Part 3. Julie Hart
“…Mrs. Julie Hart Beers Kempson became the only woman artist of the century to specialize in landscape. It is perhaps not surprising to find so few women landscapists, since the rigors of painting outdoors and the unseemliness of women engaging in this activity during the Victorian era acted as a deterrent…”
William H. Gerdts,
Women Artists of America 1707-1964 (Newark: Newark Museum, 1965)
The above extract is from the article in the 1965 Newark Museum catalogue Women artists of America, 1707-1964 that accompanied the exhibition. It was written by the American art historian and former professor of Art History at the City University of New York Graduate Center, William Gerdts.
In my final blog regarding the artistically talented siblings of the American Hart family I want to look at the life and work of the youngest child of James and Marion Hart, Scottish immigrants who had settled in Albany, N.Y., in 1831. Julie Hart was born in 1835, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and was the only one of her siblings to have been born in America. She, as we have seen in the two previous blogs, had two talented artists as brothers, William Hart and James McDougal Hart. The world of Fine Art in America, in the nineteenth century, was a male-dominated institution. There were female painters but they were looked upon purely as hobbyists rather than being serious professional painters. It was believed by many men that women had better things to do than paint professionally – raising children, keeping house and looking after their hard-working husbands. Most art academies didn’t admit women, and neither did the art societies that linked artists with patrons, which was a prerequisite to the financial success of an aspiring artist. So, in the early part of the nineteenth century, women artists signed their work with just a first initial and a surname so as to conceal their gender, thus hoping that their ability as an artist would not be downgraded once the sex of the artist was known. For women to succeed in the world of Fine Art they needed both their family and/or financial backing to launch them professionally. Often, they were the sisters, daughters and wives of better-known male artist. There was no formal training for women at art institutions so once again they relied on family members or friends to help develop their talent. Julia Hart was fortunate enough to have her two elder brothers, who were aligned with the Hudson River School of art, to teach and mentor her and so, as a teenager, she became interested in plein air landscape painting. She was one of very few professional women landscape painters in nineteenth-century America
In 1865 the American Civil War had ended and the Reconstruction had begun. Americans unfettered by the trials of war were once again relishing the joys of tourism and travel. They would often explore the great landscapes. One such area was the banks of the Hudson River which had started its 319-mile journey from the Adirondacks towards its outflow between Manhattan and Jersey City. It was the upper reaches including the Adirondacks, Catskills and White Mountains which tempted both tourists and artists alike. The artists, who were looked upon as being part of the Hudson River School, wanted to capture the beauty on canvas and the tourists wanted pictorial mementos of their journeys. These areas of beauty were often steep-sided hills and mountains and for female artists who came to the region for some plein air sketching and painting, they had to overcome the challenge of decorous dressing versus suitable attire for their arduous painting trips. These women ventured on their own or alongside male relatives into the wilderness, painting the breath-taking scenery that inspired America’s first art movement. Julie Hart was one of those women.
Julie Beers married in 1853, when she was eighteen years old. Her husband, also a painter, was Marion Beers. Marion, like Julie’s brothers, helped teach his wife artistic techniques which were to serve her well in the future. In the mid 1850’s Julie, like her two brothers, relocated to New York city and set up a studio. Since her marriage, Julie signed all her paintings “Julie H Beers”
It is thought that Julie’s first exhibition was held at the National Academy of Design (NAD) in 1867, following which she had her paintings exhibited at the NAD annual exhibitions in each of the following twelve years. She also exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum in 1867 and 1868 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1868.
Besides being a renowned landscape painter Julie was also a talented still life artist as can be seen by her 1866 painting Still life with Fruit.
Another of her still life paintings, completed around the same time was entitled Basket of Roses.
Her husband, Marion Beers died in 1876 and the following year Julie married Peter Kempson and the newly-weds moved to Metuchen in New Jersey. Julie Hart Beers Kempson proved that women landscape painters were the equal of men, despite the harshness of painting en plein air in the wild and often barely accessible landscapes along the Hudson River. Sadly her paintings did not receive affair and objective assessment during her lifetime and she was not truly valued in her own time, but notwithstanding that transgression, her talent and dedication as an artist which not only produced outstanding works of art, but also led the way for the female landscapists who would follow her.
I will end this blog as I started it, with a quotation. This one is from Jennifer Krieger, Managing Partner at Hawthorne Fine Art in New York City. Her article entitled Women Artists of the Hudson River School formed part of the catalogue which accompanies the 2010 exhibition, Remember the Ladies: Women of the Hudson River School, which was held at Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, New York. She wrote about the trials and tribulations of female artists and their struggle to carry out plein air painting in remote areas of the Hudson River valleys. She wrote:
“…These artists managed to make their way through vast, unexplored stretches of the American landscape and to shimmy up trees (for better views) in spite of their long skirts. Rather than complain about all that society had placed in their way…… [They] were all intent on honoring the beauty of the natural world they had experienced so directly. Rather than to complain about all that society had placed in their way, women artists pushed forward to accomplish their goals. As a result of their determination, our own cultural topography has been immeasurably enriched…”
Julie Hart Beers Kempson demonstrated that women landscape painters were the equal of men, even given the hardships of painting outdoors. While largely undervalued in her own time, her talent and dedication not only produced outstanding works of art, but also broke important ground for the female landscapists who would follow her.