Hawthorne Fine Art presents the fall exhibition “Triumphant Lives: American Women Artists (1795-1950),” which will open on October 18th and run through January 18, 2019. The exhibition illustrates the achievements in the fine arts of women from the early American colonial period up until the period of midcentury Modernism. The still-lifes, landscapes, and portraits included in the exhibition range from the Hudson River School to American Impressionism and beyond. The women included are both emerging and established artists of the American School.
Born in England, Ellen Wallace Sharples (1769-1849) moved with her husband, the portraitist James Sharples, to New England in 1792. After settling in Philadelphia, the Sharples began associating in elite American circles where they made contacts with figures such as George and Marth Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. 1 As Ellen noted in her diary, she began copying her husband’s work so they could generate more income and was known to have sat in on his sessions with his subjects, possibly even drawing them herself. Ellen’s painting Portrait of George Washington, completed circa 1800, was one of many artworks she completed of the General and President, including watercolors, pastel drawings, and even silk needlework.
“Triumphant Lives” will also feature several noteworthy examples of American portraiture by women artists of the Early Colonial Period at the end of the eighteenth century. As photography was not yet invented, portraiture remained a profitable and consistent source of commissions for American artists. As many of the commissions were family or marriage portraits, women artists were embraced for this kind of delicate work that entailed capturing the latest women’s fashions in hair, dress, and composure. This was the case with the artist Ann Hall (1792-1863), who painted Portrait of a Young Lady in watercolor on an ivory panel in 1821 and is speculated to have been the first female member of the National Academy of Design.
The Boston-area artist Sarah Goodridge (1788-1853) also made a sustainable living as an artist through her portraiture. Goodridge never married but provided for herself through the successful studio she opened in Boston in 1820, where she reportedly produced a new miniature portrait every few days. In 1828, Goodridge met the iconic American artist Gilbert Stuart, whom she both studied with and captured in an ivory portrait, which Stuart later proclaimed his only true likeness. That same year, she was also commissioned to paint both James Trask and Augusta Woodbury on the occasion of their wedding; the inscription on the verso states it was the bride’s second marriage. Goodridge also painted other noteworthy figures of American history, including Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Civil War General Henry Lee.
By the mid-nineteenth century, women artists had expanded into the style of the Hudson River Artist as many became informal students to male artists through their communities as had access to formal artistic training. As landscape painting continued to thrive in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, many women artists made further contributions to the field. One such example is the little-known Ida Stebbins (b. 1851), who painted View of South Pond, New York in 1879. Born in Massachusetts, Stebbins would have had a natural inclination towards New England and the Hudson River Valley, though the only known retrospective of her work took place at the Wisconsin University Club in 1948. 2 View of South Pond was likely completed on a painting excursion to New York State when Stebbins was still living with her family in Boston. While the artist’s use of bright red flora recalls the early work of Thomas Cole, the open, sketchy blue sky reveals the burgeoning influence of French Impressionism. One can get a sense of how these women dressed and composed themselves in the portrait of a nineteenth century woman artist by Benoni Irwin, which portrays his figure as a pensive, serious artiste.
This exhibition also features several works by women modernist painters including Wilhelmena Weber Furlong (1892-1962) and Grace Cochrane Sanger (1885-1966). The cubist still-life painting by Wilhelmena Weber of a wine bottle and other table garnishes from 1922 is a noteworthy painting by one of the first true modern women artists in the United States. Completed when Weber was living in Washington Square in New York City, where she had the role of Secretary Treasurer at the Art Students League, Weber’s abstract still-life of a typical Manhattan table demonstrates her commitment to formal experimentation.
Grace Cochrane Sanger (1885-1966) was also active during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s as both a portrait painter and commercial illustrator. 3 Sanger often painted members of Baltimore high society, the portraits of which were on display at her solo exhibition at the Baltimore Junior League in 1932. In The Red Cloche, a lanky woman is shown in profile wearing a bright red-orange hat and cloak while surrounded by nature that has also been dabbled with red dots. The effect of total submersion in bright, overwhelming shades of red and orange in The Red Cloche reveals the influence of the French modernists including Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse.
A deeply emblematic piece presenting an allegorical figure of New York presiding angelically over the cityscape, Edith Prellwitz’s large-scale work truly forces the view to ponder progress in Overlooking New York. In 1883 she wrote in her diary, “I am a woman of ‘aspiration,’ with strong intentions to become an artist, a great artist.” Shortly after this entry, she moved to New York to study at the Art Students League under the figural artist George de Forest Brush (1855-1941), noted American impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and Kenyon Cox (1956-1919). In 1888, Prellwitz was elected as vice president of the Art Students League, and also began a short apprenticeship at the Tiffany Glass Company, which she soon abandoned due to her preference for painting. During this time she also became an early advocate for women artists as one of the organizers of the Woman’s Art Club of New York, which later became the National Association of Women Artists.
“Triumphant Lives: American Women Artists (1795-1950)” will be on display at Hawthorne Fine Art’s showroom on 12 East 86th Street, Suite 1425, New York, NY 10028. For more information or to make an appointment outside of normal gallery open hours, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 212.731.0550. To see the entirety of Hawthorne Fine Art’s inventory, please visit the gallery website, HawthorneFineArt.com.
1 Katharine McCook Knox, The Sharples: Their Portraits of George Washington and His Contemporaries (New Haven: Yale University, 1930).
2 “Unique Exhibit at University Club,” The Capital Times (Madison, WI), March 10, 1948, 10.
3 “Second Exhibition for Junior League: One-Man Show by Grace Cochrane Sanger to Open,” The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD), Dec. 11, 1932, 60.