Sisters of the Brush
“Every year we see more and more of these sisters of the brush and palette coming forward as doughty competitors to the men, and nowhere do they threaten more serious rivalry than in Boston.”
-William H. Downes
Robert Churchill Vose was the first generation of our family firm to recognize the remarkable talent and skill of women painters and sculptors, beginning with a solo exhibition of pre-Raphaelite artist Mary Macomber in 1913. He soon integrated women painters into the annual exhibition schedule, organized two major group shows of women artists in 1917 and 1919, and since then Vose Galleries has presented over 180 solo and two-person exhibitions by women painters and sculptors. We are certainly not alone in this endeavor; many gallerists, museums and art groups have helped shine a light on women painters since the late 19th century, proving that, when given the opportunity, a level playing field encourages everyone to bring their A game.
Prior to the 1870s, women aspiring to be professional painters had very few options. While a handful of institutions offered fine arts training for women, classes were limited and often involved drawing from plaster casts in place of live models. Furthermore, only a small number of art clubs and organizations opened membership to females and even when invited to submit work, gender biases remained among male-only juries and hanging committees; many women signed using only their surnames in a bid for impartiality.
The founding of the Massachusetts Normal Art School in 1873, the Art Students League in New York in 1875, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, just one year later, literally opened the doors for many women pursuing a career in the fine arts or art instruction in the cities’ school systems. From their inception, all three institutions allowed women to matriculate and offered students, male or female, the same rigorous training, including working with live models. As women began graduating in large numbers, alumni associations and exhibition groups, such as the Boston Art Students Association and the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors emerged as vital social and professional networks, which in turn led women to procure valuable work space in prestigious studio buildings.
By the early 20th century, women were teaching art in public schools and colleges, serving on exhibition juries, and were increasingly winning top prizes in national shows, although biases persisted in some circles. In response, women in the Northeast formed two more exhibition alliances, ‘The Philadelphia Ten,’ based in Pennsylvania, and ‘The Group,’ based in Boston. Several of the artists in this exhibition, including Jane Peterson, Lilian Westcott Hale, Mary Bradish Titcomb and Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts, were affiliated with these groups, whose aim was to have more control over the vetting and hanging of exhibitions, many of which traveled the country thereby providing important national exposure.
In continuing the Vose family tradition of championing ‘sisters of the brush,’ this exhibition presents the work of over 30 women artists, many of whom exhibited with the gallery during their lifetimes.
-Carey L. Vose
An Instrument of Many Strings was one of three paintings Robert C. Vose purchased directly from Mary L. Macomber in April 1901. Prior to catching Mr. Vose’s eye, the painting was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1898 and in the winter exhibition of the Worcester Art Museum, and has the distinction of being one the artist’s most memorable pieces; it was reproduced in two comprehensive articles about Macomber’s talent written during her lifetime, in 1903 and 1908. The enchanting composition was also included in Vose Galleries’ 1913 solo exhibition of Macomber’s work.
“There is a personal distinction in all of Miss Macomber’s work. Life and thought are symbolized and interpreted through the spiritualized figures and faces of young women. She is the symbolist of life in the feminine. All of her ideals in thought revolve around young womanhood. In this one respect she differs from all other artists. These faces and figures in her pictures are visions of young womanhood and there is a subtle feeling of rapture in every face – the rapture of song, of music, of love, of Spring, of Autumn. These faces grow on you – they haunt you.”
-A. J. Philpott, 1913
Lee Lufkin and her husband William J. Kaula were among the first occupants of the famed Fenway Studios building in 1905, and worked and lived there until William’s death in 1953. They befriended many of their studio neighbors, including Edmund Tarbell, the leading painter of the Boston School. The Green Shade contains all of the elements of the Boston School ideal: a lovely young woman dressed in a similarly attractive garment, and posed in an interior setting with diffused light. However, Lee’s vivid color palette and the use of a variety of interesting and complementary textiles became a hallmark of her style.
Lilla Cabot Perry studied painting at the Cowles School in Boston, under Dennis Bunker and Robert Vonnoh. She then moved to Paris with her family and studied painting at Académies Colarossi and Julian. In 1889, she met Claude Monet at Giverny, and spent the next nine summers there with her family, usually renting property adjacent to Monet’s. Perry became one of Impressionism’s earliest proponents in America. From Monet himself she learned to capture in bold strokes and color the sprawling landscapes of the French countryside, and she was equally capable of translating this skill to figural works and the American landscape. After a few years in Japan, Perry rented a studio in the Fenway Studio Building, immersed herself in the Boston art world, and became a founding member of the Guild of Boston Artists.
Mary Brewster Hazelton was the first student to receive the prestigious Paige Traveling Scholarship from the Boston Museum School, which enabled her to travel through Europe for two years. When she returned she established a studio at the Harcourt Building and lost everything when it burned in 1904. She started fresh after moving to Fenway Studios in 1905.
A student of Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, and Philip Leslie Hale at the Boston Museum School, Edith Scott joined Fenway studios in 1906. Around 1911, she traveled to Europe and painted in Giverny. Her freely-brushed landscapes from this period reflect the influence of Impressionism on her work. She exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Society of Independent Artists, and also showed with Vose Galleries in 1915 and 1917.
Mary Bradish Titcomb was part of a vital community of hard-working, serious-minded women artists that flourished in Boston in the first few decades of the twentieth century. She exhibited widely, both in Boston and nationally, sometimes showing in as many as fifteen venues each year, including the Guild of Boston Artists, the Copley Society, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Boston Athenaeum, the Pennsylvania Academy and the Corcoran Gallery. Between 1917 and 1919, Titcomb exhibited with six other women artists who called themselves “The Group,” while just a few years earlier she joined the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors (now the National Association of Women Artists), submitting her work to nearly every show from 1914 until her passing in 1927.
Born in Hawaii, Felicie Waldo Howell moved to Washington D.C. and enrolled in the Corcoran Art School. She worked for several years as an artist in the Washington area before moving to Philadelphia where she attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women under Henry B. Snell. Howell became a member of the National Association of Women Artists in 1918, and one year later was invited to joined 'The Group'.
Laura Coombs Hills came to Boston to study painting at the Cowles Art School, and also worked with artist Helen Knowlton. During the 1880s she made her Boston debut with a solo exhibition of pastels at the J. Eastman Chase Gallery. She was an important figure in the miniature revival of the 1890s, and was awarded a gold medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. She also won the first Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters in 1916.
'The Group' member Lilian Westcott studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, under Edmund Tarbell and Philip Hale, whom she would later marry. She was particularly praised for her expressive portraits of children, executed in a manner characteristic of the Boston School tradition. A devoted mother, Lilian’s favorite muse was her daughter Nancy, who posed for a number of drawings and paintings throughout her childhood. Hale's popularity soared as she exhibited extensively. Among her many awards was a bronze medal in the Buenos Aires International Exhibition in 1910, a gold medal and medal of honor for drawing in the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Beck prize in 1923, and prizes from the National Academy of Design in 1924 and 1927, which granted her full membership in 1931.
By 1900, 'The Group' member Elizabeth Roberts and her lifelong partner Grace Keyes spent summers in Annisquam, Massachusetts, where Roberts painted many of the seascapes for which she became best known. During World War I, she organized a series of exhibitions entitled Figures on the Sand. These were well-received by critics and collectors alike, and almost every painting sold, with the proceeds donated to aid war victims in France. Despite the success of her paintings, Roberts was discouraged by the outlets available to her and her work. Therefore she established the Concord Art Association in 1916, where she organized many local exhibitions featuring works by prominent artists of the day, including Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, Frank Benson, and John Singer Sargent. Throughout most of her life, Roberts suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety, most likely exacerbated by her tense relationship with her family and her perceived lack of professional recognition. In 1925, she was hospitalized with what was then called melancholia. Her doctors told her to stop painting, which may have deepened her depression, and she tragically took her own life in 1927.
One of the only members of 'The Group' who did not hail from Massachusetts, Jane Peterson studied at the Pratt Institute, at the Art Students League, and later with Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. One of Peterson's many admirers was famed designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, to whom Peterson was introduced through Sorolla. In 1911, she stayed at Tiffany’s estate on Long Island, where she painted his impressive home and gardens, including Lure of the Butterfly. Peterson traveled throughout her life, including regular visits to Gloucester in the later portion of her life. She delighted in the picturesque town and capturing the rippling effects of light on water. Her summers resulted in canvases filled with the wharves and inlets around Gloucester.
Louise Upton Brumback was greatly influenced by William Merritt Chase while attending his Summer Art School in Shinnecock, Long Island. Inspired to pursue a career in the fine arts, she exhibited for the first time in 1915, after settling into a home in Kansas City, Missouri, and was awarded the Moore Prize given to artists of Kansas City. She would eventually participate in eleven annual exhibitions at the National Academy of Design from 1905 until 1920, and would also show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Society of Independent Artists. She became a member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the National Arts Club and the New York Society of Women Artists. Brumback spent many summers painting in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she and her husband purchased 10 acres of land, and where she served as the first President of the Gloucester Society of Artists.
Another frequent visitor to Gloucester, Alice Schille previously attended the Columbus Art School, the Art Students League in New York City, and in 1893, she traveled to Philadelphia where she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy. She won the Corcoran Prize from the Washington Watercolor Club in 1908, the New York Woman’s Art Club Prize in both 1908 and 1909, and was honored with a Gold Medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. These honors continued throughout her career. In 1929, she received the Fine Arts Prize from the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, and in 1932 she won First Prize at the Philadelphia Watercolor Club exhibition.
Martha Walter began her training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase. She also studied with him at his Shinnecock School of Art in 1899 and 1900. She won several prizes including the 1902 Toppan prize, and the following year, was one of four artists awarded the Cresson traveling scholarship which funded two years of study in Europe. Even while abroad, she continued to exhibit in the United States, at annual exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, earning a gold medal in 1923. At the outbreak of World War I, Walter returned to the United States began spending her summers teaching and painting at the popular artist community of Gloucester. Walter received support from fellow women artists who also came to Gloucester for the summer including Cecilia Beaux, Jane Peterson, and good friend Alice Schille. These women exhibited together several times, including the 1917-18 show, An Exhibition of Paintings by Six American Women, which traveled around the country.
Born in Marysville, Missouri, Bertha Walker Glass began her training in art at the Massachusetts Art School in Boston, then at the Art Students League in New York and at the Breckenridge School of Painting. She spent eighteen summers in Gloucester painting and taking an active part in the associations there, including exhibiting at the North Shore Arts Association and helping found the Gloucester Society. She moved to San Francisco, California in the 1930s, where she exhibited through both the San Francisco Art Association and the Bay Region Art Association, and was featured in a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1939, as well as at the Golden Gate International Exposition in the same year.
Bertha Menzler Peyton graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1893 and continued her studies in Paris. She was an early member of the National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors, where, in 1926, Peyton won a prize for her work exhibited with one hundred and forty-five members of NAWPS. She also exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1895 to 1929, from which she won prizes in 1903, 1909 and 1910, at the North Shore Arts Association, where she won a prize in 1930, and at the Pennsylvania Academy and the National Academy of Design. Peyton’s work was also included in both the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. She exhibited widely, with works shown at the Paris Salons, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Corcoran Art Gallery.
Born in Washington D.C. Eleanor Parke Custis trained under Edmund C. Tarbell at the Corcoran School of Art. She also studied with Henry Snell during the summers of 1924 and 1925 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Such extensive training culminated in a solo exhibition in 1925 at the Washington Art Club. She traveled extensively throughout her life, and in 1960 she moved to Gloucester permanently from her home in Georgetown. She was a member of many institutions, including the American Watercolor Society, the National Arts Club, the North Shore Arts Association, the Boston Art Club, and the National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Mabel May Woodward graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1897 and proceeded to New York to take classes at the Art Students League. She worked very intensely, spending at least one summer studying at Shinnecock, William Merritt Chase’s school on Long Island. In 1900, Woodward began a twenty-five year teaching career at the Rhode Island School of Design. She continued her own studies during the summers, in Provincetown under Charles Hawthorne and in Ogunquit, Maine, under Charles Woodbury. An active member of all her artistic communities, Woodward was the first female President of the Providence Art Club, and also joined the Providence Water Color Club, the Rockport Art Association and the Ogunquit Art Association.
Marion Huse enrolled at the New School of Design in Boston from 1915 to 1919, studying under Douglas John Connoh, then at the Carnegie Institute of Art and Technology in Pittsburgh, and took summer classes with Charles Hawthorne at his Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown. She settled in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1924, during what proved to be a very dynamic time in that city. The Springfield Art League was founded just a few years earlier, and in 1922 the Springfield Artists Guild was established. Huse joined both associations, participating regularly in group exhibitions, and became a notable figure in the art community. She established the Springfield Art School in 1925, and became involved with the Civil Works Administration during the 1930s.
Polly Thayer Starr enjoyed the reputation of being one of Boston’s most cherished and long-lived treasures. For more than seven decades she produced artwork that traversed many worlds, from the traditional technique that characterizes the best of the Boston School painters to experimentation with modernist ideas. She grew up in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston and began taking private drawing lessons when just in grade school. At nineteen, she entered the Museum School, studying under Philip Leslie Hale and Leslie Prince Thompson, and later took private lessons with Hale where she mastered the conventions of academic painting. Her desire to learn more about composition and color theory led her to Provincetown where she rented a small cottage with a friend and studied at Charles Hawthorne’s summer school. In 1932, Thayer rented a studio at the Fenway Studio building in Boston, while continuing her studies with Harry Wickey at the Art Students League and experienced a breakthrough in her understanding of form and space which would translate into her work from that moment on.
As a founding member of the Philadelphia Ten, Helen Kiner McCarthy played an instrumental role in fostering the careers of talented women painters and sculptors, and bringing their work to the attention of a wider collecting audience. A collection of scenes from her 1925 trip to Italy, which she displayed in an exhibition of the Philadelphia Ten held at the Philadelphia Art Club the following year, inspired the critic for the Philadelphia Public Ledger to write, "Helen K. McCarthy has brought back from Italy a series of paintings which differ markedly from the usual type of Italian landscapes seen by American eyes. It is not so much the color of Italy as its compositional charm, its picture potentialities that interested the artist. She has sensed the richer fascination of white villages climbing the fecund hills, she has felt the decorative value of vineyard arbors lacing a brown design among the vines, the charm of twisting trees and old stone walls topped by billowing cloud and flow of blue sky.”
A native of Philadelphia, Nancy Maybin Ferguson spent nearly two decades devoted to her artistic studies, beginning with her enrollment at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in the 1890s under Elliott Daingerfield. She also spent several summers working with Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown, before eventually purchasing her own home and thereafter dividing her time between there and Philadelphia. Her plein air depictions of Provincetown were admired for their freshness of color and intuitive use of space, particular in the arrangement of houses and other structures within the composition in a somewhat cubist fashion. The Provincetown Art Association was founded in 1914 and Ferguson participated in numerous annual exhibitions beginning with the following year’s inaugural show. She also served on exhibition juries and hanging committees in the teens and twenties, and for the next several decades remained an integral member of Provincetown art circles. In 1927 she joined the Philadelphia Ten, which began as a group of ten that expanded to include thirty painters and sculptors during its 28-year run. The work of Ferguson and her fellow members found enthusiastic audiences as the exhibits traveled among Midwestern and East Coast venues.
Theresa Bernstein was born in Philadelphia and would live to see nearly one hundred and twelve years. As a teen, she received a Board of Education scholarship to attend the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, from which she graduated in 1911. She established the basis of her education in the arts under the tutelage of Elliott Daingerfield, Henry Snell and Daniel Garber, and later studied briefly with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League. She was an original member of the Philadelphia Ten, exhibiting with them for the first time in 1917. In 1916, Bernstein traveled to Massachusetts’ Cape Ann for the first time and participated in the first exhibition of the Gallery-on-the-Moors in Gloucester, which would eventually become her summer home and a place at which both she and her husband, artist William Meyerowitz, would create their fondest memories and finest artwork. Bernstein went on to produce a solo-exhibition with Vose in 1933, and contributed to exhibitions with the Art Institute of Chicago, the Society of Independent Artists (which she worked to found alongside John Sloan), the Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the National Academy of Design, among countless others.
May (Mary) Audubon Post studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry. She used a traveling scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy to travel to Holland in 1901 and to Paris in 1902, where she studied exhibited at the Salon. Subsequently, she lived in Philadelphia and painted Dutch genre scenes based upon her travels. She also illustrated several children’s books, often with Dutch imagery, including Bunnie Cottontail: A Rabbit’s Own Story (1909), Mother Goose in Holland (1912) and Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (1915). She was a member of the Philadelphia Watercolor Club, the Plastic Club of Philadelphia, and the Society of Independent Artists. She exhibited at the Paris Salon, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Art Club, Art Institute of Chicago, National Academy of Design, and the Society of Independent Artists. A scholarship established in Post’s memory is awarded annually at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, who also holds a number of her works in their collection.
'Bringing to Light: American Women Artists (1890-1940)' is viewable November 2, 2019 - January 4, 2020.
238 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116 • (617) 536-6176 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.vosegalleries.com