Woman in Art/Chapter 16 - Wikisource, the free online library
American Woman as Portrait Painter. Painter of Every-Day Life. Cecilia Beaux, Jean MacLane Johnsen, Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Etc.
"Such is the influence of art on society, sentiment and
commodities, that we are entitled to estimate nations by
their standards of art."—Fuseli.
Portraiture has long been considered the highest as well as the oldest form of painting. The highest, because man is made in the image of his Maker and must radiate that spirit from within his clay-formed chalice. The oldest, because its first use was a confession of faith in immortality. The oldest Egyptian mummies bore portraits of the deceased that his KA (spirit) after unnumbered aeons of wandering in space, might, on returning, recognize and re-enter its own body.
Portraiture of today has its use for the future. For history and anthropology as well as for art it is most desirable. We preserve the lineaments of our nobility on canvas, on walls, or in stone or bronze, for Time, if he prove gracious; for posterity, lest we forget; for art, that it prove the development and honor of our race.
The portrait painter is confronted with many difficulties. One does not realize that fact unless one has sat for a portrait, and even then it is doubtful if the "sitter" considers himself a difficulty.
Years of study and practice acquiring an enviable technique do not always insure an A Number One portrait, for difficulties do exist for painter and sitter.
The attitude of the sitter toward a painter who has justly earned a worldwide reputation should be that of a patient toward a thoroughly competent physician, committing himself to the man of knowledge and skill and accepting the result. It is much like his attitude toward his religion, largely a matter of faith, and aside from that—well, a portrait painter must be one-fourth a technician, one-fourth human (with a generous sprinkling of wit and wisdom), one-fourth an artist by grace of nature's gift, and one-fourth psychologist. The factors may be divided differently, but this percentage gives a balanced whole. Time and constant effort toward the expression of character give proof of that balanced whole, and make a well-rounded painter who portrays the spirit of the subject.
Such an artist is Cecilia Beaux. And more—which may as well be said right here. Permeating the factors and faculties just named, Miss Beaux has two titanic powers—and power is spirit—namely, Will and Work. She has a goal—perfection, which from a child has led her to do her absolute best, and that best has constantly led her onward and upward toward the invisible yet real temple of fame.
The little girl was motherless from her birth so her bringing up devolved upon her grandmother, aunts, and an uncle of whom she was exceedingly fond. It would almost seem as if the fairies chose the names of the future artist as they seemed to choose the career of another noted portrait painter nearly twoago, for their combined meaning is music and beauty, and both appealed to her.
On her mother's side the child was of stalwart New England stock, strong in body and mind, with the aesthetic phases of life and influence accented and developed in the beautiful, every-day home culture. Her father was French, with the artistic instincts of that nationality. So art is the birthright of Cecilia Beaux.
One of her aunts was a musician and first tempted her with that art, but in due time it was decided that she had no remarkable aptitude for it. Another aunt was an adept with pencil and water colors, and one day gave the child some drawing cards to copy. She was surprised at the accuracy of the child's work. That led to more difficult studies from Greek sculptures. At one time the young girl made drawings of some fossils for a scientific book, and while at such work her grandmother read aloud to her. In such ways the child was led to the work for which she was made.
She made several portraits of old gentlemen with flowing beards, at fifty dollars each. It was her first money for art, "and soon after, in company with some other girls," she said, "I rented a studio and we had a little portrait class of our own, with William Sartain to criticize our work. During two winters he came once every two weeks; I don't suppose he came twenty times altogether, but his instruction was enormously valuable to me."
Miss Beaux has been wonderfully influenced by her instinctive desire for perfection. "Not only that," she has said, "but my family always expected of me the very best work I could possibly do. If you expect the best from yourself, you are not content with anything less. To know that other people, those whose opinions count most, expect you to do well, has an effect which it would be difficult to estimate. If I did a thing well, I wasn't extravagantly praised. That was the way I ought to do it. It was treated as a matter of course that I should do it perfectly. Those first little pictures I copied when I was twelve years old were lithographed. And there is a peculiar quality in a lithographed line; it is "crumbly," not solid black. With pencil I could not produce that peculiar quality. And I can remember how unhappy I was because I wanted my copy to be perfect in every detail."
About this time the young artist became very ambitious, and took a large canvas on which to paint the portrait of her sister and her little son, just when he was getting too big to sit on mother's lap, "too uncomfortable for his body and for his pride." The desired dress for the mother not being at hand in her wardrobe, the artist's makeshift was both interesting and practical. A satin sleeve attached to the arm that showed (akin to putting the best foot forward) and the graceful draping of a Canton shawl for the skirt gave the required tone and texture. When asked how the painting turned out, Miss Beaux replied, "It had rather an interesting history. After it was finished, a girl friend of mine who had gone abroad to study happened to come home for a visit. She saw the picture in my studio and wanted to take it back to Paris with her. It seemed an absurd notion to me, but she insisted on carrying it off. In Paris she had it framed and took it on top of a cab to the studio of some well known painter, I think it was Jean Paul Laurenz. He must have given it some praise, for she sent it to the Salon. It was accepted, too!" and the painter laughed at the reminiscence. Then it was that her family agreed to her study in Paris and the life class. For more than a year Miss Beaux continued her studies in the Julian and Lazar Schools, and we may well believe that she absorbed all her teachers had to impart.
In Paris Miss Beaux was made a member of the "Society des Beaux Arts," and one of her very attractive canvases, "Girl With A Cat," was purchased and hung in the Luxembourg Gallery.
Returning to Philadelphia she continued portrait painting, thereby reaping a harvest of prizes, honorable mentions, and medals; at least six or eight gold medals, with handsome cash prize accompaniments, have rewarded her conscientious and artistic work.
Philadelphia was her birthplace, but after a time Miss Beaux opened her studio in New York. Far and wide her portraits have found lodgement in many public institutions and galleries and in scores of private homes. A full length portrait of John Paul Jones hangs in the library of the National Naval Academy at Annapolis. It is full of strong determination; the painter must have put herself in thought and feeling in his place, as he stands, as if on the deck of his ship, equipped for any emergency.
One of the early canvases to shed the dawning light, prophetic of coming fame, on the work of Miss Beaux she called "A New England Woman." It is well named. The picture is in a high key; the room is in white, the sun-lit garden is seen through dainty Swiss curtains; the motherly woman in her white afternoon gown, seated in her easy rocker, is resting from her duties of the morning; her palm-leaf fan suggests 90° in the shade outside, but the home-maker looks extremely comfortable, as if conning a happy thought. It is a restful picture, and might be called "Contentment."
That type and character of New England womanhood is becoming more rare with the passing of each generation. In art and literature we hark back to them with a sense of higher valuation, deeper appreciation and love.
Miss Beaux was awarded first prizes by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for seven or eight consecutive years from 1885 to 1893, when she received a gold medal from the Arts Club of Philadelphia; the Dodge Prize in 1898, National Academy of Design of New York; bronze medal in 1896 at Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; first class gold medal and cash prize of $1500 at Carnegie Institute, in 1900; gold medal at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, in 1900; gold medal, Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, in 1901; first Corcoran prize, Society of Washington Artists, 1902; gold medal Universal Exposition, St. Louis, 1904.
She is a member of the National Academy of Design of New York, and the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts, Paris; and fellow of Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1912 the degree of Master of Fine Arts was conferred upon Miss Beaux by Yale University.
A glance about the room where Miss Beaux receives her sitters may well serve as a background for the few portraits used to exemplify in some degree her work. An ample room in its three dimensions, it proves a fact of nature which Ruskin garnered for his knowledge and philosophy: "We know a cocoon is the work-shop and home of a silk worm; a web the habitation of a spider, and that a nest is wreathed by a bird,"—for here our portrait painter has the light and shadows that produce values: rich hangings and accessories needful for backgrounds; a Sir Philip Sidney chimney, the approach to its hearth an avenue formed by two divans, suggestive of sociability and comfort; and neutral-toned screens sufficient to lend distance and privacy for the artist at her easel. Such is the studio of Cecilia Beaux: a few choice things, and nothing superfluous.During this first quarter of the twentieth century one can scarcely take up any art publication without discovering that Miss Beaux has added a new portrait to her industry and honor. And with each result of her indefatigable work, the art world has a lasting interpretation of a charactered man or woman, who, before, may have been known only by name.
The portrait of Dr. William H. Howell, dean of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, is of three quarters length, and represents the eminent physician in classic gown, standing, apparently having just removed his glasses to give due attention to the speaker. The spirit of the scholar as well as the physician radiates from the canvas.
The late "J. Dickinson Sargent, Esq.," a portrait painted some time ago, is one of the strongest of Miss Beaux's works, and lends the dignity of the man to the reception room of the Mutual Assurance Company of New York.
In 1911 the Carnegie Institute at Pittsburgh hung an extremely vital representation of "A Boy and a Girl In Riding Clothes," "A Girl With a Cat" on her shoulder is evidently a double portrait; the cat is as admirably painted as the girl, and one knows at sight that the two are chums. The canvas was bought for the Corcoran Gallery, where it hangs.
A portrait of Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and her daughter shows the happy mother when she was mistress of the White House.
"The Banner Bearer" represents a very earnest young woman whose attention and muscle are concerned with the subject in hand.
Miss Beaux indulges in the decorative at times, perhaps to gratify her love of color more than portraiture calls for; one judges that, from the strong pigment seen on a panel of a woman seated, yet bowed in deep thought amid brilliant but absolutely harmonious colors.
At the International Exposition held in Venice in 1924 seventy-five paintings were selected by a special committee and sent overseas to represent American painters and their work. The movement was under direction of the American Federation of Arts invited by the president of the Exposition, Mr. Giovanni Bordiga. In an open letter of appreciation to the president of the American Federation of Arts, Mr. Robert W. de Forest, Mr. Bordiga said: "The United States Exhibit is one of the greatest and most interesting features of the present Exposition, and we address grateful thanks to those who, with intelligence and love, directed and took care of the arrangement." Quoting from the leading art critic in the Corrier della Sera, we find: "American painters often express themselves, as is known, in French, especially in open air scenes and in scenes of great light. But it is enough"—naming a few—"to understand that, having reached a complete mastery of this foreign technique, American painters by now know how to reveal freely their souls by it. As is natural, that fervid and overpowering civilization holds the human figure and the portrait in high honor. And the tradition of the English portraitists, perhaps, finds not even in its own country followers as nimble and as refreshing as Cecilia Beaux, in this picture of a lady 'On the Terrace.' Worthy of remembrance, among other English-style painters"—naming women only—"are Jean McLane and Lydia Emmet."
One of Miss Beaux's most vigorous portraits is that of the president of the American Federation of Arts, Mr. Robert W. de Forest, at one time president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A more recent portrait is that of Mrs. Russell Sage for the Sage Foundation, an extremely dignified and attractive work, to serve on the walls of Sage College as a reminder that the present is daughter of the past—the attractive modern buildings of today having supplanted the walls of the Seminary founded by Mrs. Emma Willard in 1821. The portrait of that first American educator of women will long be cherished in the halls that bear the name of the woman who took up the work when she laid it down. Art gives us the character and marks the epoch of both.
"Miss Beaux's work is neither impressionism nor photography," as Dr. Talcott Williams expressed it; "Rather it is a compound of sincerity, of intelligence, and absolute freshness of feeling. Her portraits are honest. They savor of no tricks. The simplicity of her girlhood spirit is hers today, more largely diffused in proportion to her understanding of the psychic and mental attitude of her sitters."
Miss Beaux acquired knowledge of fundamentals, line, form, and color, in the days of her youth, and there has been no demarcation in her case between youth and the next stage, for she has taken the freshness and vigor of youth right along with her—mingled with and broadened by her intellectual vision and grasp.
All this Cecilia Beaux has to a remarkable degree, or she would never have been chosen by the National Committee for the high honor of painting her quota of the "War Portraits."
The year 1926 was a red letter year for Miss Beaux. First there came to her from the Italian Government, through the Minester delle Instruzione Pubblica, at Rome, a request for a self-portrait to be hung in the Uffizi Gallery at Florence. The accompanying reproduction of that portrait represents her reply to the significant honor and respect.
Since the World War armistice, November 11, 1918, and the signing of the peace treaty, war memorials have been the incentive for many artists in many lands. The idea of a pictorial record composed of portraits of leaders of America and other allied nations, to be painted by prominent American artists, was an inspiration of value as a national possession, authentic for history and for art.
"With the endorsement of the Smithsonian Institution as custodian of the National Gallery of Art, the American Federation of Arts, and the American Mission to Negotiate Peace, then in session in Paris, the National Art Committee came into being, for the purpose of carrying out this idea, thus initiating and establishing at Washington the National Portrait Gallery."
The painting of twenty-three portraits and the large canvas representing "Signing the Peace Treaty, June 28, 1919," was apportioned to eight eminent American portrait painters, two of whom were women, Cecilia Beaux and Jean McLane.
To Miss Beaux were assigned the portraits of Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Maline; Admiral, Sir David Beatty, Commander of the Fleet and First Sea Lord of Great Britain; Premier Clemenceau, Prime Minister and Minister of War of France. Thus was given as high an honor as the present status of art in the United States could offer, "to the foremost among living American portrait painters."
The three men to be represented to the future by Cecilia Beaux are doubtless as varied in temperament and mentality as any three one might choose, but one characteristic is dominant in all—spirit, dynamic spirit under control, and a masterly demand on attention. The position of each subject suggests that dominance. Each "sitter" is on his feet, in a perfectly natural and accustomed pose. Each faces the audience that life has prepared him for; the Cardinal, the Statesman, the Admiral. Each views human needs from a different angle, the first from sympathy, Clemenceau from the point of justice, the Admiral standing for that much neglected virtue—obedience. The appropriateness and simplicity of each background is noteworthy and suggestive.
In April, 1926, the American Academy of Arts and Letters presented Miss Beaux with the Gold Medal of the Academy, thus acknowledging their appreciation of her distinction in painting. The ceremony attended by leading artists, authors, and musicians was held in the Academy Building, West 155th Street, New York, and included the unveiling of a life-size bas-relief of William Dean Howells, first president of the Academy, by Brenda Putnam. Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, Chancellor of the Academy, presided, and the medal was presented to Miss Beaux by Mr. Edwin Howland Blashfield, president of the National Academy of Design.
The gold medal presented to Miss Beaux has been conferred only twice before—in 1915 to Charles W. Elliot, D.D., L.L.D., President Emeritus of Harvard University; and in 1923 to Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer.
Friendship is one of the choice blessings of life, but in these days of hurry and worry there is scant time for the cultivation of real friendship. Congenial souls meet at times, but circumstances often prevent a continuance of social or written intercourse—such as existed in the days of our mothers. However, we occasionally find such friends well met, proving that friendship is not wholly a vanished blessing.
Some years ago a group of young women were students together in Paris. A sincere attachment grew into a lasting friendship, though distance and circumstances kept them mostly apart. But they had the experiences and memories of delightful days together, all of which enriched and sweetened life. The three friends might be treated here as merely three art students, but the rarity of such a tie as theirs seems like an oasis in the impersonal, tumultuous imperatives of the now.
Lucy Scarborough Conant was one of the group. Her father was Albert Conant of Vermont, engineer and artist, her mother Catherine Scarborough of Connecticut. From both she inherited gifts that were a forecast of a full life.
Her two friends were Cecilia Beaux and Florence Este. A vital, vivid trio.
Lucy Conant possessed a magnetic power for friendship, and psychologically that magnetism entered into the development and workings of her mental equipment. She studied vigorously with Lazar, René Menard, Jean Paul Laurenze, and from all she gathered knowledge for the activities of art that she was soon to meet. She did not wait to meet anything. Her energy propelled her talents into action whatever they were, and they were many.
Her gift of language was most unusual and most useful. Seemingly she did not have to belabor a Dutch grammar in order to make the boatman on the Maas know her meaning, nor dig up Latin roots whereby to get needed information in any derivative tongue—any language needed "she picked up and used at once." Her French was luscious as though she had been born in Paris. Her Irish brogue was irresistible. Her Italian flowed with all the velvet warmth and color of those olive-skinned folk of the Sicilian hills she had grown to love so well.
Even when on a sketching trip with Miss Beaux on the St. Lawrence River, she "picked up" the patois of Canadian French, like a native. Lucy Conant had a passion for literature and haunted libraries. She was versatile in her life and in her art. She was a decided and rapid worker; brain and hand were in unison. Her sketchbooks were encyclopedias dealing with trees, mountains, housetops, facts quickly caught, some carefully studied for future use.
Landscape painting in oil and water color was her principal interest, but whatever she saw had a message for her, and her expression of it on canvas made one feel the open, far-flung plain, or the height and scope of mountains, distant towns, boats, and people, for she painted what appealed to her. She did not abandon one branch of art for another—she simply carried on from one application of art to another. The various, and often the humblest, forms and color combinations in nature served first as her teacher, till the dominance of mind over matter made them her servants, which she utilized in her art and with which she greatly broadened her art knowledge.
Miss Conant seems to have been a living expression of the truth which Emerson put into these words: "The more you know of everything, the better you teach or do any one thing."
She absorbed suggestions from the most ancient forms of art that geology and archaeology give for this twentieth century consideration. Her artistic talent was so well balanced that it embraced many phases of expression, and not the least to claim her interest and arduous work was the color and costume for the harmonious production of art dramas of literature. For the forty-seven workshop productions at Harvard of "Eyvind of the Hills" and "The Flitch of Bacon," Miss Conant painted the scenery, designed costumes and properties. Her work in this line would make a long list, including eight plays for the Northampton players, for Dramatic Clubs, and Settlement Houses, but notable among them are the Pantomime "The Willow Wife," for the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Greek "Harvest Festival" pageant at Gloucester, for which she also wrote the scenario.
The Columbus Centenary pageant, produced by Livingston Platt, owed much of its beauty to her aid, and it was her direction that developed the glorious color sequence of the "Parthenaia" of 1920 at the University of California. That was her last work, for the spirit of the gifted woman, friend, and artist passed from earth in the last hours of the year 1920, in Boston at the home of her brother.
Lucy S. Conant was born in Brooklyn, Connecticut, 1867; studied in Boston and Paris; was a member of the Copley Society, 1892, of the Boston Water Color Club, the Water Color Club of Philadelphia, and others. In reference to her own work she had written, apropos of an essay, "Nevertheless I had to do it, so here goes! I shall never hold anything back that I want to do." Hers was a happy, healthful, and helpful life.
Mrs. Jean McLane-Johansen, one of the two women of the group, was unable to go with the rest, hence her portion of the commission was not completed with the others. However, her portrait of Elizabeth, Queen of the Belgians, shows her ample qualifications for the high commission granted her. The portrait is a superb work of art. Her knowledge and artistry produced a most dignified portrayal of the queen in her natural right and character, so the canvas needs not the tiara, state robes and jewels to pronounce her Queen of the Belgians. The innate graciousness of heart dominates the graciousness of the queen—the queen as the civilized world knew her during the strain and stress of invasion and warfare. All this and more has been preserved to the world from the insight and brush of Mrs. Jean McLane.
We are not going to quarrel with the technique of the painters, any more than with their handwriting; if it is clear and legibly conveys the message and satisfies eye and heart, we want to help to an understanding and appreciation of their thought and their art. If it rings true, beauty of style, texture, color, and sentiment will come to the surface and art is manifested.
A well regulated human will understand and enjoy phases of childhood of today and of his own early days and ways. A painting from Mrs. McLane's studio is inspiring alike to grownups and children. It represents a group of little folk on the brow of a grassy hill "Blowing Bubbles," a charming bit of child life in color and action. It became the property of the Milwaukee Institute by gift of the artist.
Needless to say, Jean McLane is a portrait painter, and a painter of mother and children, for the two are not to be separated.
A portrait of Mrs. John Henry Hammond and her daughter is a charming, home-like picture, the two seated on a sofa, the motherly arm about the child who snuggles close to her mother, her bewitching little face looking up at the intruder upon their love-making, the background just a portion of the paneled wall, and a simple side-light fixture, nothing more. Broadly painted it is, yet the sweeps of color are related to the gown which is of soft material. It is a pleasing combination of the human spirit and the technique, and won the Shaw Memorial Prize at the Academy of Design in New York in 1912.
"Virginia and Stanton," children of the frolicsome age, have just paused in their play to listen to a fascinating story; Stanton is interested but incredulous, while Virginia takes a more understanding view of it. This painting was purchased by Friends of American Art, and presented to the Chicago Art Institute in 1914.
One of the most piquant little faces in modern art is the painting of the child, Mary Shepard, a demure little maiden of four or five years, seated on a slightly elevated bit of ground, her hands clasped in her lap. A beflowered and beribboned hat hides most of the willful hair save one coquettish lock; a dimple in each cheek, a merry twinkle in her eyes, and the lips just ready to bubble over with laughter. Without a word, she speaks for herself and for the artist.
Jean McLane was born in Chicago, September 14, 1878. She studied at the Chicago Art Institute and with Duveneck before her sojourn in Paris. The numerous World and International Fairs have been of advantage to the artists; in fact, the art world has been the foundation on which the exhibitions have been built. Jean McLane won a bronze prize at the St. Louis Exposition, 1904; first prize at the International League, Paris, 1907 and 1908; the Elling prize, New York Women's Art Club, 1907; Third Hallgarten Prize, National Academy of Design, 1913; the Lippincott Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1914.
At the Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, 1915, Mrs. Jean McLane-Johansen not only captured a silver medal for her work but had the merited honor of her work being hung in Gallery 61, the room into which the Art Director quietly gathered some five dozen canvases and some small sculpture, representative of the very best that women have given to art. "Mr. Trask, relying on his wide acquaintance with the art of America, had cared to make a kind of Woman's 'Salon Carré', and there was no question about it, the result was not only significant but beautiful. It was by no means exclusive, but there one could see the work by Ellen Emmet, Cecilia Beaux, Mary Cassatt, Violet Oakley, Charlotte Coman, Jean McLane, Janet Scudder, Anna Hyatt, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, and Abastenia St. Leger Eberle. Some women sculptors, Edith Burroughs, Evelyn Longman, Gertrude Whitney, and others, had friezes, sun dials, fountains and so forth, scattered about the grounds where they belonged—in the open."
We are glad to insert the above quotation, for it gives in a nutshell the galaxy of some American women in art, and the status quo of their work and the world appreciation of it at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915.
In that Salon Carré, Ellen Emmet presented to art lovers, to parents, in fact to everybody, a fine specimen of "Boy," painted full of character and the joy of life, as he has bounded into the studio. The cap came off and rumpled his hair, but never mind. "Grenville" has the kind of vitality that is contagious; eyes that beam on you, glowing cheeks above the red sweater. He is robust, yet there is tenderness and thoughtfulness in face and bearing.
"In the Studio" we see a typical girl seated girl-fashion with a black pussy contented in her lap. The child's wavy hair is beautiful and beautifully painted, catching glints of sunlight now and again, where it falls over her shoulders. She is reposeful and sweet. Behind her a large mirror gives a glimpse of the artist who is recording this picture of somebody's childhood. Mrs. Ellen Emmet Rand has a strong gift of characterization. She catches the little things, unconscious mannerisms, if you please, that accent the individuality to the point of naturalism, as distinct from "realism."
This is exemplified in her portrait of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painted in 1904. The great American sculptor is represented sitting, giving his strong profile, the face in meditative mood. The strong, sinewy right hand is drawn back on the arm of the chair; the other arm unconsciously gives poise to the hand that toys with the chain of his eye glasses. Though never having seen the man, it is safe to say that at first glance at the portrait one would say, "How natural!"
In 1911 Miss Ellen Emmet was showing twenty-three portraits at the MacBeth Gallery, a most unusual showing of some quite unusual men, and nearly all were of men. The Hon. Levi P. Morton, and the Hon. Joseph H. Choate in academic gown, are strongly painted yet with the refinement and penetration their characters express. The suggestive and detailed environment of the two just mentioned, and the library in which is seen Dr. Louis Tiffany, are painted in subdued light from which the figures stand out most effectively.
Miss Emmet's portrait of Benjamin Altman, donor of his private collection of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in 1913, is another of her successes. It is life-size and a seated figure, the gift of the executors of the Altman Estate, and is signed Ellen Emmet Rand, 1914. The background of this, as of others just mentioned, and that of Dr. Billings, is a welcome change from the non-luminous ones to be seen even in our own day. The characterization that the artist has for years been striving for is manifested in her portraits, which are some of the best that American art has produced.
Ellen Emmet was born in San Francisco, California, March 4, 1876. She studied in New York and Paris; received a silver medal for her work at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904; a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915; a bronze medal at Buenos Aires Exhibit in 1910; and the Beck Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1922.
Rarely are two sisters gifted and equipped for the same art, but Emmet seems to be a name for the Muse to conjure with, so that Lydia Field Emmet comes to our knowledge as a portrait painter also, but her art produces the most charming of little people. One fancies they are more obtainable than adult sitters, and more difficult to "catch." But she wins their hearts and catches their graces, and out from her studio come the dear little faces, both boys and girls, all wreathed with smiles and circled with curls and early flowering of humanity with spirits fresh and pure, minds and manners naïve and equally ready for knowledge as for play. Through these avenues of heart and mind the artist enters their young lives and their interests, and because she loves children and has the gift, she paints them admirably.
One of the first pictures by Lydia Field Emmet that came to the knowledge of the writer was called "A Portrait Study," and is like a bright jewel in the memory. A globe of gold fish on one end of a low-carved taboret of mahogany; the smallest boy sits on a comer of the taboret, his hair pale golden, his suit buff; the taller child is in a suit of bright golden brown, to match his hair; he stands with both hands on the rim of the large bowl. The background is of transparent browns and gold. It is a perfect harmony of the shades of two colors; the spray of green sea weed in the water is the accidental note that emphasizes the harmony.
We cite a few examples of the work of Lydia F. Emmet because of the real child spirit she portrays. Criticism is not the glass through which we should always look at a painting. It has its place and its use, but the spirit in the painting should be the spirit of the subject depicted by the sympathy of the artist. Sometimes the lack of sympathy makes a failure of a canvas where technique is lauded by the critic. Man has painted pretty children before now, but rarely has man caught the indescribable halo of purity and love that emanates from the innocent heart and mind of childhood.
Miss Lydia Field Emmet is so full of love, sympathy and understanding of the child heart and nature, is so gifted with genuine motherly instinct and love, that she can do and has done what mere man, or mere artist, cannot do, painted the attributes of spirit.
Of this wonderful gift children themselves are the best judges and the quickest to recognize it. One day a lady on the street saw a young woman at some distance, coming toward her, having in charge a toddler less than two years old. The child was crying, grieved and discomforted. There was no altercation between the two, simply an indifference on the part of the maid. No nearer than forty feet, the baby ran to the lady with hands outstretched crying, "Take ba', take ba'," and as the lady stooped to take the baby, the little arms clasped around her neck as she cooed, "I lov's oo, I lov's oo." "Nothing is the matter," said the maid, "she simply doesn't want to walk with me."
The incident cited vouches for one reason of Miss Emmet's success with children; she is so distinctly feminine, and to the mind of a child that word means love.
In 1912 Lydia Emmet was awarded honorable mention at the Exhibition of the Carnegie Institute for the portrait of a winsome, golden-haired lassie of three or four. Her bonnet has slipped down her back where she holds it by a ribbon in each hand. Apparently "Olivia" was crossing the room when someone spoke to her. She had just paused, and on the instant the artist caught the spirit of motion in abeyance. It is a trick or art of eye and hand that is reminiscent of the activity of soldier and horse in the military paintings by Lady Butler. The effect is vitality; spirit is in link with mind.
A portrait of "Brother and Sister," painted some time ago, proves that Miss Emmet belongs to the so-called painters of aristocracy, or shall we put it the other way, that she belongs to the aristocracy of painters. Taking the word in its simplest meaning—refinement—both are proven, the subject and the painter, and it may well include the little girl's pussy-cat, for she comes under the same refined influence. It is a charming picture.
Her subjects in themselves are charming. Charm is their hallmark.
Lydia Field Emmet was born in New Rochelle, New York, 1866, and studied with William M. Chase, Mowbray, Kenyon Cox, and Robert Reid in New York, and with Bouguereau, Robert-Fleury, Collin, and MacMonnies in Paris. She is a prolific painter and has a delightful circle of women and children portraits to her credit far and near. She is a member of the Art Students' League of New York; she was elected a member of the National Academy of Design, in 1912, the Women's Water Color Club, New York, and the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors.
Louise Cox was the name signed to a charming little canvas that was sent to the National Academy of Design for the exhibition of 1893. It was a nude figure reclining on a couch in absolute grace of pose, exquisitely painted, and the color scheme was rich and harmonious. The artist called her creation "Psyche," for this impersonation of Soul certainly possesses the ethereal quality. It won for the artist the rarest of all honors conferred upon American women, admission to the Society of American Artists. Another proof of its art value (the critics and judges having passed upon it) was the fact that it was sold within a few hours after the exhibition opened. It was the first showing of the work of the young artist.
As Louise Rowland King, she began her study of art at sixteen in the school of the National Academy of Design. Later her study continued at the Art Students' League under instruction of Kenyon Cox.
In 1895 Mrs. Cox was represented by a larger canvas that gave her own original idea of "The Fates." Herself confessed to the mythological heresy in an explanation attached to the picture. She said: "As you see, the faces are young and beautiful, but almost expressionless. The heads are drooping, the eyes heavy as though half asleep. My idea is that they are merely instruments under the control of a higher power. They perform their work, they must do it without will or wish of their own. It would be beyond human or superhuman endurance for any conscious instrument to bear for ages and ages the horrible responsibility placed upon the Fates."
In 1896 a religious subject from her easel attracted attention—"The Annunciation." It was her first exhibit with the Society of American Artists, and immediately came an offer from a large firm of church-window makers for the use of it for a model to copy in glass. The workmanship, composition, drawing and harmonious coloring whereby the artist expressed her unusual idea of the Fates, pronounced Mrs. Cox an artist in thought, sentiment and knowledge of the technique of her art. In both of these pictures and in her later work, one sees characteristics that add proof (were it necessary) to the truth of her personal statement concerning her student years at the Academy, when she said: "I feel that I owe a great debt of gratitude to those professors who with their excellent Jerome traditions gave us a respect for workmanship."
For more than thirty years Mrs. Cox has exhibited annually and her work has ever maintained a strong yet refined production. Her subjects are often ideal and decorative in treatment. An incident in point is her "Genius of Autumn." In the purpling tint of October air comes the Genius of Autumn to earth, with the wings of Time. He alights, girdled with the dun shades of upland and plain, the persistent visitor to earth, and bends to sickle the tall, brave mullein plants on hillside and in pasture lots, the last flowers of the dying year.
The third Hallgarten prize of 1896 at the National Academy went to Mrs. Cox for her canvas titled "Pomona." It showed the atmosphere and beauty of color usual in her paintings, and the stillness at heat of noon. Against the summer landscape a woman of large, harmonious proportions is holding a basket of fruit.
Mrs. Cox is an earnest worker. Each picture is the result of many sketches and the study of many models. For the Virgin in "Annunciation" a model was first posed in the nude, and then another draped. On the canvas the artist sketched the nude, draping over that from the second model.
A bronze medal rewarded her exhibit at Paris in 1900. A silver medal was hers at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, in 1902. The Shaw Memorial prize from the Society of American Artists, 1903, was awarded her, the silver medal at St. Louis in 1904, and many others.
It has been a joy to the artist to work at her chosen subjects, children's portraits. She tells us that Augustus St. Gaudens was in a way responsible for her future career as a painter of children. All young mothers who are artists accept the model nature gives and paint the portrait of the first babe, and Louise Cox was no exception. The portrait painted of her eldest son was so greatly admired by the great sculptor that his admiration influenced her continuance of the subject. Of course portraits of adults were painted now and then, but children were her joy.
She is represented in many private and public galleries, and has long been an associate member of the National Academy.
"May Flower" is the charming picture representing Mrs. Cox in the National Gallery at Washington, D. C.
In spite of the fact that her late husband, Kenyon Cox, and her son Allyn Cox have done much fine and highly approved mural painting, Mrs. Cox has never been tempted to try that line of art.
Rather recently she is making her home in Italy, where influence for beauty and art seem to win her return to her earlier point of view for serious composition. It is to be hoped that she will recapture her earlier inspirations, and give the world yet more on canvas of the commingling of her fine productive thought and skill, that must come to her like an inspiration with the charm of overlooking olive orchards and vineyards toward the towers and domes of lovely old Florence.
Louise Cox was born in San Francisco, California, in 1865, daughter of James and Anna (Scott) King. She was married to Kenyon Cox in 1892.
Clara T. MacChesney is another California artist, born and educated in that state. Virgil Williams of the San Francisco School of Design was her teacher for three years; then followed three years of study in New York with Mobray and Beckwith and yet another three years in Paris with Courtois. The summers of those years were well spent by working in Holland, and she was much influenced by the technique of the old masters and the characteristics of the country; particularly was she fascinated with the quaint interiors of the Dutch homes. Many of such, carefully studied, were most successfully accomplished in water colors. She supplemented studio work by copying masters in the Prado, the National Gallery in London, the Louvre, and in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Her contributions to the exhibitions in New York and elsewhere have awakened much interest, for her original paintings are of human experiences that stand for more than paintings of technique and harmony. "The Last Letter" speaks for itself; the "Discovery" is one of her most interesting works. "The Blind Fiddler" mingles its mission in a vein of pathos, as does "The Old Cobbler."
At the St. Louis Exhibition, 1904, Clara MacChesney was represented by "A Good Story' told by an old man, and it drew as much of a crowd to see him tell it as if they could hear it. It was a canvas of general interest, and it scored for the old man as it surely did for the artist, judging from the expressions and smiles as people passed before it. That picture captured the second Hallgarten prize at the Academy of Design.
Miss MacChesney has the interest and ability that has added greatly to the literature of art also.
Since the years of Symbert and Benjamin West there have been interchanges of talent between the British Isles and the United States in the matter of the Fine Arts. Born to the east of the Atlantic, some have worked and died on the western continent; and others born in the sunset land have worked and gained world fame amid treasures and antiquities of the old historic world. Next to people and commerce, art seems to have been the third step toward the oneness of the English-speaking nations. The greater the numbers that mark our annual calendars, the larger the numbers that form this interchange in art.
Rhoda Holmes Nicholls was born in the ancient town of Coventry, in the very heart of England, in 1854. As a young man her father was vicar at the historic little church of Stoke Poges, thence to Coventry, and other removes took the family to Littlehampton, in Sussex, where Rhoda Holmes spent her earliest years. From ten to sixteen she was in Miss Hawley's Boarding School in London. At nineteen she began art studies at the Royal Female School of Art, and took the Queen's Scholarship. While there the superintendent took six of the best students for a trip to Italy; later on, she decided to live there, as her father had died and the rest of the family had all gone to the Cape of Good Hope to live. She has said, "I had more charming things to paint, made worthwhile studies and more money, and found living much cheaper in Italy. I was two winters in Rome, one was spent in Miss Mayer's Art Establishment for students, and the next winter with some American friends I had met in Venice at the Consulate. The first summer in Italy, six of the girls (myself included) from Miss Mayer's went to Venice, and I continued to go (off and on) for about six years. I joined the Circolo Artisties and the Societa degli Aquarresish in Rome, also had an exhibition of water colors. Queen Margaretta who was present sent for me and complimented me. I used to work with other of the students at the Circolo from eight o'clock to ten, and painted from the model. I also painted with Cammerano and Vertunni."
Singing with other students in the choir of the American Church was a pleasure and added a variety to her life in Italy. "In 1883 I met my husband, P. H. Nicholls, in Venice, and married him one year after in our old family home in Brookfield, England. We came to America and lived many years in New York."
In 1881 Rhoda Holmes spent nearly a year with her family in South Africa, her eldest brother going to England for her. Her opportunities for sketching and her subjects were most unusual; on her return to England, and later when New York became her home, she exhibited some of her African paintings—"The Ostrich Farm," "The Song of the Throstle," "Wind in the Tree Tops," "Indian After the Chase." Many of Mrs. Nicholls' later paintings portray subjects of American interest; "The Scarlet Letter" is one, and it tells its story with pathos that would have satisfied the author. The youthful "Narcissus" is admiring his ivy-wreathed head in a calm woodland stream that winds its beauty through a bit of tropical-looking forest. "Search the Scriptures" is a heart-touching picture; the aged mother in her quaint chair bends over the large Bible on her lap; the white cap and the kerchief over bent shoulders suggest years of toil that have been ticked away by the tall clock in the room; and that sorrows have added weight to the years is a truth one reads in the laurel wreath preserved on the wall back of her chair. "Prima Vera, Venezia," one of her best, was bought for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the beauty of "Water Lilies" is there also. "Those Evening Bells"—"how many a tale their music tells!" Yes, a painting or a view will recall scenes and voices from the vanishing past. The artist has touched the poetry of art on that canvas.
Much of her spirit of art has been expressed with aquarelles, with great success. We recall a beautiful head in profile, wreathed with poppies, broadly yet delicately painted—a fine study.
Much influence for the uplift of art has gone from the painter's pen as well as her brush. Rhoda Holmes Nicholls has been on the staff of the Art Interchange and the Art Amateur, and co-editor of "Palette and Brush." Her great company of pupils testify to her helpfulness in the outspreading of American Art.
Her public exhibitions began in Manchester Academy, and the Dudley Gallery in England, when she showed many thoroughly good water colors, achieving distinction in that line of art.
In New York her pictures were seen in almost every exhibition, winning the artist a gold medal at the Prize Fund Exhibition, and one of silver at the Triennial Exhibition in Boston. Bronze medals rewarded her work at the Columbian Fair in Chicago in 1893; the Pan-American Exhibit at Buffalo, 1901; at St. Louis in 1904; and at Charlotte, South Carolina. She was a member of the National Arts Club, Pen and Brush Club, American Water Color Society, Woman's Art Club, honorary member of the Art Association of Canada, and the Art Students' League of New York. In social clubs she was a member of the Nineteenth Century, the Banard, and the Cosmopolitan.
During 1915 Mrs. Nicholls was at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, which permitted her an artist's appreciation of the glories of America. Years of suffering have prevented recent painting.
Miss Jessie Willcox Smith was one of the trio who began art study in the fine old house at "Villa Nova," just out of Philadelphia, under supervision and criticism of Mr. William Sartain. Later in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts she worked under the guidance of Howard Pyle, also in Drexel Institute. She is a member of the Water Color Club of New York and the one in Philadelphia, also of the Art Alliance of Philadelphia, and is Fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Miss Smith was awarded a bronze medal at the exposition at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1902; the Mary Smith prize in 1903; silver medal at St. Louis in 1904; the Beck Prize at Philadelphia in 1911; and silver medal for water color at the Panama-Pacific, San Francisco, 1915.
Jessie Wilcox Smith is singularly gifted for her line of art. Children's books are more important than those for adults, for they lay the foundation for the taste in books that comes later. Miss Smith pictures fairy folk and real folk as fascinating to grown-ups as to eager little minds that feed on color and what other children in books are doing. "At the Back of the North Wind" is a charming story and acquaints a child with the fact and meaning of pathos. The dear little boy's cot is by the hay-mow in the barn, and at first he cannot sleep because the North Wind talks to him. Miss Smith has painted such dear pictures that father or mother will have to read the story to know what the North Wind says. For more than fifty years children have loved another of George MacDonald's stories, all about the "Little Princess and the Goblin," and Miss Smith has painted the loveliest pictures for it. And the little Princess is so happy when the white doves come flying to her; her sweet face shows she is happy.
The children's artist is full of sympathy with the story and with the children who will enjoy it. Her illustrations take you right into the intimate home circle, as when Mrs. Tilbury reads to her little son about the "Fairy Wands." The mother is seated on the couch, the picture book on her lap, and the child is leaning against her, his eyes intent on the page. Then another page shows little Jeff, his savings bank in his hand, on the way to the department store to buy a Fairy Wand, so he can have what he wants by the magic touch of his wand. But there was magic in the warm hearts if not in the wand, as he learned later.
What could be a more natural sequence of such art work than that which Miss Smith has developed from it—the painting of portraits of children; and they are charming portraits. She has pleasured the child-spirit so devotedly that the child-nature is at home in her own heart, and the result of her brush work is most vital and enticing. The little ones seem to wake up from her canvas and look at you as an interesting study, innocent of the fact that you find them most interesting; or perhaps the artist opens a door that you may see them quite at home in the garden or at play on the lawn, where their beauty, color and grace seem like the bursting into bloom of a new and animated variety of flower, be it Olive, Sidney, Alice or Jean.
For the Sesqui-Centennial at Philadelphia, 1926, Jessie Wilcox Smith painted "Children at Play in Rittenhouse Square."
Matilda Brown comes the nearest to being the Rosa Bonheur of America. There were no fairies attendant with prophecies when she was born, as in the case of Mme. Lebrun, but there was a genuine artist-godfather next door who, as she approached her tenth year gave her the welcome to his studio, answered the ubiquitous why and what for, and taught her observation. Could anything have been a better beginning for a child?
Matilda was born in Newark, New Jersey, May 8, 1869, and the interested artist was Thomas Moran. He permitted her to watch every thing he did, then let her conduct her own experiments with his brushes and paint, gave her the freedom of his studio, and treated her as an equal. Her home atmosphere was most encouraging; her mother read art and art-notes to her, and every Saturday took her to the New York galleries. For a time the child studied with Kate and Eleanor Greatorex, and later with Frederick Freer, whose custom it was to travel from Philadelphia to give her lessons.
Her first public exhibition was with the American Water Color Society, when she was twelve years of age. Her showing was of six large flower panels, and five were sold before ten o'clock of the morning of the opening. The Society of American Artists accepted her work about the same time, and there she exhibited a turkey she had seen in a butcher's window. So her developing progressed, and at sixteen she knew she was to paint animals. The head of a calf was pronounced "thoroughly correct." Then the young artist began a thorough study of anatomy, and the study of landscape under Charles Melville Dewey, and at once combined the two interests.
In 1889 she went to France with her mother, beginning at once to study with Jules Dupre. A second year was spent in Holland with Brisbing (Henry), the well-known American animal painter, living there at the time. Mrs. Brown and her daughter took a house on the dyke at Hattem, a town with an eleventh century wall which gave a feeling that they were back in mediaeval times. They bought calves at a nearby Fair, which were exchanged for others after being painted. One little creature rebelled at the enforced posing and tugged at the rope that held him in the shade of a fruit tree. But he was painted nevertheless, and on Miss Brown's return to America she sent it to the Columbian Fair in 1893, where it was sold almost immediately.
Miss Brown's first important exhibition was in the gallery of George A. Glaenzer, No. 33 East 28th Street, New York. Press notices were most favorable, and exhibiting artists were most encouraging also. In 1899 Matilda Brown won the Dodge Prize at the National Academy of Design, and in 1901 the third Hallgarten Prize. In 1907 her picture at the Academy of Design, entitled "Near the Quarry," was purchased from the exhibition by Mr. F. S. Church as the best cattle picture there. She won the Charles Noel Flagg prize at the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts in 1919. The painting was of larger size than most others from her studio. It was well-balanced; the glow of light beneath the gathering clouds in the zenith is most naturally depicted, touching to high-light the white on the Holsteins as they saunter at a comfortable gait to the place "Where the Cattle Come to Drink."
Matilda Brown has proved herself a sculptor no less than a painter of animal life; as Helen Comstock expressed Mrs. Van Wyck's present status in art, "It is becoming a question whether to give precedence to Matilda Brown the sculptor or to Matilda Brown the painter." In either case she is Mrs. Frederick Van Wyck.
Sheep are usually restive models, but despite the fact, Miss Brown has caught them awake on her canvas, where they add much to her reputation as an animal painter. Mrs. Van Wyck evidently paints in the open where her subjects are at home. Cows are most comfortable models if the temperature is right, and the tree casting its shade has low swinging branches, they stand contentedly chewing the cud.
Mrs. Van Wyck is a member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the American Water Color Society, the Art Association of Lyme, the New York Society of Artists, and others.
Elizabeth Shippen Green was of the trio of young women who started their art life in a beautiful spot in Philadelphia under the instruction of William Sartain; also she was the first to permit marriage to disrupt the trio, by becoming Mrs. Huger Elliott.
Philadelphia was her birthplace, and the center of her art education, which was largely under the instruction of Howard Pyle. Under those two teachers, plus her innate ability, she was equipped for her career, which circumstances and her aptitude directed to illustration. For some fifteen years she was developing that line of art with Harper Brothers, publishers, and many exquisite works from her brush and pen added interest, value, and beauty to their manifold publications of books and magazines. Color she used often, and under her hand the effects were strong and in beautiful harmony. The headpiece to "Perdita's Lovers" is intricate and interesting. "My Lady Clemency Entertains a Guest" and "Bondelmont Rides to His Bride," add greatly to the letter press of Basil King's story.
The artist has charactered three clever illustrations for "Antiques." "Sister Nell just shook her head and tried to smile," and when you are conducted to her household treasures, "She called it a 'New England Tapestry Chamber'," and again "She don't call them second-hand, she calls them antiques,"—these all invite one to read the story.
Illustrations by Mrs. Elliott have enriched many beautiful volumes of poetry and prose. "Tales from Shakespeare," by Charles and Mary Lamb, has been made a work of art under her hand. For the midnight revels of the fairies, the artist has placed the playful creatures of the night amid the tints and tones commingled of light through spring leafage, twilight and moonlight, and a memory of the afterglow; just the colors for "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Depicting scenes from the tragedies, the colors are deep and rich. The moonlight effect on young Juliet, leaning with natural grace from her balcony to catch the honeyed words of Romeo, who is half concealed amid leafage of the garden, is dramatically alluring. Looking at the drawing of Hamlet and his mother in secret converse, the eye follows theirs toward the concealing curtain, on the outcry of a voice for "Help! Help!" The colors in this illustration are rich, and warmer than the floor and walls of stone would be under mere candle-light, but perfect as representing the stage setting and light.
Mrs. Elliott had a group of illustrations at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915; "Queen Cophetua," "The Moon World," "The Little Wooden Soldier," "Elizabeth," and "Inspector Joly" were some of them, interesting alike to old and young, and all with the real artistic thought and touch that mark her work. That group at San Francisco won for the artist the silver medal.
A digression: Just here the writer was about to pen the words, "Sweet and Low," that much-loved lullaby so harmoniously set to slumberous music, when the thought came that it was a man of big, philosophic, broad mind who wrote those tender lines, one whom Queen Victoria and the world delighted to honor, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Something diverted the eye on that instant to the window as a laboring man in his work clothes was slowly passing, a young babe over his shoulder nearly asleep. The man was conversing with another gentleman quietly but earnestly, and the two were followed by another scrap of humanity not more than two years old. That father is living a lullaby.
Mrs. Elliott has expressed that same lullaby in her medium of art, in an exquisite picture of baby on mother's lap. She has just taken him from the bath at her feet. Shelves of kitchen pots and jars form the background. The position of the dimpled babe within mother's arms shows that the sand man has been around, but the blue eyes are looking at you from the picture. In another instant he will be in dreamland. It is one of the most sweet and real pictures of a babe to be found.
Mrs. Elliott is a member of the Woman's City Clubs of New York and Philadelphia; of the Association of Illustrators, 1903; of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Engravers, and others.
She was awarded Second Corcoran prize, Washington, 1904; the Mary Smith prize in 1905; the Beck prize in 1907; and other medals and prizes have attested the art value of her work, in the World Fairs as well as in her published art.
- Vocational and technical schools are steps in the uplift and broadening of civilization. It is like teaching a child in his high chair to hold his spoon, his knife and fork; a boy to use hammer and nails; a lad to set type and bind a book; or to use engraver's tools, and on and up, in the use of things. It is specific education. So in art. Some youths have become artists by copying masterpieces or even one painting more than once, until acquiring the "knack of the thing." When it comes to the development beyond the technical, artists in the United States can be taught observation; how to subtract the ideal from the real; how to draw on their imagination by help of their knowledge of drawing; and how to harmonize a color scheme; and, most important of all, to know how to express the psychic self—spirit—on canvas, they must first cultivate the spirit within themselves. It is America's teaching.