Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Jones, artist and teacher - NARA - 559227.jpg
Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 3rd 1905.  Her mother Carolyn ran a beauty parlour and made and designed hats.  Her father, Thomas Vreeland Jones was a superintendent of a large office building, who attended night school to become a lawyer.  At the age of forty he graduated from Suffolk Law School, the first African-American to earn such a degree from that school. He went on to become a lawyer.  Whilst still a child her parents moved to a house on Martha’s Vineyard and it was here that Lois first came into contact with people who were to influence her future life.

As a child, Lois enjoyed drawing and painting and her parents encouraged her.   She was given her first set of watercolours at the age of seven. She enjoyed her time at school and recalled:

“…The schools were not segregated and I had the good fortune to have my teachers interested in my talent and I received much encouragement,” she said. “My happiness was to go to Martha’s Vineyard as soon as school was out. It was a great joy to live with nature. Environment is so important to any artist…”

1937 or '38. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Lois Mailou Jones (c.1938)

She attended the local primary school and in 1919 she was enrolled at the High School of Practical Arts in Boston. During her four years of studies there, she also attended evening classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts thanks to an annual scholarship she was awarded. She developed an interest in fashion and costume design and became an apprentice with Grace Ripley,  an academic and costume designer. Lois Jones worked with Ripley after school and on Saturdays, where she would become familiar with exotic costumes and African masks which would later feature in her artwork.  Her interest in African masks also led her to creating costume designs for the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Negro Student," 1934, charcoal on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Negro Student by Loïs Mailou Jones (1934)

Lois was only seventeen years old when she held her first solo exhibition in Martha’s Vineyard. Jones began experimenting with African mask influences during her time at the Ripley Studio. In 1923, at the age of eighteen, Lois attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she studied, not art, but design.  She was an outstanding student and she won the Susan Minot Lane Scholarship in Design. Whilst studying for her degree she also took evening classes at the Boston Normal Art School, a public college of visual and applied art in Boston.

Beneath a soft blue sky, a picturesque village nestles in a valley between a river in the extreme foreground and verdant mountains. Combining loose and discrete brushstrokes with a palette of greens and golds, the painting recalls Paul Cézanne’s late 19th-century landscapes.
Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées by Lois Mailou Jones (1949)

Lois Jones began to search for something which would bring her recognition as an artist.  Whilst searching she discovered the Harmon Foundation of New York, which had been established in 1921 by wealthy real-estate developer and philanthropist William E. Harmon.  It was the first major foundation supporting African American creativity and ingenuity and held national competitions for black artists.  Lois exhibited several of her works at these exhibitions and received several awards.  It was through this foundation that she became interested in black America’s 20th century movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Lois Jones spent much of her time in Harlem and this had the most reflective influence on her early development as an artist. During these visits, Jones was engrossed in the art and theories of the Harlem Renaissance.   The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theatre, politics.  At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”.

Loïs Mailou Jones "My Mother's Hats," 1943, oil on canvas. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
My Mother’s Hats by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

Throughout the early part of her life she continued to take the opportunity to study.  In 1934, she attended classes at Columbia University where she studied different cultural masks and in 1945, she received a BA in art education from Howard University, a private, research university, graduating magna cum laude. Not long after Lois left college, she decided to take up the role as an educator.  She applied for a teaching post at the Boston Museum School but the director rebuffed her application saying that she should apply for a job in the South where “her people” lived.  This racially prejudiced opinion from a person of such stature must have shocked her.  Not to be put off by such bigotry she continued to look for work and finally was accepted for a teaching post at Palmer Memorial Institute, a historically black prep school, in Sedalia, North Carolina.  The Institute was founded by nineteen-year-old Charlotte Hawkins Brown, an African American educator in 1902 with the aim of teaching elementary and high school students in rural North Carolina.  It was named after Brown’s benefactor and friend, Alice Freedman Palmer, and originally the Institute began in an old blacksmith shed.  Whilst working as a prep schoolteacher, she taught the children folk dancing, piano playing and even coached a basketball team. 

Loïs Mailou Jones "Jeanne, Martiniquaise," 1938, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)
Jeanne, Martiniquaise, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1938)

In 1930, Lois was offered and accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. by James Herring, who had  founded the Art Department at Howard University and served as mentor to many artists and art historians. Lois Jones remained there, as professor of design and watercolour painting, until her retirement in 1977. Lois’ main ambition whilst at Howard University was to ensure her students were made ready for a competitive career in the arts and to aid this ambition she would arrange for established artists and designers to visit her classes and give talks, demonstrations and workshops.  In doing this she became an ardent advocate for African-American art and artists.

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The Ascent of Ethiopia.by Lois Mailou Jones (1932)

In 1932 Lois Mailou Jones created a painting entitled The Ascent of Ethiopia. The painting is the pictorial story of the grim and challenging journey of African Americans who, through years of sacrifice and intolerable difficulties, have managed to create a legacy built on their trials and tribulations. It has been a constant fight for African Americans from the time they lived in Africa, the sea voyage to America and once there, how they have had to fight to attain their artistic and intellectual pinnacle.  Lois Jones painting depicts this story by her use of certain elements of design and colour, and space. The works she created throughout her life tell the story of many different cultures. In this painting she chooses to represent her own culture. This work of art was Jones’ way of expressing intense and reflective respect for her race. When we study the painting the first thing our eyes focus on is the figure wearing a blue and black headdress in the right foreground.  It takes up a quarter of the canvas.  The figure looks to the left as it observes the other figures, who are carrying pots on their heads, and pointing skywards at a bright star.  They are all ascending towards a city, comprised of two large buildings, at the top right of the painting.

  In front of the buildings are two entertainers, one of whom is playing the piano whilst the other I think is preparing to sing as we see musical notes all around him. Behind these two big buildings there’s a big round yellow circular object protruding from the side, surrounded by two blue/turquoise concentric circles. It has a face, and someone on a bended knee appearing to be acting on top of it. The turquoise-coloured circle is bigger than the previous one and has a face coming out towards the inside. Further up there’s someone painting on top of the blue circle with the words art above enclosed within the blue circle. A symbolic palette and brush are painted within that same blue circle, the star in the top left corner has rays of squiggly blue, green, and black streaks that radiate diagonally. The star is inside of a yellow circle shining down on the people gesturing towards it, this picture reflects what Jones was trying to convey to her audience.  The painting is a tale of transition, a long and tortuous voyage from the poverty of Ethiopia to America where African Americans, through hard work and dogged determination, became talented actors, artists and entertainers.  It is also about cultural identity.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Seventh Street Promenade," 1943, watercolor with graphite underdrawing on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Seventh Street Promenade, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

In 1937, Jones was awarded a fellowship to travel and study in Paris at the Académie Julian. That year, whilst in France, she produced more than forty works of art, including thirty watercolours, may of which were plein air renditions.   Two of her paintings were accepted at the annual Salon de Printemps exhibition at the Société des Artists Français for her Parisian debut.  What also pleased Lois during her twelve months stay was that unlike in America, she was fully accepted in society and that the colour of her skin mattered little.  She managed to obtain an extension to her fellowship which allowed her to travel to Italy.

Les Fétiches, by Lois Mailou Jones (1938)

In 1938, she completed one of her best-known pieces, entitled Les Fétiches.  It was and African inspired painting that now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Painted in a Modernist style it features five overlapping masks from different African tribes and conveys a mysterious spiritual dimension summoned by ritual dance.  To the right of the main mask, we see what is known as a red religious’ fetish.   The term “fetish” (fétiche in French) refers to an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a human-made object that has power over others.  The masks and fetish appear to float in the mass of a black painted canvas.  When in France, Lois would probably have seen many different African objects and masks at the Musée de l’Homme, an anthropology museum in Paris.  In Les Fétiches, the Songye people’s masks and African Dan masks are visible.

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Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts, by Lois Mailou Jones (1940)

In 1941, Lois Jones entered her painting Indian Shops Gay Head, Massachusetts, into the Corcoran Gallery’s annual competition which she had completed the previous year.  For her the main problem with exhibiting her work at this prestigious exhibition was that the Corcoran Gallery prohibited African-American artists from entering their artworks themselves and only work from “white” artists was deemed acceptable.  Jones asked Céline Marie Tabary, her friend and arts professor at Howard University who championed African-American art in 1940s Washington, D.C. to enter her painting so as to side-step the racist rule. This painting by Lois won the Robert Woods Bliss Award but she could not collect the award herself and she had to arrange for Tabary to mail the award to her.   In 1994, the Corcoran Gallery of Art gave a public apology to Jones at the opening of the exhibition The World of Lois Mailou Jones, 50 years after Jones hid her identity.

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Mob Victim (Meditation) by Lois Mailou Jones (1944)

In 1944 Lois Jones painted one of her most controversial and thought-provoking works.  A philosophy professor at Howard University and founder of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke, encouraged her to depict her heritage in her paintings and this led to her painting, Mob Victim (Meditation).  She remembered how the painting came into being, saying that she had been walking along U Street Northwest in Washington, DC. when she saw a man walking along and she stopped him and asked if he would pose in her studio for her painting which would depict a lynching scene.  The man told Lois that he had actually witnessed a lynching and mimicked the pose that the man held before being lynched and visually illustrated a contemplation of imminent death which was well understood by blacks during the 1940s.  The image we see of the man whips up deep and powerful feelings as we observe the innocence of the black man who is calling into question the intolerable actions of society.  Look at the questioning expression in the man’s eyes.  It is a very emotional work which poses the simple question, why?

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Wedding of Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel and Lois Mailou Jones

In 1953, at the age of forty seven, Lois finally married Haitian graphic artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel.. They had been close friends for twenty years and he had influenced Lois by introducing her to the bright colours and bold patterns of Haitian art and she would immerse herself in the Haitian culture during their annual trips to her husband’s homeland. Jones’s style shifted again after she married   She once said that the art of Africa is lived in the daily life of the people of Haiti.

Colorful painting by Lois Mailou Jones featuring a young African girl in face paint, with depictions of masks and decoration in the background
Ubi Girl from Tai region by Lois Mailou Jones (1972)

In 1970 she visited Africa for the first time.  She journeyed to eleven different countries on the African continent. The trip had been made possible with a grant from Howard University to keep a record of the various artists she met.   She returned to the African continent in 1972, 1976 and 1977. In the painting a young woman looks out at us from under her partially closed eyelids. The girl’s face is surrounded by two types of masks: in profile, is a large Dan mask from Liberia or Côte d’Ivoire, and drawn within orange outlines are two Pende masks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Masks were thought to be powerful ways of communicating with spirits; the Dan mask represents a specifically female spirit, and the blue and red twisting lines in the lower left corner are a pattern of the Edo, from Benin Kingdom, called “rope of the world” representing a person’s lifetime.,   The woman’s forehead and cheeks are painted white for her initiation celebration into womanhood and vivid diagonal red lines overlap at the bridge of her nose, which leaves her mouth and chin uncovered. Loïs Mailou Jones was captivated by this woman and created the portrait in 1972, entitled Ubi Girl from Tai region.  The Tai region was part of Côte d’Ivoire, which Lois visited during her extended trip to Africa. The artist had a long-held dream of traveling to Africa since her twenties, and at the age of 65, she fulfilled her career-long ambition.

Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)

Jones continued to produce beautiful works of art.  On her 84th birthday in November 1989, Jones had a major heart attack which necessitated a triple bypass operation.  On June 9th 1998, Jones died at the age of 92 at her home in Washington, DC and is buried on Martha’s Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery.

Sanford Robinson Gifford

Sanford Robinson Gifford by Eastman Johnson (1880)

Today I am looking at an American painter, Sanford Robinson Gifford, who was a leading member of the second generation of Hudson River School artists.  The artwork of the Hudson River School captured the rugged beauty of the American landscape and celebrated and venerated the heady era of manifest destiny.  In 1845, newspaper editor John O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny, which was the belief that white Americans were divinely ordained to settle the entire continent of North America.  The second generation of Hudson River School painters set out from the New York area to explore more far-flung regions of America. Their painting documented the westward expansion and the “land grab” which underpinned the concept of Manifest Destiny. During the Civil War, their majestic images shown in their paintings of an unspoiled West provided hope for post-war reconciliation and the promise of expanses of wild country, full of promise and lands which were unscarred by battle.

Head of a Man, with Various Studies by Staford Robinson Gifford (c.1850)

Sanford Robinson Gifford was born in Greenfield, New York 0n July 10th 1823.  He was the fourth of the eleven children of Quaker ironmaker Elihu Gifford and his wife Eliza Robinson Starbuck. Most of his childhood was spent in Hudson, New York, a town on the banks of the upper reaches of the Hudson River, across from the Catskill Mountains.  Following normal schooling, Gifford entered Brown University in 1842. He left college after completing two years, and moved to New York City in 1845 to study art. He studied drawing, perspective and anatomy under the British watercolourist and drawing-master, John Rubens Smith, who in 1806 had emigrated from London to the USA and set up successful drawing schools in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  He also attended drawing classes at the National Academy of Design and studied the human figure in anatomy classes at the Crosby Street Medical College.

In 1846 Gifford visited the Berkshire Hills and the Catskill Mountains, sketching en plein air. He thoroughly enjoyed his sketching trips, once writing to a friend:

…”These studies together with the great admiration I felt for the works of [Thomas] Cole developed a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape painters’ life I was unable to return to portrait painting…”

The Artist Sketching at Mount Desert, Maine by Sanford Robinson Gifford

The American Art Union bought and exhibited some of Gifford’s first landscape paintings in 1847. In 1851 he was elected an associate, and in 1854 an academician, of the National Academy of Design.  He must have taken great pleasure in his landscape depictions as from that time on he concentrated on the landscape genre, becoming one of the finest artists of the Hudson River School. Gifford loved the freedom of the outdoors and travelled extensively to sketch landscapes which he would use later for future paintings.  On his trips he would often write to his father recording his experiences.  These letters home would, he said, serve the double purpose of letter and journal, and be an economy of time. He also asked his father to number the letters sequentially and keep them all together.

Study Of Windsor Castle by Sanford Robinson Gifford

In the summer of 1855 Gifford crossed the Atlantic and visited England, Scotland and Paris.  He then spent the winter of 1855 completing paintings from the numerous sketches he had made.

Lake Nemi by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1856)

In the Autumn of 1856, he travelled to Italy and rented a studio in Rome and, during that winter he painted pictures of the surrounding area including Lake Nemi which he visited in October 1856.  In a letter he described the scene:

“…We were high up above the lake. On one side in the foreground were some picturesque houses and ruined walls—a tall dark cypress, rising out of a rich mass of foliage, cut strongly against the lake, distance, and sky…”

A Home in the Wilderness by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1866)

By capturing scenes at sunset, Gifford was able to record the subtle effects of atmosphere and light that would become his trademark. Gifford was a true Luminist, a member of the Luminism art movement associated with many American landscape painters of the 1850’s to 1870’s  Their artwork was characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes. The landscape art of the Luminist emphasized serenity and calmness.  It focused on reflective water and soft, hazy skies but as part of often melodramatic, magnificent, oversized landscapes as the artist intended to capture the immenseness as they viewed their subject on location. An example of this Lumanism is his 1866 painting entitled A Home in the Wilderness. Gifford’s view of Mount Hayes in New Hampshire records human intrusion into a remote landscape. On the left riverbank a log cabin stands amid a recently cleared patch of land with several tree stumps, while figures in its doorway greet a man who has arrived with a canoe of supplies.

Lake Maggiore by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1859)

During the spring of 1857 whilst still in Rome, Gifford spent time with fellow American artists Worthington Whittredge, William H. Beard and Albert Bierstadt.  Gifford and Bierstadt left Rome in May 1857 and set off on a walking tour of southern Italy.  Gifford completed his European tour with visits to Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Paris, before returning to the United States at the end of the summer. 

Photograph of the 10th Street Studio Building, New York (1870)

On his return Gifford rented studio Number 19 in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City.  The Tenth Street Studio Building was constructed in New York City in 1857.  It was  situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan and was the first modern facility designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century.  Gifford retained his studio until his death.

Twilight in the Catskills by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1861)

 Over the next few years Gifford also made frequent summer trips to various north-eastern locales including the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia.

Sanford Gifford in uniform (1861)

The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 and Gifford enlisted in New York’s Seventh Regiment and marched to the defence of Washington.  Several paintings resulted from this experience, including his 1864 work entitled Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863 ,

Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863
Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia by Sanford Gifford (1861)

Another was his night scene entitled Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia which he completed in 1861.

Near Palermo by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1874)

In 1868 Gifford once again travelled to Europe, and again visited the English and French capitals.  Whilst in Paris he met with a fellow American Hudson River painter, Jervis McEntee and his wife.  McEntee was a to some extent a lesser-known figure of the 19th-century American art world but apart from his paintings, McEntee’s journals are an enduring legacy, documenting the life of a New York painter during and after the Gilded Age.  From Paris Gifford spent the summer visiting the Alps and Sicily before wintering in Rome.

Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1878)

Gifford was always stimulated by the awe-inspiring Italian landscape and his painting Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como exudes a moment of pure artistic beauty.   Gifford’s used shades of pastel blues and pinks to capture the hazy quality of a warm Italian summer afternoon. Look how the juxtaposition of light and shadow draws attention to the natural curve of the rock cliff exploited by and altered by man’s hand.  The curve in the wall gives one the feeling of motion through the road tunnel and to the side of the road we see a couple looking over at the boats below and the still waters of the beautiful lake.  Almost if we are in the tunnel\ we begin to feel the coolness of the tunnel in comparison to the area around the lake which is exposed to the sun.

Siout, Egypt by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1874)

In 1869 Gifford set off on his travels once more.  This time he journeyed to Egypt where he and some friends. He hired a boat and took a two-month  voyage from Cairo down the Nile River to the first cataract .  Although many American artists left their home shores, few ventured much further than the European Continent.  Sanford Gifford was one of the very few who ventured further afield.

On March 4 he reached the village of Siout (Asyut), on the western bank of the Nile, and this was the starting point of a great caravan route running through the Libyan Desert to the Sudan. The town was well known for being picturesque and for its history, having been the capital of the thirteenth province of Upper Egypt during antiquity and the birthplace of Plotinus, the great Neoplatonic philosopher. Gifford was taken with the town and noted in his journal the reasons for depicting it in his painting.  He wrote:

“…Looking westward, the town with its domes and minarets lay between us and the sun, bathed in a rich and beautiful atmosphere. Behind, on the right, were the yellow cliffs of the Libyan mts., running back into the tender grades of distance. Between us and the town were fields of grain, golden green with the transparent light. On the right was a tent with sheep and beautiful horses, the sunlight sparkling on a splendid white stallion. On the left the road ran in, with a fountain and figures of men and women and camels. The whole glowing and gleaming under the low sun…”

The painting, simply entitled Siout, Egypt, is one of Gifford’s finest works in which he depicted Egypt.

Constantinople from the Golden Horn by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1880)

From Egypt, Gifford travelled to the Middle East with fellow artist, Alfred Craven, via the Suez Canal, where his itinerary included Syria, Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Greece and Turkey. Gifford travelled to Constantinople in 1869 and he wrote about the time in his journal:

“…boats and costumes on the water on either side were all aglow with color, while through the purple haze of the distance flashed a thousand little golden lights from the windows of the Seraglio and the mosque of St. Sophia…”

Gifford final port of call was Venice which he reached in June 1869 and it was from here that he took a sea passage back to the United States at the beginning of September.

Portrait of Mary Cecilia Gifford by Stanford Robinson Gifford (1878)

Sanford Gifford married Mary Cecilia Canfield in 1877, at age fifty-four.

Autumn, a Wood Path by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1876)

I end this blog with my favourite painting by Gifford. It is his 1876 work entitled Autumn, a Wood Path. Gifford created several paintings depicting forest interiors, including this one set amid full autumnal blaze. The dense forest path is enclosed in a network of overarching trees which casts shadows on the rugged ground below, restricting sunlight to haphazard patches. A solitary hiker is visible in the distance.

Three years after his marriage, Gifford became ill while on a trip to Lake Superior and was brought back to New York where he was diagnosed as having contracted pneumonia following a bout of malarial fever.  On August 29th, 1880, Gifford died in New York city, aged 57, and was buried at Hudson City Cemetery, Hudson, Columbia County, New York. His death was seen as a tragedy for American art. He was memorialized in 1880 by the publication of a series of addresses given at the Century Association and by a large retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1881.  A compilation of a catalogue raisonné was published in 1881 and recorded that he had completed more than seven hundred paintings during his career.

The Rev. Dr. Bellows, who several times has officiated at the funerals of well-known American painters, delivered a touching and beautiful address in the Gifford mansion at Hudson. He spoke of Gifford’s love of his country, saying:

“…Patriotism, in the speaker’s opinion, was at one time a greater force in Gifford’s life than even love of Art; and his resolve to fight as a private soldier in the late war for the Union was greater in its influence upon the man, and in its possession of him, than even his devotion to his profession…”

Charles Frederick Ulrich

Charles Frederic Ulrich (c. 1895)

My featured artist today is Charles Frederick Ulrich, the late nineteenth-century realist painter of portraits and genre scenes who spent much of his life as an expatriate in Europe.  He was born on October 18th, 1858 in New York, the son of a German émigré photographer and painter, Friedrich Ulrich and his wife, Caroline Ulrich (née Hartje) .  Following his ordinary schooling, he studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and it is thought that he spent some time studying at the Cooper Union School of Art.  From there, in October 1875, at the age of seventeen he crossed the Atlantic and travelled to Munich where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  Here he learnt all about how to capture the subtle effects of daylight and became influenced by seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings as well as the genre paintings by contemporary German artists.  In 1879 one of his paintings was awarded a bronze medal.  His primary instructors were the German landscape and genre painter, Ludwig von Löfftz and the German history painter, Wilhelm von Lindenschmit. He also became friends with the American painter, John Henry Twachtman, who was a fellow student in Löfftz’s class and joined the circle of American-born artists who associated with Frank Duveneck in Munich and the Bavarian town of Polling.  The two artists travelled together to Polling, Germany, where an American artists’ colony had formed and they signed the guestbook sequentially in the spring of 1876. 

Around 1882 Ulrich returned to New York and began exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design. The next five years were highly productive, resulting in most of the artist’s best-known works.

The Wood Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1882)

His first painting to be exhibited at New York’s National Academy of Design was his 1882 work entitled The Wood Engraver. It was hailed a resounding success by the critics who considered the painting to be “his best.” A New York Times review of the National Academy exhibition described the painting as:

“…a picture of a woman at work before a window engraving a wood block. It is excellently painted both in figure and interior by Charles Frederick Ulrich…”

The Glass Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1883)

His painting, The Wood Engraver signified a peak period of his career, and later he would produce a series of works depicting workers. It was a subject for which he is best known for.

 In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In 1883 he was elected an associate member of the National Academy. In 1884 Ulrich completed one of his most famous paintings entitled, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden.  Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, previously known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. Built from 1808 to 1811, it was the first American immigration station, where more than 8 million people arrived in the United States from 1855 to 1890. The painting depicts a scene in Castle Garden, and Ulrich has us concentrate on a young immigrant mother at the reception station. She is sitting on her trunk which probably contains all of her worldly possessions. She breastfeeds her baby as her daughter looks off to the left.  Look behind the mother and daughter and you will see a bowler-hatted man tending to his ailing wife. Disease was rife in Castle Garden with cholera and smallpox being rampant in the crowded conditions, although it has to be said that in New York City itself, the conditions were no better. The centre was closed by the government due to cholera and smallpox epidemics and Castle Garden was replaced by another immigration resort that has become much more emblematic in collective memories, the small island of Ellis Island, where immigration services were active from 1892 to 1954

Portrait of Thomas B. Clarke, by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

The painting, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden, attracted the attention of Thomas B. Clarke, a lace and linen manufacturer who had become the country’s foremost collector of contemporary American art. Clarke was influential in numerous aspects of the New York art world, for he was treasurer of the National Society of Arts, chair of the Union League Club’s art committee, president of the New York School of Applied Design for Women, and a founding member of both the National Sculpture Society and the National Arts Club. Ulrich won the National Academy’s first Thomas B. Clarke Prize for Best American Figure Composition and as an expression of his gratitude, Ulrich painted the portrait of the collector.

An old fire-place / Granny by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1882)

In the mid 1880’s, Charles Frederic Ulrich built up a standing that was largely based on his small-scale genre scenes.  One of example of this was his 1882 painting entitled An Old Fireplace which was often referred to as A Granny.  The setting for this painting is believed to be the Ephrata Cloister, a historic German Anabaptist hermitage located west of Philadelphia which was founded in 1732. Ulrich’s austere depiction of the interior reflects the long history of Ephrata and is reinforced by the sitter’s old age and plain and simple dress.  It depicts life there as it was during his own time with its original hearth converted into a simple kitchen.

The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem, Holland by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In the summer of 1884, Ulrich returned to Europe and journeyed through Belgium and Holland.  He had made this trip with fellow American artists, William Merritt Chase and Robert Blum.  Ulrich and Blum became great friends over the next three years.  Whilst in the town of Haarlem in the Netherlands, Ulrich completed one of his best known works, The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem. The setting for the painting is a spartan workroom illuminated by the light coming through an open window. Ulrich depicts a boy who has paused during his work to allow himself to take a drink of water.  He stares at the blank wall in front of him and we wonder what is he thinking.  In the background we see two men operating a platen printing press.  Look how Ulrich has enriched the work with his attention to detail such as the ornament on the cast-iron stove.  Look at the clutter on the tabletop in front of the boy, where a bottle of water and a chipped second cup are casually placed amidst stacked blocks of type and other printing-related paraphernalia.

Glassblowers of Murano by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1886)

Ulrich left Europe and returned to New York in late 1884.  He so enjoyed his time in Europe that he immediately started to plan another voyage to there the following year and this time he planned to remain for a longer period.  It was not just his love of Europe that made him want to leave the shores of America but the lack of sales of his paintings.  According to a critic of the era, his abrupt departure was due to his “proclaimed disgust at the sordidness of an unappreciative public, which refused to bankrupt itself in the purchase of over-priced pictures.”

Ulrich went back to Holland and then moved to Venice, where he established a home in 1886.  It was here that he completed his painting, Glass Blowers of Murano which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.   Ulrich depicts workers blowing glass, a craft which was revived in Venice during the late nineteenth century. The setting for the work is the city’s glassmaking centre on the island of Murano.   Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still associated with Venetian glass.  Ulrich’s was fascinated with artisan subjects which came at the time of the international Arts and Crafts movement, which valued old-fashioned handicraft rather than industrial production. Ulrich was awarded a substantial cash award in 1886 at the National Academy of Design’s second Prize Fund Exhibition.  This indicated the degree to which an international taste had emerged in American art.

Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich

Although he maintained contact with Blum and Chase, organized exhibitions of American art in Munich in 1888 and 1892, and visited New York briefly in 1891, Ulrich remained in Europe.  He exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 1889 and 1890, in Munich at the Glaspalast, and after 1893 at the Secession exhibitions. He contributed three works to the art display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, but he focused mainly on showing his paintings widely in Europe. As a result, his work is now relatively little known in the United States. In 1897, in Munich, thirty-nine-year-old Ulrich married twenty-year-old Margarethe Oppenheim, the daughter of the banker, Hugo Oppenheim.  The couple had one son, Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich, who was born on July 29th 1901.

Waifs in an Orphanage by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In 1906, Ulrich’s name appears on the membership list of the Deutscher Künstlerbund, making him one of its earliest members.  The aim of the Deutscher Künstlerbund (Association of German Artists) was to ensure the freedom of art, to offer a public forum for different artistic trends and to support young artists.  These intentions were taken into account at annual exhibitions which took place in various German cities and sometimes in foreign countries.

Charles Frederic Ulrich died of pneumonia on May 15th 1908, aged 49.

Thomas LeClear

Thomas LeClear

The artist I am featuring today is an American, born in New York State and was considered to be one of the major artists of Buffalo’s first golden age in the mid 1800s. He is Thomas LeClear who is recognized for his beautifully crafted depiction of children.

Boys Fishing by Thomas LeClear (1846)

Thomas LeClear was born in the village of Candor, near Owego, in upstate New York on March 11th 1818.  Even at a young age LeClear showed and interest and aptitude in painting.  In Henry T. Tuckerman’s Book of the Artists, which was first published in 1867, he regaled how LeClear, at the tender age of twelve, completed a painting of Saint Matthew, which was so admired by his neighbours that they were willing to pay him two and a half dollars for copies.  In 1832, at the age of thirteen, his family moved to Ontario, Canada, and a few years later LeClear became an itinerant portrait artist and decorative painter in upstate New York and travelling as far west as Green Bay, Wisconsin.  In 1834 he went to Goodrich, a town on the shores of Lake Huron, where he took up a commission to decorate panels on a steamboat under the guidance of its owner.  The finished paintings pleased the owner but were not what LeClear had wanted to paint as he had hoped to depict scenes from American history.  LeClear left Goodrich and moved to Norfolk in the state of New York situated close to the St Lawrence Seaway.  He remained there for two years carrying out portrait commissions and when the money from the sale of them dried up he would do any manual job that was on offer but slowly but surely his money was fast running out.  He moved on to Green Bay but there was no work for him in that city so he decided to head south to New York

Young America by Thomas LeClear (c.1863)

In 1839 LeClear moved to New York City.  According to Tuckerman’s biography of LeClear. The young artist arrived in the city in a poor financial state but still had enough to open a studio at 1271 Broadway which he would later share with Albert Bierstadt. LeClear had said that the seven years of wandering, looking for work, were the darkest period of his life.  He reportedly studied for several years with Henry Inman, an American portrait, genre, and landscape painter, who was at that time, reckoned to be one of the city’s leading artists. By 1847 , still a year short of his thirtieth birthday,  LeClear had gained a reputation as a talented painter and had gained substantial recognition for his work. He began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in 1845, and in the next few years several of his genre paintings were acquired by the American Art Union.

Hi-Jack Game by Thomas LeClear (c.1861)

The year was 1847 and LeClear had arrived in Buffalo, New York.  He reckoned, with Buffalo now a very busy commercial port, there would be many possibilities for a successful career. His calculations proved correct. In short order he became an important member of Buffalo’s art community and acquired many wealthy local patrons. He was a founding member of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy which later became the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. LeClear served on its board for many years. In addition to portraits, he also produced a substantial number of genre paintings. Many of the latter were street life scenes, in which children were featured in whimsical situations. In the early 1860s LeClear moved back to New York City. where he was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design in 1863. Within a decade of his return to the city, he was believed to be one of the most prominent portrait painters on the East Coast.

Ulysses S Grant by Thomas LeClear (c.1880)

In the spring of 1861, Ulysses S Grant looked unlikely to be remembered for his greatness. He had resigned his army captain’s commission in 1854, and was struggling to survive financially as a humble clerk. This was all to change with the outbreak of the Civil War. He reenlisted in the army, and soon worked his way up through the ranks becoming a general. By war’s end, he was commander of all Union land forces and, as the chief architect of the South’s defeat, had become one of the country’s heroes. His popularity led him to be elected as US President in 1868. Grant posed for this portrait shortly after he returned from a triumphant world tour following his presidency. Thomas LeClear painted two versions. This one was originally owned by Grant himself, while the second one became part of the White House collection.

Ulysses S Grant by Thomas LeClear (1880)

President U.S. Grant was painted in a number of portraits by Thomas Le Clear, for whom the former president sat in New York in 1879, two years after the end of his presidency. The sitting led to three portraits, two of which are in the White House whilst the other hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.  This small bust portrait was not purchased by the government until the 20th century, and was produced by the painter in 1880.

Buffalo Newsboy by Thomas LeClear (1853)

Buffalo Newsboy was painted by LeClear in 1853 whilst living in Buffalo and twenty years after history’s first paperboy.  The story goes that the publisher of The New York Sun had placed an advert for newspaper hawkers stipulating that only “steady men” should apply. A ten-year-old boy, Barney Flaherty, asked to be considered and he was hired on September 4th, 1833 which is why that date is national newsboy day.  LeClear, who was a founding member and first superintendent of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, which would later become the Albright-Knox, and the institution has the work in its collection.

Interior with Portraits by Thomas LeClear (1865)

The most fascinating of Thomas LeClear’s works is his 1865 painting entitled Interior with Portraits.  The painting was commissioned by Franklin Sidway, an American businessman and banker from Buffalo, New York and is currently held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

The setting for the painting is a studio in the famous New York artist building known as the  10th Street Studio Building.  It was constructed in New York City in 1857 and was the first modern facility designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century.  The painting depicts much of the trappings of the professional artist such as a sculpted bust, animal sculptures, prints and copies after the old masters. This was the home of an artist not a photographer.  This was the home of an artist who revered the artists of the past and their works such as the Borghese Gladiator and the Venus de Milo, copies of which we see in the studio.

Parnell and James Sidway

In the painting we see two young children standing side by side.  These are Sidway’s siblings, James and Parnell, who are posing for a photograph in an artist’s studio. But all is not as it seems as both were dead when this painting was made.  The young boy on the right, James Sidway, was a volunteer firefighter, and had died in 1865, aged twenty-five whilst attending a hotel blaze.  The painting was commissioned by his brother shortly after James’ death.  The girl in the painting, Parnell Sidway, was an adolescent when she died of illness in 1850.  LeClear, having no live models for the portrait, has utilised family daguerreotypes to aid him.  Daguerreotypes were photographs taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour and were invented by Louis Daguerre, a French artist and photographer.  Painting using photographs was very contentious at the time and many artists were suspicious of the practice and maybe there are references to those hostilities in the painting.  It marked the arrival of a new technological form of virtual reality into the painter’s traditional territory.  Artists everywhere felt threatened by this new photography. Many vowed never to use photographs as painting aids and would rather acclaim the very special qualities that they believed made painting superior to photography

The two children stand before a landscape painting which has become part of the photographic trickery. This fact alone must have incensed the like of the Hudson River painters and the Western landscapes painters whose works were so dominant in the public exhibition rooms at the time.

An Old Master

Look above the landscape painting and you will see an old patriarch looking disapprovingly over the scene. Is it a mere coincidence that his portrait is partly obscured by the backdrop?  Is this hinting at the Masters are being relegated to the past by the advent of photography?

There is much to see in the work regarding the tension between painting versus photography.  The children are surrounded by painted portraits, and the demonised photographer has his back to us obscuring his face.  Does this symbolise his reluctance to be part of the photography/painting argument?  Of course, early photography had its own problems especially when it involved long exposure time and it being necessary for the subjects remaining absolutely still during the long exposure. Children were a special challenge for photographers. They sometimes used braces and ties and other torturous to keep people from moving.   Note in this painting how the girl holds onto her brother to stop him moving as a comment on the “keep still” factor.

Dog at the door

In the doorway we see a dog is depicted just about to rush into the studio, again highlighting the problem with photography as opposed to painting.  But what happens when the dog chooses just that moment to come in? Well, if you’re an artist, you would capture the moment of him in the doorway. However, if you’re a photographer, you would probably have to start over again.

Three empty chairs

Looking closely at the work of art we have another conundrum to solve.  There are three chairs dotted around but none have a sitter. One, which is positioned in front of the easel, which holds a painting of a bearded man. This had presumably once been occupied by the artist. On another chair we see a lady’s hat, shawl, and purse and the third unoccupied chair with its walking stick and discarded newspaper must have once been occupied by a gentleman.  But where are the three now? The answer is probably quite simple – they are all out here with us, the viewers. We are all standing side by side just outside the picture frame, watching the scene before us. So LeClear is now telling us that instead of there only being three people involved in the painting, there were actually six ! 

Las Meninas by Velazquez

It is thought that by using this illusion he was paying homage to Velazquez’z painting Las Meninas, which if we look at the figures in the mirror, used the same stratagem.

Two years after completing his portraits of the former president Ulysses S Grant, Thomas LeClear died of pleurisy in Rutherford Park, New Jersey on November 26th 1882 at the age of sixty-four. His wife Caroline had died thirteen years earlier when only forty-six-years of age.

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

The two lie together in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.

Mary Blood Mellen and Fitz Henry Lane – Pupil and Master.

Mary Taylor Blood was born on May 13th, 1819.  Her father was Reuben Blood, Jr. and her mother was Sally Taylor Blood and they lived in Sterling Massachusetts.  Mary had two older brothers but was the eldest of four sisters.  When she was still only a child, she was enrolled in Miss Thayer’s school, where she learned to paint with watercolours. Having shone as a potential artist she later moved to the Quaker’s Fryville Seminary in Bolton, Massachusetts.  This school was established in 1823 by Thomas Fry, a local Quaker, as a co-educational preparatory school.  It was here that she improved her skill as an artist and developed her early talent for sketching and painting.

Taking in the Sail by Mary Blood Mellen

Whilst still a teenager, the family moved to Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and as fate would have it a young Universalist minister, Reverend Charles W. Mellen, arrived to act as pastor in the neighbouring towns. Reverend Mellen came from a family of farmers from nearby Phillipston and soon after, he and Mary met and the couple fell in love. In 1840 Mary and the Reverend Charles Mellen, married and went to live in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Mary and her husband relocated many times due to his pastoral work and in 1846 while living in the Massachusetts town of Foxborough, Mary gave birth to a daughter, Amanda. Sadly the baby only survived for forty-eight hours and the gravestone they erected at the site of the grave had the poignant inscription:

“…Our short-lived flower returned unto God…”

Even sadder was the fact that the couple never had any other children.  Mary was fortunate that she had the support of her husband during these sad times and he was also very supportive with regards Mary’s artistic work.

Field Beach, Stage Fort Park by Mary Blood Mellen (c.1850)

Mary’s brother-in-law, William Grenville Roland Mellen, was also a Universalist minister and in the late 1840’s had his ministry in Cambridge Massachusetts and Mary and her husband made a number of visits to visit him in the city.  Cambridge was a metropolitan suburb of Boston and at the time Boston was considered to be the New England’s centre of culture.  In the city there was the Boston Athenaeum which is one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States.   In the years 1872–1876, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts exhibited in the Athenaeum’s gallery space while waiting for construction of its own building to be completed and at that time it boasted the largest art collection in New England.  One can be sure that Mary Mellen, whilst visiting her brother-in-law and his family, found time to visit the building and discover the artistic treasures it held.  Some of the works on display which Mary would have seen were by the American painter and printmaker, Fitz Henry Lane.

Ship at Sea by Mary Blood Mellen

Fitz Henry Lane was born in the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts on December 18th,1804.  He was actually born Nathaniel Rogers Lane but in 1831, when he was twenty-seven, he legally changed his first and middle names, becoming known as Fitz Henry Lane. He suffered various illnesses as a young child.  The most severe was paralysis due to infantile polio and after this illness he had to use crutches. Lane learned the basic art techniques while in his teens and in 1832 he started work with a firm of lithographers in Gloucester. Later in 1832, he moved to Boston for formal training and enrolled as an apprentice with William S. Pendleton, who owned one of the city’s most important lithographic firm. Lane stayed working for Pendleton until 1837, during which time he produced many illustrations for sheet music and scenic views.

Salem Harbour by Fitz Henry Lane (1853)

Whilst living in in Boston, Lane became aware of the artistic works of the English-born artist Robert Salmon, who was looked upon as the most accomplished marine painter in the area. Works of art by Salmon with their precisely detailed ships and sharply rendered effects of light and atmosphere had a pivotal influence on Lane’s early style. By 1840, Lane had produced his first oil paintings and soon he was listed in a Boston almanac as a “Marine Painter.” His works were first exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum in 1841 and, after 1845, his works were regularly shown there.

Clipper Ship Sweepstakes by Fitz Henry Lane (1853)

One of his very fine ship portrait is his 1853 painting entitled Clipper Ship Sweepstakes. The work is thought to be a pendant piece of his 1854 work entitled The “Golden State” Entering New York Harbor, The Golden State was another clipper ship owned by Chambers and Heiser who probably commissioned both works.

The Golden State entering New York Harbor by Fitz Henry Lane (1853)

This large work, The Golden State entering New York Harbor, was some four feet wide, and is considered one of Lane’s masterpieces.  The location in the depiction is not known, but it could well be the broad bay at the mouth of New York harbour. It is a blustery day with scudding clouds and a frothy chop in the very green water. The ship is flying a blue-and-white swallowtail pennant with a red tail—the house flag of Chambers and Heiser—on its foremast. An American flag flies off its stern.

View of Coffin’s Beach by Fitz Henry Lane (1862)

However, although there is no evidence that Mary Blood Mellon was formally apprenticed to Fitz Henry Lane, his early years spent working in various lithography workshops would have impressed upon him the value of having an apprentice and the connection became an asset to both the master and the student. By the mid-1850s, it seems that Mary Mellen was working alongside Lane in his Gloucester studio, and the “coupling” was working well as it appears that Lane had given Mary free access to his drawings and on some occasions allowed her to make copies from his canvases.   Her copies were so good and her stylistic faithfulness increased, such that, at a later time, even Lane himself appeared uncertain as to which was his when both were shown side by side. 

Owl’s Head, Penobscot, Maine by Fitz Henry Lane in 1862

A classic example of the this can be seen when you look at both their renditions of a scene entitled Owl’s Head, a coastal town in Knox County, Maine.  Fitz Lane completed his painting (2) Owl’s Head, Penobscot, Maine in 1862.   Lane painted Owl’s Head, (1), named for its distinctive profile, from the east, with the Camden Hills beyond. The land formations delicately mirrored in still water, the clear sky, and the pale, salmon colours of early morning emphasize the atmosphere rather than the topography of the site.  On the back of the painting, an inscription in Lane’s handwriting establishes it as his own work: Owl’s Head–Penobscot Bay, by F.H. Lane, 1862.

Owl’s Head by Mary Mellen (1860’s)

The curators and conservators of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston compared paint application and the use of colour in the paintings by Mellen (1) and Lang (2). In general, they stated that Lane’s brushstrokes seem crisper, and he more precisely defines compositional elements such as the pine trees. They also concluded that Lane’s palette is also cooler than Mellen’s. Yet on careful examination, they agreed that these details can sometimes be too close to definitively separate the authorship and it could be entirely possible that, in studio tradition, Lane contributed to Mellen’s paintings, even if she signed them, and this complicates the issues of attribution even further.

Mary Mellen was said to have copied Lane’s style so that even he could not tell which was his own painting. In his 2006 book, Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America (2006), the author James A Craig wrote:

“…Mrs. Mellen is so faithful in the copies of her master that even an expert might take them for originals. Indeed, an anecdote is related of her, which will exemplify her power in this direction. She had just completed a copy of one of Mr. Lane’s pictures when he called at her residence to see it. The copy and the original were brought down from the studio together and the master, much to the amusement of those present, was unable to tell which was his own, and which was the pupil’s…”

This copying was not unusual in an artist-apprentice relationship.  What confuses some art historians as to the attribution of a painting as it appears as though Mellen had a hand in completing parts of several Lane paintings, or may have even sketched certain landscape views that would have been difficult for Lane to access, given his lameness

Coast of Maine by Fitz Henry Lane and Mary Mellen (c.1850)

There is only one known work signed by both Lane and Mellen, and this is their 1850’s work entitled Coast of Maine. Both Mellen and Lane signed the back of the canvas of the small tondo.

Blood Family Homestead (ca. 1859) by Mary Blood Mellen

In August 1859 Mary Mellen and Fitz Henry Lane travelled together to to visit the Blood family residence in Sterling, Massachusetts, where they both created paintings of the Blood homestead with the two paintings depicting a different season.

FITZ HENRY LANE (Massachusetts, 1804-1865), "The Blood Family Homestead"., Oil on canvas, 18" x 30". Framed 22" x 35".
The Blood Family Homestead by Fitz Henry Lane

It is thought that by 1861 the Mary Mellen and her husband were living in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which was only a short distance from Gloucester. Three years later, the couple moved again, this time to Taunton, Massachusetts, which was about forty miles south of Boston.

Mary Mellen suffered duel losses in the mid 1860’s.  Fitz Henry Lane had been unwell throughout 1864 and 1865 and this culminated in a bad fall in August 1865, followed by a heart attack. He died in his home on Duncan’s Point on August 14th, 1865 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. One of Boston’s newspapers described his death as “a national loss,” however Lane’s reputation during his lifetime was mainly local and after his death he and his works were largely forgotten outside Gloucester. A year later Mary’s husband, Reverend Charles W. Mellen, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of forty-eight.  Following Lane’s death in 1865 and Charles Mellen’s death in 1866, Mary Mellen, now widowed and childless, moved to Connecticut to live with her widowed sister-in-law, Sophronia Haskell.

Fitz Henry Lane (c.1860’s)

Mary Mellen carried on painting until her death on February 11th,1886, when she died of typhoid at the age of sixty-six in Sterling, Massachusetts. Her passing was noted in several newspapers with obituaries acclaiming her as “a woman of great acquirements and an artist of prominence. Her specialty was marine work and her pictures were very popular.” Her will, which she had made in 1882 stipulated to which niece and nephew each of her original paintings by Fitz Lane should go. She also insisted that Lane’s nephew Fitz Henry Winter should receive a painting by Fitz Lane, as well as a portrait of him that was in her collection.  In recent years, art historians recognize Mary Blood Mellen as one of the most accomplished artists to work on Cape Ann in the years immediately preceding the Civil War.

Anna Massey Lea Merritt

Self portrait by Anna Massey Lea Merritt (1910-15)

Sometimes when I am searching for a new artist to write about, I come across a painting which just sticks in the mind and I know I have to learn more about the painter who has delivered such a beautiful depiction.  This blog is a prime example of this modus operandi.

Right Reverend Talbot
Right Reverend Talbot by Anna Lea Merritt (1899)

Today I am looking at the life and times of the American painter, Anna Massey Lea Merritt who spent most of her life painting whilst living in Britain.  Anna Massey Lea was born on September 13th 1844 in the city of Philadelphia. She counted among her ancestors Andrew Robeson, the first Chief Justice of Pennsylvania back in 1693. Anna was brought up in a wealthy Quaker environment and was the eldest of six children of Joseph Lea and Susanna Massey.  Her affluent upbringing allowed her to attend politically progressive schools where she studied classics, languages, mathematics, and music with private tutors.  As far as her artistic upbringing was concerned, she began to study drawing with the portrait painter, William Henry Furness, at the age of seven.   Admission to the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was probably not possible for her but later she studied anatomy at the newly founded Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia.

War
War by Anna Lea Merritt (1883)

In 1867, when she was twenty-three, she and her family took a trip to Europe.  continuing her art studies at the Louvre in Paris, in Rome, and in Dresden with the painter the German painter, Heinrich Hoffman, at the Academy of Art in Dresden. In 1870 Anna was living in Paris.  She was at a boarding school living with her sister but that July the Franco-Prussian War broke out and the Prussian army was marching on the French capital.  Fearing for their safety, she and her family were forced to abandon France and make their way to London.  Rather than return to America with her family she persuaded her father to let her remain in London.  He acquiesced and arranged for her to live with family friends.  However, at their house there was no room for a studio but after searching for a suitable place she found one in the house where Henry Merritt lived. Later in her 1879 biography, Henry Merritt: Art Criticism and Romance, she wrote about the early days in the studio and her timidity towards Henry Merritt:

“…I soon heard that he was a restorer and a connoisseur, but with timidity natural in a woman living alone in a foreign country, I avoided every acquaintance which might seem to arise in an accidental manner. I shut myself into an ugly studio, with a window through which I could look neither on the earth nor into the sky, and produced ugly pictures with no truth in them…”

Henry Merritt

Once Anna had got over her initial shyness, she became quite close to Merritt and took advice from him with regards her paintings.  She offered to pay him for his guidance but he refused stating his “rules”:

“… if I teach you, I must have the right to do it my own way. I must come when I like and scold you as much as I choose, and be altogether my own master if I am to be yours…”

And so he began to critique her work and was often quite blunt as Anna remembered:

“…So it was : how he scolded me ; how ruthlessly he rubbed out again and again the work of days, bidding me do it better ; what pains he took to make me appreciate true points of excellence ! When my work was dry, and had lain by awhile, he would sketch upon it in crayon, de- signing backgrounds or trying various effects of chiaroscuro. No one ever witnessed as I have done his fertility of invention, his refinement of colouring, his variety in touch. Often, he would work thus for a couple of hours, transforming my tame study of a model into a vision. The picture would go through a succession of different effects, any one of which could have satisfied a less imaginative mind. He would then throw down the chalks or the brushes, as the case might be, just give me time to study it, and wash off all he had done, bidding me make another design according to similar laws…”

Over time Anna’s relationship with Henry Merritt changed from Master and Pupil to a more intimate relationship.  Around the winter of 1875 Henry’s health deteriorated and he developed a never-ending cough which he downplayed to Anna saying:

“…It would be impossible to cough so splendidly with weak lungs…..My cough is no better although I have practiced it continually…”

The cough didn’t get better, in fact, it worsened and he began to cough up blood which he tried to ignore using a coloured handkerchief to catch the phlegm and disguise any signs of blood.    In the Spring of 1876 Anna was forced to leave London and travel to America as escort for her younger sister who had to return to the family.  She told Henry that she did not want to leave him but it was her duty to the family but she promised to return in the Autumn.

Anna, once in America, now found herself having to pay for two studios – the one in America and the rent on her London studio and to afford this she had to find some commissions for her work.  All the time Henry was writing to her telling her to concentrate on her art and look for work.   The tone of his letters showed how he had become devoted to Anna.  He would address his letters to:

“My dear little pupil”

In a letter from his Devonshire Street studio, dated May 8th 1876, he tried to ease Anna’s worries that during their enforced separation he would forget her and write words to boost her self-belief.  He wrote:

“…You imagine that I shall forget you. Am I likely after all the trouble I have taken to make a painter of you ? Do we plant fruit trees in order to leave them when the blossoms that are to produce peaches and apples appear ? Some day you will learn to value your many precious gifts better than to surmise that anyone possessing understanding will fail to appreciate a talented girl. Those who have hearts—there are not many—will not fail to see that Anna M. Lea is also a generous girl. I saw it long ago, or I should hardly have taken the trouble to teach her to spread colours upon canvas…”

Portrait of Henry Merritt with a Pipe by Anna Lea Merritt (1877)

Their separation lasted until March 1877.  It was a time when Anna was grieving for two close relatives who had died and it made her more conscious with regards life and death and that Henry was still ill and living alone in London.  It also coincided with having completed a number of lucrative commissions so that she was in the financial position to buy a sea passage to England.

In mid-March 1877, Anna arrived in Liverpool and travelled down to London to see Henry.  A small celebratory party followed.  Of the evening Anna recalled what Henry said to her.  In her 1879 biography of her husband, Henry Merritt: Art Criticism and Romance, she recalled his words:

“…Little Pupil we shall be married.  I cannot part from you again.  I am like a ship at the end of a long voyage, after ploughing the ocean for many a year, become covered with barnacles and all sorts of queer clinging weeds. But I do not see why I should give up our happiness for the sake of ungrateful people, who only think of what money they can get from me. We can still spare something for them, but in time perhaps you will have to defend me from them. You will be happy living in a cottage, as we soon shall, when I show you what a beautiful life it can be made. You are my only true friend, we must never be separated…”

On April 17th 1877 Anna and Henry married privately at St Pancras Church, London.  She was thirty-three years old, he was fifty-five. It was a happy time for the couple.  However Anna was ever conscious that her husband’s facial expression could not mask the pain he was in.  On July 22nd, Henry’s fifty-fifth birthday they drove to Hampton Court and talked about their future plans and buying a small cottage in the country.  Henry’s health took a turn for the worse and Anna recalls those last days with her husband:

“…Suffering became intense, but was never more nobly borne. His constant thought was for me. He feared my fatigue, he-feared my anxiety; but it was my great comfort that he could not spare me from him. No one else could be permitted to wait upon him, and for every trifling service he was so grateful, as though he did not expect to be tenderly nursed. ‘I have borne years of loneliness,’ he said, ‘ but happiness is too much for me.”

Henry Merritt died in July 10th 1877, shortly after his fifty-fifth birthday  and he was buried in Woking and as she promised Henry, Anna had an elm tree planted above his grave. Anna had decided that she would give up painting when she married Henry but now, with him dead, her plans had to change and she survived financially by her portrait paintings and her depictions of Victorian subjects.

Love Locked Out: a nude figure stands with her back to the viewer, leaning against a closed door.
Love Locked Out by Anna Lea Merritt (1889)

Now, I come to that painting I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.  It is looked on as her great masterpiece.  It is entitled Love Locked Out which she completed in 1889.  This painting shows young Cupid, the god of desire, pressed against the door of a tomb. Anna painted it as a memorial to her husband.  The thorny rose around the door frame symbolises the pain of bereavement and the persistence of love. Cupid has abandoned the world, his arrow and extinguished lamp lie on the ground with the autumn leaves. Anna described the depiction as Cupid attempting in vain to force open the door of a mausoleum, as ‘Love waiting for the door of death to open’ so that the ‘lonely pair’ might be once again reunited.  In a way it symbolised her desperate effort to be with her husband in the next life.  The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890 and is now part of the Tate Britain collection. She was the first woman artist to have a work acquired for the Tate collection. 

The Watchers of the Straight Gate by Anna Lea Merritt (1894)

In 1894 Anna Merritt completed another painting which depicted the two worlds – pre-death and after-death, The Watchers of the Straight Gate is Anna Merritts take on the transition between Earth and Heaven, between the living and the dead. The setting is just inside the gate to Heaven.  The reddish marble columns were reminders to Anna of the columns at the National Gallery, where she sought special permission to bring her canvas so that she could paint them directly, rather than from memory.  The artist has depicted two angels.  One carries a scale on which to weigh the soul of who wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven.  The other angel is seen holding a crown of wild roses with which to welcome accepted souls into glory. If we look between the gate we are offered a view of a verdant landscape transected by a path, which Anna described as depicting the ‘steep road descending to our village’ of Hurstbourne Tarrant in Dorset, where she was living at the time.

In 1890 Anna Merritt moved out of London and settled permanently in the Hampshire village of Hurstbourne Tarrant.  It was her love of the rural village that made her put pen to paper years later and produce her 1902 book, A Hamlet in Old Hampshire.

Eve Overcome by Remorse by Anna Lea Merritt (1887)

In 1893 she received medals for two works at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, a mural in the Woman’s Building and the painting Eve Overcome by Remorse which she had finished six years earlier.

Wall murals at St. Martin’s Church in Surrey by Anna Lea Merritt (1893/4)

She then accepted the commission to paint murals for St. Martin’s Church in Surrey (1893-94).

 Museum Art Reproductions | James Russell Lowell, 1882 by Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930, United States) | ArtsDot.com
Portrait of James Russell Lowell by Anna Lea Merritt (1882)

Merritt was a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and carried out numerous portrait commissions, including her 1882 portrait of James Russell Lowell, the American Romantic poet and is now part of the Harvard University Portrait collection.

Often I have written about the obstacles put in front of aspiring female artists but strangely Anna Merritt was not convinced about this and in 1900, she wrote an amusing article in Lippincott’s Magazine entitled Letter to Artists in which she cited problems in domestic life as being the main problem for female painters.  The article concluded:

“…The chief obstacle to a woman’s success is that she can never have a wife. Just reflect what a wife does for an artist: Darns the stockings; keeps his house; writes his letters; visits for his benefit; wards off intruders; is personally suggestive of beautiful pictures; always an encouraging and partial critic. It is exceedingly difficult to be an artist without this time-saving help. A husband would be quite useless…”

Anna Lea Merritt died in Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire on 5 April 1930, aged 85.

Frederick Frieseke. Part 3. The latter years.

Portrait of Frederick Carl Frieseke by Lawton Palmer (1912-13)

Frederick Frieseke and Sadie O’Bryan became great friends with an American couple, Richard and Billee Miller who were also staying in Giverny.  Richard Miller had arrived in France a short time after Frederick Frieseke. Miller was a St Louis-born artist who had been honoured by receiving the first scholarship to study in Paris, awarded by the St. Louis School of Fine Arts Student Association.  He too relocated to Giverny for periods and leased a house adjacent to Monet’s property.  Mary Colman Wheeler was the founder and first head of the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island and in 1887, she started a practice of taking groups of students to France during the summer to learn the French language and study painting and art history and also rented a house close to Monet’s residence.  In 1906 Richard Miller was giving summer art instruction in Giverny to the female students of Wheeler’s group.  In the mornings Miller and his students worked indoors with a model, and in the afternoon they sketched outdoors. In 1907 Roger Miller married one of Miss Wheeler’s students, Henriette Adams, known as Billee.

Nude Seated at her Dressing Table by Frederick Frieseke (1909)

Richard Miller was well connected in America and had attained European success very early in his career.  He was offered a chance to fill a whole room with his paintings at the Eighth International Venice Biennial during April and in May 1909, being a close friend and admirer of Frieseke’s work he offered to give up some of that space for Frederick’s paintings.  Frieseke exhibited some of his plein air works as well as a studio work entitled Nude Seated which he had completed that year. A work very similar to this and painted the same year was Nude Seated at her Dressing Table which is now part of the Smithsonian Collection.

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The Garden Parasol by Frederick Frieseke

Frederick Frieseke along with other artists, often referred to as Giverny Luminists, put on a joint exhibition of their work at the Henry Fitch Taylor’s Madison Art Gallery in December 1910. Fitch Taylor, an American artist, who had spent time in Giverny with the other artists, on returning to the United States, rented a studio in New York City and began to exhibit his Impressionist landscapes. In 1909, Taylor was appointed to direct Madison Art Gallery by Clara Davidge, an avid supporter of the arts and Taylor’s future wife.

This exhibition of Frieseke’s work was a turning point for him as far as the American market was concerned as William Macbeth, the most successful and influential of the New York dealers in contemporary painting at the time, might well have seen Frieseke’s work at the Madison Art Gallery exhibition. He had already seen some of Frederick’s Giverny paintings whilst in Paris in the early winter of 1908, at the Société International.  By September 1911 Macbeth and Frieseke made plans for Frederick to hold a one-man exhibition at the Macbeth Art Gallery on New York’s Fifth Avenue.  It opened on January 17th, 1912. 

Frederick Carl Frieseke (American, 1874-1939) Two Ladies in a Garden 32 x 32in
Two Ladies in a Garden by Frederick Frieseke

Frederick Frieseke continued to depict females in a state of undress in various settings and this could be one of his reasons for remaining in France and not returning to live in America.  Once when asked if he considered himself an ex-patriot, he said:

“…I am not an expatriate. I often return to the States, and I look forward to finally locating there. I stay on here because I am more free and there are not the Puritanical restrictions which prevail in America…I can paint a nude in my own garden or down by the fish pond and not be run out of town…”

The following month Frederick and Sadie returned to France and apart from a brief visit to America at the end of 1928 Frederick would never again step foot on his homeland.

Cherry Blossoms by Frederick Frieseke (c.1913)

One such painting was his work entitled Cherry Blossoms which he completed around 1913.  The setting for the painting is Frieseke’s lush garden in Giverny.  The colours used in this painting bedazzle the viewer.  Frieseke has blended deep shades with light pastels of greens, blues and yellows, which are set off by traces of white and red.  A female figure, dappled in sunlight, looks relaxed as she enjoys the outdoor space. It is an explosive display of both colour and light, a grand depiction of a day of full sun but with conflicting shadows.  In Dr. William H Gerdt’s 1993 book, Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, he wrote of Frieseke’s Giverny works:

“…it was Frieseke who introduced into the repertory of Giverny painting the concern for rich, decorative patterns, related to the art of Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and the other Nabi painters. There are patterns of furniture, patterns of parasols, patterns of fabric and wall coverings, patterns of light and shade, and patterns of flowers, all played off one another in bright sunshine…”

The dappling effect of sunlight in this work can often be found in other paintings by Frieseke around this time.

Reflections (Marcelle) by Frederick Frieseke (c.1909)

One of Frieseke’s favourite models was a red-headed French lady simply known as Marcelle.  She had posed for his well-known work entitled Reflections (Marcelle) which he completed around 1909.  This painting is typical of Frieseke’s many works depicting nudes relaxing in elegant boudoirs, which were often adorned with sumptuous fabrics and rugs. Marcelle stares tranquilly into the mirror at her reflection. She touches the string of her blue necklace.  We are positioned in close proximity to her beautifully rendered figure, which combines what is termed, the “serpentine curve”.  A curve of the body which has been looked upon by centuries of artists as a trademark of beauty.

On the Dunes by Frederick Frieseke (1913)

Having undergone a dreadful summer of bad weather in Paris, Frederick, after completing a number of paintings which he was pleased with, crated them up and sent them to the Macbeth Gallery in New York. He then decided to take his wife, Sadie, away from Paris and travel to the island of Corsica where he planned to stay over the winter months.  Once they arrived, they found a house with a garden which they liked, and Frederick set up his studio.  He then contacted his favourite Parisian model, Marcelle, and had her come to Corsica.  She would feature in six large paintings he completed which were exhibited at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.  The weather on Corsica was a great improvement to the previous Giverny summer and even though it was winter, Frederick was able to get Marcelle to pose naked on the beach.  His painting On the Dunes was painted en plein air with Sadie keeping a look-out to warn her husband of approaching tourists !

The Hammock by Frederick Frieseke (c.1915)

In 1915 Frieseke completed another Imressionist-style painting entitled The Hammock.  He was now painting using softer colours and strived to emphasize the natural light.  The predominant colour is periwinkle blue which gives a feeling of coolness afforded by the shade from the nearby trees.  To show how the sunlight as filtered through the leaves of the trees Frieseke has painted vivid white spots.  Frederick had always been fascinated by sunlight, writing that he preferred to paint sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine.

Before Her Appearance by Frederick Frieseke (1913)

The sale of Frederick’s paintings in America had being going well and his arrangement with Wannamaker to purchase a regular number of his works was still in force.  One of his biggest sales was for his painting, Before Her Appearance, which he completed whilst in Corsica during the winter of 1912.  It was later shown at the 1913 Salon before being bought by the wealthy socialite, Mrs Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt, for $2500.   In the painting we see the young lady, modelled by Marcelle, applying the last bit of ardent rouge to her lips before going on stage.  The female dancer is seated on a stool in her dressing room, looking at herself in the mirror. It is a very intimate scene with a very tender, almost monochromatic palette of pink, pale blue, marble white, and an occasional patch of yellow.

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Frances (The artist’s daughter) by Frederick Frieseke (1924)

By the end of 1913, Frederick Frieseke and his wife Sadie found themselves in a financially sound position and bought themselves an apartment on the rue du Cherche Midi in Montparnasse.  The other good news the couple received at the end of 1913 was that Sadie, after a number of miscarriages, was once again pregnant.   Sadie gave birth to their only child, Frances, in Paris on August 2nd 1914, just about the time the French military forces were mobilizing for war with Germany.  By the end of 1914 most American painters had returned home but the Friesekes decided to remain in Paris.  In a letter to his American art dealer, William Macbeth on September 11th 1914, he wrote:

“…You see we are still staying by the flag. Things were sufficiently exciting with aeroplanes dropping bombs. We are provisioned for a six months’ siege. I couldn’t stand leaving Paris after the years I’ve lived here. Seemed like running away…”

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Peace by Frederick Frieseke (1917)

The war progressed and the Friesekes continued with their normal routines living and working in Paris and Giverny, and between October 1917 and the Spring of 1918 they spent time in the south of the country.  One of Frederick’s paintings completed during 1917 was entitled Peace which he sent to Macbeth in New York.  It is a depiction of a mother sitting beside her child’s cradle as she sews.  The model for this painting was Louise, who came from Giverny who often posed for Frieseke around this time.  The cradle in the depiction was that of Frieseke’s daughter, Frances, who had long since outgrown it.

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The Mother (Sadie and their one-year-old baby Frances) By Frederick Frieseke (1915)

One of Frederick Frieseke’s greatest honours was winning the Grand Prize at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, which was held in San Francisco in 1915.   Among his entries was his painting entitled Summer, which is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.   Of the painting, the New York Times of June 1915 declared:

“…Mr. Frieseke, whose accomplished work is well known to New Yorkers, says the last word in the style that was modern before the Modernists came along. Whatever he does has a sense of design, color, and style. A sense of gayety, an entertaining and well considered pattern, a remarkable knowledge of the effect of outdoor light on color are found in nearly all of his most recent paintings…”

Summer by Frederick Frieseke (1914)

After the first World War, Frieseke purchased a country home, the farmhouse, La Beauvairie, in the Normandy village of Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy, where Frederick could sate his desire to fish.  

La Beauvierie

Also, after the Great War had ended, there was a slow but steady waning in Frieseke’s popularity and this was despite him winning many awards and the purchasing of his works by a number of museums.  However lessening sales and discouraging reviews signaled a change in tastes in art buyers.  Art critics saw his work as outmoded and overly conservative and Frieseke as a painter of pretty women.  It was also during this time that his style was becoming less  French-Impressionist and moving more towards realism.

The Library by Frederick Frieseke (1934)

In the latter weeks of 1928, Frederick and his family returned to America for a short time.  It was to be their last visit to their homeland.  When they returned to France, Frederick’s fifteen-year-old daughter Frances became seriously ill and was diagnosed as having a pre-tubercular condition.  It was decided that due to her health conditions the family should move to the cleaner air of Switzerland where they spent the next two years.  By 1932, Frances had recovered and the family returned to Normandy.  However by 1934 the family finances had become dire and Frederick was forced to sell his Paris studio. However he did complete two works which featured Frances. One was entitled The Library whilst the other was Blue Girl Reading.

Blue Girl Reading by Frederick Frieseke (1934)

By 1935 people were sensing that the political turmoil in Germany would lead to another large-scale war.   Also in Europe the effects of the Great Depression were still being felt and the sale of his paintings in America had dipped alarmingly.  On the family front, Frederick and Sadie’s daughter Frances, now twenty-one and fully recovered from her illness, had become engaged to Kenton Kilmer, a young American poet and editor with whom she had begun a correspondence in the winter of 1933—34. Add all this together and Frederick and Sadie began to contemplate returning to America.

Considering their daughter’s impending marriage and other factors, the Friesekes contemplated the possibility of moving to the United States.   The marriage ceremony of Frances Frieseke and Kenton Kilmer was held in Le Mesnil sur Blangy on June 2nd, 1937 and it proved a great village celebration.  A few days later the newly-weds travelled to America to live. At the end of 1937 Frances told her parents that she was pregnant.  With the announcement of Frances’s pregnancy at the end of the year, the issue of the Friesekes’ possible return took on additional impetus. But they had to consider what would happen to Frederick’s career if they went ahead with the re-location, since painting is a reaction to where you live. Frances gave birth to a baby boy, Hugh, in late 1938, in Arlington Virginnia. He was the first of their five children and like his grandparents Hugh became an accomplished painter, and also a sculptor, and poet. He taught English, philosophy, and theology at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.  This new addition to the family put further pressure on Frances’ parents to at least go to America for a visit.

Sadie and Frederick at La Beauvairie (1939)

The Friesekes purchased tickets for a visit to the United States to see their daughter, Frances, Kenton, and  their new baby. But it was not to be. On the afternoon of August 24, 1939, shortly after the German invasion of Poland, Frederick Frieseke died suddenly at his home in Normandy. The cause was an aneurysm. Sadie cabled Frances:

…Darling our Papa could not stand the overpowering emotions of the last few days with no suffering he left us last night … be brave and help me to bear my sorrow …”


Most of the information for these three blogs on Frederick Frieseke came from the Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah’s catalogue which accompanied the exhibition, Frederick Carl Frieseke  The Evolution of an American Impressionist

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Frederick Frieseke. Part 2.

Frederick Frieseke

In the Spring of 1902, Frederick Frieseke was back in America after a five-year stint in France.  His reason for returning to his country was two-fold.  He wanted to take care of his American side of his career and probably more importantly he had come to be with his stepmother who was seriously ill.  Once on American soil he wanted to have some of his artwork exhibited at two prestigious exhibitions – the Art Institute of Chicago and then the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Having exhibited in Paris at the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon stood him in good stead.  Frederick held a series of meetings with William R. French, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, which resulted in a special exhibition of eight of his paintings, which were hung together in Chicago’s annual exhibition.

Gertrude, Girl with a Book by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

During the next seven months Frederick spent time in Owosso, transacted business in New York and Chicago, and was able to maintain his flow of drawings for Wanamaker, as well as visiting Sadie in New York. Frederick continued to paint whilst in Owosso and he employed a local young woman, Gertrude Hallowell to model for him. One such work was his painting, Gertrude, Girl with a Book, which he completed in 1902, featured Hallowell.

Woman Reading beside a Lamp by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

Another portrait featuring Hallowell was his painting entitled Femme lisant a cote d’line Inmpe (Woman Reading beside a Lamp) which he also completed that year.

The Green Sash (Medora Clark) by Frederick Frieseke (1904)

Frederick returned to Paris in November 1902 and moved into his new studio and apartment at 6, rue Victor Considerant, which was situated on the opposite side of the Place Denfert Rochereau. The rooms he rented were on the first floor above the apartment of the newly married Alson and Medora Clark, with whom he was to build up a great relationship with for the next few years.  The couple were pleased to provide Frederick with a kind of domestic permanency and friendship. The three often shared meals and spent evenings together. Medora soon became Frederick’s model and posed for his 1904 painting entitled The Green Sash.

Sleep by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Fredeick Frieseke also engaged the services of a Parisian model, Jeanne Blazy, someone who had worked with the leading artists at the time.  For Frederick she was not just his model, she was also a great help to him taking over some of his domestic chores.  In a letter to Sadie Byers dated March 27th 1904, he wrote:

“…I’ve had a nice model. She’s as useful as anything in other things besides posing. Brings my things for luncheon and cooks them before she leaves, hunts up anything I wish and is always cheerful. Always late but works on as long as I wish. She has posed for Whistler and lots of the big men. Posed for MacMonnies’ statue in the Luxembourg…”

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Bacchante with Infant Faun by Frederick McMonnies

The bronze statue he wrote about was Bacchante with Infant Faun by the American sculptor William Frederick McMonnies’ 1894 work and it was Blazy’s talent of standing on one foot for a long time while balancing an infant on her arm, as she apparently did for MacMonnies’s Bacchante with Infant Faun.  It was exhibited at the 1893 Salon of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and later purchased for the Luxembourg Museum.  Frederick used Jeanne Blazy for his 1903 painting entitled Sleep.

Sadie O’Bryan and her family returned to Paris in October 1903 and took a small apartment at 206, boulevard Raspail.  Just around the corner was the Dome, the cafe-restaurant where the American artists were often to be found and Frederick lived a short ten- minute walk away.  Sadie’s father, Judge O’Bryan died suddenly on March 1st, 1904, following an operation for appendicitis. This meant that the family had to make a hasty return to America.  Frederick had been with the family around the time of Sadie’s father’s death and decided to return to America with them.  The family and Frederick left France on March 5th 1904 on the SS. Saint Paul and arrived in New York on March 13th and then travelled to Pittsburgh.

Frederick and Sadie were now apart once again.  She in Pittsburgh with her family and he in New Jersey.  They kept on with their correspondence and in one poignant letter he tried to console her.  He wrote:

“…Yesterday morning I went to see Foote, and he was surprised enough to see me. Got me onto the floor and jumped on my—what one should keep covered—and we had a nice day together. It was horribly hard for me to leave you the other night. And when I came back for my umbrella and found you crying —dear me—I most disgraced us all by putting my arms around you. Dearie, the first days of your getting home are going to be hard ones for you all…”

Le Thé au Jardin by Frederick Frieseke (1904)

Frederick Frieseke had associated with a group of Americans artists and their partners, including the Clarks, who frequented the residence of Grace Lee Hess, at her house in Moret-sur-Loing, some fifty kilometres southeast of Paris, beyond Barbizon and Fontainebleau.  It was here that Frederick and his friends celebrated the Fourth of July, and it was also here that Frederick executed his first large figure painting done plein air, Le Thé au Jardin (Tea in the Garden), featuring Grace Lee Hess and friends. This is a classic work in the Impressionist manner and a magnificent example of Frederick Carl Frieseke’s early style. His paintings completed between 1904 and 1919 epitomise his ambitious and important ventures into the world of Impressionism.  It was the first true en plein air work that Frieseke painted and Le Thé au Jardin marks the most noteworthy turning point in the artist’s career.

Frieseke had not only had Grace Lee Hess model for his large painting, Le Thé au Jardin but had also completed a portrait of her.  Their relationship blossomed and may have given Hess thoughts of romance but Frederick, and even though he liked to be spoiled by Hess, was wary of this turn of events.  It all came to a bitter end when Frederick announced his engagement to Sadie and in a letter to his betrothed, he talked about his rift with Grace Lee Hess:

“…It’s all over between Miss Hess and myself. She refuses to see me and insists that I’ve not acted honorably etc., which is very much too bad. And I’m sorry to lose her friendship but, well, I love Sadie very much and she loves me and while she may not be so keen at discovering my faults and correcting them—yet I think for that reason we will get along beautifully . . . and not quarrel as was the habit of Miss H and myself. At least I corrected the offenses and she did the quarrelling…”

Rest (Femme au Sofa) by Frederick Frieseke (1906)

Frederick Frieseke and Sadie O’Bryan were finally married on June 27th 1905.  In 1906 Frieseke completed a formal wedding portrait of his wife entitled Rest (Femme au sofa).  This work, which appeared at the Salon that year, marked a new direction of Frieseke’s work. It was the start of what was to be many of his domestic depictions that would occupy him for the rest of his life – the embellishment of his intimate relationship he had with his wife and family.

Hotel Baudy (now a restaurant)

Beginning in 1906 they began to escape the cold smoky atmosphere of Paris and spend the warmer months in Giverny, which at the time was a small rural village fifty miles west of Paris on the right bank of the Seine as it runs towards the sea.  At the time it was a well-established art colony which was popular with American artists who had crossed the Atlantic to further their artistic experience.  It was not just a community that solely painted.  It was a group of like-minded people who enjoyed socialising.  The men would take time off to fish. There was also numerous evenings where they would listen to or play music.  Days were often spent playing tennis at the courts of the nearby Hotel Baudy.  Models were brought in from Paris and posed nude in the protected gardens. Often the artists would pose for each other.  The Friesekes would often take tea with the Monets, who were neighbours and Monet and Sadie, who both loved gardening would spend hours deliberating on the proposed expansion of Monet’s garden, and the new bridge from which his water lily garden could be enjoyed.

…………………………………….to be continued.

Frederick Frieseke – The American Impressionist.

Frederick Frieseke

Many American painters after having completed their artistic training in their homeland were drawn across the Atlantic to Europe.  The lure of what was happening in France was hard to resist in the nineteenth century and more so in the latter part of that century when the world of Impressionism was in full flow.   My featured artist today was one of many to sample the delights of this art genre and became one of the great American Impressionists.  Let me introduce you to Frederick Carl Frieseke.

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Frederick Frieseke’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home  in the central Michigan town of Owosso

Frederick Carl Frieseke was born on April 7th 1874 in the small central Michigan town of Owosso.  He was among the first of the Friesekes to be born in America.  His grandfather, also Frederick Frieseke, who had fought in the Battle of Waterloo, came to America with his wife and family from the German village of Pritzerbe in Brandenburg, and settled in the small central Michigan town of Owosso in 1858.  Two years later two of his sons Julius and Herman enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.  After the war was over Herman set himself up in the business of manufacturing bricks and drain tiles, using the local salmon-coloured clay.  After a number of years, the two brothers became well known and well liked and held various offices in the town council.  Herman Carl Frieseke married a local Owosso girl, Eva Graham and the couple went on to have two children, a daughter, Edith in 1871 and a son, Frederick Carl in 1874.

In 1880, when Frederick was just six years old, his mother died.  The next year Herman and his family left Owosso and relocated to Florida where he and his brother Albert set up another brick-making business in Jacksonville.  Frederick returned to Owosso and attended the local public school.  During his early years he was influenced by his maternal grandmother, Valetta Gould Graham’s love of art.  Thoughts of a career as a professional artist intensified after he visited the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 and he was amazed by the numerous paintings and posters.  He enjoyed sketching and painting and realised that he too could earn a living from his art.

In 1893, Frederick Frieseke, after graduating from Owosso High School, enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago studying with the American artist, Frederick Warren Freer and the Dutch-American figurative painter John Vanderpoel. Fredrick remained there until 1896.  Having successfully completed his studies at the Art Institute he persuaded his father to give him money so he could take a trip to New York and enrol at the Art Students League.  His father acquiesced to this financial plea and Frederick headed for New York and enrolled in the men’s afternoon life class at the Art Students League. To make some money he decided to complete some cartoon drawings and sell them to popular magazines such as Puck, Truth, and the New York Times.  He later remembered the hard times of his New York stay, writing in a letter to his fiancée, Sarah O’Bryan, dated February 18th 1902:

“…I remember I didn’t much like my winter in New York.  I was doing jokes, and it wasn’t much to joke about, trying to make a living out of them. If I had had more success, though, I should never have come abroad, never have painted, and most important of all should never have known the dearest girl in the world…”

Art Students. Pen and ink drawing by Frederick Frieseke

It would appear that Frederick did just enough to survive.  He would submit a pen an ink cartoon to a publisher and would wait to see if was published and only then would he receive payment.  Having been paid Frederick would go to the library and read for days on end and would not put pen to paper again until he was almost broke.

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Montparnasse Landscape (Hilltop Street) by Frederick Frieseke

It was in 1898 that Frederick made the decision not to carry on with his cartoon drawings which were much in demand but instead concentrate on painting.  Once again he approached his father for financial support to pay for his sea passage to France.  Once again his father acquiesced and in September 1897 Frederick set sail on the SS Massachusetts, accompanying him was a fellow art student from the Art Institute of  Chicago and long-term friend from Michigan, Will Howe Foote. In early 1898 Frederick enrolled at the Académie Julian and for that first summer on foreign soil Frederick travelled to Holland and spent time in the artist colonies of Katwijk and Laren, where he concentrated on landscape painting using watercolours. 

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Self Portrait by Frederick Frieseke (1901)

The Académie Carmen, also known as Whistler’s School, was a short-lived Parisian art school founded by James MacNeill Whistler.  It was named after Whistler’s Neapolitan model Carmen Rossi and it practiced the successful formula devised by Académie Julian, in which a model was available to artists, all day.   It operated from 1898 to 1901. The school was situated in a large house and stable at No. 6 Passage Stanislas, near the Rue Notre Dame du Champs, in the midst of the Montparnasse artists’ quarter. Frieseke along with his friend and travelling companion, Will Howe Foote, attended some of the classes.  Whistler taught without pay as a “visiting professor,” and appeared once a week to offer criticism.  It was Whistler who persuaded Frederick to paint in oils.

Holland, 1898 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Holland by Frederick Frieseke (1898)

For an artist to survive he must sell his work and to sell his work he needs the chance to exhibit his paintings.  The Salons of Paris offered vital opportunities to the struggling artists but for young Americans who had come to Paris to further their ambitions there was another opportunity to show their work.  This opportunity was due to the American painter and philanthropist Abraham Archibald Anderson who conceived the idea of establishing an association for the benefit of American students in Paris. All he needed was a meeting place. 

Through his personal efforts, and those of his friends, such as Whitelaw Read, the US Ambassador to France and Rodman Wanamaker, the son of the millionaire department store magnate, John Wanamaker. Anderson had bought a half-ruined and abandoned building which he had discovered on the boulevard du Montparnasse. He then entirely restored it to its former glory and in May 1890 American Art Association of Paris finally opened its doors.

Misty Morning on the Seine, 1899 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Misty Morning on the Seine by Frederick Frieseke (1899)

The Association would hold exhibitions of members paintings and at one of these Rodman Wanamaker noted the excellent drawings on the exhibition programme done by Frederick Frieseke, so much so that he invited Frieseke to become the illustrator of catalogues and advertisements for John Wanamaker’s stores in Philadelphia and New York.  After much discussion Friedeke accepted the position on the proviso he could remain in Paris.  Wanamaker agreed and Frieseke’s close relationship with the Wanamakers led to many painting commissions including Frieseke painting mural decorations which were installed in Wanamaker’s New York department store in 1904. In 1906 the murals he painted for the Shelbourne Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ, were put in place.

Sadie O’Bryan (1901)

It was not all work and no play for Frieseke as in 1900 love came a’calling in the shape of Sarah Anne O’Bryan.   Sarah Anne O’Bryan of Pittsburgh, known as Sadie, was the daughter of John Duross O’Bryan, an American judge, who had made and lost a series of fortunes in speculative ventures in the American West.  O’Bryan was fond of crossing the Atlantic to take vacations with his family and residing in Paris.

Luxembourg Gardens, 1902 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Luxenbourg Gardens by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

In 1900, the O’Bryans had arrived in Paris and were living in an apartment at 72, rue Herschel, a very fashionable address not far from the Luxembourg Gardens,.  Their daughter Sarah, who, along with her younger sister Janet had accompanied them on this trip, was studying drawing and painting.   Soon after her arrival in the French capital she and Frieseke met. Very soon the couple fell in love and had, between themselves, agreed to an informal engagement.  However, when her father found out about this planned engagement he vetoed it as he would not approve his daughter marrying a poor artist. Frederick and Sadie were polar opposites.  She was very tall, almost six feet in height and elegant.  Frederick was short and dumpy and not the best dresser.  He was modest, single-minded and introverted.  She was vivacious, affected, gregarious and probably even more determined than him.  She was religious and her parents were staunch Catholics.  Frederick had a “take it or leave it” attitude to religion.  However love conquers all or would it?

Landscape, Le Pouldu by Frederick Frieseke (1901)

During the uncomfortably hot and often humid summer months, Paris was certainly a place to avoid and it signalled the departure of the artists from the French capital for this period.  In the summer of 1901 Frederick along with some fellow painters left Paris for a three-month stay in Britanny at the small fishing village of Le Pouldu.  Having begun to paint landscape scenes set around the Luxenbourg Gardens of the capital Freerick was eager to concentrate on landscape paintings and depict the area around Le Pouldu.  In a letter to Sadie in June 1901 he wrote about where he was living and what was happening:

“We are staying in a private house, a fine old country house, part of it built in 1728, so it says on the sun dial. . . . The country seems so lovely, and the sea and the river too…. It seems so peaceful down here. The people are so slow and I like everything: the black and white cows, the narrow little lanes with the trees meeting overhead, the dunes with one lonely cottage almost hidden, and the farms, houses of stone with thatched roofs and surrounded by trees which the sea winds have blown and twisted in strange shapes…”

However, all was not well with the decision of Frederick to concentrate on landscape depictions and at the end of June in another letter to Sadie Frieseke despondently wrote:

“…I have to confess that landscape is by far the most difficult thing I have tackled and that I am utterly unable to grasp it so far…”

With summer ending he and his fellow artists returned to Paris and resumed atelier painting and Frederick began the first of a life long series of female nude paintings

The Blue Bowl by Frederick Frieseke (1901)

In 1901, Frederick completed the painting entitled The Blue Bowl.  It was his first finished painting of a nude.  In a letter to Sadie Frederick, dated October 15th, 1901, he wrote about the painting:

“…I have a model mornings now. A blonde girl with rather reddish hair. Am trying to paint a nude–the first thing I have ever tried like that..”

Nude in a Glade, 1910 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Nude in a Glade by Frederick Frieseke (1910)

If you peruse the illustrated Salon catalogues of the period you would find that academic artists depiction of nude females was simply part of storytelling, often a case of insincere moralising, or just a puerile fantasy.  However, Frieseke’s depiction of nude females was always more serious sober and quite simple, the painting’s purpose being directed not towards its subject matter but its manner. His down-to-earth approach to the subject and the subsequent resistance to it in his puritanical native land would create a stand-off that lasted throughout his career. Frieseke returned home to Owosso, Michigan for the first time in 1902 and again in a letter, that August, to Sadie, he wrote that he derived much pleasure in shocking the good Church people with the nudes.

Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1903 - Before the Mirror.jpg
Before the Mirror by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1903 - Girl in Pink.jpg
Girl in Pink by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Above are two further example of this genre of paintings which Frieseke completed during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Sadie and her family had returned to America in 1901 and did not return to France until 1903. She and Frederick had to survive on long-distance love but that was all about to change.

…………………………..to be continued.

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith

Self portrait (1908)

Self Portrait (1908)

At the turn of the twentieth century, the South Carolina city of Charleston was a shadow of its former glory. Charleston had historically nurtured a celebrated art and architectural heritage during the Colonial Period and Antebellum period but following the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the Reconstruction period 1865-77, it struggled to continue doing so. Between the two World Wars, beginning in the second decade of the 20th century, Charleston experienced a renaissance that flourished in part due to the work of authors, architects, artists, poets, & preservationists who rallied behind the common cause of ‘the betterment of the city’. It was a period known as the Charleston Renaissance and is credited with helping to spur the city’s tourist industry. Of the various artists associated with the movement, four of them stand at its forefront: Alfred Hutty, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor, and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. In this blog I am looking at the life and artwork of one of the four, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith.

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Age 25.

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, aged 25.

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was born in Charleston on July 14th 1876. She was the fourth of five children and was descended from prominent rice planters and was the daughter of Daniel Elliott Huger Smith and Caroline Ravenel and was part of a socially prominent Charleston family. Although artistically self-taught she later did attend some classes in drawing and painting at the Carolina Art Association. Louise Fery, a Frenchwoman, instructed her students in the basics and, most importantly for Alice, in the technique of watercolour. The Art Association was established in 1857 by a group of prominent low country planters and factors and was officially chartered by the General Assembly on December 21, 1858. Its purpose was the cultivation of the arts and art education. It is now part of the Charleston’s Gibbes Museum of Art.  Alice Smith began her artistic career by making money from her portraiture, copying old family images and painting friends and relations.  She also dabbled with painting fans and dance cards. 

Celestial Figs by Alice Smith.  Colour woodblock print. (1917)

Of her early artistic influences, one was Birge Hirston, the American genre and landscape painter, teacher, and writer who was a prominent practitioner and advocate of Tonalism.  Tonalism was an artistic style that emerged in the 1880s when American artists began to paint landscape forms with an overall tone of coloured atmosphere or mist.  Alice met him during his extended visit to Charleston in 1908.  Later she would credit Hirston as being her guide when it came to her romantic style with regard to her landscape depictions.

HELEN HYDE (1868–1919) TEN WOODBLOCK PRINTS, MEIJI PERIOD (20TH CENTURY) Woodblock Print by Helen Hyde

Another influence which inspired Alice Smith was the Japonisme aesthetic of the American etcher and engraver, Helen Hyde, who is best known for her colour etching process and woodblock prints which echoed the portrayal of Japanese women and children. Around about 1917, Smith undertook an intense study of Japanese colour woodblock prints, largely from the ukiyo-e school, which had been collected by her cousin, the Harvard professor Motte Alston Read. Motte Alston Read built up a collection of almost four hundred Japanese woodblock prints during the first two decades of the twentieth century, working meticulously to assemble a group of prints that were representative of the history of Japanese woodblock printing. She also began to teach etching during the 1920s, and one of her most famous students was Elizabeth O’Neill Verner.

Smith catalogued the collection and, began trying out with actual blocks and she taught herself how to print in the traditional Japanese manner.  She managed to produce a body of work which was characterized by sophisticated design and yet retained a sense of tranquillity.  In 1923 Smith helped the founding of the Charleston Etchers Club, a collaborative group that jointly acquired a press and shared expertise and criticism. However, by the late 1920s Smith gave up her work in prints and began to concentrate on watercolour.

Branford-Horry House by Alice Smith (1917)

Branford-Horry House by Alice Smith

Alice Smith is probably best remembered for her scenic views of Charleston streets and in 1917 she produced a beautiful graphite sketch of one of Charleston’s famous buildings, the Branford-Horry House.  The house was built for William Branford, a wealthy planter, in 1765-67 and is rated one of Charleston’s finest examples of a three-story brick Georgian townhouse, or “double house.” In 1801 it was purchased by Thomas Horry, who had married Branford’s daughter. His son, Elias Horry, president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, inherited the house and altered it somewhat. The house is a three-story Georgian brick building with stucco-covered walls. Unfortunately, in 1988, a speeding car crashed into the house, knocking out two of the columns and sending one into the front door of the house.

St Phillips Church Spire, Charleston by Alice Smith

St Phillips Church Spire by Alice Smith

Another graphite on paper sketch of a Charleston building is Alice’s depiction of St Philip’s church spire.  St. Philip’s is the oldest congregation in the United States south of Virginia.  The church was built in 1836 and the spire completed in 1850.  On November 7, 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark.

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House Tops View from her home, 69 Church Street Charleston by Alice Smith

Alice Smith became so interested with the old buildings of Charleston that in 1917 in collaboration with her father, Daniel, she had a book published, The Dwelling Houses of Charleston, South Carolina, in which the authors demonstrate how the fashions of its architecture, often brought over from England, have maintained local characteristics and resulted in a distinctive style.

See the source image

For Alice and her father, it had not simply been their object to list or to describe these dwelling houses after the manner of a guidebook, but to show how the fashions of its architecture, though imported and constantly modified by new ideas brought chiefly from England, had yet maintained local characteristics, resulting in quite a distinctive style which has steadily persisted and been developed.

The Winter Vegetable Garden from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

The Winter Vegetable Garden from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

However, Alice Smith is best known for her lyrical and expressive depictions of the Carolina Lowcountry, the cultural region along South Carolina’s coast, including the Sea Islands. It was once known for its slave-based agricultural wealth in rice and indigo, crops that thrived in the hot subtropical climate, and is known now for its historic cities and communities, natural environment, cultural heritage, and tourism industry.  Smith summed up her love of the area saying:

“…my own lovely flat country of rice fields, of pinewoods, of cypress swamps, of oaks, lotus, and all their attendant feathered folk would yield me a full harvest if diligently spaded…”

Sunday Morning at the Great House by Alice Smith

Sunday Morning at the Great House from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

Around about 1924 Alice Smith changed her favoured painting medium and resorted to working with watercolours. After experimenting with oil paints and printmaking, Smith eventually settled on watercolour in which she would work for the rest of her life.  The reason being she said was that watercolours were most conducive to achieving the atmospheric effects she sought in her landscapes. Her landscape depictions are generally devoid of figures as she wanted to concentrate on the beauty of nature itself.  Many of her mature watercolours depict scenes from rural salt marshes.

Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties

Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

Alice Smith was also a noted illustrator, and contributed illustrations to two volumes her father, the historian Daniel Smith, who wrote about the history of Charleston and its architecture, as well as other books relating to South Carolina, most notably the 1936 book, A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, which contained thirty paintings in water-colour, by Alice Huger Smith, and a narrative by Herbert Ravenel Sass, with chapters from the unpublished memoirs of her father Daniel Huger Smith.

A Winter Field Still in Stubble from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith

A Winter Field Still in Stubble from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

Alice was also engrossed in recording vanishing ways of life in South Carolina and her best-known work is the series of thirty watercolours known as her Rice Plantation Series which can be seen at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston’s Historic District. She donated the Rice Plantation Series to the Gibbes in 1937.  Alice was able to pictorially tell the history of plantation life in the antebellum South, and by doing so, she took it upon herself to preserve that period in a series of nostalgic images that would be accompanied by her father’s memoirs and an essay on rice cultivation by the historian Herbert Ravenel Sass.  Alice made these plantation paintings during the height of the Jim Crow era, when black people in Charleston and throughout the country were subjected to humiliating discrimination and life-threatening abuse.  She was well aware of this as she, a single woman, lived in downtown Charleston, close to areas of extreme poverty, surviving only through the sale of her art.  As I said at the beginning, this period was in the 1930’s when Charleston was a city in limbo.  Gone were the days of the glorious affluence of the rice years with its economic revival still years away.  It was a time for those who lived in Charleston to hanker for the “good old days” and like to remember when times were relatively calm, when blacks knew their place and white planters were firmly in charge, when life for the privileged class was simple and wealth abundant.  In Alice Smith’s 1950 autobiography, Reminiscences, she wrote about change:

“…Small places and big places alike show it. Perhaps small happenings show it as sharply as great events, and one looks with surprise at the differences that one never noticed during the endless moments of what might be called trivial evolution…”

The Grove of Oaks from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

The Grove of Oaks from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties by Alice Smith (c.1935)

Her series of watercolours reflect her sense of change, and her profound nostalgia.  Maybe it was a nostalgic view of plantation life of the past but maybe it was pure fantasy but one has to remember paintings were made to be sold and maybe the public preferred this “happy plantation life” image rather than the cruelty that existed and by studying her depictions the public it probably helped people believe that the past was lovely.

A Visit from the old Mistress by Wilmslow Homer (1876)

A Visit from the Old Mistress by Winslow Homer (1876)

Almost sixty years before Alice Smith’s Plantation series the great American painter Winslow Homer created his 1876 work, A Visit from the Old Mistress, a picture depicting an idealised situation when blacks as freed slaves and living in a ramshackle cabin were shown as mixing happily with a white person, their former mistress of the “big house” who, until recently, owned them. It represented a scene from the present, a meeting of different classes and colour which caused an inevitable awkwardness when it was exhibited.

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Woods at River Bend on Wando River, by Alice Smith (c. 1936)
 

Alice Smith donated the Rice Plantation Series to the Gibbes in 1937, and since that time the watercolours have been among the most popular works owned by the museum. The problem however was that the delicate works on paper were slowly deteriorating due to the acidic boards mounted to the back of each of the paintings. The acid then began to discolour the works and deposit on them brown spots known as foxing and with many of the watercolours, the damage was well advanced.

At the Head of the Valley by Alice Smith

The management of the Gibbes, realised the need to intervene, reverse the damage, and prevent future damage through professional conservation of Smith’s entire series of watercolours. To accomplish this, they established the Welsh-Blakely Fund, a substantial financial commitment that funded the five-year conservation project carried out by the Straus Center for Conservation at the Harvard University Art Museums.

Along the Beach by Alice Smith (c.1926)

Like many other leading painters from the Southern states of America during the early twentieth century, Alice Smith had a steadfast belief in the South, which was both idealized and energetically favourable, but this was simply down to her love of where she lived.  Smith was at the centre of Charleston’s artistic reawakening during the early twentieth century.

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Alice Ravenel Huger Smith died on February 03, 1958, aged 81 and is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.