetual motion because of life, superabundance of life. Whatever powers of spirit man uses mean life, for life demands activity.

Appreciation is the recognition of some spirit expression often akin to your own spirit, even if you are not able to express it in the same way. The non-use of man's powers produces atrophy of those powers. Barring accident, neglect or epidemic, the human is bound to live to a good old age. All things being normal, hard work does not kill a man be he a farmer, mason, or artist. Some few of the Renaissance masters reached great age, also a few American painters. Being an artist does not prolong life, but the love and desire for beauty, the ability to appreciate it on canvas, the longing to depict and the thrill of the developing ideal under your hand, the spirit ever reaching higher and for truer beauty, these are the powers that enrich and prolong life.

When an art critic says of an artist's work that it is just what water colors ought to be, "bright, crisp, light, and spontaneous, with a well-developed handling value, and a right method of work," he has made as gratifying and satisfying a statement as a critic may. When a writer of culture and taste confesses to "know little of art with a big A, and likes a thing because she likes it and enjoys it, and finds it good to live with," one may put down that artist as a worth-while factor in the progress of art.

Mrs. Susan H. Bradley, who was a Boston child, is also eminently a worth-while woman of character. Her social and artistic careers have commingled since the days of her girlhood, when, with Mrs. Laura (Howe) E. Richards, they gleaned knowledge at Miss Wily's School in Boston. Susan Hinckley married the Rev. Leverett Bradley in 1879, assistant to Phillips Brooks at Trinity Church, Boston. She found time, even while bringing up a family of four children, time that was her own, to carry on her art study and work. Wherever her summers brought her in contact with artists of note, she studied with them; now with Abbott Thayer, again it was William M. Chase and Twachtman who aided her art education. She was a member of the Water Color Club of Boston, also of the Water Color Club of New York, and when they moved to Philadelphia in 1889, Mrs. Bradley formed the Philadelphia Water Color Club. Her numerous trips abroad have been emphatically sketching trips. She has made her reputation as a painter of mountains and portraits, and as she enjoyed life amid various scenes, a variety of subjects perforce are portrayed in her art. Even today Mrs. Bradley paints with the same freshness and enthusiasm as in her girlhood. She was one of the few women whose work was passed upon and accepted by the general jury at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893.

It is human nature to be silent about many things, but most reticent concerning its spiritual nature,—the hungers and experiences that are the religious workings of the soul are seldom mentioned. Our spirit-self is unseen save as man is known by his works. A man may carry a strong love and faith, and a big burden of experiences that would weigh him down save for his love and faith, but he is silent. Another fact: you cannot give out what you have not received.

Artists study and paint the subjects they are drawn to, that they enjoy most, that are akin to their nature. It may be landscape or flowers, the nude or portraits, still-life genre or marine, each and all give great variety, and therein does modern art differ greatly from that of mediaeval and renaissance periods.

We recall but one living artist who paints scriptural or religious subjects exclusively, and he paints them with feeling.[1]

Not many years ago a Boston gallery exhibited a collection of paintings by Miss Mary L. Macumber. There was an unusual spirit dominating that entire room. There was an interesting variety of canvases each with a psychic message: "Memory Comforting Sorrow,"—a woman with abundant dark hair falling over her shoulders, is pressing "the flowers of yesterday" to her bosom; "Mona Rosa" presents a beautiful oval face, a sweet face, yet with a touch of sadness.

Mary Macumber surely has her individuality not only of subject but of treatment, of infusing the material with the immateriality of spirit, and making it felt. Here is a telling talent for allegory and symbolism. There has been rather a distinct change in her choice and expression of subjects in recent years, owing perhaps to being further removed in time from the influence of England's pre-Raphaelites, whose work she, as a younger woman, admired greatly, especially the poetic interpretations of Rossetti and the color schemes of Burne-Jones.

One of the first of Miss Macumber's paintings seen by the writer was called "Easter Lily," but it reminded one of the canvases called "Annunciation." The background was treated in a style similar to some ecclesiastic canvases of the Italian Schools. But the angel with wings was not included on Miss Macumber's canvas. The maid is seen viewing a mental vision, and is lost in thought. Grace and spirituality dominated the picture, expressed in the environment of light, that color responds to, yet is softly commingled with it.

Reminiscent of that picture, but of much later date, is "Saint Catherine." In devotional attitude the serious figure bending slightly looks at a picture leaning against a pot of lilies. Again a background suggestive of the classic period, and the figure is clothed in perfect harmony with it, from the delicately veiled head to the sandaled feet. The figure occupies a wall-seat against the dado, bordered with triglyph and metope design, and the wall above is of intricate mosaic. From the tiled floor the ensemble is complete and harmonious. The intent expression of face and the hands crossed upon the breast are indicative of the spirit within.

Miss Macumber's work testifies of her conscientious painstaking method, not in the least hard, but freely refined in its finish.

A beautiful, ideal subject is "Singing Stars." Several idealistic heads looking up and floating up are singing as they float; the hair streams back from each forehead where a star is gleaming. In their ascent they seem breasting a star-spangled wisp of the Milky Way. A poetic thought poetically expressed.

"Springtime," "White Butterflies," and "The Nightingale" and "Life" are a few of her subjects. The latter is a lovely idealized face of a young girl who holds in both hands a large crystal ball; turning the head slightly, her face is full of questioning thought.

Having in great measure (but not wholly) outgrown the influence of Rossetti and his followers, Mary Macumber has dared to be herself in art expression, and her art has become more satisfying and beautiful.

She was born in Fall River, Mass., August 21, 1861. Her ancestors were New England orthodox people, with a direct traceable line from the Plymouth Pilgrims. Her father was of Quaker lineage, but with an art instinct not permitted of development save in the writing of poetry, in which he indulged at times with passionate feeling.

Before there were so many art schools and art teachers in the United States, and the wealth to make possible the studying in Europe, art instinct cropped out now and again and worked from nature with comparatively little instruction. So worked Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School; and so worked Jean Francois Millet in the little obscure village the world knows as Barbizon. The great landscape painters of the world have been sincere students of nature, plus their own individuality, so strongly marked in the paintings of our George Inness.

Annie Cornelia Shaw was born in Troy, New York, September 16, 1852. Her first studio was in the Metropolitan Block, Chicago, 1870. Her first and only teacher seems to have been Mr. C. H. Ford of Chicago. She had a studio in New York in 1881, and was in a Boston studio in 1884-5. She was elected Associate Member of the Chicago Academy of Design in 1873, and an Academician in 1876, and an honorary member of the Art Institute in 1886, also honorary member of the Bohemian Club of Chicago. Miss Shaw was an exhibitor at the Columbian Fair, 1893, also at the Art Institute the same year, and at the Academy of Design, New York, and the New York Water Color Society.

Her work was represented in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and in the Cincinnati Gallery, etc.

There was characteristic naturalness in her paintings that was most attractive, and most promising for future greatness. Some of her principal works were bought by Walter C. Larned of Lake Forest, Illinois, Mr. Haskell of Boston, A. A. Munger, Messrs. Cunningham and Butterfield, of Chicago, and Mr. George Bracket of Minneapolis.

Her last works were painted in 1887, and her life's work ended before she was thirty-five; she died in 1887, and left about two hundred and fifty canvases in oil and forty-five water colors, beside a goodly number sold; they were choice, showing careful study and masterly handling. Her twenty or thirty studies of clouds are charming, and her method of such work reminds one of the method and studies of similar subjects by Sir Alfred East. Nature was her teacher, and her thought entered into her subjects, as a list of a few of her pictures will show. Her love of the "Morgendämmerung" is emphasized in "While the Morn is New," in which she comes close to the atmosphere and mystery of the hour. "In the Twilight," "Shadows on the Hill," "Night is Descending," "Foggy Day at Gloucester," "Willow Brook," "The Peacefulness of Nature," and "The Oak" are full of interest and most suggestive of nature, satisfying to the eye and prompting the desire to be in the open.

Her masterpiece, a large canvas, portrays "The Russet Year," and is rich with the colors and dignity of a group of supurb oaks. The Art Institute of Chicago is to be congratulated that this canvas belongs to its permanent collection.

Annie Shaw's painting proves it the result of observation, not too broad handling, elimination of unnecessary detail, with a leafiness that is penetrable, and the atmosphere that is true to the season. The passing of a woman so gifted seems premature at thirty-five, a greater promise unfulfilled. She had a rare sense of color and atmosphere, and notable in her career is her Americanism. She lived, worked, and died in her own country.

Elizabeth Nourse is another American artist who has become a habitant of Paris, making her home at Rue d'Assas, where she has the outlook over the beautiful garden of the Luxembourg. She was born in Cincinnati, 1860. Her forebears were of Huguenot stock, who settled in New England in "sixteen something," as she expressed it. Her father, with the convincing name of Caleb Nourse, made Cincinnati his home in the nineteenth century, and courted her mother, Elizabeth LaBreton Rogers, in the home of her uncle, Samuel Rogers, where she married. The fine old house has since become the Longworth home.

There were four daughters in the Nourse family, each born with a talent to be developed and used. Kate, who died early, was a fine musician; Louise, a versatile linguist, homes in Paris with her sister Elizabeth the artist; and Mrs. Adelaide Pittman of Cincinnati is the sculptor of the group.

It it almost universal that a genius shows the nature of his gift at an early age, and Elizabeth Nourse, following the nature of things, took to pencil and paper, and the results of her efforts sent her to study seriously at the Cincinnati Academy of Art. Her talent was soon recognized, and after four years of study, she was offered the position of art instructor, but she preferred to develop her own talent, and again, following the stream of gifted Americans, she found herself in Paris. Going to France was expensive, and the exchequer of the family was low at the time. The parents had both died, but the two sisters were determined. The father's fortune had been swept away in a postwar panic, but, nothing daunted, the girls taught and saved, and gathered the wreck of their father's fortune, until they had five thousand dollars, with which they ventured to Paris.

The young artist worked in the Julian Studio for a few months under Boulanger and LeFebvre. Both encouraged her aspiration for an artistic career, and recognized not only her ability but a precious individuality that indicated a promising future. Boulanger, after seeing her drawing, warned her that to allow herself to be much under the influence of any other painter might impair her distinctive and quite remarkable individuality. This, with suggestions of other critics who appreciated her development, induced her to open a studio and work out her own salvation. In this she was wise. She met with immediate encouragement. Her pictures attracted buyers, and she soon became recognized as an artist of distinction. Queen Victoria purchased one of her canvases, and exhibitions welcomed them. She became noted as a true and strong painter, and prizes and medals came her way.

Being a pupil of some of the best painters in France, LeFebvre, Henner, and Carolus-Durand, it is not surprising that she received her first medal for work exhibited at the Columbian World Fair, 1893. It is a bit more surprising that her next exhibition winning a medal was at Carthage, Tunis, in 1897. Again and again did honors and prizes reward her work; from the noted Salon in Paris, of 1900; at the St. Louis Exposition, 1904; the Panama-Pacific at San Francisco, 1915, and many others.

Miss Nourse's subjects are invariably phases of motherhood and children, with a few exceptions. The Luxembourg has one of her earlier works, "Closed Shutters," and Toledo has a delightful "Twilight"; Detroit possesses her "Happy Baby"; the Chicago Art Institute owns a canvas before which can be seen a bevy of mothers and children almost any day: It is of a mother feeding her two little ones their supper of bread and milk, the baby on her lap; a little girl stands at the corner of the table drinking from a cup, one eye peering over the rim, watching the baby. "The Fisher Girl of Picardy" is a most interesting picture, and ably represents Elizabeth Nourse in the National Gallery at Washington, D. C.

The world recognizes the fact that the great Millet laid the foundation for a new and vigorous art for the world and for time, during the nineteenth century. He was only a peasant in the sparsely populated Provence of Normandy, and found his subjects at his own door. The people were of his own kith and kin, with the "beasties" and the chickens at the steps. Europe had been accustomed to the slick and silken fashions of the day and its art; to decorated or undecorated nudes; while the youth from Normandy, with his marvelous eye for form, and his love for nature and sympathy with the work-a-day people whom he knew, loved, and respected, handed to the Parisians another type of their countrymen, another style of art. The influence of those most unusual paintings, in the bakery window, was like dropping a pebble in the pond,—the resultant circles increased indefinitely. Joseph Israels felt it in Holland and went to see the hand that dropped the pebble; it touched a score of painters here and there. Its influence touched the young woman we know as Elizabeth Nourse, when in her American home, and found a kindred feeling. The technical form of that art kept the circle enlarging (in a way), but producers of the soul and sympathy in that art—you can count on your fingers.

Miss Nourse is in sympathy with her subjects. Be it in Holland along the dykes, or on the wind-swept shores of Normandy, wherever she meets women and children, her heart and her art claim them, and they speedily know her for a friend. During the war, wounded soldiers knew the artist for a friend, for her care and attention, freely given, and her studio became a refuge for those in dire distress, especially for families of artists who were never to return.

In 1921 Miss Nourse received the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, for distinguished service to humanity. This was the third distinction she received since the beginning of the war. Her award in San Francisco was the Gold Medal for her exhibit, and in 1919 a silver plaque from the Society des Beaux Arts, in recognition of her work for the families of artists who were victims of the war.

Miss Nourse's work is represented widely in the art-loving world in many private collections and public galleries. It is a matter of taste as to which is the best, for each owner thinks he has the treasure. Antwerp, Ghent, and Rouen have fine canvases, and to go farther, some of her most impressive pictures are to be seen in Australia, in Lincoln, Nebraska, in Michigan, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

When the younger artists of Paris, led by Puvis de Chavannes and Dagnan Bouveret, founded the Societe National des Beaux-Arts, Miss Nourse decided to send her pictures to the new Salon. They were received "with acclamation," and three years later she was made an associate. Puvis de Chavannes was first to give her his hearty congratulations, saying, "I am rejoiced to know that you have obtained the recognition which your talent so richly deserves."

The drawing of Elizabeth Nourse at first puzzled the French artists, for she is a small, sweet, feminine creature, yet the verdict of one of the most noted critics was, "She paints like a man six feet tall, yet she is frail and delicate, a child in appearance and manner." They cannot reconcile, what she seems, and is physically, with the vital force of her drawing and brush work. "No painting leaves her studio that does not bear the impress of deep thought." Not all her works present interior scenes. "Sur La Digue" ("On the Shore") is a strong effect in drawing and color. Three women on the wave-washed dune are looking over the foam-crested sea where gulls are sporting. One holds a well-wrapped baby in her arm and leads the little four-year-old maid by the hand, who hides the other under her apron. The child's piquant face is turned from the wind, giving you a suppressed smile. The wind makes statuesque their thick gowns, but the picturesque Breton caps are made secure against that strong sea breeze, and the sabots seem to anchor the women to the sand; the scene says frankly that they are vigorous, wholesome people, delighting in the beauty and freshness of wind, of sky, and sea; they are out for pleasure of it, they are not Kingsley's fishermen's wives, heavy of heart and sad.

"La Grand Mere," another pleasing picture, shows the mother and two little ones on the far side of the table, lighted by the evening lamp. La grandmere by the near side has been knitting, but her head is drooping over the hands that still hold the knitting. Sleep is giving her rest.

No one knows how many times a day a mother administers consolation to a little broken heart, or it may be only a bruised toe. Miss Nourse has pictured that ministry feelingly in "Consolation," as the mother presses the sobbing wee one to her breast, and kisses the disheveled brow.

The art of Elizabeth Nourse has not been influenced by any other painter; she paints what she sees with the spirit she feels, and the heart sympathy that goes out to the peasants she loves goes through the uplifted arm to the representative canvas, which proves her a great artist.

Sarah Ball Dodson was one of the nineteenth century painters who accomplished remarkable and noteworthy work before the twentieth century made its entrance. But circumstances and adverse opinions of the critics (and the critics were men unacquainted with the art endowment of women) hindered the publicity that a really good painting should have. In the seventies and eighties there were numbers of earnest painters quietly working to express their best.

It is a noticeable fact that, since women entered the field of palette and brush, a large per cent have been natives of Pennsylvania, or have been attracted to its school of Fine Arts for instruction in painting, while those whose natural ability decided for the plastic medium of clay, mallet, and chisel, seem to have found needed help in the schools or studios of New York.

One of those earnest workers was Sarah Ball Dodson. She was born in Philadelphia and early began study in the Academy of Fine Arts. Her father was Whatcoat Dodson, for many years instructor in that Academy. Later she had three years of study under Evariste Vital Luminais, and yet another year with Jules Lefebvre, and still later had the helpful criticisms of Boutet de Monvel. Her first public exhibition was at the Paris Salon, 1877, and the work was "L'Amour Menetrier." Serious illness in 1893 continued to hamper her work for the rest of her life, yet she continued to progress. In spite of the illness referred to, a large work from Sarah Dodson's studio was a drawing featured in the Pennsylvania State Building at the Columbian Fair, that same year, entitled "Pax Patriae," an eminently worth-while canvas depicting "The Signing of the Declaration of Independence in the State House, Philadelphia, Fourth of July, 1776." It was her most important historical work, and remarkable as coming from the hand of a woman. The artist painted it in 1883, and it was most favorably received in Philadelphia that same year. It represented her early style and the grace of her composition. A decorative frieze called "The Dance" was exhibited in the Exposition Universal at Paris, 1878, also in her early style. The development of her later style is well brought out in "Deborah," the least academic of any of Miss Dodson's work, and it represents her in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D. C. Aside from the technique, the artist had thought out her subject well. She conceived the woman-judge of Israel, Deborah, in her crude house of stone, under the palm trees on the camel-path between Ramah and Beth-el, in the hill country of Ephraim. The artist painted the prophet-judge in her house alone, in meditative mood, on her heat of stone. Her nether garment of white is girt about with a leather girdle with its Hebrew inscription in letters of silver. Being at home, her sandals are removed. She leans forward in her intense earnestness of thought, for she is in deep distress concerning the welfare of Israel, for the people have done that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah. A parchment sheet lies at her feet. Evidently the prophetess had the gift of the sixth sense; she sees the outcome of the battle that is to be fought at Mount Tabor. Her attitude is such that she could rise on the instant and send for the chief of the army of Israel, as she did. The spirit of the time and the subject, no less than the personality of Deborah, is impressive.

In later years Miss Dodson lived a while in Brighton, England, and while there painted in St. Bartholomew's Church "The Invocation of Moses." Another work, strong in its beginning, represented "Pygmalion and Galatea," but the artist was not strong enough to finish it. However, it progressed sufficiently to prove the talent and ability of the artist.

After the death of Miss Dodson, the Corporation Gallery of Brighton held an exhibition of about a hundred of her canvases of exceptional work.

Though speaking of Miss Dodson's figure work, we must also record the fact that she had remarkable ability in portraying poetic landscape. "A Farm Road" leads the eye to an uncultivated garden of nature, where daisies, queen's lace, lavender, balm, and the gorgeous cardinal flowers bloom where Nature's lavish hand planted. An ancient tree inclining over a stone wall on the hillside is a simple subject, yet full of suggestion in its naturalness.

Sarah Dodson loved the out-of-doors and left many records of natural beauty that had impressed her. "Les Etoiles du Matin" is a decorative canvas of ethereal beauty, showing the idealistic phase of her art. A cloud of nude figures is floating aloft, each with her star, as a mere line of light along the horizon indicates the coming of dawn. The tone of the picture is in the pastel shades, commingling soft pink with the silver gray of the night sky; the whole is softly blended with wisps of filmy cloud here and there as drapery. The grace and aerial tints are exquisite.

The world lost greatly from the rich endowment of Sarah Ball Dodson when she passed on in the year 1906.

After her death the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibited a collection of Miss Dodson's work, which to many was a surprise, both because of the large representation of her work and the quality, for thought, sincerity, strength and the delicacy of the ideal radiated from her canvases; hence the wonder was with many that they had not seen more of her painting. Very few realized that circumstances of her life made it impossible for her to further a public recognition of her work if she had wished to. There was competition, it is true, but her delicate health often prevented her sharing in it with other artists. Her limitations were largely temperamental, her thoughts and appreciations were of sincerity and beauty, quietly worked out.

Anna Lea Merritt had a charming painting of Miss Eunice Terry at the Pan-American Exhibition in 1901. Someone in the throng was heard to say to a companion, "Come on, that is only a portrait." Only a portrait! Think what it means in the making! The developing and education of the subject, to the point that his or her portrait would be desired by a family or institution. Think of the years of study, toil, practice, discouragements it takes to make an artist capable of painting an acceptable portrait, not only a resemblance to the person, but to portray the character, to catch the spirit, and even the charm, if the artist be so highly gifted.

A first glance at the canvas revealed a symphony in gray, a distinctive harmonization of fur and velvet, a rich and effective background of autumn leafage, so arranged that the figure was superb against it. The face was fine, an interesting study, with flesh tones clear, and beautifully modeled. The textures were reminders of the Dutch masters of the fifteenth century. The portrait must have had a high value as a likeness (a poetic likeness it certainly was), for the accessories were admirable.

Mrs. Merritt had an attractive group of "Merry Maids" at the St. Louis Exposition, 1904, also "The Piping Shepherd," lent by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; both canvases expressed art and nature most attractively.

This artist was first known to the general public by her painting at the Centennial in Philadelphia, 1876. Her painting at the Paris Salon, 1889, received honorable mention. At the Columbian Fair, 1893, she received two medals, one for paintings in oil, and mural decorations, respectively. A silver medal was hers at the Atlanta Exposition, 1895. In 1901 Mrs. Merritt's painting became exceedingly popular, for it was "Love Locked Out." It was also exhibited in the British National Gallery of London, and is now in the Tate Gallery, and is one of its valued pictures.

Numerous portraits have seemingly come to life under her brush, among them one of life size of James Russell Lowell fills an honor place in Memorial Hall of Harvard University. Another is of Lady Margaret Hall of Oxford. Eight murals in the church of St. Martin, Wanersh, Guildford, England, speak strongly for the success of Mrs. Merritt in that branch of her art. "A Hamlet In Old Hampshire" and "An Artist's Garden" are others of her attractive paintings; also "Reapers" was a refreshing landscape seen at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915.

In speaking of women artists in 1911, an English writer said, "The last twenty years have seen women advance in art with rapid strides, and although election to membership of the Royal Academy is still denied them, their work in nearly every branch of the art of painting has raised them to a position of full equality with their competitors of the other sex. That official recognition from the Academy is still withheld—though their work is welcomed to the annual exhibitions at Burlington House—is merely evidence of the conservative prejudice that still exists against their admission and is in no sense because of their lack of ability." He said, further, "It has often been stated that women are not creative artists; that they have not sufficiently the creative faculty necessary to produce original work. The delightful 'Love Locked Out' by Anna Lea Merritt proves at least one instance to controvert the assertion. This picture was hung in the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1890 and was purchased by the Chantry Trustees in the same year for the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds, the first work by a woman to be acquired for the collection. Although an American by birth, Mrs. Merritt has lived and worked so long in England that she is accounted among English artists."

Mrs. Merritt studied with Heinrich Hoffman in Dresden, and with Mr. Henry Merritt in London. Another case of wedded artists. Her work has represented her at all the World Fairs held in America, and honors came to her at the first, the Centennial of 1876. She was born in Philadelphia in 1844.

We have briefly considered the incentive and stimulus for woman's development in art, and realize that the Columbian Fair of 1893 proved the open door for her advancement, and the brief retrospect over thirty-five years may well serve as a prophecy of encouragement for coming decades.

An English writer during the first decade of this century gives a paragraph that tempts our quotation:

"In spite of isolated women artists in the past, it is not too much to say that this generation is the first to develop the fine arts in women. The result is a flood of feminine art, most of which has very little true art in it; it is not often worse than that of the opposite sex, but so far it has not reached the great heights attained by the masters (unless you except Rosa Bonheur). Nevertheless in every country women's work is infinitely finer and more creative than that of all the chiefs among the men."

Further the writer quotes a significant statement from an English woman, Mrs. Sargent Florence, possibly the first woman mural-decorator, who in 1891 was awarded the Dodge prize at the New York Academy of Design. She said:

"The women of my generation are the pioneers of woman's art. We are the ones who are clearing the way for generations to come. No one knows better than I the limitations of my own work ...... but it is because the energy, time, imagination and physical strength that men use freely for their art has, in my case, had to go in ceaseless struggling, not for money only, but for the 'right to work'."

In all departments of woman's enterprise this has been true. But thanks be! equality in action is now on the basis of equality in education and equipment.

  1. O. H. Tanner