Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Virginia S.

Virginia Snedeker   "Self-Portrait"  1933  Private Collection

Virginia Snedeker (1909-2000) was born in New York City, and studied at the National Academy of Design and later at The Art Student's League of New York. She was strongly influenced by artist Kenneth Hayes Miller, who taught at the League, and was an early proponent of the urban genre scene. Snedeker, under Hayes' tutelage, became part of what is now called the American Scene movement, which existed from some time in the 1920's through the 1940's (and even possibly into early 1950's.) The American Scene movement was also known as Regionalism, and rejected the currently fashionable Modernist Art movement, instead espousing a representational style focused on everyday life. Snedecker focused on the region she knew best, which was New York City.

Virginia Snedeker   "Self-Portrait with Brushes"  1938  Private Collection

In addition to her painting, Snedeker worked as illustrator. Her first cover for the The New Yorker magazine, 1939,  shows a bohemian-looking man and woman carrying a large painting through the streets of New York. It's fascinating to me that it appears to have been assumed that the artist of the couple was the man, whereas Snedecker, the painter, may have been quietly referring to herself. In any case, the cover was a hit, and its success gained Snedecker a coveted contract with the New Yorker. She did covers as well as numerous black and white spot illustrations for that magazine.

Virginia Snedeker  "Untitled (Bolsheviks)" The New Yorker June 10, 1939  Condé Nast Collection

After World War ll the world was a different place, all over. Snedecker married, and moved to Ridgefield, New Jersey where she eventually quit painting and illustrating, and instead focused on domestic life and raising a family. She is not known to have ever picked up a brush again after about 1949, despite living to the ripe old age of 91. Although Snedecker's work was shelved for decades, she has recently begun to be noticed again, and her oeuvre, both fine art and illustration art, was the focus of a solo exhibition at the Morven Museum in Princeton, New Jersey in 2006 and was also exhibited at the Morris Museum in 2008.  In 2009 her work was included in a group show at the Zimmerli Art Museum entitled A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889- 2009.

~Many thanks to Eliza Drake Auth for spotting the Self-Portrait with Brushes image~


Marianne Fineberg said...

I love everything about the 1933 portrait. Her clothes seem alive.

Alexandra Tyng said...

Although I'm not that keen on her work, her story intrigues me. I didn't know about the American Scene Movement. Did Snedecker stop painting and/or illustrating because the golden age of illustration had come to an end (unless you count the children's book illustration boom in the 50s and 60s)?

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Alex, without knowing much about it I would surmise that VS got caught in the backlash against professional women that arose post WWll, and that she became enmired in the new concept of domesticity as the one true role of women. This is the kind of strait jacket of behavior mod suddenly shoved onto american middle-class women in the mid 1940's through 60's, in protest of which Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique" (1963.)

From a review of the VS solo show at the Morven Museum by Stuart Mitchener: "the last dated painting in the show tells the story: a portrait of her little girl done in 1949, with this note: "She was never quite happy with the result" because she was "constrained by interrupted work sessions." You know what that means."

Scott Ross said...

I grew up with a mural by Virginia Snedeker in our small post office in Audubon, Iowa. The artist was unknown until recently discovered, That mural has been loved by generations of people and maybe, in my own instance, contributed to me becoming a professional illustrator for the last 40 years. Thank you for this article on Virginia.