Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Marie Two Times

Marie Ellenreider  "Self Portrait" miniature ca. 1810 The Daulton Collection

Marie Ellenreider (1791-1863) was born in Konstanz, Germany into an artistic family (her grandfather  was Franz Ludwig Herrman, a noted painter and frescoist) who encouraged their daughter in her artistic studies. She studied with miniaturist Joseph Einsle, and her early portraits were very favorably received.  She became the first woman honored with admission into the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich.

Marie Ellenreider "Self Portrait" 1819 Rosgartenmuseum Konstanz 

In the 1820's she went to Rome where she fell under the influence of Johann Overbeck, a passionately religious Christian painter, who was a member of the Nazarene movement, a group of German painters who sought to revive honesty and sincerity in Christian Art. From this time forward Ellenreider began producing mainly religious paintings. In 1929 she was appointed court painter to Grand Duchess Sophie of Baden (Princess Sophie of Sweden.)

In the 1840s Ellenreifer returned to Konstanz and continued making religious pieces. Two of these were acquired by Queen Victoria and remain in the royal collection.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Twenty Years Apart!

Elizabeth Osborne  "Figure in Studio"  1967  Collection of the Artist
Elizabeth Osborne (b. 1936) is a contemporary artist based in Philadelphia, PA.  She studied at the the University of Pennsylvania and also at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her talent was recognized at an early stage, and she received numerous awards while in school, and a Fulbright Fellowship in 1964. She began teaching at PAFA in the early 60's becoming one of the few women instructors at that time. An influential and beloved teacher, she only recently retired from full-time teaching and was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award from the Alumni Association of PAFA. I myself was one of Liz's students, and very gratefully so, and it was a real thrill for me as the current president of PAFA's Alumni Association Council to have the honor of actually giving the award to Liz!

Elizabeth Osborne  "The Studio"  1987  Private Collection 
Liz Osborne's beautiful work ranges from representational to abstract, and also explores the space inbetween these two states, but whatever the genre her paintings are known always for their clear and subtle use of color as well as an imitable and characteristic balance and elegance. Curator Robert Cozzolino has written of her work, "Osborne may be known to some for her virtuoso, glowing realist watercolors of the late 1970s or monumental, hallucinatory landscapes of the early and mid-1970s; still others may know her recent boldly-painted ruminations of nature in its micro- and macrocosm.  Yet Osborne's oeuvre is full of surprises, stylistically experimental yet cohesive, hauntingly introspective and complex in its artistic and personal associations."

 The artist shows at Locks Gallery in Philadelphia and is in numerous private and public collections, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Delaware Art Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her website can be seen here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Lost Lavinia

Lavinia Fontana Zappi "Print after a Self-Portrait" date and location unknown

So, it appears that the painting from which this print was made, is lost.  I came across the image in a reissue of an old book from 1905, Women Painters of the World, by Walter Shaw Sparrow. Leafing through my eye was caught by this piece I had never before seen, captioned:

However after several pretty intensive web searches including a visit to the Virtual Uffizi I have to conclude that the original has disappeared. The Uffizi lays claim to only one Fontana, Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalen. 

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) was born into an artistic family in Bologna, Italy, a city known for its learning and its anomalous stance on gender equality. Fontana's father was a well-known painter, Prospero Fontana, and as was customary in those days, Lavinia naturally went into the family business. She married a lesser-known painter Paolo Zappi, and subsequently gave birth to eleven children while continuing to support the family through her artistic output. Zappi took care of the household and also served as his wife's studio assistant. In 1603 Fontana and her family moved to Rome at the invitation of Pope Clement VIII. She had a very successful career, enjoying papal patronage and being elected to the Accademia di San Luca in 1611. She produced over 100 documented works during her lifetime, although her entire output is unknown. Some of her pieces were, in the past, wrongly attributed to artist Guido Reni.

By the way, you can peruse Women Painters of the World online, as it is up on the wonderful and amazing Project Gutenberg. Leaf through the book here, if you are interested. It's full of old world charm and nifty surprises. And mysteries, too, waiting to be solved by some dedicated art detective!

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Sarah Lamb "Self Portrait at Easel" 2007  collection of the artist
Sarah Lamb (b.1971) is a contemporary American painter who is best known for her beautifully textured still-lives. Her canvases depict everything from mussel shells on a pottery platter to peonies in silver teapots and have a kind of magnetic power that draws the eye and the breath. Despite their less than kinetic subject matter her work emits such a powerful pull that her shows routinely sell out and in fact Lamb's gallery in NYC keeps a waiting list of people who want her work! Because although she is a dedicated and hard-working artist there are only so many hours in each day. Especially when one is a natural light painter (Lamb works only from life using mainly the light that pours into her skylit studio.)  Every now and then though, Lamb will take a small "vacation" from her main ouevre and work on a small portrait or landscape, such as we see here in this charming self-portrait.

While an undergraduate at Brenau Women's College, Lamb spent a semester studying abroad at the Studio Center International in Florence, Italy. This helped her find her aesthetic focus and after graduating she spent two years studying in the Loire Valley at the Ecole Albery Defois. In 1997 she began six years of study at the Water Street Atelier with Jacob Collins. She is represented by Spanierman Gallery in New York, by the Meredith Long Gallery in Houston Texas and by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. She is married to painter David Larned and she and her family live in the Brandywine Valley area of Pennsylvania, to which they were drawn by its natural beauty and its deep art-historical roots. Sarah Lamb's website can be seen here.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Ludovica Anina Thornam  "self Portrait"  1885  location unknown 

Ludovica Anina Thornam (1853-1896) was a Danish portrait and genre painter. Immediately following high school she studied for two years with painter Vilhelm Kyhn in Copenhagen, the same Drawing School for Women that Anna Ancher attended.  A few years later Thornam fulfilled a long-held dream to go to Paris where she continued her studies at the Académie Julian from approximately 1887 through 1893. In addition to her academic studies, during these years she went on painting/study trips around Europe with her sister Emmy Marie Thornam, who was also a painter. Ludovica specialized as a portrait painter and additionally she gave private lessons.  It is noted that she was one of the few Danish women painters at that time who made their living through painting. She died at a relatively young age, in her very early forties, and I was unable to find out any further information about her. Her sister Emmy, who was a professional writer as well as a professional painter,  wrote a book that was published in 1932 titled Min søster og jeg (trans: "My Sister and I") which I assume gives more biographical information about these two painting sisters. If anyone has read it, or has a copy please let me know!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jack Beal, in memorium

I am saddened to hear that artist Jack Beal died yesterday. Although I never met him in person I'd been aware of his art for a long time, in fact since I first started looking at contemporary art, sometime way back in my high school days. I remember my sixteen-year-old self standing in a gallery in NYC and staring, astonished, at a Beal painting hanging among a whole raft of abstractions, like a warmly lit harbor in a dark storm of fashionable obfuscatory cool. I clearly remember a thought that went through my head, "Wow, is he ALLOWED to do that?" And I felt a pang of hope (which of course clearly indicated the direction I wanted to go as an artist.)

Jack Beal The Painting Lesson (To W.M.) 1983Hunter Museum of Art, Chatanooga, Tennessee
So, Jack Beal always held a place of respect in my heart, as a hope-giving role model, though we never met. Then, when I started this Women in the Act of Painting project and began researching and collecting images I kept turning up terrific images of his that fit the WAP bill perfectly. The guy so clearly liked and respected women, beyond merely appreciating their aesthetic value. I discovered to my delight that he was on Facebook, and as is my usual practice with living artists I contacted him and asked if I could use the images. His reply was immediate, generous and encouraging: Of course you have my permission! What a great project! We had some brief but heart-warming exchanges, which I will always treasure.  I'm so glad I got the chance to tell him of my appreciation of his work and express my gratitude for it. I'm not sure I quite had the nerve to tell him of my teenage epiphany. I wish I had.

Jack Beal Anne Wilfer Drawing 1983  private collection

Jack Beal (1931-2013) was born in Richmond, Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.  He met his wife, the artist Sondra Freckelton while they were both art students in Chicago. He courageously renounced abstract expressionism in the 1960s, and allied himself with the relatively small but diverse "New Realism" group, along with such artists as Philip Pearlstein and Alfred Leslie. Beal began his lifelong roster of one person shows in 1965. He completed beautifully colored and detailed paintings as well as black and white drawings. He has shown extensively all over the country and around the world.  He was a beloved art teacher, known for his great eye, clear instruction and warmly encouraging manner. His work is in major collections around the country including the Hirschhorn, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney. I guess, yes, he WAS allowed to do that. Thank you Jack Beal, you will be sorely missed!

Jack Beal The Farm 1980
Bayly Art Museum of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Painter in Pompeii

artist unknown  "Painter Completing a Portrait"  1st Century CE  
National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

This scene is from the 1st century CE, a wall painting from the ancient city of Pompeii (region VI, insula 14, building 42.) It depicts a painter completing a portrait while another woman looks on. Women, like all people, have always worked, and there have always been women working outside what we now consider the "traditional" sphere of the home. It often surprises people to learn that in the ancient world women filled a wide array of jobs outside the home including medicine, importing and exporting, cloth manufacture, jewelry making and selling...the list goes on and on. While wealthy female citizens' work was indeed centered more around domestic duties, and they had servants and slaves to assist them, women of the lower classes often worked in the family business or took other paying jobs to support their families. In ancient Rome painting was a trade like any other, and was practiced by both men and women, as a matter of course.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ms. Murphy

Catherine Murphy "Self Portrait with Poker Table"   1969

Catherine Murphy is a contemporary American painter who was born in 1946 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated from the Pratt Institute and also studied at Skowhegan. She is one of the most respected realist/figurative painters alive today.  To me she is a wonderful example of finding what you want to do and doing it, and keeping on doing it, despite the vagaries of fashion. Among the many honors she has received are two NEA grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Catherine Murphy "Self Portrait"  1970

Murphy's technique is notoriously, painstakingly, slow in its pace. Some pieces will take many years to complete, especially those where she will only paint on the piece in the few weeks a year, for a few minutes at a time, when an angle of light hits in a particular way. Yet she claims to be a very impatient person, saying, "What I always say is that I’m a compulsive Abstract Expressionist. My pleasure is to be there when the light is right, when that dappling is moving around. Once I become one with the rhythm of that dappling, all desire is satisfied. So I can wait."  

Catherine Murphy "Self Portrait" 1973
She has also said, "... figurative painters have skirted around the issue of being figurative painters. They have said, “Really, I’m an abstract painter, and this is how I’m going to let you know it. I’m going to paint the same egg for the next thirty years, so finally after thirty years you’ll understand that the egg wasn’t really that important. It was the form that was important.” And that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. An apple on a table is an apple on a fucking table. That’s its reality. I know that’s not very fashionable philosophically to have the reading of something be the something that it is. And it is the something that it is—but it’s very much more as well."  (from an interview with Francine Prose, Bomb magazine, 1995

Catherine Murphy "Self-Portraits"  1985
Murphy is married to sculptor Harry Roseman (seen in the 1985 "Self-Portraits" above.) She is known for her still life and landscape as well as her figurative work. Her drawings and paintings hang in major public and private collections around the country including the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,  and the Art Institute of Chicago. She was a Senior Critic in the Painting/Printmaking department at Yale University from 1989-2011 and is now the first endowed faculty chair at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Murphy is represented by Peter Freeman Gallery in NYC. An engaging review of her most recent exhibition can be seen here. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Mabel Alvarez  "Self Portrait"  1924  location unknown
Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985) was born on the island of Oahu, Hawaii to a high-achieving intellectual family of Spanish descent. Her father was a physician engaged in landmark research into Leprosy, and her brother also became a physician of note. In 1968 her nephew, Luis Alvarez, would be awarded the Nobel prize in Physics.  The family moved to California when Mabel was a child, and she became a star pupil at Los Angeles High School, after which she studied with Boston-school painter William Cahill who had relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

Alvarez painted award-winning murals in her early years and exhibited her work frequently to great acclaim during her long and productive career. She was a member of the Group of Eight and she read widely and was influenced by a number of different art movements and experimental philosophies. She took almost as gospel the advice given her by Morgan Russell when they met in the late 1920's who told her to become like a "cork that floats downstream while painting," i.e. to let the process take her where it would.  As a result her work went through many enormous permutations in style and meaning over the years, so much so that it is difficult to characterize it, except by one constant: its excellence. Other continuing characteristics are Alvarez's richly expressive use of color, and her dedication to the concept of humanism

Mabel Alvarez once wrote, "I want to take all this beauty and pour it out on canvas with such radiance that all who are lost in the darkness may feel the wonder and lift to it."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Palette in Her Hand

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot  "Young Woman Artist with Palette in her Hand"
1800's   Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) was a french painter born in Paris. His parents were successful and creative businesspeople.  In fact, his mother was a milliner whose hats became so hugely popular that his father gave up his own profession to manage the business side of the millinery shop. Corot was initially apprenticed to a draper and the years spent handling fine cloth and studying the gradations of dye lots stood him in good stead in his art career. It is related that later in life Corot was absolutely delighted to find a Parisian draper's shop was purveying fabric in a color they had named "gris-Corot" or Corot's gray! 

He was an extremely prolific artist, with his catalogue raisonne listing upwards of 2,500 paintings.  Nonetheless his popularity was such that even with those numbers there were simply not enough Corots to meet the demand, and he is one of the most counterfeited artists in history. A well known art quip is that "Corot painted three thousand canvases, ten thousand of which have been sold in America."  (René Huyghe)

Although Corot never married he is said to have been a big appreciator of female beauty. He painted several images with women posing in various attitudes front of his easel, but I believe this may be the only one where the model actually holds a palette and brushes. 

This image was very generously shared with me by the Nationalmuseum (National Museum of Fine Arts) of Sweden.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

En Plein Air à la Datcha

Vasili Kirilovich Nechitailo "Maria (Mariya) Savchenkova Painting En Plein Air"
1939  location unknown

Moscow-based artist Vasili Kirilovich Nechitailo (1915-1980) painted this lovely summer plein air piece in 1939. It looks like it was painted at a dacha, or summer house, a rustic cottage or shack in the country where Russian city dwellers vacation during the summer months. The subject of the piece is Nechitailo's wife, artist Maria (Mariya) Savchenkova (b.1917.) Almost no information can be found on Savchenkova, but there is some available on Nechitailo. He studied at the Krasnodar Art Technikum, the Surikov Institute and the Moscow Art Institute. During World War ll, when it looked like Moscow might fall to the Germans, the Soviet government made an interesting decision: to evacuate their most outstanding artists, those whom they deemed national cultural assets, along with some promising students who were believed to be on the path to "cultural assethood." Nechitailo was among the students shipped off to Uzbekistan. There they sat out the duration of the war in relative safety, returning to Moscow in 1944.

Nechitailo had a successful and productive career, teaching and exhibiting until his death in 1980.  I've not been able to find any record of his wife's death, so there is a chance that Maria (Mariya) Savchenkova is still living. If anyone reading this knows anything more about Savchenkova please let me know!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Princess Painter

Vladimir Borovikovsky "Portrait of A. G. and A. A. Lobanov-Rostovsky' 1814  
The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

This painting by Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825) depicts Prince Alexei Alexandrovich Lobanov-Rostovsky and his wife Princess Alexandra Grigorievna. Princess Alexandra holds a tiny ivory watercolor palette and brushes in one hand, and a golden drawing implement in the other, tools which signify her refinement and accomplishment.  In the 1800s young ladies "of quality" were expected to attain a certain level of expertise in one or more areas of the fine and applied arts such as art, music and needlecrafts. Nothing is known about Alexandra's actual artistic output but it was extremely difficult to research her, in part because there is another far more famous person with the same name as her husband, only one generation younger. As far as I can make out this lovely young couple's biggest claim to fame was that they later in life legally adopted their grandchild Princess Doña Esperanza Felicitas Alexandra de Sarachaga upon her parents' demise. Doña Esperanza was quite a powerhouse. One of the wealthiest women of her age, she was a friend and confidante of many of Europe's highest-ranking royals and was known for her diplomacy, loyalty and bravery. In fact it is said she discovered a plot to depose King Ludwig of Bavaria, and despite facing personal danger she managed to alert the King and his people in time.

The painter Vladimir Borovikovsky himself has an interesting life story. Born into a Ukrainian military family, he served in a Cossack regiment along with his three brothers.  Borovikovsky however took "early retirement" and devoted himself to art, mostly painting icons and other devotional images for local churches. (His father had done the same, leaving the military after a respectable but short career to become an icon painter.) Borovikovsky might never have become well known, nor even sought a wider audience, had not chance thrown his work in the path of the Empress Catherine the Great while she made an Imperial tour of her newly acquired provinces. Borovikovsky had been asked to decorate the rooms where the Empress would be staying and his paintings so charmed Catherine that she requested he relocate to Saint Petersburg.

Borovikovsky moved to St Petersburg as commanded, and went about studying further to be worthy of his new patron. He was too old to attend the Imperial Academy but studied privately and intensively to such good effect that in 1795 he was appointed a Royal Academician. He had a successful and productive career, painting hundreds of intimate portraits of members of the Russian royal family, courtiers and other notable personages. Near the end of his life he also returned to painting icons, some of which are still in possession of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

~Many thanks to artist Michael Lane for sharing this image with me!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Modern Dibutades

Francine Van Hove  "Le Dessin de l'Ombre"  2007  private collection

In this painting entitled "Le Dessin de l'Ombre" ("Shadow Drawing") contemporary french artist Francine Van Hove addresses an ancient story concerning the origin of painting. The story has several variations, but essentially runs like this: in Ancient Corinth (an area of Greece, about 600 B.C.)  a young woman was heartbroken to learn that her beloved was heading to war. He visited the girl's family home to make his farewells the evening before he was due to leave, and tired out from the preparations of the day he fell asleep by the fire. The young woman noticed the fire casting a perfect silhouette of her beloved's profile on the wall. Inspiration struck and picking up a piece of cooled charcoal from the edge of the fireplace she traced the young man's silhouette on the wall, in order to have his likeness near her when he himself had departed. This young woman's father was named Butades (or in some versions of the tale, Dibutades.) He was a potter by trade, and inspired by his daughter's ground-breaking act, he copied the perfect silhouette she had drawn, only in clay, creating the world's first bas-relief.  For some reason it is he who often gets the credit as the founder of the visual arts, though in fact all stories agree it was his (nameless) daughter who made the actual first marks.  In any case, in this piece, Van Hove has set the scene in a contemporary studio, substituting a standard electric clamp-light for firelight, and both "the maid of Corinth" and her beloved are played by attractive young females.

Van Hove (b.1942) studied in Paris and originally got a fine arts degree aimed at qualifying her to teach the fine arts. After one year of full time teaching in Strasbourg she resigned her position and returned to Paris where she has lived and worked ever since. Her work consists of drawings and paintings that focus almost exclusively on lovely young women in enigmatic or dream-like poses. She has said of her work, "Plus j'essaie de capter la beauté, plus son mystère m'échappe, et je me suis prise de passion pour cette poursuite même " (my own rough translation: The more I try to capture the essence of beauty, the more its mystery escapes me, and I am left only with my passion for the pursuit.") Van Hove has had more than forty one person shows, and her work has been exhibited around the world. She is represented by Galerie Alain Blondel, Paris. Her website can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hanaogi of the Ogiya

Hosoda Eishi  "A portrait of the courtesan Hanaogi of the Ogiya preparing to decorate a fan"  
ca. late 1700's   private collection

Japanese artist Hosoda Eishi (1756-1829) made this portrait of the courtesan Hanaogi, one of the most renowned courtesans of the Kansei era (from about 1789 to 1801.) Hanaogi was celebrated not only for her beauty but for her exquisite brushwork and painting ability. Despite her "stardom" and her high ranking in the cadre of minutely organized brothel society, it can't have been a way of life she desired: Hanaogi is known to have tried to run away on more than one occasion.   She actually escaped from the tightly patrolled pleasure district in 1794 but was caught and returned. Hanaogi was a favorite subject for major artists of her time like Utamaro, Isoda Koryusai, Eisen and many others.

Hosoda Eishi is reported to have had a high-ranking Samurai family background. It's unusual for artists in the Japan of this period to have such a privileged lineage. The career of artist at that time was considered to be no more prestigious than that of any average tradesperson. The reasons behind Eishi becoming an artist (apart from his obvious talent) are not known.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Patricia W.

Patricia Watwood  "Creation (self-portrait)  2006  private collection

Patricia Watwod (b.1971) is a contemporary painter based in New York City. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, she attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, studying drama and scenic design. Finding her interests beginining to focus on the craft of painting she moved to NYC to study with Jacob Collins at his Water Street Atelier. She concurrently enrolled in the graduate program at the New York Academy of Art, graduating from that school in 2000 with her MFA.

Patricia Watwood  "Self-Portrait at Water Street Atelier" 1999  private collection

Watwood has said of her own work, " The style of my work is called Contemporary Classicism, and is connected to a current international flowering of realism.... [This style is] grounded in the mastery of historic methodologies, including academic draftsmanship and oil painting techniques. Like classical music, the discipline has a long and rich pedagogy.  Practitioners expect to train rigorously for a decade in order to prepare for our careers. This is the study I have embraced with others who champion figurative painting and the tradition of western oil painting." 

Patricia Watwood  "Self Portrait (Draing)"  2000  private collection

Watwood now lives in New York City with her husband and children, and is an adjunct professor at the New York Academy of Art. Her work has been exhibited world-wide. Her most recent exhibit was "Venus Apocalypse" held at Dacia Gallery in NYC, June 6-July 15, 2013   Additionally she is represented by Grenning Gallery and John Pence Gallery.

Patricia Watwood "Imagine/Imago" 2013 Dacia Gallery

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Suzanne Valadon "Self-Portrait" 1927  private collection

French painter Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) may be one of the few artists ever to begin her working life as a circus acrobat. A serious fall from a trapeze ended her performing career at the age of fifteen, and after she recovered she found work as an artist's model. An intelligent as well as an attractive young woman, she took an interest in the work the artists were producing, and soon began drawing and painting on her own. Recognizing her talent and drive some of the artists she'd befriended such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec gave her lessons and encouragement. Edgar Degas was also supportive of the young artist, buying her work and giving her advice and introductions. She was the first woman painter admitted to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts (in 1894.)

Valadon was a free spirit, and in 1898 she gave birth to a baby boy, later known as the artist Maurice Utrillo whom she tutored and assisted with his career. She did such a good job that eventually her son's fame outshone her own, but she was still a very successful artist in her own right, respected by her peers and financially successful in part through her skillful management of Utrillo's career. Her oeuvre included all manner of genres including still life and portrait and she became especially well-known for her portraits of nude women, a highly unusual choice of subject matter for 19th century female painters. Her female nudes still intrigue viewers today possibly because of their bold execution and idiosyncratic emotional content...the women may be nude but they are strong and in control of their nudity. They are not merely pin-up girls or shadow servants of "the male gaze" but real people, with definite personalities, and seem to have agendas of their own. (In a way, Valadon's work prefigures the work of 20th century artist Alice Neel.) In this later-life self-portrait at age 62 we see her unflinching measuring stare, and glimpse the curve of her palette, as she dispassionately considers herself as both a woman and an artist.

Over the years she had many affairs and later in life she married twice, each union ending in divorce, but never had any more children. She was extremely fond of animals, and kept a pet goat and a succession of beloved cats, some of whom have made their way into her paintings. She died at age 72, still successful and respected. Fittingly, for such an unusual person, she now has an asteroid and a crater of Venus named after her in addition to the usual handful of streets, public squares and etc. Her work hangs in major museums world-wide.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Ja Fang Lu  "Summer Self-Portrait" 2012  private collection
Contemporary painter JaFang Lu (b. 1976) came to the U.S. from Taiwan. She studied at the City College of New York and also received a merit scholarship to the Art Student's League. She relocated to Philadelphia to study with Nelson Shanks at Studio Incamminati, where she now teaches. She is represented by Artists' House Gallery. More of her work, both still life and figurative, can be seen on her blog here.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Mikhail Nesterov  "Portrait of Vera Mukhina"  1940  private collection

Vera Mukhina was one of the most famous Soviet artists of her generation, male or female.  She is sometimes called the Queen of Soviet Sculpture.  Mukhina (1889-1953)  was born in Riga, Latvia. Her mother died of Tuberculosis when she was only eleven months old and her Father moved the bereft family to the Crimea, to live by the sea, considered a healthier environment. However, he himself died when Mukhina and her older sisters were just finishing up high school.  Relatives stepped in and took the girls to live with them in Moscow. Although the move was necessitated by a tragedy, the change of circumstances allowed Mukhina to begin studying art at a much more serious level than previously envisioned.

A talented student, she studied for a time in Paris, as well, but when WWI broke out she returned to Russia and trained as a nurse. While working as a nurse she met her future husband, surgeon Alexey Zemkov. After the war they married and Mukhina found herself able to focus seriously once more on her art. By the early 1930's she was teaching at the state sanctioned art academy, Vkhutemas, and working on major pieces in her atelier. In 1937 her famous work Worker and Kolkhov Woman was exhibited at the World's Fair Exhibition in Paris.  It was a monumental  78  feet high and believed to be the world's first welded metal sculpture.

Mukhina's pre-eminence within the Soviet art world would be hard to over-emphasize. She won the Stalin Prize five times and was appointed People's Artist of the USSR in 1943. There is a museum of her life and work in the Crimea, and a street in Moscow is named after her. As an artist who straddled both cubism and social realism her career contains elements which fascinate art historians to this day.

The painting of Mukhina by Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942), has also been used as the basis for a Russian Union stamp issued in her honor in 1989.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mia by Mia

Mia Robinson "Self-Portrait Mid-Room"  2013  
Mia Robinson (b.1979) shows herself in the process of using her i-pad to paint a self-portrait. Robinson is one of the surging wave of artists who trained in traditional art-making methods but are turning to new technology. Robinson has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally. Her website can be seen here

Friday, June 21, 2013

Painting Polly

Beatrice Whitney Van Ness "Polly Saltonstall Painting"  private collection
Beatrice Whitney Van Ness (1888-1981) grew up in Massachusetts and attended the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, studying under artists Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell.  She was a highly proficient student, winning numerous prizes and being appointed to the teaching faculty immediately after her own graduation. Upon marrying and starting a family, her interests broadened and became additionally concerned in the field of art education for children. She founded a pioneering art department at a private school outside of Boston which became a model for some of the earliest art education programs in public schools throughout the country.  Residing in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, she and her family spent every summer in Maine, where she painted intensively, bringing back sketches and unfinished canvases for later completion. Many of her works are set on or near the water as a result and she developed a particular flair for portraying the effects of sun and water reflections on a subject's face.

Van Ness won many major awards and exhibited frequently in galleries and museum shows during her lifetime. Her work is now in the collections of such venerable institutions as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Academy of Design, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is said to have painted vigorously right up until her 91st birthday.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Self-Inflicted Portrait

Sarah McEneaney  "Self-Inflicted Portrait"  1989 private collection
Sarah McEneaney (b.1955) is a painter whose work is often reminiscent of the Mexican ex-voto tradition and akin to the "naive" paintings seen around the world, an especially vibrant tradition in some Latin and African cultures. Yet this Academy-trained North American artist has received a raft of prestigious "art world" awards, including several fellowships, grants and multiple artist residencies.  She is not, nor does she purport to be, a self-taught or "outsider" artist. Clearly she is tapping into some common human impulse  for visual story-telling, her style effortlessly bridging the naive and the sophisticated through its sincerity. In this scene, the artist is explaining that something has happened to her....probably a knife slipped as she was opening a package of something (cheese?) and the result, a thickly bandaged, possibly casted hand, is held aloft as the artist draws us the story.

The scene appears simple at first glance, but deceptively so, and there are many points to ponder.  Is the knife we see only a drawn representation, like the cheese packet beside it, or is it a "real" knife lying on the drawing paper? The artist appears to be drawing with her left hand: is she naturally left-handed or is this perforce because of her injury? Or, if she is is gazing in a mirror, a common practice among self-portraitists, then it would only appear that she is using her left-hand. Is she in reality right-handed?
I'm also interested in the way the drawing tools lie on the edge of the table, tools which are used to "open" the story to us, echoing the way a knife is used to open a package. Is there some reminder in this of how easy it is to make a mistake, to slip up (albeit less bloodily) when performing such an aesthetic opening or telling?

The title too, carries layers of meaning. Obviously we see and read that the wound was self-inflicted (and almost certainly accidental) but the title creates a sense of unease...a feeling perhaps that the artist felt compelled to "inflict" the painting upon her audience. Nonetheless, such a depiction of a wound taps into several traditions, the classic Christian European depiction of martyr injuries and stigmata, and also the related mexican retablo tradition of depicting the injured or diseased body part for which the supplicant begs relief. Another point is that the painting has been made in either oil or gouache...yet we see the artist wielding a pencil. This visual inconsistency and all other details as well add vibration to the otherwise still and contemplative air of the piece.

McEneaney studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She is represented by Locks Gallery in Philadelphia and by Tibor de Nagy in NYC. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013


 "Elisabetta Sirani Painting her Father" Nineteenth-century engraving by Luigi Martelli made from a self-portrait in the then existing Hercolani Gallery of Bologna.  Whereabouts of original painting now unknown.

 Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) was a Baroque era painter from Bologna, a city in Italy famous for its progressive attitude towards women's rights, and home to numerous female scholars, scientists and artists. Sirani was a bit of a wunderkind even in that rarified milieu. The daughter of artist Giovanni Andrea Sirani, Elisabetta began her art career at a very early age. By 17 she was a fully trained engraver and accomplished painter and had completed over ninety works. By the time she died at the young age of 27, she had added at least eighty more known works to her repertoire. Sirani also assumed control of the family's art workshop when her father became incapacitated by gout in the early 1660s. She supported her parents, her younger siblings and herself, entirely through her art and her teaching. It is said that  the stress created by such heavy responsibilities may have contributed to her early death. 

Elisabetta Sirani Self-Portrait ca. 1660 

Initially trained by her father, Sirani was encouraged in her career by Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia, a family friend and influential art writer, who helped her gain recognition for her unusually precocious skill. Sirani was known for her ability to paint well and quickly, so quickly that debate arose as to her work's authenticity, and to counterract these aspersions, art lovers were invited to visited her studio to watch her perform her magic at the easel. A contemporary account reported "There was such speed and directness in her brush that she looked more like a fairy painting than a mere mortal." She  produced portraits and mythological subjects but was especially valued for her images of the Holy family, and the Virgin and Child. She imbued these sanctified subjects with a homely immediacy and familiarity that her contemporary audiences found very refreshing.

Elisabetta Sirani Self-Portrait ca. 1658

When Sirani died at age 27, after experiencing stomach pains, her father suspected she had been poisoned by a jealous maidservant. However, an autopsy revealed numerous lacerations in the artist’s stomach, presumably evidence of perforated ulcers, and the maid (jealous or not) was acquitted of any crime. It's sobering to contemplate the artist's early death, and what wonders what she might have gone on to achieve had she lived longer. To my eye, the artist's extant works show an immense inconsistency of style and technique, as though the young artist was still experimenting and learning even as she gave her command performances.

Elisabetta Sirani "Allegory of Painting" ca. 1665
Sirani recieved a splendid funeral from the city of Bologna which included formal orations, performances of specially commissioned poetry and music, and an enormous catafalque, a bier or scaffolding bearing the casket during the funeral procession, surmounted with a life-size sculpture of the artist. Sirani left an important legacy not only through her artwork but through her teaching. Her pupils included her two younger sisters, Barbara and Anna Maria, and several other young Bolognese women who also became professional painters.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Contemporary Genre Painting

Susan Lichtman "Plein Air Painters" 2012 Private Collection

Susan Lichtman (b.1959) is a true contemporary genre painter, a painter of everyday life.  Almost all Lichtman's work is painted in a domestic setting, with porches, balconies and kitchens being the most painted-in rooms. As an mother-artist myself, the typical houshold brouhaha and bric-a-brac all seems very familiar. I marvel at Lichtman's daring in setting up her easel right in the the center of the whole vortex of family life. In this her work reminds us, inevitably of Fairfield Porter, yet I get the feeling that Porter's works were far more posed, that people stopped and life was suspended when he painted the dining room table or posed a daughter on a porch chair. In Lichtman's work you can feel the hum of busy lives swirling around the artist's canvas and being captured in snatches and starts in mid-current.

Susan Lichtman "Artist and Baby" 1997  Private Collection
Her work is fascinating to me in that although the subjects are loosely painted nevertheless a definite feeling of personal character is evoked, and while the pieces are often painted in a narrow range of value, great depths and changes of light sweeping across interiors are sometimes (when wanted)  achieved. Lichtman says “I think my idea of beauty in painting has to do with the tension between the depiction of deep space and the properties of shape and surface. I see that tension in interior paintings of artists I love best, from Roman wall painting to De Hooch, Vuillard, Bonnard, and Gwen John. Sunlight or lamplight juxtaposed with shadows add to the complexity of shapes. I am interested in how light can divert attention away from figures and slow down the reading of the imagery.” It is perhaps of some interest to note that the artist's own name, Lichtman, means "light one" in translation. A highly appropriate moniker for a true painter of light.

Lichtman studied at Brown University and received her MFA from Yale University. She currently teaches at Brandeis University. She is represented by Gross McCleaf Gallery and by Lenore Gray Fine Art. The artist's website can be seen here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Child Prodigy

Anna Waser "Self Portrait, age twelve" 1691 Kunsthaus Zürich 

Anna Waser (1678 or 1679-1714) was a Swiss artist who had some very good luck and some very bad luck in her short life. Her story starts out well...she was lucky to be born into a wealthy and cultured family in Zurich. Her father Johann Rudolf Waser, who was a magistrate, was highly educated and unusually unprejudiced. Interested in art himself, when he noticed his fifth child Anna showed signs of precocious art talent he took her to study with Joseph Werner in the city of Bern. Werner was one of the leading Swiss artists of the day. Waser studied with Werner for a little more than four years, from about age 11 through sixteen, boarding with the artist's family. She was his only female student among many young men.  This piece was painted while she was studying with Werner, and we see her teacher's portrait on her easel. Her precocity was obviously a source of great pride to Werner, and he encouraged her to prominently display her age in the work.

At about age sixteen she returned to her family in Zurich where she found herself to be something of a local celebrity. She began accepting commissions from the notable and fashionable people of that city. Her portraits, landscapes and miniatures proved very popular and her fame began to spread farther.  When she was about age twenty-one an art loving nobleman, Count Wilhelm Moritz von Solms-Braunfels, invited her to become the court painter at his historic Castle Braunfels. Off she went on this exciting new start of what looked like a brilliant career. But it was not to be.

She had not been long with this court, and they were in the midst of planning a protracted visit to Paris, when her mother back in Zurich fell gravely ill. For a variety of reasons Anna was deemed the only of the Waser siblings capable of dealing with this domestic crisis, and she was forced to return to her family home. From 1702 onwards she was completely beset with familial duties, running the Zurich home and caring for both of her parents, each of whom now needed tending. Her painting was sidelined dramatically although she continued to execute a small piece here and there. She frequently branched out into silverpoint drawing, a technique that is of course less time-consuming than painting in oils, and handier for someone with not a lot of free time at their disposal.

At some point the ailing Waser parents passed on, but Anna Waser didn't have much time to enjoy a lessening of her domestic responsibilities. We read in a chronicle of that time that "Mit 30 Jahren verlor sie ihre Leibs- und Gemütskräfte." ("at age thirty she lost her abdominal and mental powers.")  She was then living with her two sisters Anna Maria and Elisabetha, callligraphers and graphic artists, who cared for her until her death at age thirty-five from complications following a fall.

 Other than the young self-portrait painting shown above, Waser's most notable authenticated work is said to be a silverpoint drawing reported to be in the Altes Museum in Berlin. (I was unable to verify this.) Waser started her career young, but she was summarily interrupted before she'd really begun. A catastrophic illness and early demise prevented her from ever fully picking up the threads again. Nonetheless, her family greatly esteemed and respected their once-famous sister and kept her story fresh in the family lore. A century after her death, a talented young writer named Maria Krebs married into the Waser family and was so intrigued by the tales of her husband's ancestor that she researched and wrote "The Story of Anna Waser" (by Maria Waser, first published in 1913, Stuttgart.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Painter In the Garden

Eliza Auth  "Painting in the Garden" 2010  private collection

Eliza Drake Auth created this painting of fellow artist Frances Galante during a plein air event at Camphill Special School.  Auth (b.1952) is known for her serene landscapes and gentle portraits.  Her softly-descriptive style and quietly glowing color seems to spring directly from the Boston School of painting, yet this Philadelphia-based artist has never lived in Boston, but studied at the University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her work is represented by the Rosenfeld Gallery in Philadelphia. The artist's website can be seen here.

Frances Galante (b.1959) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she was one of the select circle of young artists mentored by Arthur DeCosta. In addition she earned a degree from Tyler School of Art, and received a scholarship for an Oxbow Artist's Residency. This versatile oil painter can turn her hand to almost any subject, but she is perhaps best known for her still-life work, with her paintings of flowers being in particularly high demand. We see her here happily ensconced in a garden, absorbed in painting some of her favorite subjects. Galante is represented by Artists' House Gallery in Philadelphia and her website can be seen here.

(Plein Air for Camphill, during which this piece was created, is an event organized to benefit a residential school/summer program for older teens and young adults with special needs. This age-group is a very under-served population, many services and programs for children with special needs simply end for children over age 14, many opportunities such as after-school play-study groups, weekend gym classes and summer camps, simply will not take children over 14, and relatively little else becomes available until legal adulthood at 21. It seems important to support institutions such as Camphill Special School that are striving to fill this desperate need for services for teens and young adults.  For more information on Camphill Special School click here. For more information on the most recent Plein Air for Camphill, click here.)