Maxfield Parrish. Part 3.

                                               Maxfield Parrish

In 1914, before Maxfield Parrish had  completed the Florentine Fête murals, the Curtis Publishing company, through Edward Bok, decided to commission a monumental-sized mural at 15ft x 49ft (4.6 m × 14.9 m) which would be placed in the building lobby. For some unknown reason Bok decided not to give the commission to Parrish.  Maybe it was because Parrish was still working on Bok’s previous 18-painting commission or maybe Bok was disappointed with Parrish at the length of time he was taking to complete that project.  Whatever reason, Bok made the fateful decision to approach other muralists, but fate stepped in to thwart him.

                                                      Curtis Centre mural by Maxfield Parrish

Bok first went to London and met the American muralist, illustrator, and painter Edwin A. Abbey, who had based himself in London since 1883.  Abbey was working on a project for the capitol building in Harrisburg, but Bok persuaded him to agree to the commission and was given free rein to paint anything he liked for the proposed Curtis Centre mural.  Bok returned to America elated with the deal he had made with Abbey.  However, the day after Abbey started work on the mural, he collapsed and died.  Bok still preferring not to approach Parrish, tried to contact Howard Pyle who was making a name for himself as an educator and muralist. Pyle had been living in Italy with his family for a year.  Bok had never met Pyle and on finally contacting Pyle’s home by telephone he was informed that fifty-eight-year-old Pyle had just died in Florence of a kidney infection.  Still undeterred and disregarding fate, Bok approached a third artist, Louis Boutet de Monvel, a famous decorative master, and he agreed to carry out the project, Monvel was invited to Philadelphia to inspect the space at the Curtis building and discuss the project but almost immediately after arrangements were made, Monvel died in Paris.

Bok circa 1918

Edward Bok

Edward Bok was now feeling that his mural project was cursed.  Finally, he put the commission out to tender and received back six submissions, all of which were rejected by a panel of judges.  Bok’s final throw of the dice was his approach to Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass, and who had once designed a glass mosaic curtain for the Mexico City’s Municipal Theatre. Bok had seen the work and remembered the look of favrile glass, the name given to a type of iridescent art glass which had been developed and patented by the artist.   Bok finally contacted Parrish and asked him to come up with a sketch for Tiffany to use, despite the fact that Parrish had never worked with glass or mosaics. Parrish’s preliminary drawing was approved.

                                        Curtis Centre mural by Maxfield Parrish

The collaborative project took six months of planning and thirty skilled workers were employed.  Over one million pieces of glass were used to create the Dream Garden mural and the finished work was given a New York exhibition where it was viewed by over seven thousand people. People were thrilled with the finished work.  It took six months for the mural to be disassembled in New York and then reassembled in Philadelphia.  The mural which was now in the lobby of the Curtis Company building was admired by thousands and became a Philadelphia art treasure.  All was well until July 1998 when it was announced that it was about to be removed and sold to an anonymous buyer by the Estate of developer and arts patron Jack Merriam. It was later discovered that the mystery buyer was the casino owner Steve Wynn, who planned to move it to Las Vegas.  The beneficiaries of the estate were four non-profit education and arts institutions and Merriam’s widow, who died before the disposition of The Dream Garden was settled.  Following a vociferous public outcry, the buyer decided not to pursue the purchase. To provide greater protection for the mural in the future, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the mural as the City’s first “historic object,” under an existing provision of the historic preservation ordinance. The Merriam estate appealed this designation and followed up by filing for a demolition permit.  Appeals and counter-appeals followed for the next three years.  Finally, in 2001, came a sweeping gesture of civic rescue, when the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to provide $3,5 million to buy out the interest of the owner’s heirs, and the three remaining beneficiaries and turned the mural over to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with the understanding that it will remain in the lobby of the Curtis Building.

                                                              The Rubaiyat by Maxfield Parrish, 1917

The sweet manufacturer, Ohio-born, Clarence A. Crane, commissioned Maxfield Parrish to create decorative labels for the Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918.  For the 1916 Christmas gift box of chocolates Parrish submitted the art print entitled Rubáiyát which was adapted from the poem by Omar Khayyam.

                                                              Cleopatra by Maxfield Parrish (1917)

For the 1917 Christmas gift box, Mr. Crane suggested to Parrish that he should make Cleopatra the subject for the painting as he and the public had been delighted with Parrish’s depiction of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that he painted for the previous year’s edition of the gift box. Parrish was pleased to go along with the suggestion and in a letter, he wrote to Mr. Crane:

“…Cleopatra is welcome here, or any lady of history of undoubted charm…Of course there are no end of subjects. All I care about is something that can hold color and be made effective…”

186047267_e4f269bf-da54-4aa7-b326-323ddd473a4d

Mabel Harlakenden Churchill

Now all Parrish had to do was decide on a young model to pose as Cleopatra.  Parrish asked his best friend, neighbour, and confidante, the American writer Winston Churchill if his wife, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, would pose as Cleopatra. Parrish’s wife, Lydia, made the request and Mabel agreed to model for the painting. The painting was well received and according to Coy Ludwig’s 1973 book, Maxfield Parrish, it received an enthusiastic reception:

“…Cleopatra arrived in Cleveland on April 16, 1917, to an enthusiastic reception. The unusual design, with subjects in costumes reminiscent of silent-film exotica, combined several bare-chested oarsmen, a female attendant, and Cleopatra in a loose robe reclining on a bed of roses in a frame of frozen moonlight. The lapis lazuli blue water and the typical Parrish blue starlit sky were separated at the horizon by white mountains. Polka-dotted and checkered fabrics, used as the lap robes of the oarsmen and the headdress of the standing figure, were a favourite motif of the artist…”

                         The Garden of Allah design by Maxfield Parrish (1917)

The third Crane’s Christmas gift box of chocolates, produced in 1918, was adorned by Parrish’s print of an oil on panel painting entitled Garden of Allah.  The Garden of Allah was the title of a 1904 novel by Robert Hichens and was one of the most popular novels of the early 20th century. So popular that it went through forty-four editions over the next 40 years. In this work we can see how Parrish was influenced by Pre-Raphaelite painters such as William Holman Hunt

These three candy boxes that Parrish produced for Crane were extremely successful for both Crane’s Chocolates and for Maxfield Parrish. The partnership between Crane and Parrish was mutually beneficial and proved a significant turning point in the illustrator’s career.  From this point onwards, Maxfield Parrish declared that he would only accept commissions, like the one with Crane, which interested him artistically.  Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations on the chocolate boxes proved so popular that the Crane company issued them as art prints, which could be ordered through a form enclosed in the gift boxes.  In Coy Ludwig’s biography Maxfield Parrish he wrote:

“…Crane regarded the art prints as a means of building prestige for his firm and a moderately profitable service he might provide for his clients who wanted replicas of the candy-box illustrations suitable for framing…The demand for reproductions of Parrish’s decorations grew so great that Crane arranged for the House of Art, the New York fine arts publishing and distributing firm, to handle the marketing of the prints…Crane’s reproductions helped to create an unprecedented public demand for Parrish’s paintings in the art-print market and with it the assurance of continued financial security for the artist…”

                                                         Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

Daybreak was an iconic painting completed by Maxfield Parrish in 1922.  Parrish was commissioned to paint Daybreak by the art publishing firm House of Art in August 1920. The commission of Daybreak was motivated by the art-print successes of the three illustrations Maxfield Parrish had completed as decorations for Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918.  One example of this was his painting of Cleopatra which was the cover illustration of Crane’s Chocolates 1917 Christmas gift box, and it signified the artist’s successful incursion into commercial advertising.

Daybreak was Maxfield’s first work commissioned solely for reproduction as a colour lithograph print and became one of the most reproduced images in American history, according to the auction house, Christie’s catalogue, it was estimated that one of every four households in America had a copy of the work, making it a national sensation and cultural phenomenon.

            The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders

Meanwhile, Maxfield was preoccupied with completing illustrations for Louise Sander’s book, Knave of Hearts and did not start to work on Daybreak until the summer of 1922.  He had to placate Stephen Newman, the co-owner of House of Art, saying:

“… As to the ‘great painting,’ its beautiful white panel is always on the wall before me, and I am thinking great things into it. I have thought so many beautiful things into it that it ought to make a good print just as it is. Have patience…”

……………………..to be concluded.

Maxfield Parrish. Part 2.

                                           Maxfield Parrish in 1896

More and more illustration commissions came in to Maxfield and soon he was becoming financially sound.  In 1898, with money earnt and financial help from his father, Maxfield and Lydia felt able to purchase some land atop a hill in Plainfield, New Hampshire, which overlooked Mount Ascutney.  Here Maxfield built a one-room cabin.  Lydia would often remain in Philadelphia to carry on teaching which also allowed Maxfield to carry on with his own work as well as planning and building a larger home for them.  Maxfield and Lydia would stay with his parents at their large home, Northcote, whilst their new home was being built. Maxfield’s father and mother had moved to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1894 where there was a thriving artist’s colony founded by the American sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens. 

                                 An aerial view of The Oaks, the former estate of Maxfield Parrish.

Maxfield and Lydia’s new home, known as The Oaks, was built on a large tract of land on an isolated hillside across the valley from his father’s home and close to the Vermont-New Hampshire border.  It comprised of a guest house, studio, and 45 acres of hillside land and was so named because of the magnificent trees next to their home especially one giant old oak tree. 

Maxfield Parrish drew inspiration from his Plainfield, New Hampshire home, “The Oaks,”

The Oaks was built around the trees and rocks on the hillside site. The largest white oak in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, stands near what was the front entrance of the house, and the ground floor was built on two levels to accommodate a large rock ledge.

Night in the desert by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Two years after Maxfield and Lydia had moved into their newly built home,  he had a health scare.  Lydia, whilst teaching at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, received an urgent telegram from her father-in-law telling her that Maxfield had been taken seriously ill and she should return home immediately.  Lydia instantly left her school and took the train to Windsor.  She would never return to her teaching position at Drexel nor would she carry on with the private students she had been tutoring.  Maxfield Parrish was diagnosed as contracting tuberculosis which at the time was a deadly illness.  Lydia stayed with her husband despite the disease being highly contagious.   After being discharged from hospital, Lydia followed her husband to a Saranac Lake sanatorium in New York State where he underwent treatment and began his recuperation.   The sanatorium treatment was expensive but financial help came to Maxfield through a cheque for five hundred dollars given to him by his best friend and neighbour, the American writer, Winston Churchill.  Churchill who had also settled in the area in the same year as Maxfield in 1898, became great friends. The two were of a similar age, and Churchill had married the same year as Maxfield and Lydia.  During the convalescent years between 1900 and 1901 Parrish painted at Saranac Lake, New York and at Hot Springs, Arizona,

Cowboys by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Whilst convalescing at Saranac Lakes Parrish received a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate the Ray Stannard Baker series entitled Great South West and from the money Parrish received, he was able to afford to further convalesce in Castle Creek Hot Springs in Arizona during the winter of 1901-02.  Maxfield and Lydia returned home to The Oaks in April 1902.  The Spring and summer of 1902 up until 1904 was probably the happiest Lydia had ever been.  No children as yet, she was able to devote time to cultivate the garden and time for her to paint, it was just as life should be for her.

             Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield’s health had improved and he was now looking out for new commissions.  In 1903 Maxfield accepted a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens which they were going to serialise.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli, near Rome. The Pool at Villa d’Este, illustration by Maxfield Parrish (1903) for Edith Wharton’s book.

For him to complete this commission Maxfield decided to travel to Italy and photograph and then paint the different villas that Wharton would be writing about in her book. Days after his marriage he had “abandoned” his wife to go to Europe on his own but this time she accompanied him, and in a way, it made up for the honeymoon they had missed at the time of their wedding.  It was a time when Maxfield and Lydia became very close.  Sadly, for her, it was to be the only trip she would make with him.

Scribner’s Magazine (October 1900) by Maxfield Parrish

All artists need models and many married male artists often use their young wives.  Before Lydia Parrish gave birth to their first child in 1904, she was Maxfield’s model in a number of his works including the Scribner Magazine October 1900 cover.

                                                          Page from the book Story of Ann Powel

She also modelled for Maxfield’s beautiful full-page drawing of Ann Powel, framed by a simple doorway, to accompany Annie Tynan’s piece in the 1900 Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, The Story of Ann Powel.

                                              Potpourri by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Maxfield Parrish also used himself as a model for some of his paintings.  One example of this is his 1905 illustration, Potpourri, which featured in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1905.   The illustration depicts a nude boy picking flowers in the forest. The large sun is peeking through the foliage and typically of Parrish there are two columns and a large fountain or urn. It is reputed that Parrish attached a string to his camera and snapped the photo of himself to use as the model for the illustration.  The illustration was drawn to illustrate a poem by H.C. Dwight and the line:

“…Ah, never in the world were there such roses as ones from that enchanted trellis hung…”

                                                                                   Lydia Parrish (1895)

Lydia Parrish’s modelling days had come to an end in 1904 when she became pregnant with their first child, John Dilwyn, who was born that December.  For the previous years, Lydia Parrish had been an equal partner with her husband.  She would entertain his and her friends as well as prospective clients.  She ably ran the household, managed the household finances, and oversaw the domestic help that had finally come to assist her after the birth of Dillwyn in December 1904. In 1905, she was expecting their second child, and was struggling to look after her first child as well as running the household for her husband, not to mention the lack of time she had for her own art and her writing.  It was decided that Lydia needed more help and so, Maxfield and Lydia Parrish hired sixteen-year-old Susan Lewin who had been working at Maxfield Parrish’s father’s house, Northcote, since she was fourteen and was pleased at Stephen Parrish’s suggestion that she should help his son and daughter-in-law.  She received a wage of a dollar a day plus board and lodgings.  Sadly, life for Maxfield and Lydia would never be the same again !!!

                                                                                          Susan Lewin

Young Susan Lewin was born in the farm town of Harland Vermont on November 22nd 1889.  She was one of six children of Elmer and Nellie Lewin and because of the household’s financial problems had to abandon school after only two years in order to become a wage earner.  She was a tall and willowy young woman with thick cascading hair and an oval face with large expressive eyes and a classic profile. She first met Maxfield when she was working for his father at Northcote and his good looks and charm was not lost on her.  She had just the romantic appearance which reminded Maxfield of the ladies depicted in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which he loved, and her good looks and charm was probably not lost on him! 

                                                                                       Susan Lewin

The arrival of their first child caused problems for Maxfield as he was constantly being interrupted by noise whist trying to concentrate on his painting and so, had a builder, George Ruggles, build a fifteen-room studio, some forty feet across the lawn from the main house.   The building comprised of three bedrooms, a kitchen, two painting rooms, two bathrooms, a dark room for his photography and rooms to store all his artistic paraphernalia which he used to construct his compositions.  Here he could paint in peace.  For his wife Lydia, her painting days were over.  She had to look after their children and keep them from disturbing her husband! The relationship between Maxfield Parrish and Susan Lewin was symbiotic.  She tended to him hand and foot.  She was passive and obedient and always eager to please and was amenable to all his wishes.  She was an excellent cook and a perfect servant to her master.  Later her two sisters, Annie and Emily joined the household as extra help for Mrs Parrish.

                                                             Harvest by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

In the early days of Sue Lewin’s stay at The Oaks she did receive a number of suitors but nothing became of them.  However, one suitor, Kimball Daniels, also began courting Sue’s sister Annie and eventually in 2011 the two were married.  He worked for the Parrish family tending their sheep and cows as well as harvesting the crops.  Kimball was the model for Parrish’s 1905 painting, Harvest.  We see him standing proudly on a hillock, scythe in hand.  Tragically he was found dead from a broken neck on the property twenty months after his marriage.

                                Land of Make Believe by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Not only did Susan Lewin help Maxfield’s wife with childcare she also became a model for some of Maxfield’s paintings.   The first painting for which the sixteen-year-old girl posed was entitled Land of Make-Believe.  The painting depicts two figures in a verdant and enchanted garden. The taller figure on the right is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin in costume.  She stands in a contrapposto pose among blooming climbing roses. The two figures are attired in medieval costume and this adds to the unreality of the scene. Maxfield Parrish’s idealized fantasy worlds he created in his painting, such as this one, appealed to the buying public. These works were simply pictorial escapism and his fantasy world helped them believe there were safe and gentle places which were so different from the world they currently lived in.  Parrish’s illustration was used as the frontispiece to Rosamund Marriott Watson’s Make-Believe published in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1912. Marriott Watson’s poem reminisces about the care-free childhood world of “let’s pretend” filled with enchanted woods, castles, and witches.

In the 1995 book, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, by Laurence and Judy Cutler, they wrote about Maxfield’s delight at having Susan in the household:

“…When Susan bounded around The Oaks with babes in arms, Parrish watched her with fascination. He imagined her as his counterpart to Lord Leighton’s companion model, Dene. When he first asked her to model for him and that first pose resulted in the painting Land of Make-Believe, Parrish was so happy with the outcome that he began to use Susan as his constant model…”

In the Land of Make-Believe, look closely at the way Parrish has lit up this depiction.  There is a double lighting effect.    The figures in the foreground are illuminated by soft and delicate light, while if you study the cliffs in the background you can see that they glow luminously from the radiance of the setting sun giving the work a feeling of depth whilst the two enormous columns in the middle ground of the depiction anchor Maxfield’s painting as well as acting as a frame for both the foreground and background.  The inclusion of monumental columns like these appear in one of his most famous works – the 1922 painting entitled Daybreak, which turned out to be one of the most replicated paintings in American history and will be discussed in the next part of this series.

Pied Piper mural by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

By 1909 Parrish’s demands on Sue to model for his paintings were becoming increasingly intense.  In 1909 she posed for a number of characters of his large-scale mural The Pied Piper which had been commissioned by the Palace Hotel in San Francisco for their Pied Piper bar and restaurant, a favoured spot of locals and visitors from around the world. 

                                                         Pied Piper bar with Maxfield Parrish mural

The Pied Piper, originally named The Happy Valley Bar, made its grand opening in 1909. Composed specifically for the re-opening after the 1906 earthquake, Maxfield Parrish created The Pied Piper of Hamelin painting, which still graces the hotel after over 100 years.

                   Sweet Nothings – part of the Florentine Fete mural by Maxfield Parrish

In 1910, Edward Bok, the director of Ladies Home Journal offered Maxfield a commission to paint eighteen panels for The Girls’ Dining Room at the Curtis Publishing building in Philadelphia, which was under construction at 6th and Walnut. Each painting would be placed between the windows which overlooked the street. Bok, because the company employed so many females, decided that they should have their own dining room on the top floor.   It was a mammoth assignment and Bok wanted it completed within twelve months and agreed to pay Parrish $2000 per panel.  Parrish completed the first piece, Florentine Fête Mural in July 1910 and he sent it to the building’s architect, Robert Seeler, for him to approve, writing:

“…The scene will be in white marble loggia:  the foreground will be a series of wide steps extending across the entire picture leading up to three arches and supporting columns…It will be my aim to make it joyous, a little unreal, a good place to be in, a sort of happiness of youth…”

Sue Lewin posing for the Sweet Nothings panel (see figure in far right of the mid-ground)

There are over a hundred figures in the panels of the murals and Maxfield had Sue Lewin to model for all but two of them.  It was such a monumental project that both Maxfield and Sue moved out of the main residence at The Oaks and lived in his studio whilst Maxfield’s wife remained at the big house with the children.  Maxfield Parrish was forty-six years of age when he completed the commission and it is interesting to read in Alma Gilbert’s 1990 book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, the artist thought of himself as being much younger.  She wrote:

“…Sue Lewin was the woman who ‘youthened’ Parrish’s spirit.  The Florentine Fête panels are his tribute to that wish to remain young, as embodied by the beautiful young woman who so dominated his art and his thoughts during the midpoint of his life…”

Parrish completed all but one of the mural paintings by 1913 and the final one was finished in 1916.

……………………………….to be continued.


Much of the information for these Maxfield Parrish blogs comes from the excellent 1990 book by Alma Gilbert: The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin,

Frederick Maxfield Parrish. Part 1.

                                                            Maxfield Parish (c.1920)

In previous blogs, when I looked at the world of illustrators and the lives of some of the leading nineteenth century American exponents such as the Red Rose Girls and Howard Pyle, one name that kept cropping up was the renowned painter and illustrator, Frederick Maxfield Parrish.  He was an influential and prolific American painter and illustrator, who was ranked amongst the most commercially successful and highest paid artists of the US during the 1920s.

Frederick Parrish was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25th 1870.  His descendent, Edward Parrish, the captain of a trading vessel which journeyed between England and Chesapeake Bay, hailed from Yorkshire, England.  On settling in America he was given three thousand acres of land where Baltimore is now situated.  Today’s artist’s given name was Frederick, but he later, in 1896, adopted Maxfield as his middle name.  This was the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, Susanna Maxfield Parrish.  Later he would use Maxfield as his professional name.  Maxfield was born into a devout Quaker family.  His father was Stephen Parrish, a landscape painter and engraver who ran a coal business and then a stationery shop in Philadelphia for several years.   The room above the shop was one in which he held etching classes.  Stephen Parrish married Elizabeth Bancroft in 1869, and his only child, Frederick Maxfield, was born the following year.

Maxfield’s first art tuition came from his father at the age of three, and years later he recounted that his father was the most influential teacher and that the two of them had an excellent relationship.   During his childhood Maxfield enjoyed drawing and was a very competent draughtsman and a constant doodler!   In 1877 Maxfield and his father travelled to France on a painting trip.  

                                                        Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field (1904)

Maxfield was taken ill as a young child and was confined to his bed for many days.  It is thought that this may have inspired Parrish many years later for the illustrations he completed for Eugene Fields book, Poems of Childhood, one of which depicted a little boy sick in bed and having weird dreams. The cutting out of shapes and figures by the young boy would have remained with him in later life when he used pencil cut-outs as groundwork for his illustrative work in later life.

                                               Etching of Gloucester Harbor by Stephen Parrish (1882)

In spite of Stephen Parrish’s lack of formal art training. In 1877, Stephen Parrish, still in his thirties. sold his shop and business and concentrated on his beloved art. This was a bold, some would say foolish move to become a professional artist having only sold only six paintings by 1879, and on top of this he had to financially support a wife and a nine-year-old son.  He was fortunate however as what was termed the Etching Revival was just beginning in America.  Between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, the Etching Revival was an expression which referred to the rebirth of etching and was all about the huge growth and circulation of the art print as, in itself, an art form, especially in the United States.  In November 1879 Stephen took his first etching lesson from the already successful Philadelphia artist, Peter Moran.

               Illustrated letter from Maxfield Parrish to Henry Bancroft, London, July 22nd, 1884

Stephen Parrish quickly recognised his son’s burgeoning artistic talent.  He and Maxfield would go off on painting trips at the weekends, first around their hometown but later further afield to places such as the Massachusetts coastal districts of Cape Ann, East Gloucester and Annisquam.  Fourteen-year-old Maxfield returned to France with his family in 1884.  They embarked on a two-year European journey during which time they visited England, northern Italy, and Paris.  During the first winter in Paris Maxfield studied art at Dr. Kornemann’s school, regularly visited art museums and attended concerts and operas every week. Besides Maxfield’s love of art he slowly developed a love of music. 

            Illustrated postcard from Maxfield Parrish to Henry Bancroft, Paris, October 24, 1884

During his time in Europe Maxfield wrote many letters and postcards to his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Bancroft and to his cousin Henry Bancroft in Pennsylvania.  Those to his cousin were festooned with whimsical and interesting doodles. Some of the letters are held in a collection of the Delaware Art Museum. This collection consists of 34 letters and postcards written and illustrated by Parrish to his cousin, Henry Bancroft, between 1883 and 15 letters and postcards written between 1902 and 1909 and a drawing by Parrish’s son, Dillwyn.

                                                       Funeral of Victor Hugo, on June 1st, 1885

Whilst Maxfield and his family were living in Paris, the great French writer,  poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, Victor Hugo, died on May 22nd 1885 and on July 1st, he was laid to rest.  Crowds of people turned out for the funeral procession and Maxfield remembered the day and the funeral cortège well:

“…I was fifteen, and climbed a tree on the Champs-Elysées.  The avenue was jammed but I scattered the crowd when a branch of my tree broke with a noise like a pistol shot.  They thought it was the beginning of a nihilist demonstration…”

 Maxfield and his parents returned to America in 1886 and Maxfield continued with his education.  In 1888 he enrolled at the prestigious Haverford College, where he studied architecture and was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. Art was not taught at this Quaker college and this fact was commented on by Maxfield who wrote:

“…It would be going too far to state that art was in any way forbidden yet there was a feeling in the air it was looked upon with suspicion, as maybe related distantly to graven images and the like…”

                                                             Thomas Eakins self-portrait (1902)

It was in 1891 when Maxfield Parrish began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and this was almost six years after Thomas Eakins, one of the Academy’s directors, had been forced to resign in 1886, for a number of controversial decisions he had made, the final straw being him removing the loincloth of a male model in a life class where female students were present.  Despite that six-year gap Eakins’ ideas and inspirations were still in evidence at the Academy.  One of these was Eakins’ practice of using photography as a tool in his art. 

                   Photo of Male Figures at the Site of Swimming by Thomas Eakins (1883)

One of the classic examples of Eakins’ use of photography is his 1883 photo entitled Eakins’ Students at the site for the “Swimming Hole”.  In the picture we see Eakins standing slightly away from the others at the left, looking on at his students who are cavorting in the water at Mill Creek near Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

                            The Swimming Hole (The Swimmers) by Thomas Eakins (1885)

From this photograph and other studies which depicted nude boys playing at a variety of outdoor sports he slowly progressed with his famous painting entitled The Swimming Hole, which originally was simply entitled Swimming, and is now part of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Eakins used both male and female nudes, often students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for models, and that was another reason for his downfall as Director of the Academy.

                                                                                         The Oaks

Despite the scandals surrounding Eakins, Maxfield felt that photography could help him with his art and soon he was investigating all the possibilities this tool would afford him.  Being a supreme draftsman, Parrish had the ability to draw a figure with the exactness of a photograph.  The intricacy and time-consuming methods Parrish employed prevented him painting from nature. He was a consummate draftsman with a steady hand and an infallible eye.  He persisted on using the camera as an artistic implement, but as an aid and not a crutch for his art.  When he designed his new house, The Oaks, he ensured that there would be a darkroom in which he developed his film, which he printed on four by five inch glass slides, which could then be projected using a magic lantern.  Once that was done, he was able to move an image around in his composition until it suited him and he could begin the work of drawing and composing from scratch. Projecting the image against a wall or a board allowed him to make arrangement decisions.  Parrish developed great photographic skills and he built up a collection of over eleven hundred glass slides.

In 1892 he enrolled as a student at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).  Initially, Parrish thought that he would carry on studying architecture, but soon he developed a love for drawing and painting and so with architecture forgotten Maxfield concentrated on becoming a professional artist.  Here he received art tuition from many great educators including Robert Vonnoh and Thomas Pollock Anschutz.   His class at the Academy included other aspiring painters such as William Glackens, who would become a renowned realist painter and one of the founders of the Ashcan School of American art, and Florence Scovel Shinn, who later became a well-known American writer, artist, and book illustrator.

Stephen Parrish’s home Northcote – now and in 1906

Maxfield had a long-term friendship with one of his Academy classmates, Elsie Evangeline Deming, who he nicknamed Daisy.  In one of the many letters that they exchanged Maxfield extolled the beauty and tranquillity of the area, Cornish, New Hampshire, where his father had moved and was having his Northcote house built.  

                                                           Aspet, home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ home in Cornish, called Aspet (present day)

Stephen Parrish had come to Cornish in 1893, following the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens along with other artists, writers, and musicians who made up what came to be known as the Cornish Colony. From 1893 to 1902 Stephen Parrish spent his time building the house, a shop, a greenhouse, a stable for his horse Betty, a studio, and the extensive gardens. To take advantage of the view Parrish lined up the main garden path with the sunset and set benches around a tall pine at the end of the path.  Maxfield said that just being in the area gave him a sense of optimism and strengthened his aspirations for the future.  In a letter from Maxfield Parrish to his friend Elsie Deming, September 3, 1893, he wrote:

“…Oh, Daisy, you should see our place in the hillsides of New Hampshire. I was there for a week and it went way ahead of expectations. Wilson Eyre is putting us a pretty house upon it which I have not yet seen. Such an ideal country, so paintable and beautiful, so far away from everything and a place to dream one’s life away. Why daddy is a new man with it all and I long to be up there and become identified with it …. I shall go up to Windsor to stay indefinitely, maybe till December. It is a paradise up there in the mountains when the year is old! I hate to think of the city again – ever! My share of outdoor life has been a generous and appreciated one. It has changed me in many ways…”

The town of Cornish became a well-known summer resort for artists and writers, who wanted to escape the hostile summer climate of New York.  Soon, the surrounding area became the centre of the popular Cornish Art Colony

                                               Annisquam Village of Gloucester, Massachusetts

In 1894 Maxfield graduated from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and went to the Annisquam Village of Gloucester, Massachusetts where he and his father, Stephen, had shared a painting studio during the summers of ’82 and ’83.  His father wanted his son to expand his artistic knowledge and suggested he enrolled at the Drexel Institute at which the legendry Howard Pyle, the dean of American illustration,  was lecturing on illustrative work and graphic design.  According to Maxfield’s son, Maxfield Jnr., Howard Pyle after looking at his father’s work  advised him that his classes at the Drexel Institute would be too elementary but Pyle enlisted Maxfield’s help in auditing his classes.  It was during one of these class audits that Maxfield met another of the painting instructors, Lydia Ambler Austin, one of only three women allowed to teach in the prestigious school, who had arrived at the Institute in 1893.

                                                            Lydia Ambler Austin Parrish (1895)

Lydia Ambler Austin, reputed to be a woman of great beauty, was born in Woodstown, New Jersey, to a Quaker farming family in 1872. She was reserved but a very clever and gifted young woman.  It transpires that during her early life, she had been a suffragette and was focused on helping women achieve status in their professions.  Maxfield Parrish was smitten by Lydia.  The story goes that Howard Pyle was involved in preparing the way for the pair to start a relationship which eventually resulted in Maxfield declaring his love for his teacher in 1894.  

                            Cover of the 1895 Easter edition of Harper’s Bazar by Maxfield Parrish.

Howard Pyle had also told Parrish that in his opinion, he was ready to execute a commission for a magazine and Pyle contacted Harper’s Bazar and recommended Maxfield’s work knowing that the magazine was looking for a new artist for their 1895 Easter cover.

Maxfield and Lydia were married on June 1st, 1895 and went on to have four children, three sons, John Dillwyn born December 13th 1904, Maxfield Frederick born August 14th, 1906 and Stephen born November 14th 1909 and a daughter, Jean who was born on June 26th, 1911.   Within a week of getting married, Maxfield Parrish left his wife and travelled to visit European salons and galleries in Paris, London, and Brussels, where he hoped to arrange to exhibit some of his work.  It also gave him a chance to observe the works of the Old Masters.  He was in awe of the great works.  In a letter from Brussels to his wife on June 20th 1895 he wrote:

“…I have been feasting on glorious pictures in a great gallery.  Oh, the masters of the Dutch and Flemish schools knew how to paint!….”

Again in another letter to his wife, this time from Paris, he wrote about his love of the French capital:

“…Here, I am in Paris at last!…………Never has anything appeared to me so vast, so magnificent.  When I arrived here at sunset the city burst upon me as nothing ever did.  The streets are endless and marvels of beauty…”

On his return to America in mid-August 1895, the couple moved to a rented apartment located at Twelfth and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia.  Life for this married couple could not have been better.  His artwork was beginning to be appreciated by publishers and he was achieving a steady income for his illustrative work.  Even after Lydia became a married woman she carried on with her art and her teaching as the money she earned help the couple’s finances.

 Maxfield Parrish poster advertising the August 1897 issue of The Century magazine

Besides the Easter cover for Harper’s Bazar, Maxfield had begun receiving commissions illustrate other covers for the magazine.  He also received money from Century magazine for posters and covers he completed in 1896. Maxfield entered this poster design to Century magazine who were holding  competitions to attract new talent. The Century Company’s poster competition for its Midsummer edition of 1896 was won by Joseph Leyendecker. Maxfield Parrish won the second prize, and his poster was used the following year.

         PAFA 1896 Poster Show poster by Maxfield Parrish

The Pennsylvania Academy commissioned Maxfield Parrish to design a poster for their 1896 Poster Show.

Maxfield Parrish’s Very Little Red Riding Hood (1897)

Another poster commission which Maxfield completed in 1897 was for the Mask and Wig Club of Philadelphia. The club which came into existence in 1888 was founded by a small group of University of Pennsylvania undergraduates, who were interested in the stage.  They were talented and ambitious young men of prominent Philadelphia families with no proper outlet for their artistic pursuits! Maxfield was asked to create a poster for their forthcoming play, Very Little Red Riding Hood. 

The Outing Magazine Last Rose of Summer cover by Maxfield Parrish, (1899). Oil, gouache and ink on paper laid on board

The Outing Magazine commissioned Parrish to provide a cover illustration for their 1899 Last Rose of Summer edition.  In the poster, Maxfield used his own face and figure to portray a youth in Grecian costume examining a rose he holds in his hand. The figure is shown sitting below one of the massive oaks on the artist’s property, flanked by two plaster lions the artist had moulded in his studio.  The depiction harks back to the 1805 poem by the Irish poet, Thomas Moore:

‘Tis the last rose of summer,

Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred,

No rose-bud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes

Or give sigh for sigh!

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one.

To pine on the stem;

Since the lovely are sleeping,

Go, sleep thou with them;

Thus kindly I scatter

Thy leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden

Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

When friendships decay,

And from love’s shining circle

The gems drop away!

When true hearts lie wither’d,

And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

This bleak world alone?

………………..to be continued.

John Pototschnik. The living rural artist.

Of the 850+ blogs I have done in the last ten years, I think only three have been about living artists.  Maybe I was concerned that they would be upset with what I had written or maybe they would be unhappy if I had been inaccurate, although I try to get facts from various sources to avoid errors.  My featured artist today is a person who commented how he liked one of my blogs and when I looked at his blog/website and some of his artwork I decided that he would make for an ideal subject.  I wrote to him and he was happy for me to do a small bio on his life and art, so let me introduce you to John Pototschnik, pronounced Poe-toe-sh-nic.  John is a Signature member of the Oil Painters of America and a Master Signature Emeritus member of the Outdoor Painters Society. He is recognized in “Who’s Who in American Art” and “Who’s Who in the Southwest.” In addition, his work has appeared in multiple artist magazines and books.  He’s also the author of a best-selling book: Limited Palette Unlimited Color published by Streamline Publishing. 

John was born in England, in the Cornish coastal town of  St. Ives, on November 14th 1945.  His father was Ernest Felix Pototschnik, a native of Kansas whilst his mother, Patricia Mary Pototschnik (née Symons) was born in Trewartha, Lelant in Cornwall. She was Ernest’s second wife.  Ernest’s first wife died during the birth of their son Ernest Francis.   John’s father was a member of the US Army which was stationed in England during the Second World War and he met Patricia when he attended a local dance.  John’s mother once told him that she remembered that first meeting saying she was especially attracted to Ernest because of his short stature, the way he carried himself, and the American uniform. The couple soon fell in love and were married in St Ives on February 12th 1945.  John was their eldest child and he has a sister, Patsy Ann.

                                              At the Edge of Town by John Pototschnik (24 x 30ins)
The sound of an approaching train can be heard in the distance. There has been a brief, early afternoon shower. The mailman has yet to deliver the day’s mail and pick up the letter in the box addressed to a dear friend. Children are just getting out of school and will soon arrive home on the school bus. (Location: Kansas) https://www.pototschnik.com/paintings/at-the-edge-of-town/

Around 1946 Ernest Pototschnik was discharged from the army, and returned to America where he purchased a home in Wichita, Kansas, prior to his wife and John travelling across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary some months later to join him.  The family relocated to Wichita, Kansas and remained there for the next twenty-two years.  John attended the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Wichita and then enrolled at the city’s Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School.  At school John enjoyed draughtsmanship and biology.  He liked to sketch especially aircraft and racing cars. As a youth, his parents were comfortable with him going off on his own, exploring the neighbourhood.  He even went door-to-door selling his mother’s cookies or collecting money for his paper route.  John also often spent time with his father on hunting trips.  He believes this freedom to roam was how he built up his love of small American towns.

After graduating from High School in 1963, he went to the Pittsburg State Teacher’s College in Pittsburg, Kansas for one year.  During his early life at home there had been no exposure to art and the possibility of becoming an artist was never in consideration.  However, it was during the time at the College that John had the first thoughts about art being a definite possibility in his future.   He remembered purchasing the Famous Artist School correspondence course but admitted that he never completed it.  He explained that there was just no time for this extra-curricular study as life was filled with college work, athletics, and an after-school job. He said that he had little time for anything else.

                                                 Be Still My Soul by John Pototschnik (30 x 40ins)
A time of reflection, contemplation, and dreams comes easily in the peacefulness of the country. The soft light and gentle breeze refresh the soul. (Location: Georgia. Private collection).  Last year, this work was awarded the Silver Medal at the Oil Painters of America 27th Annual National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils, which was held at the Steamboat Art Museum in Steamboat Springs, CO. Of the more than 2,000 entries, only about one-tenth of those were selected for the exhibition.

In June 1964, John enrolled at Wichita State University and embarked on a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in Advertising Design.  During his university days he worked for a number of graphic design and illustration companies.  One of the companies was Oblinger-Smith Planning Consultants where he worked as a graphic designer and, it was here, that through a work colleague he met Marcia who in October 1971 became Mrs Marcia Pototschnik.  His love of airplanes also had him sign up for the USAF College Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC). Upon graduation from college, I was guaranteed an Air Force commission and on leaving university in June 1968, John spent the next four years working for the United States Air Force stationed at El Segundo, California where he worked as an Internal/Public Information Officer working in community relations and edited the base newspaper.

                           For a Moment, All the World Was Right by John Pototschnik (30 x 40 ins)
For a Moment, All the World Was Right – It’s a busy world, full of noise, stress and worry, but for the young playmates, for this time in their life, all in the world is right. Being with friends, loved by their parents, feeling safe and protected…that is their reality. They are content and happy. (Location: New Hampshire. Private Collection)

Following completion of his time in the military in June 1972, he moved to Dallas and set about establishing a freelance illustration career although he proudly states he had his first paying job when he was ten years old, mowing lawns in the summer, raking leaves in the autumn and shovelling snow in the winter and at fifteen earned money as a part-time dish-washer at a local department store and during his first year of college days he was a consummate hamburger-flipper!  For the next ten years of his life he worked as an illustrator for all the major advertising agencies and design studios.  Of this decade as an illustrator he said he enjoyed the time:

“…I very much enjoyed working as a freelance illustrator. There was a great variety of work and its associated challenges. Being able to meet those challenges and satisfy a client was very rewarding. I also liked seeing my work in print. It also afforded me the opportunity to work in a number of media: pencil, pen/ink, watercolour, and acrylic. It also trained me to work under pressure and to meet tight deadlines…”

But all good things had to come to an end and for John the graphic design jobs were very time consuming and he said that his life revolved around long working hours and frequent bouts of little sleep.  This lifestyle of constant pressure and ever-demanding deadlines could not go on forever and so in 1982 John made the decision to leave the world of illustration and graphic design and turn his mind to the world of Fine Arts.

                                             Meeting of the Lines -by John Pototschnik (20×20 ins)
Many train lines congregate in this small agricultural town. The area bristles with activity. The sounds of the grain industry and rumble of the trains are heard throughout the town and are enchanting to young boys. (Location: Kansas. Private collection)

However, it was not just himself he had to consider as now he had a wife and two sons, Jonathan in 1975 and two years later a second son, Andrew.  But what did his wife think of his decision to quit his lucrative graphic designer career.  John comments:

“…Marcia has always been supportive of my art career regardless of the direction I decided to take it. She is a woman of common sense and has never been materialistic, in that she needed things to make her happy. She loved being a mother and homemaker…”

One can see how the decision to enter the world of Fine Artist was a financial gamble and he spoke about the decision:

“…Many well-known illustrators were leaving the field and moving into the fine arts in the 1970’s.  It was something I had always wanted to do but was told from the very beginning, “You’ll never make a living as a fine artist”. So, I chose to work in the commercial art side of the business. Seeing other illustrators make the leap encouraged me to do the same…”

               Plein air oil painting, Wylie Church by John Pototschnik (16″ x 12″)
When John heard about a plan to tear down the original St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, he worked hard, along with a committee, to save the structure and even wrote a letter appealing to the Bishop. Not only did the tiny church remain, but it is now immortalized in one of his paintings.

The switch to Fine Arts from being an illustrator and graphic designer was a massive change in John’s life and he was aware of the perils of this transition, saying:

“…Change is always a gamble. Fortunately, I was pretty naïve concerning what it would take to succeed, and to the realities of the fine art business. I thought the transition would be smooth and easy. I would just start painting different subjects, charge the same prices I was getting as an illustrator, and begin calling myself a fine artist. The only part of that that worked out was that I was painting different subjects. Galleries recognized my work as being illustrative, and nothing sold at my illustration prices.  Fortunately, the transition was eased somewhat by a friend who suggested I paint a series of paintings showing that the oil industry and wildlife could co-exist in the same area. If I did the paintings, he agreed to help me find six corporate sponsors that would purchase the paintings and their accompanying prints. That project worked well as it gave me time to begin working in oil, painting en plein air, developing my work, and funding my first year in the fine arts. Actually, there was not much thought given to financial success. I just figured one way or another this would work. However, it did take seven years to return to the level of income I was making as an illustrator…”

                                                        Rural Hideaway by John Pototschnik (25 x 28 ins)
Where does the road lead? Does it lead to a beautifully secluded little house in this gentle, non-threatening, peaceful environment? The question invites wonderful speculation and the viewer can visualize themselves walking that road to discovery. (Location: Georgia. Private collection)

So how did the change of artistic direction go for John?  He recalled those early day struggles:

“…Yes, there was a definite struggle. I did not realize it when I set my mind on becoming a fine artist, but fine art was beginning all over again. It is not a continuation of an illustration career; it’s starting a new career. I grew the career by doing lots of small paintings (5”x7” – 8” x 10”). These sold at very reasonable prices. I sold a lot of them, which helped grow a collector base. Then I began writing a monthly newsletter in order to stay in contact with the collectors.  Determining the price structure for my paintings is interesting in itself: As stated earlier, I began using illustration prices for the paintings…nothing sold. I then cut the prices in half…nothing sold. I cut the prices in half again…I then began selling just about everything. That’s why those early paintings were so reasonable…”

                                      Saturday Afternoon Game by John Pototschnik (16 x 20 ins)
School is over for the week. Classmates and neighbourhood friends enjoy a game of basketball at this small town American home. Location: Kansas)
https://www.pototschnik.com/paintings/saturday-afternoon-game/

John has painted in many mediums but his favourite is oils as it dries much slower than acrylic and thus affords him the chance to manipulate and correct his work until it is just right.  He also is pleased by the way oils has substance and retains brushstrokes.  When I asked John about his depictions being predominantly rural, he commented:

“…Much of what I paint are deeply felt impressions formed during my childhood. I grew up in the 1950s. It was a totally different time. I grew up in small neighbourhoods, small houses, small towns, near the country. My parents and grandparents had flourishing vegetable gardens. My mom made homemade cookies which I sold door to door. I had newspaper routes in which I delivered morning and evening newspapers door to door. I was free to ride my bicycle all around town and visit my friends. All these things, and much more, are in my work…”

His finished works are often the result of plein air painting which he enjoys but he says that about 99% of the plein air work is just for learning how to get a good handle on understanding nature. Some of those studies are used as a starting point for larger studio works. Less frequently, they are completed compositions unless they are for an art show or plein air competition, then, I will do larger completed works on location.

                                                   Land of Abundance by John Pototschnik (35 x 65)
Holmes County in the state of Ohio is an Amish community. Retaining many of the old world ways, eschewing many of the modern world’s technology and conveniences, the typical means of transportation is the horse and buggy. The magnificently kempt structures and fields are an endless source of inspiration for me. (Location: Ohio)
https://www.pototschnik.com/paintings/land-of-abundance/

In so many of the artists I have looked at over the years many depict realist situations, such as the poverty of the peasants and the back-breaking labour they had to endure and so I asked John why he has not also painted those often harrowing depictions.  He replied:

“…. I’ve never experienced personally the realities and hardships of actual farm life. I’ve been around farms, mainly as a child, so to this day have a more romanticized view. As an adult, I’m not unaware of the reality. I just choose to depict something that is somewhere between Realism and Idealism…”

He is also aware of the taste of the buying public.  Do they want paintings depicting hard-hitting realism on the walls of their house or would they rather have idealised rural beauty adorning their lounges and dining rooms?  John believes the latter is the case and the sale of his works of art bears out that assumption.

I asked him which of the great artists of the past he admired most.  He was most definite with his reply:

“…My favourite expressions of art are found in the Barbizon and Naturalism schools. Breton and Millet are certainly two of my favourites, but there are many more from that era, painting in that genre. There are so many artist’s works, past and present that I greatly admire, so I will say that the 1800s is my absolute favourite period in art history…”

                                                      Staying Home by John Pototschnik (16 x 27ins)
A few inches of snow on a day of bitterly cold temperatures comes to a close. The porch light comes on. It’s just too cold to go out tonight, We’re staying home where it’s warm. (Location: Texas)
https://www.pototschnik.com/paintings/staying-home/

He said he loved the works of Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Jean-Francois Millet.  In their paintings he saw a great sensitivity to people and nature. They have the ability to express all nature’s subtleties in such a unified, calming, peaceful way which he found very appealing. Only what is necessary is stated, nothing is overworked.  He also liked the Naturalism of the art of Stanhope Forbes, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Leon Lhermitte, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, Charles Sprague Pearce, Frank Bramley, Jules-Alexis Muenier, George Clausen, Gari Melchers, and Jules Breton. He liked how the Naturalists works are highly refined, almost photographic. Subjects are of common folks in everyday situations, people of the land, usually depicted in rural settings. I find all this extremely appealing, especially the high degree of finish.  Finally, he said that he loved the work of the Russian Itinerants, such as Arkhipov, Kramskov, Levitan, Perov, Repin, Svetoslavsky and how their paintings are gritty, earthy, bold, and emotionally powerful.  He summed it up by saying:

“…The common thread running through all the work I most love is a sense of the real. Subjects are of common folk doing common tasks. They are not idealized. Small towns, cottages, rural landscapes, and people going about their daily lives in that environment predominate. All of the above artists speak of the reality and truth of everyday life, there is no pretentiousness. I feel each artist has approached their work and subject with humility and is therefore able to capture the soul and spirit of the subject with great sensitivity…”

                              Remembering Murphy Grocery by John Pototschnik (14″ x 24″ – Oil}
John could often be found with his easel painting on the side of the road. His painting of the old Murphy Grocery Store at FM 544 and Murphy Road evokes nostalgia in many who remember the store. He has sold many prints of the painting and the original hangs in the Smith Public Library today.

I finally asked John on his views for Fine Art in the future and the up and coming aspiring artists. How will the future compare with the past?  He replied:

“…I’m not sure what the future holds for the fine art of painting. There will always be a place for beautiful things, things that elevate, but whether individual hand-crafted paintings will have as much value and importance to future generations as they have had in the past, I don’t know.

Lack of art education, shortened attention span, ever expanding technology, increased desire for the latest and greatest thing…and a new generation that has had little exposure to fine art… could greatly affect how fine art is valued in the future.  

That being said, among serious art students, there seems to be a real move toward realism, and even classicism. Non-objective art among many is seen as empty and devoid of substance. They want more. Ateliers, teaching solid drawing and painting principles, have sprung up around the world. The Art Renewal Center is a strong influence in promoting a return to representational art. Also, the current plein air movement in the United States has encouraged a huge number of amateur artists to pick up their brushes and go outdoors. The negative side of the plein air movement is that people seem to think if a work is done in plein air, it must be good. What I see is a lot of poorly executed, poorly composed, and poorly drawn works. When these works are promoted in magazines and social media, one is led to believe the work is good and that anyone can be an artist. Doing something quickly is better than doing something thoughtfully and carefully seems to be the driving force.  

Painting workshops are very helpful in providing for an artist’s livelihood. Unfortunately, many that are teaching should not be teaching because their work is of poor quality. Also, not every good artist is a good teacher. I recommend choosing one’s instructor carefully.  

Finally, I disagree with students taking one workshop after another, jumping from one instructor to the next. Over and over again, I see this happening but see no improvement in the students work. It seems it’s more about saying I studied with so-and-so, than actually seriously applying what is taught…”

John has received many awards for his art and in 2018 the Art Renewal Center, the largest online association with 50,000 of the greatest works in history, recognized him as a Living Master (ARCLM). The requirements for Living Master status are extensive with the main caveat being, “The artist has dedicated themselves to becoming a realist artist with the wish to express our shared humanity through the visual arts.”


To find out more about John Pototschnik have a look at his website:

https://www.pototschnik.com/about/

Fern Isabel Coppedge. Part 2.

                                                      The Coal Barge by Fern Isabel Coppedge

One of Fern Coppedge’s later paintings, The Coal Barge, which she completed around 1940, featured the Delaware Canal.  The sixty-mile canal and the coal barges, which ploughed their way down its length, were an important means of transporting anthracite coal from north-eastern Pennsylvania to Philadelphia.  This barge trade lasted a hundred years and started in 1932 and in its heyday, over three thousand mule drawn boats travelled up and down this waterway carrying more than one million tons of coal every year.  This mode of transport became obsolete with the transporting of coal by rail.  This depiction of the canal and towpaths was a favourite depiction of many artists at the time.  There was a connection between Fern and the mules, which were used to tow the barges, as her studio was in a barn which once housed the working animals.

                                            Evening Local, New Hope by Fern Isabel Coppedge (C.1930)

In 1933 Fern completed a painting entitled Evening Local, New Hope which originally had the title, Five O’clock Train, which pictorially presents historical documentation of the schoolhouses which were in the New Hope-Solebury School District.  The painting depicts New Hope Elementary School which can be seen on the hill off West Mechanic Street in New Hope.  The building is no longer a school but is now the home of the New Hope Jewish congregation Kehilat NaHanar known locally as the “Little Shul by the River.”

                                                         The Opalescent Sea by Fern Isabel Coppedge

Coppedge divided her time between her Boxwood home in Lumberville, her studio in the coastal town of Gloucester where she often spent summers, and a studio in Philadelphia which she used during exhibitions.  In 1916 Fern spoke about her plein air painting at the Massachusetts fishing town of Cape Ann, Gloucester, and how she had many ardent onlookers.  She wrote:

“…In the waters shown in my paintings, there were a number of lobster traps. The fishermen were so much interested in the development of the picture of this familiar scene that in order to have an excuse to see it they would bring me a freshly boiled lobster, and the old sea captains would entertain me with thrilling stories of stormy nights spent in their little fishing schooners on the Newfoundland Banks and the Georges…”

                                       The Philadelphia Ten.
                             Fern Coppedge, back row on left)

In 1922 Fern was accepted into the all-women art society known as the Philadelphia Ten and exhibited regularly with them through to 1935.   They were an exclusive and progressive group of female artists and sculptors who ignored society rules of the time by working and exhibiting together. 

Coppedge once talked about her favoured methodology of painting and how she favoured working plein air to capture the essence of nature, notwithstanding inclement weather conditions:

“…I may erase most of my sketch, but after I have it the way I want it in charcoal, then I work over the entire canvas with a large brush. I use thin paint in trying to get the right value. I test different spots to see whether the scene should be painted rich or pale. Then I proceed with the actual painting using paint right from the tube. I hold the brush at arm’s length and paint from the spine. That gives relaxation…”

                                            Winter Solitude, Lambertville by Fern Isabel Coppedge

Pennsylvania Impressionism was an American Impressionist movement of the first half of the 20th century that was centred in and around Bucks County, Pennsylvania, particularly the town of New Hope. The movement is sometimes referred to as the “New Hope School” or the “Pennsylvania School” of landscape painting. Fern Coppedge was the only female member of The New Hope School.  She was part of that art movement and devoted numerous pictures to her Bucks County environment especially her winter scenes and she would suffer for her art with her plein air painting in the sub-zero conditions.   She was fascinated with the beauty of the snow.  There is no doubt that the extreme cold winters challenged her devotion to plein air painting.   She tried to get round this and carry on painting as long as she could by removing the back seat of her car to paint from an enclosed warm area. In cold windy conditions she would often tie her canvases to trees to fight off the wind and would wear her unfashionable but fit-for-purpose bearskin coat.  It was said by a local art critic for The New Hope magazine in November 1933:

“…We remember seeing Mrs. Coppedge trudging through the deep snow wrapped in a bearskin coat, her sketching materials slung over her shoulder, her blue eyes sparkling with the joy of life…”.

                                              Carversville by Fern Isabel Coppedge

There was a difference between her paintings and the other New Hope Impressionists.  Unlike other New Hope Impressionists, Fern Coppedge looked at the landscape scenes she was to paint with different eyes than them.    Of course, the first thing she acknowledged was what the eyes saw or the true photographic image.  However, she would also want an input from her imagination and how the scene felt like to her, and it was this power of imagination that led her to paint scenes with colours and tones which did not exist in reality.

       The Brook at Carversville by Edward Redfield (ca. 1923), (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

An example of her differing style can be seen if you compare her depiction of Carversville with the depiction of the same place by her fellow New Hope School artist, Edward Redfield.

Often her scenes would not be topographically correct.  Again, it was down to her power of imagination which countered reality and the finished result was an idealised version of the scene which was all about pleasing the artist.  In her mind, the depiction was a battle between what was actually there in front of her against what she imagined should be there.  Instead of depicting building using true brown and grey colours, Fern preferred to use pink and turquoise to, as if by magic, brighten facades. A travesty of art ?  Maybe we should think of how nowadays we adjust photographs, using photo editing packages, to achieve, not a true result, but a result we find more pleasing !  The fact her paintings sold so well is testament that the buying public had no problem with her idealisation or colour shifts.

                                                 Back Road to Pipersville by Fern Isabel Coppedge

Fern joined “The Philadelphia Ten” in 1922 and exhibited regularly with them for the next thirteen through 1935. The Philadelphia Ten, which was founded in 1917, was both a unique and forward-thinking group of women artists and sculptors who ignored the rules of society and the art world by working and exhibiting together for almost thirty years. Their work was varied and included both urban and rural landscapes, portraiture, still life, and a variety of representational and myth-inspired sculpture.  The group of local female artists started with eleven founding members, who were all alumnae of either the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (known today as Moore College of Art and Design), but over the years the membership rose to thirty artists, twenty three who were painters and seven who were sculptors.

                                               The Golden Arno by Fern Isabel Coppedge (c. 1926)

In the summer of 1925, Coppedge travelled to Italy and immersed herself in painting local scenes.  She stayed in the city of Florence, which was a base for her travels around Tuscany, ever recording pictorially the beauty of the Tuscan landscape.  It is thought that during her time in Tuscany Fern was inspired to change her painting style.  She began to simplify the natural elements she saw before her, often flattening them and she also became much more audacious when it came to her colour choices.  One of my favourite works from this period is Coppedge’s painting entitled The Golden Arno.  She had sketched views of the great Italian river as it passed through Tuscany and the painting was completed back in her home studio.  Coppedge talked about this painting and how it came about:

“…From my hotel, overlooking the Arno in Florence—looking from the balcony window—I saw the Arno River flowing gently like molten gold. It was late afternoon, and lazy Italian boatmen floated past in the dark, sturdy barges, wending their way down the river. Along the opposite bank were charming old stucco houses in colours of pale and rusty yellow, rose, pink, and old red. Tiled roofs, arched doorways and deeply recessed windows, balconies, towers and turrets against the background of cypress trees—all mirrored in the waters of the Arno. Church towers and ancient castle walls patterned against the hills inspired me and thrilled me with an irresistible desire to put on canvas my impressions…”

         The Literary Digest March 1st 1930 edition with Fern Coppedge’s picture on the front cover

In 1926, the painting of the Arno was included in an exhibition of The Philadelphia Ten.  It received great praise from both viewers and art critics. The painting was later exhibited in exhibitions in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, and it is now regarded as one of her best works. It was also reproduced on the cover of The Literary Digest in March of 1930. The painting was acquired by her local high school, mostly likely after the school opened in 1931.  Around 1934, Fern stopped exhibiting with The Philadelphia Ten and instead focused on exhibiting at her studio,

                                                  Lamplighters Cottage by Fern Isabel Coppedge (1928)

During her artistic career she received several awards including the Shillard Medal in Philadelphia, a Gold Medal from the Exposition of Women’s Achievements, another Gold Medal from the Plastics Club of Philadelphia, and the Kansas City H.O. Dean Prize for Landscape.

Coppedge died at her New Hope home on April 21st, 1951 at the age of 67.  Her husband, Robert W. Coppedge, died in New Hope, Pennsylvania in 1948. The Coppedges, who were married in 1904, remained husband and wife for 44 years.  Fern Coppedge was one of America’s most prolific painters, having completed over five thousand works during her lifetime.  I will leave the last word on Fern Coppedge and her paintings to Arthur Edward Bye, an American landscape architect born in the Netherlands who grew up in Pennsylvania who said:

“…Man and his activities seem pleasantly remote but not absent in her landscapes. She fills them with houses and churches, lanes, bridges, and canals. They have therefore, that suggestion of human life, coloured with brightness, exuberant, which best answers the needs of most of us…”


Most of the information for this blog came from the website Pennsylvania through the eyes of Fern I Coppedge.

Fern Isobel Coppedge. Part 1

Fern Isabel Coppedge in her studio

My featured artist today was one of the Pennsylvania Impressionists, an artistic movement of the first half of the 20th century that was centred in and around Bucks County, Pennsylvania, particularly the town of New Hope. Often the movement was referred to as the New Hope School or the Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting.  Leading artists of the movement taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. There was a difference between Pennsylvania Impressionism and Impressionism practiced in other parts of America as, with the former, the personification of their art was the thick brushwork and the way they almost had a dedicated concentration on landscape painting.  Today’s artist was one of the great American painters of her time and although she has been tagged with the term, Impressionism, Fern Isabel Coppedge has of late been labelled as a follower of Colourism,  which is a painting style characteristic for its use of intense colour, and for making colour itself the main compositional language in the resultant work of art.  Thus, her paintings are looked upon as part Impressionism part Colourism, which is a painting style characteristic for its use of intense colour, and for making colour itself the main compositional language in the resultant work of art. Coppedge’s paintings offered up her bold and unorthodox use of bright vibrant colours similar to Fauvism, which is also characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork.

Gloucester Harbour by Fern Isabel Coppedge

Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century American painter, Fern Isabel Coppedge, a landscape artist, who was famed for her depiction of the villages and farms of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, often blanketed with snow, as well as her harbour scenes of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her summers.

Fern (Kuns) Coppedge, Dessie (Kuns) Garst, George Dilling Kuns, Margaret Effa Kuns, Vada Dilling Kuns, Maria (Dilling) Kuns, John L. Kuns, Mary (Kuns) Klepinger

Fern Isabel Kuns was born on July 18th 1883 in the small town of Cerro Gordo which lies about twelve miles east of the central Illinois city of Decatur.  Her parents were John Leslie Kuns and Maria Anna Dilling.  Fern was one of six children.  She had four sisters, Margaret Effa, Dessie, Vada, and Maria and one brother, George Dilling.  Sadly, the first-born of John and Maria’s family was a boy, Joseph, who died in 1873 aged ten. 

Home of Fern Kuns and Family in McPherson, Kansas (c.1900)

Her father had a small farm which he had inherited from his father, but was constantly struggling to make ends meet, so much so that in 1886, when Fern was aged three, he had to sell the farm, at a loss, so as to feed the family and pay for their education.  John and his family moved west to California in the hope of finding work but nought came of it, although Fern’s eldest sister Margaret, nine years Fern’s senior, said that life in California was the best year of her childhood.  When potential opportunities did not work out for their father, they headed back east and arrived in Kansas. In 1889, the Kuns’ finally settled in McPherson, Kansas and occupied a house on the campus of McPherson College.

Watercolour by Margaret Effa Kuns (c.1935)

When Fern was thirteen years old, she went back west to Palo Alto in California where her sister Margaret Effa was studying at Leland Stanford University.  Fern,  still too young to leave the school system, enrolled at the Pasadena High school.  During her stay in California she enjoyed the company of her elder sister, Margaret Effa, and was fascinated watching her painting in a watercolour class.  This was what first instance which eventually made Fern fall in love with painting and drawing.  Effa encouraged her sister’s newly found love of art and would take her to museums to study famous paintings.

An early insight of Fern’s early work can be gleaned by a comment she once made about her art and her unusual views of the use of colours.  She said:

“…People used to think me queer when I was a little girl because I saw deep purples and reds and violets in a field of snow. I used to be hurt over it until I gave up trying to understand people and concentrated on my love and understanding of landscapes…”

Robert William Coppedge

In 1900, at the age of seventeen, Fern Kuns went back to Kansas and, upon her return to the Midwest, she studied at McPherson College and later the University of Kansas.   Shortly after her return to Kansas, she met her future husband, Missouri-born, Robert William Coppedge, a high school science teacher, botanist, and amateur artist.  On January 2nd, 1904, Fern Kuns and Robert Coppedge were married in her parents’ home in McPherson, and the ceremony was followed by a four-course wedding breakfast. Fern and her husband moved east to the Kansas state capital, Topeka.  Robert continued with his teaching profession whilst Fern continued with her love of painting and four years later, when they moved to Illinois, she attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1908 to 1910. 

Back Road to Pipersvill by Fern Isabel Coppedge

From Chicago she moved to New York, where she enrolled at the Arts Student League.  She studied with the artist, muralist and illustrator, Frank Vincent DuMond and the Impressionist painter, William Merritt Chase.  In 1917, Fern spent time studying at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where one of her tutors was the Pennsylvania artist and art teacher, Daniel Garber and that year she had some of her artwork accepted into that year’s annual exhibition.  In that summer she studied at the Art Students League summer school in Woodstock where winter painting specialist, John Fabian Carlson, was director.  Carlson was one of the great interpreters of the wooded landscape and was a great influence on Fern Coppedge.

Pigeon Cove by Fern Isabel Coppedge (c.1930)

In 1917 Fern visited Pennsylvania for the first time. She immediately fell in love with its picturesque-wooded hills and the many old-fashioned Bucks County towns which reminded her a little of her home state, Kansas. She remained in Pennsylvania for over thirty years and went on to own homes in Philadelphia, and the Bucks County towns of Lumberville, where she purchased a home and art studio in 1920, which she named Boxwood, sometimes referred to as The Boxwood Studios. 

Lumberville in Winter by Fern Isabel Coppedge

In her painting,  Lumberville in Winter, we see depicted a yellow building which is believed to be her first Boxwood studio which had once been a Quaker meeting house dating to the 1700s and is featured in several other works by the artist.  The small two-storey building would feature in many more of her paintings.  Living close to her in the small village of Cuttalossa was her former tutor, Daniel Garber.

October by Fern Isabel Coppedge (after restoration work)

There is an interesting story about Fern Coppedge’s painting entitled October.   In May, 2011, a man with a small but pleasant oil painting entitled October, fresh from a New Jersey estate, walked up to the owner of a hot dog stand in North Carolina, Alison Bledsoe.  The hot dog lady, looked at the dirty landscape of a bridge, some yellow leafed trees, and some brightly coloured houses. She was not quite sure if the interesting painting was worth buying, but as it was not expensive she purchased it.   Seven months later, on December 4, 2011, Les and Sue Fox of West Highland Art Auction Brokers and authors of The Art Hunters’ Handbook, in cooperation with Alasdair Nichol of Freeman’s Auctioneers, sold the professionally cleaned New Hope, Pennsylvania bridge scene by Fern Isabel Coppedge for $29,800 at auction. 

The Tow Path by William Langson Lathrop
Landscape painter William Langson Lathrop (1859-1938) moved to New Hope in 1898, where he founded a summer art school, which became known as The New Hope School

Nine years later, in 1929, Fern Coppedge moved seven miles down-river to the small town of New Hope.  It  was a  town located along the route of the Old York Road, the former main highway between Philadelphia and New York City.  At the time when George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776, it was known as Coryell’s Ferry, after the owner of the ferry business, and got its current name after a fire destroyed several mills in 1790. It was said that once the mills were rebuilt, there was a “new hope” for this small town on the Delaware river.  The town would later be joined by a bridge to Lambertville, on the New Jersey side. Artist William Langston Lathrop and his family moved to New Hope in 1898 and founded an art school and he is now considered the father of The New Hope School

Snow And Sunshine by Fern Isabel Coppedge

Fern Coppedge lived on North Main Street in the centre of New Hope, in an early American style stone house and studio which she had built and was designed by architect Henry T. MacNeill in 1929.  This too was named Boxwood !   Over the years Fern Coppedge painted a number of pictures of her Boxwood home, at which she held many exhibitions of her work.  In 1907 Daniel Garber, who had once tutored Fern at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1900’s,  joined the early group of American Impressionists who would evolve into The New Hope School of Pennsylvania Impressionists. Fern became a member of the group and at the time she was the only female member of the New Hope School. Members of the New Hope School lived and painted in a number of Bucks County towns near New Hope, including Lumberville and Carversville. But the “New Hope School” name stuck and that is what these talented artists who followed in the footsteps of the French Impressionists are now called.

………………………to be continued.


Most of the information for this blog came from the website Pennsylvania through the eyes of Fern I Coppedge.

Frederick Childe Hassam – The American Impressionist.

Frederick Childe Hassam

Today I am looking at the life of the nineteenth century American painter, and an important illustrator during the “golden age” of American illustration in the 1880s and 1890s.  He was a leading American Impressionist, although he baulked at that “title”.   Let me introduce you to Frederick Childe Hassam.

Self portrait

Frederick Childe Hassam was born on October 17th 1859 in the family home on Olney Street on Meeting House Hill, Dorchester, the upper middle-class suburb of Boston.  He was the son of Frederick Fitch Hassam and Rosa Delia Hassam (née Hawthorne) who hailed from Maine.  His father, a Boston merchant and hardware store owner, collected Americana well before this hobby became a popular pastime and he passed this interest in history along to his son.  Hassam was educated at Dorchester’s Meeting House Hill School and Dorchester High School, where he studied French, German, Latin and Greek while playing several sports.  Childe had his first lessons in drawing and watercolour whilst a pupil at the Mather public school in Dorchester, although his parents showed little interest in his art.

The Evening Star, by Childe Hassam, pastel on tan paper, (1891)

The family’s fortunes changed dramatically on November 9th 1872 with the sudden outbreak of fire in the basement of a commercial warehouse in the city.  The fire burnt for twelve hours and in that time had destroyed 65 acres of Boston’s downtown, 776 buildings and much of the financial district, including Childe Hassam’s father’s business.  For financial reasons, Childe had to drop out of high school without qualifying, and get a job, so as to help his family in their time of dwindling finances.  His father arranged for his son to work in the accounting department of publisher Little Brown & Company, but his lack of ability to work with figures soon ended that career.  Childe had talked to his parents about his love of painting and sketching and eventually persuaded his father to allow him to take up an artistic career.   Childe Hassam managed to secure a position as an apprentice wood engraver with George Johnson.  In a short time, Childe had proved himself to be an accomplished draughtsman producing designs for commercial engravings such as images for letterheads and newspapers.

A Back Road, by Childe Hassam, (1884)

It was around 1879 that Hassam began painting in oil but his favourite medium was watercolours.  Childe Hassam’s initial formal art studies began in 1878 when he joined the Boston Art Club.  The institution was founded in 1854 by local artists in order to instigate a democratic organization where there would be a collaboration in the promotion, selling and education of art.  From there he enrolled at the Lowell Institute in Boston which ran classes in freehand practical design.

Old House, Nantucket by Childe Hassam (1882)

In 1882, Childe Hassam took part in his first public group exhibition at the Boston Art Club.  Other artists at the Boston Art Club, at that time were nationally prominent painters such as William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, Winslow Homer, Maurice Prendergast, and John Singer Sargent.  Following his success at this exhibition Childe Hassam submitted some of his watercolour paintings for his first solo exhibition held at the William & Everett Gallery in Boston.

Childe Hassam illustration for St Nicholas Children’s magazine

In 1882, Hassam became a freelance illustrator and founded his first studio. His illustration forte was his illustration of children’s stories for magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s Monthly magazine, and The Century. He continued to develop his technique while he attended the drawing classes at the Lowell Institute, which was a division of MIT, and at the Boston Art Club, where he took life painting classes. 

New signature

The following year, his friend Celia Thaxter convinced him to drop his first name, Frederick, and thereafter he was known simply as “Childe Hassam”. He also began to add a crescent symbol in front of his signature.

Gate of the Alhambra by Childe Hassam (1883)

Because of his formal art training was limited he was advised that he should travel to Europe and enhance his artistic knowledge.  The advice came from fellow Boston Art Club member, Edmund Henry Garrett, an American illustrator, bookplate-maker, and author as well as a highly respected painter, who was renowned for his illustrations of the legends of King Arthur.  Garrett persuaded Hassam to accompany him to Europe in the summer of 1883.  The two travelled extensively through Great Britain, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain and during their journey they would study the Old Masters at various museums and create watercolours of the various European landscapes.  While in Paris he was very much influenced by the painterly brushstrokes and pure colours of the Impressionists and it was noticeable that around this time his palette brightened and he discovered a love for depicting city subjects which would stay with him all his life.  In all, Childe Hassam completed sixty-seven watercolours and these were exhibited at his second one-man exhibition in 1884.

Maude Sewing by Childe Hassam (1883)

After a long courtship, Hassam married Montreal-born Kathleen Maude Doan in February 1884 and during their lifetime together, she organised the Hassam household, arranged all her husband’s travel itineraries and looked after the other domestic tasks. She featured in a number of his paintings including his 1888 work, Geraniums, which he presented at the Salon exhibition that year.

Paris Scene by Childe Hassam (1887)

During the early 1880s, the couple lived in Boston, and Hassam became one of a small number of American artists to paint watercolours of urban street scenes.  Although he believed that his paintings had improved, he decided to return to Paris and seek further artistic tuition.  In 1886 he and Maud arrived at the French capital for the start of their three year stay and Hassam attended classes at the Académie Julian, where he studied under the influential instructors Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre.   To make ends meet Hassam would send his oil and watercolour painting back to Boston to be sold.  The money he received for them was enough for he and Maud to afford to stay in Paris. During his time in Europe, he continued to prefer mundane street and horse scenes, shunning some of the other depictions favoured by the Impressionists, such as opera, cabaret, theatre, and boating. 

Le Jour de Grand Prix Day by Childe Hassam (1887)

In 1887 he completed his painting Le Jour de Grand Prix Day which now hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Whereas he normally painted using a darker more tonal palette, in this work he used light colours to encapsulate the impression of a bright sunny day.  The setting was the journey to Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne and the Grand Prix de Paris horse race which was held annually in June at the Longchamp track.  The affluent racegoers bedecked in their finery can be seen riding atop the horse-driven coaches which travel along the tree-lined avenue Bois de Boulogne, which is now Avenue Foch.  In the top left of the painting we catch a glimpse of Arc de Triomphe.  A slightly larger version of the painting, which is in the New Britain Museum of American Art collection, was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1888.  Of the painting Childe Hassam said;

“…I am painting sunlight. . . a ‘four in hand’ and the crowds of fiacres filled with the well-dressed women who go to the ‘Grand Prix…”

Geraniums by Childe Hassam (1888)

He also liked to paint garden and “flower girl” scenes, some of which included a depiction of his wife, Maude, an example of which is his 1889 painting entitled Geraniums which he presented at the Salon exhibition that year. During his three-year stay in the French capital he managed to exhibit at all three Salon exhibitions.

Fifth Avenue Winter by Childe Hassam (1915)

The couple returned to America in 1889 and went to live in a New York City studio apartment a studio apartment at Fifth Avenue and Seventeenth Street.  Hassam began making paintings and etchings of New York city. Hassam saw the city as a place of similar beauty and excitement to Paris especially in the fashionable neighbourhoods along Fifth Avenue and at Washington Square.  It was from this apartment window that Hassam painted the view outside.  His 1915 painting entitled Fifth Avenue Winter depicts the bustling Manhattan thoroughfare which was quickly becoming a popular shopping district around the time he made this work. His composition features flecks of colour and blurred forms to depict reflected light and rapid movement. The accelerated pace of modern city life is evoked by the depiction of the street full of streaming traffic, including two green double-decker buses at lower right.  The fashionable street was the route taken at that time by horse-drawn carriages and trolley buses. It was one of his favourite paintings and he exhibited it several times. The work now hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Fifth Avenue in Winter by Childe Hassam (c.1892)

Around 1892, Hassam painted a view of the busy thoroughfare in Winter.  The work entitled Fifth Avenue in Winter now hangs at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art

End of the Trolley Line, Oak Park, Illinois by Frederick Childe Hassam (c 1893),

Childe Hassam and his wife lived in New York for the rest of their lives.  He would work on his illustrations in his studio and when, weather permitting, he would go out and paint landscapes en plein air.  Not long after settling in the city, Childe Hassam became involved in the setting up of The New York Watercolour Club in 1890 and became its first president.  The organisation, unlike the American Watercolor Society, accepted both men and women into its ranks and the Club’s first exhibition was held that year.  The organisation’s exhibitions were jury-selected affairs and thus the standard of the works on show was much higher than other artistic societies.  The New York Watercolor Club’s exhibitions were held in the building which was constructed as the result of the founding of the American Fine Arts Society at 215 West 57th Street in 1889. Other art organizations headquartered in the building were the American Federation of Arts, American Watercolor Society, Artists’ Aid Society, Mural Painters, and the Art Students League of New York. Its galleries also held National Academy of Design, Architectural exhibitions.

Washington Arch, Spring by Childe Hassam. (1893)

Hassam’s painting Washington Arch, Spring which he completed in 1893 is an example of why he was termed an Impressionist and also highlights his love of cityscapes and ones which depict the hustle and bustle of life on  the tree-lined avenue settings which were often seen in French Impressionist paintings.  The marble Roman triumphal arch is situated in Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Lower Manhattan, New York City.  The depiction of the Stanford White designed arch reminded Hassam’s of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Hassam lived just north of the Square, and so he was able to watch the various stages of its construction, transitioning from first a temporary wood and plaster structure, to the eventual beautiful marble structure which was completed in 1892. The depiction is unusual in a way as the Arch which is at the end of Fifth Avenue is partially blocked by trees.  In the work, Hassam included several pedestrians along with a street cleaner and a horse-drawn carriage.

Celia Thaxter’s Garden, Isles of Shoals, Maine by Childe Hassam (1890)

At the beginning of the 1890’s Childe Hassam focused a number of his paintings with floral depictions and many were set in the gardens of his friend, the New England poet, Celia Laighton Thaxter who lived with her father at his Appledore Hotel on the Isles of Shoals, a group of small islands and tidal ledges situated approximately 6 miles off the east coast of the United States, straddling the border of the states of Maine and New Hampshire.  He painted images from Appledore Island.  He said that he found the rocks and the sea are the few things that do not change and that they are wonderfully beautiful.

Coast Scene, Isles of Shoals by Childe Hassam (1901)

Among them is the 1901 view Coast Scene, Isles of Shoals, the first painting by Childe Hassam to enter the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.  The oil painting is done in luminous colours, and depicts the remote Isles of Shoals off the rocky shoreline of New England, which was a favourite haunt of Childe Hassam at the end of the 19th century and where he painted a series of similar coastal scenes.  Childe Hassam liked to journey out of the city and he loved to visit places such as Newport, Portsmouth, Old Lyme, Gloucester, and other New England and this urge to free himself from the bustling city made him decide to buy a summer residence.

Old House, East Hampton, L.I. by Childe Hassam (1919)

Childe and Maude Hassam first visited East Hampton in 1898 at the invitation of his friend and fellow artist Gaines Ruger Donoho. During the next two decades the couple returned to Long Island during the spring and autumn as the guest of New York businessman Henry Pomroy. In 1919, Hassam and his wife Maude purchased Willow Bend, an eighteenth-century shingled cottage at 48 Egypt Lane. The house was sold to the Hassams by Donoho’s widow who lived next door. Childe Hassam moved into “Willow Bend” in May of 1920 and remained in the house until that October. This became their annual routine which they would maintain for the rest of his life.  While in East Hampton, Hassam sought inspiration from his surroundings and found beauty in the local architecture, the uneven coastline, and the wild landscape of eastern Long Island. During his six month stays in East Hampton, Hassam produced a series of works that focused on his home and its surrounding landscape.  Though Hassam rejected being associated with French Impressionists, there is an obvious influence seen in his painting Old House, East Hampton, a typical East Hampton clapboard home, with its rich colours and quick brushstrokes.

Just Off the Avenue Fifty Third Street, May 1916 by Childe Hassam (1916)

Hassam’s interest in flag subjects dates back to his time spent in Paris from 1886 to 1889. Inspired by the flags and banners displayed on Bastille Day in the area where he lived.   Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916 is the first work in the flag series that Hassam painted during the First World War. The sun-dappled street, trees and façades of the grand brownstones are painted in a vibrant palette characteristic of Hassam’s technique at the height of his abilities. In the work. We see a refined residential street in New York, a favoured subject of the artist.  Hassam depicts decorations for the patriotic parade that took place along Fifth Avenue and he has immersed the viewer in an atmosphere of nationalistic pride.

Allies Day, May by Childe Hassam (1917)

During the First World War Childe Hassam created his famous images of flags of the United States and its allies which some scholars have characterized as Hassam’s contribution to the war effort.  One such painting was his 1917 work entitled Allies Day, May.

October Sundown, Newport by Childe Hassam (1901)

In 1920 Hassam received what he deemed to be the greatest honour of his career when he was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters.  The Academy is an honour society of the country’s 250 leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Each year it elects new members as vacancies occur.  When Childe Hassam died, he bequeathed several hundred artworks to the Academy.

Frederick Childe Hassam died in East Hampton, Long Island on August 27th 1935, aged 75.  His wife Maude passed away eleven years later on October 13th 1946.  She was 84.  

The Red Rose Girls. Part 5. The latter years.

Front cover illustration of The Ladies Home Journal by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Jessie Willcox Smith rented a small studio space at 1334 Chestnut Street, in downtown Philadelphia.  The studio, although cramped and barely room enough for one artist, was in an ideal place for Jessie, as it was close to her job at Ladies Home Journal.

Violet Oakley and her family had returned from their European travels and relocated to Philadelphia to seek medical treatment for her father, Arthur Oakley.  She and her sister Hester rented a studio further down the street at number 1523, in the Love Building.   It was a three-room skylight space on the third floor.   It was a much larger space in comparison that of Jessie’s studio apartment.  The sisters managed to spruce up the space by furnishing it with items lent to them by their mother.  The walls of the studio were covered with prints of paintings by the Old Masters.  Hester Oakley, who was not particularly interested in art was concentrating on her writing and did not need a spacious studio and so vacated the premises, leaving her sister to find new tenants.  Eventually Hester’s place was taken up by Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Jessie Dodd, all fellow students of Violet at the Drexler Institute.

Living together, the ladies soon began working together on commissions.   Jessie Smith and Violet Oakley, with Howard Pyle acting as their mentor, began work on illustrations for a new edition of Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, an epic poem by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which was first published in 1847.  The epic poem describes the betrothal of a fictional Acadian girl named Evangeline Bellefontaine to her beloved, Gabriel Lajeunesse.  The story tells of how the lovers are separated when the British deported the Acadians from Acadie in the Great Upheaval. The poem then follows Evangeline journey across America as she spends years in a search for him. Finally, Evangeline settles in Philadelphia and, as an old woman, works as a Sister of Mercy among the poor. While tending the dying during an epidemic she finds Gabriel among the sick, and he dies in her arms.  The commission was completed and the book was published in 1897.   Howard Pyle was delighted with the finished illustrations by Jessie and Violet saying:

“…There is a singular delight in beholding the lucid thoughts of a pupil growing into form and colour; the teacher enjoys a singular pleasure in beholding his instruction growing into definite shape.  Nevertheless, I venture to think that the drawings possess both grace and beauty…”

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith for Maud Goodwin’s book The Head of the Hundred.

The illustrations that Smith and Oakley did for the book were a great success and this resulted in a number of new commissions including a commission for Jessie Smith to provide illustrations for a romantic novel, The Head of a Hundred by Maud Wilder Goodwin which was first published in 1897.  Violet Oakley meanwhile provided illustrative covers for The Century magazine and Collier’s Illustrated Weekly

The three women became part of Philadelphia’s vibrant artistic community and became founder members of The Plastic Club.   The art educator Emily Sartain founded the Plastic Club. Its raison d’être was as an arts organization for women to promote collaboration and exhibit members’ works.  It was partly in response to the Philadelphia Sketch Club, which was an exclusively male arts club.

Photograph shows Green, Oakley, and Smith seated, each holding a rose, while Cozens holds a watering can over their heads, pretending to water them. Handwritten identification on verso: The Red Roses; Elizabeth Shippen Green, Violet Oakley, Jessie Willcox Smith, Henrietta Cozens; with Violet Oakley’s poster in the background for first exhibition at the Plastic Club.  Photograph taken at 1523 Chestnut Street, when they planned to move to “The Red Rose”, Villanova.

Jessie Dodd finally left the shared apartment as she was struggling to gain commissions, unlike the other three women.  She became very despondent and in 1899 she gave up artistic career and returned home to Ohio leaving just Violet Oakley, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green living at the Love Building.  The relationship between the three ladies was what was termed a “sympathetic companionship” but in fact was what we would now term a romantic friendship.  There was nothing scandalous about their relationship as in nineteenth century America romantic friendships was deemed a normal part of a woman’s life. The three women were very supportive of each other and shared their triumphs and failures.  There came a time when they had to decide the course their future would take.  Howard Pyle had warned them that combining an artistic career with marriage was not a viable option in an age when a woman was expected to manage a household, function as a hostess and bear children and of course in the minds of Jessie, Violet and Elizabeth, the words of Howard Pyle were sacrosanct.  Jessie Smith was very definite about her views on this subject, saying:

“…A woman’s sphere is as sharply defined as a man’s.  If she elects to be a housewife and mother – that is her sphere and no other.  Circumstances may, but volition should not, lead her from it.  If on the other hand she elects to go into business or the arts, she must sacrifice motherhood in order to fill successfully her chosen sphere…”

Elizabeth Shippen Green ink on paper illustration, Climbing the Steps.

Jessie Smith and Elizabeth Green were both busy working for The Ladies’ Home Journal and were soon being inundated with commissions resulting in that they could leave their staff jobs and work on a freelance basis.  Elizabeth Shippen Green was submitting a number of pen-and-ink drawings many of which appeared on the covers of the St Nicholas and The Scholar’s Magazine as well as appearing alongside short stories published in Curtis Publishing Company’s Saturday Evening Post.  One of the latter was reproduced in a volume published in London under the title:  The Studio’s 1900-1901 Modern Pen Drawings: European and American.  Her drawings featured in the volume alongside works by the renowned illustrators of the time, Edwin Austin Abbey, Maxwell Parrish, and her teacher Howard Pyle.  The editor, Charles Holme, wrote:

“…Miss Elizabeth Shippen Green though a newcomer, draws with force and has a nice regard for the decorative effect of lines and black masses…”

Madonna and Magi sketch for stained glass panel, by Violet Oakley (1902)

In 1900 Violet Oakley received a commission to paint two murals and create five stained-glass windows and an altarpiece in mosaic for All Angels Church in New York’s Upper West Side. The year 1900 was both a happy and unhappy year for Violet Oakley.  Her sister Heather had married her long-time friend Stanley Ward in 1898 and in 1900 the couple had their first child.  Birth and death are mechanisms of population balance and 1n 1900 Violet’s father Arthur died after a long and debilitating illness.

The three artists remained at their studio on Chestnut Avenue and whilst the winters were tolerable the heat and humidity of New York in the summer months was oppressive so much so that during the summer of 1900 they rented apartments in the Low dormitory on the Bryn Mawr College campus.  Jessie and Elizabeth even won a commission to illustrate the 1901 calendar for the college.

The Red Rose Inn , Villanova, Pennsylvania

In the Autumn of 1900, at the end of their summer stay at Bryn Mawr college, the three friends first visited the Red Rose Inn which was situated in the Philadelphia suburb of Villanova.  The friends had spent many a happy hour leafing through the pages of England Country Life magazines and hankered for a country lifestyle.  Violet Oakley in her handwritten autobiography remembered the time.  She wrote:

“…We became enamoured of the idea of living in the midst of beauty and order of such Gardens as those of England:  of having a country estate; of escaping from work in city studios…”

 

Red Rose Studio

On one of their last days at the college campus they drove out to Villanova to see the Red Rose Inn.  The inn had been in the local news for many years as the owner, Frederick Phillips, was rumoured to be turning it into an artist’s colony and subdivide the eight hundred plus acres into a number of building lots.  Unfortunately for Phillips he was not the sole owner and his co-owning siblings baulked on his expensive plans to renovate and build on the land as were his near neighbours who christened his plans, Phillip’s Whim.  The die was cast when Frederick Phillips died and his siblings wanted to sell the property.  It was eventually sold to the American banker, Anthony J Drexel for $200,000. 

After a lot of legal wrangling the three artists managed to arrange to rent the Inn and, in the Spring of 1901, they gave in their notice terminating the lease on the 1523 Chestnut Street studio and moved out.  They moved into the Inn in the late Spring of 1901 and with them came another female, their friend, forty-three-year-old Henrietta Cozens.  Henrietta, the daughter of a cotton broker, was not an artist but her role was to be responsible for managing the property, overseeing all the domestic chores, and looking after the upkeep of the gardens.  The monthly outgoings for the three artists had suddenly increased from the mere $125 per month they paid to the landlord for their studio in the Love Building to $500 per month for the rent for the Rose Inn and the wages of the servants and cook.  An although the three artists subsidised Henrietta’s share of the costs it was a financially binding situation and one which needed the three artists to remain together and so once again, they vowed to remain together and never marry.  It was this new home of theirs that led to Howard Pyle calling them The Red Rose Girls.

Bryn Mawr College 1902 calendar – illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green

In February 1902, the three artists were offered their own three-woman show.  It was an exhibition of a variety of their work. It comprised of their book illustrations and Jessie Wilcox Smith’s designs for the Bryn Mawr calendars.   Elizabeth Green showed her illustrations for Harper’s Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post as well as her calendar illustrations.  Violet Oakley’s offerings for the exhibition comprised of two covers she completed for Collier’s Weekly, some charcoal drawings and her designs for the All Angels’ stained-glass windows and chancel decorations.  The exhibition was a great success and was an important step in the careers of the three artists.

The 1914 advert illustrated by  Jessie Willcox Smith for Procter Gamble Ivory Soap.  

At the exhibition Jessie Wilcox Smith submitted thirty of her illustrations some of which were advertisements for Procter & Gamble.

All good things have to come to an end and their time at The Red Rose Inn ended on January 25th 1906 when the three women were served with an eviction notice:

“…Anthony J. Drexel having leased to you the premises in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, known as the Red Rose Inn, by lease the terms of which expire on May 1st 1906, subject to three months’ notice, and the said Anthony J Drexel and Margarita, his wife, having granted, assigned and conveyed to me the said premises, with the lease, you and each of you are hereby notified and required to quit and deliver up to me possessions of the said premises, which you now hold as tenant under me, at the expiration of the said lease, namely the first day of May A.D. 1906 as I desire to have such possession…

Signed Henry S Kerbaugh…”

Cogslea, photographed by Elizabeth Shippen Green in 1907

Thanks to the benevolence of Dr. George Woodward, a wealthy relative of Elizabeth Shippen Green, the three artists managed to rent a renovated stone-walled house, adjacent barn, and carriage house at Hill Farm, located on Woodward’s estate at Cresheim Creek in Mt. Airy, some ten miles north of Philadelphia.  The three women named their new home Cogslea (C for Henrietta Cozens, O for Violet Oakley, G for Elizabeth Green and S for Jessie Smith) and “lea” for the sloping land of the new estate.

Photograph of Huger Elliot posing for Elizabeth Shippen Green at Cogslea

In 1909, Elizabeth Green’s mother died and the following March, her father Jasper Green passed away.  More change was to come in 1910.  Elizabeth Shippen Green had built up a friendship for a couple of years with Huger Elliott, a graduate of Columbia University’s school of architecture and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  He was looking for more than just a friendship with Elizabeth, albeit the couple had become engaged, but Elizabeth was hesitant about their future considering she had, along with her two friends, “signed a pledge” to keep men out of their lives and just live for their art.  In October 1910, Huger Elliot visited Elizabeth at Cogslea and gave her an ultimatum – marry me now or break off the engagement!  One can only imagine the state of Elizabeth’s mind at this turn of events.   She had to try and think rationally.  She was now thirty-nine years of age and been with her friends for thirteen years and a decision to marry Elliot would violate their “agreement”.  On the other hand, she knew her friends were financially secure and had been given numerous commissions.  She also realised that the dynamics of the household were changing.  Jessie Smith and Henrietta Cozens, who were close in age, were becoming inseparable and both had a quiet temperament and an unbending sense of decorum which was polar opposite to Elizabeth’s exuberance.  Her other friend and housemate, Violet Oakley, was engrossed in her religion and impassioned about her dream of a utopian society and her aspiration to elevate the morals of the country though her art.  Maybe the deciding factor was that Elizabeth more than just liked Huger.  She made the decision to marry Huger Elliot and leave Cogslea and her friends.  Violet, Jessie, and Henrietta were stunned by her decision., Henrietta Cozens declared:

“…How can she love anyone more than she loves us?…”

Elizabeth Shippen Green and Huger Elliot on their honeymoon in Germany  in 1911

The die was cast and On June 3rd 1911 Elizabeth Shippen Green married Huger Elliott at Cogslea.   The couple left Cogslea that evening and went to stay in Philadelphia prior to their honeymoon in Germany.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth being in Philadelphia she saw the front page of the June 4th edition of the Philadelphia Press which announced:

“…Trio of Artist Friends Broken by Cupid…”

which went on to state:

“…a note of sadness was felt when the realization came that the trio of artists who had lived and worked together so long would be depleted by the absence of Mrs Elliott…”

 The Chestnut Hill Herald was even more sensational in its coverage stating that a heartbroken Violet Oakley broke down completely whilst trying to change Elizabeth’s mind.     After their honeymoon, Elizabeth and her husband Huger settled in Cambridge Massachusetts.  From 1912 to 1920 Huger was supervisor of educational work and director of the department of design at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. For the next five years, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia. He was the Director of educational work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New Nork from 1925 to 1941, when he retired.  It was not until two years later, in July 1913, that Elizabeth was reunited with Violet, Jessie and Henrietta when she and her husband returned to Cogslea for a visit. 

Violet Oakley was desperate to have a much larger studio to accomodate her massive murals and so she decided to buy Cogslea for herself and to achieve that she had to sell all her assets.  Jessie Wilcox and Henrietta Cozens moved out of Cogslea, bought a quarter of the estate land, and built a house on it for themselves.  The Red Rose Girls had finally been separated.

Jessie Wilcox Smith died on May 3rd 1935, aged 71.

Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott died on May 29th 1954, aged 82.  Her husband Huger had died of a heart attack on November 13th 1948, aged 71.

Violet Oakley was the last of the Red Rose Girls to die.  She passed away on February 25th 1961, aged 86.


The Red Rose Girls. Part 4. Howard Pyle.

Howard Pyle

The story of The Rose Girls could not be told without talking about the American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people, Howard Pyle, who gave the The Rose Girls soubriquet to the three young ladies he was mentoring.  He was a man of great talent and a patriotic missionary of Americanism and his illustrations were held in high esteem on both sides of the Atlantic..

The Coming of Lancaster by Howard Pyle (1908).  Illustration from The Scabbard by James Branch Cabell, and illustrated by Howard Pyle which appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, May 1908 and is a fictional retelling of the story of King Richard II of England, who was deposed by his cousin Henry who belonged to the Lancaster branch of British royalty

Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 5th 1853.   He was the son and eldest child of Quakers, William Pyle and Margaret Churchman Painter, an amateur artist.  Pyle remembered his childhood, with fondness, as being an idyllic time that was centred around the family’s wonderful old stone house and its garden, which he remembered as being filled with profuse blooms and hidden wonders. Mainly thanks to his mother, Pyle developed a love of reading and like many children of his age he loved the tales of Daniel Defoe’s,such as Robinson Crusoe, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and mystical stories from the Arabian Nights. all of which fired up his young imagination. He attended the Friend’s School in Wilmington followed by schooling at a small private institution. He was not a top student, and it was said that he wasted too much time daydreaming. His one love was art and he spent much of his free time drawing.  He also developed a love of writing his own stories.   Although it was the wish of Pyle’s parents that their son should attend college, Howard Pyle had other ideas about his future, which he saw as being a professional artist or writer.  Knowing that their son was never going to go to university his parents, especially his mother, decided to encourage him to study art.

The Mermaid by Howard Pyle (1910)

He studied for three years at the studio of Francis Van der Wielen in Philadelphia.  Van der Wielen was a Dutch artist who in 1872 had taught sixteen-year-old Cecilia Beaux.  Besides a few art lessons later at the Art Students League of New York, these three years tutoring by van der Wielen were Howard Pyle’s only formal training. Because of problems with his father’s leather business, Howard Pyle had to spend many years helping out in the family business. The artistic breakthrough for Howard Pyle came in 1876 when his mother sent an essay and sketches he had done while on holiday with his father on Chincoteague Island to Scribner’s Magazine.  The editor accepted the article and illustrations and told Pyle they were so good that they were being published in the November issue of the magazine.  Furthermore, the editor invited Howard Pyle to come to New York and work for the magazine as a writer and illustrator.

A Wolf Had Not Been Seen at Salem for Thirty Years by Howard Pyle.  Illustration for “The Salem Wolf”  a short story written and illustrated by Howard Pyle for Harper’s Monthly magazine, December 1909.  

Howard Pyle was now living in New York city in a small rented room at 250 West 38th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) and it was not long before he sold his first painting to Harpers Weekly, a magazine that would continue to buy his work for many years in the future. The publisher of Harper’s Weekly had assembled an exceptional group of professionals who were knowledgeable about illustration and trained in the newest methods of printing, and the House of Harper became an informal training ground for the likes of Howard Pyle to learn every aspect of the publishing process.  It was soon after settling in New York that Howard Pyle knew that he wanted to write and illustrate books for children. Pyle had both a wonderful imagination and he also was able to recollect stories from his childhood.  He set about putting those memories on paper and at the same time illustrated his prose.  He submitted many of his stories and illustrations to the St Nicholas magazine, a popular monthly American children’s magazine, founded by Scribner’s in 1873.    

An Attack on a Galleon, a 1905 illustration for the story, The Fate of a Treasure Town by Howard Pyle which appeared in the December edition of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

He drew upon his vivid childhood memories to contribute stories to the St. Nicholas magazine, and he read and studied many of the old folktales that he’d loved as a child, extending his reading to include less familiar tales from many nations. These folktales and the romances of his boyhood would become the central core of his work over his lifetime; and although he is primarily remembered today for his contributions to illustration, he was a writer of some skill. Indeed, he has been compared to Hans Christian Andersen in the way his unique voice and imagination shaped his traditional folklore and fantasy material.

St Nicholas magazine cover. May 1875

According to Ian Schoenherr’s blog on Howard Pyle, one of the first magazine covers to feature an illustration by Howard Pyle is the May 1877 cover of St. Nicholas, Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls & Boys.  Pyle actually only designed the long rectangular illustration which runs diagonally across the cover.  In the magazine the publisher explained the illustration:

“…The beautiful tablet by Mr. Pyle, which adorns our cover this month, tells a true story in its own lively fashion. Its quaint costumes of successive centuries, showing how May-day rejoicings have been kept up from age to age, will send some of you a-Maying in encyclopedias and year-books, but it gives its real meaning at a glance – which is, that through all time people have welcomed the first coming of the spring. “Merrie May,” meaning pleasant May (for in old times “merry” simply meant pleasant), was as fresh and beautiful ages ago as it is to-day; and in one way or another the thought at the bottom of all the rejoicing is ever that of the old carol:

 

“A garland gay I’ve brought you here,

And at your door I stand;

It’s but a sprout, but it’s well budded out.

The work of our Lord’s hand.”

Howard Pyle remained in New York until 1879 at which time he returned home to Wilmington, by which time he had established a reputation as a leading writer and illustrator of children’s books. 

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, published in 1883, is thought to have been Pyle’s first children’s book.  He wrote, illustrated and designed the book himself.  In all, he went on to do many more books for this audience including Pepper and Salt, The Wonder Clock and four volumes of the Legends of King Arthur

He completed Legend and Stories of King Arthur in 1903.  The book contains a compilation of various stories, adapted by Pyle, regarding the legendary King Arthur of Britain and select Knights of the Round Table. Pyle’s novel begins with King Arthur in his youth and continues through numerous tales of bravery, romance, battle, and knighthood.

The 1902 illustration by Howard Pyle “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come” for The Story of a Great-Grandfather by George Hibbard which appeared in Scribner’s Magazine January 1903

Howard Pyle believed that book illustration was the fundamental basis from which to produce painters.  His ideas with regards illustration were revolutionary and at odds with many of the beliefs of the day. Pyle was adamant that artists needed, to get beyond the stiff figures of the studio life class and let their figures and scenes come from the imagination rather than from a frozen pose.

For Pyle, the overall design of the book was of paramount importance and he helped his students learn how to incorporate their illustrations into the finished article. Pyle made it clear to his students that the role of the illustrator was to compliment and enhance the text in personal ways rather than merely mimic what the text expressed. Through his many books and his teaching, the influence of Howard Pyle on children’s literature is acknowledged by readers and artists to this day.

Howard Pyle working on mural depicting Battle of Nashville in his Franklin Street studio (c.1905).

Pyle decided to do something about giving art students a firmer foundation in illustrative art by offering his services to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art as their Instructor of Illustration.  His offer was politely refused and he was told that the Academy school was for painters and sculptors and was a school for the fine arts only.  Pyle, having been rebuffed by the Academy, was not to be deterred and made  the  same  offer  to  the  Drexel  Institute.  His offer was promptly  accepted  and within  a short  time there  began  to appear  in the magazines new names of illustrators who had been students of Pyle.  Sensing that the Drexel Institute was the better option when it came to illustrative art, many of the Pennsylvania Academy students left and enrolled at the Drexel Institute.  The director of the Pennsylvania Academy, Harrison Morris, realised he had been wrong to rebuff Pyle’s offer, and asked him to come and teach at the Academy and name his own salary.  Pyle’s short reply was to the point:

“…He who will not when he may, when he will, he shall have nay…”

Howard Pyle commenced teaching at the Drexler Institute in October 1894. The catalogue of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts (1894-1895) announced:

“…A Course in Practical Illustration in Black and White, under the direction of Mr. Pyle.  The course will begin with a series of lectures illustrated before the class by Mr. Pyle. The lectures will be followed by systematic lessons in Composition and Practical Illustration, including Technique, Drawing from the Costumed Model, the Elaboration of Groups, treatment of Historical and other subjects with reference to their use in Illustrations.  The students’ work will be carefully examined and criticized by Mr. Pyle…”

Within Howard Pyle’s first class that October, there were thirty-nine students, including three young people destined to become outstanding leaders in the field of illustration:  Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green.  Three years later, in 1897, Violet Oakley joined the class.

………..to be continued.


Most of the information I used for this blog came from an excellent book by Alice A. Carter entitled The Red Rose Girls, An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.


On a more personal note, it is ten years to the day that I started My Daily Art Display blog and this is 830th “edition”.  It started as a one-a-day blog but they were shorter blogs and I was finding I was putting too much pressure on myself to meet deadlines so I now do just one a week but have increased the number of words.  I do enjoy writing them and hopefully will carry on a little while longer.

The Red Rose Girls. Part 3. Jessie Willcox Smith.

The third of the Red Rose Girls was Jessie Willcox Smith.  She became one of the most prominent female illustrators in the United States, during the celebrated ‘Golden Age of Illustration‘.  Jessie was the eldest of the trio, born in the Mount Airy neighbourhood of Philadelphia, on September 6th 1863, the youngest of four children.  She was the youngest daughter of Charles Henry Smith, an investment broker, and Katherine DeWitt Willcox Smith.  Her father’s profession as an “investment broker” is often questioned as although there was an investment brokerage called Charles H. Smith in Philadelphia there is no record of it being run by anybody from Jessie Smith’s family.  In the 1880 city census, Jessie’s father’s occupation was detailed as a machinery salesman.  Jessie’s family was a middle-class family who always managed to make ends meet.  Her family originally came from New York and only moved to Philadelphia just prior to Jessie’s birth.  Despite not being part of the elite Philadelphia society, her family could trace their routes back to an old New England lineage.  Jessie, like her siblings, were instructed in the conventional social graces which were considered a necessity for progression in Victorian society.   It should be noted that there were no artists within the family and so as a youngster, painting and drawing were not of great importance to her.  Instead her enjoyment was gained from music and reading.  Jessie attended the Quaker Friends Central School in Philadelphia and when she was sixteen, she was sent to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with her cousins and finish her education.

The Princess and the Goblin, by George McDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, (1920)

On completion of her education, instead of returning to the family in Philadelphia, she remained in Cincinnati to look for a job.  Jessie had always been fond of children and managed to secure a position as a kindergarten teacher which would fulfil her need for money whilst doing a job she loved.  However, the belief that all young children are angelic was soon dispelled and she found her charges obstreperous and ill-mannered and soon realised that teaching at a kindergarten was not for her.  One of her friends was interested in art and soon she had managed to inveigle Jessie into the pastime and soon she showed a certain amount of promise as a budding artist.  She remembered this change of direction writing:

“…I knew I wanted to do something with children but never thought of painting them, until an artist friend saw a sketch I had made and insisted I should stop teaching (at which I was an utter failure) and go to art school – which I did…”

John Rogers figurine

Jessie Smith returned to Philadelphia to look for some artistic training and initially wanted to study sculpture.  At the time there was a popular small table-top sculptures called Rogers Group which were relatively inexpensive, mass-produced figurines in the latter 19th which graced the parlours of homes in the United States.  These figurines, often selling for as little as $15 a piece were affordable to the middle class.  They were sculpted in more affordable plaster and painted the colour of putty to hide dust.  She did try her hand at sculpture but soon realised it needed a certain talent, one which she was lacking.  She wrote:

“…my career as a sculptor was brief for my clay had bubbles in it and burst when it was being fired. ‘Heavens’ I decided, ‘ being a sculptor is too expensive!  I will be a painter…’ ”

An illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith from A Child’s Garden of Verses is a book written by Robert Louis Stevenson

However, Jessie realised that to become a painter she needed formal artistic training and it was difficult for that to happen for a woman in 1884.  It was the age-old story.  Men who wanted to train to become professional artists had academies and teachers to support them but for women, up until the 1850’s, there were few institutions which catered for women and anyway, it was generally thought to be totally ill-advised for a woman to contemplate or prepare for a professional career, art or otherwise.  Life was mapped out for women.  Acquire certain accomplishments which would attract a man, marry that man and give him children, and then be educated at home in the skills needed to look after one’s husband and children.  For women of the middle and upper-class who were interested in art, then a private tutor could be hired but studying in mixed life-drawing classes was deemed unsuitable for women as was sketching nude statuary.

Edwin Forrest House, formerly the home of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

Despite this, twenty-one-year-old Jessie Willcox Smith, on October 2nd 1884, enrolled at The Philadelphia School of Design for Women, which was housed in a fashionable Philadelphia neighbourhood in an imposing mansion that had once been the home of actor, Edwin Forrest.  The School had begun when Sarah Worthington King Peter, the wife of the British consul in Philadelphia, established an industrial arts school in her home in 1848 so as to teach a trade to women, who were without a means of supporting themselves.  It was not in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Academy as its emphasis was on decorative pattern and ornament and until 1886 steered clear of controversial life-drawing classes.  After a year at the School of Design, Jessie hankered for more than it could offer her.  She wanted to study the techniques associated with Fine Art and so decided that she had to enrol at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. 

Thomas Eakins, circa 1882

She managed to persuade her parents to fund her tuition and in 1885 she enrolled in the class of the brilliant but controversial painter, Thomas Eakins.  Master and student were so different.  Jessie Willcox Smith was a conservative and shy young woman whilst her tutor was brash, carefree and provocative and cared little for the Academy’s attempt to reign him in.  Eakins represented an outrageous departure from the social norms which had structured Jessie Smith’s life.   Many complaints had been levelled at Eakins and his teaching methods especially those regarding female students.  The following year, 1886, forty-one-year-old Eakins was sacked by the Academy.   It is interesting to note that although there is no doubt her artistic ability flourished under the tutelage of Eakins she viewed him with disdain, once confiding in a friend that she thought he was a “madman”.  Jessie did attend Eakins’ life-drawing classes but of the life models used, once declared:

“…I always wished there were children in the life classes, the men and women were so flabby and fat…”

After Eakins was dismissed from the Academy, he held private classes at his studio and many of his former students attended them, but not Jessie.  She presumably did not agree with Eakins’ way of teaching and decided to remain at the Academy and study under Thomas Anshutz and James B. Kelly, two of Eakins’ former students.

Jessie Willcox Smith graduated from the Academy in June 1888.  She looked back on her time at the Academy with a certain amount of disappointment.  Although her technique had improved, she had hoped to be part of an artistic community in which artistic collaboration would be present but instead she found dissention, scandal and in the wake of the Eakins’ scandal, institutionalized isolation.  Jessie talked very little about her time at the Academy.  It had been a turbulent time and she had hated conflict as it unnerved her and made her extremely distressed.  This desperation to avoid any kind of conflict in her personal and professional life revealed itself in her idealistic and often blissful paintings.  Jessie wanted to believe life was just a period of happiness.

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith for the book of verse, The Seven Ages of Childhood

In 1909 a book of verse entitled The Seven Ages of Childhood by Carolyn Wells with accompanying  illustrations by Jessie Wilcox was published.

After graduation, Jessie became interested in illustration and in 1889 took a job with the advertising department of Ladies’ Home Journal, one of the leading American women’s magazines.   In 1894, nearly six years after graduating, she learned that Howard Pyle, the noted illustrator, was starting a School of Illustration at the Drexel Institute and she was accepted into the inaugural class along with Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green.

Jessie Wilcox Smith, cover for Good Housekeeping Magazine. May 1921.

Her illustrations appeared on the covers of Good Housekeeping  resulting in most people becoming familiar with her art. For over 15 years she painted the covers for one of America’s most popular magazines. Month after month, from December of 1917 through March of 1933, a new Jessie Willcox Smith image was on the newsstands and in countless homes.

The Red Rose Girls were finally together.  In my next blog I will look at their time at the Drexel Institute with Howard Pyle and their life together.

……………………to be continued


Most of the information I used for this blog came from an excellent book by Alice A. Carter entitled The Red Rose Girls, An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.