Saturday, February 22, 2014

Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist (Pt. IV)

by Mary Alice Heekin Burke

Nourse was at the peak of her career in the years just before World War I, but in July 1914, when the Germans invaded Belgium, it marked the end of the art world as she knew it. The Salon lost its importance as dealers in London, Paris, and New York attracted the public by showing a rapid succession of modern styles. When the war broke out almost all of the American expatriates in France went home, but the Nourses felt an obligation to their adopted country.

In December 1914 Elizabeth described the siege of Paris in a letter to a Cincinnati friend and said: "We shall stick it out and retire to the cellar" and Louise wrote to their niece: "All the Americans are going but we will stay right here. I should feel an ungrateful wretch to run away—as though I fled from some hospitable roof when small pox breaks out."

Elizabeth Nourse
The sisters worked tirelessly for the refugees who flooded into Paris and Elizabeth raised money for clothing, coal, and food by appealing to her American women friends. She was especially concerned with aid to artists whose careers had been disrupted by the war, and, in 1919, the board of the New Salon presented her with a silver plaque in grateful recognition for this work.

In 1916 Elizabeth and Louise worked so hard that their doctor ordered them to the country for a rest, and they went to Penmarch in Brittany. There, they found that more than sixty village women had been widowed by the war and all the remaining able-bodied men had been conscripted, leaving the women with all the farm work as well as the care of their homes and children. The Nourses proceeded to help out. Elizabeth wrote to a friend: "It is quite a sight to see us bringing in the cows and tossing the hay, besides feeding ducks, chickens and picking beet and cabbage leaves for the cattle."

Elizabeth Nourse . Dans l'Elise a Volendam
 
Elizabeth had been unwell for some time, and in March 1920 she underwent surgery for breast cancer. She was unable to paint at her easel for a long time and in the 1921 Salon she exhibited works that had been painted some years earlier. By 1924 she had ceased to exhibit at all and painted thereafter only for her own pleasure. She was then sixty-five years old and her professional career had spanned forty-four years.

Elizabeth Nourse
In 1921 Nourse received one last public honor that must have gratified her. The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana awarded her the Laetare Medal, given annually to a Catholic layperson for distinguished service to humanity. The Paris edition of the New York Herald described the ceremony, presided over by the Papal Nuncio in Paris, and called Nourse "the dean of American women painters in France and one of the most eminent contemporary artists of her sex." The Chicago Tribune simply referred to her as "the first woman painter of America."
Article on Elizabeth's Selection for the Laetare Medal
for Distinguished Service to Humanity

Elizabeth was probably not completely happy with such tributes because she once told her friend, Anna Schmidt, that she wanted to be judged as an artist, not as a woman. Still, she became accustomed to seeing reviews of her work in which critics complimented her for painting like a man. Louise died in 19 3 7 at the age of eighty-four and Elizabeth, who apparently could not imagine living without her, immediately became ill. She lingered on for a year and a half and died in October 1938. She was buried beside Louise in Saint Leger and the contents of her studio were returned to Cincinnati.


Elizabeth Nourse . A Mother and Child
Elizabeth Nourse was born with great natural ability and received excellent training at the School of Design, but more than this was needed for her to achieve international prominence at a time when few women artists were taken seriously. She brought to her work a spiritual dimension that enabled her to express deep personal convictions about beauty and about the importance of the daily life and work of ordinary women whom she portrayed with sympathy and respect. In spite of the fact that she was a Victorian lady, not the bohemian artist of legend, she proved to be independent and courageous. Her life attests to the fact that her dedication to a unique vision was an inspiration to the many women who supported her, and admired and purchased her work.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist (Part III)

by Mary Alice Heekin Burke

Elizabeth Nourse . Cleaning Clothes, 1900

"Paris provided an art community second to none and the Nourses [Elizabeth and her sister, Louise] also found that they could live with greater freedom as single women there. As foreigners they were not expected to conform to French customs, and they could also maintain a higher standard of living. By selling her paintings to Americans Nourse benefited from the exchange rate of five francs to the dollar, and the sisters reported in 1900 that they could live simply on $1,000 a year, and, if they had any more, they considered themselves rich.

Before their departure, however, the assistant director of the Cincinnati Museum, Joseph H. Gest, invited Nourse to exhibit her work. She showed 102 works that she had painted in Europe and sold eighteen of them and then had a somewhat smaller exhibition, sixty-one of the same works, in Washington, D.C. where another twenty-one were sold. The Nourses had a gay social life in the capitol that included tea at the White House with Mrs. Grover Cleveland, an invitation that was probably extended through their niece who had married the son of John Carlisle, Secretary of the Treasury.

They spent a week in New York and then returned to France after a brief stay in England. That summer Elizabeth worked in Brittany for the first time, at Saint Gildas de Rhuys. They had first visited the famous art colony of Pont Aven, but it was characteristic of Nourse that she preferred to work alone in an isolated village. It became their custom during many trips to Brittany to board in a local convent both because it was inexpensive and because it afforded them the opportunity to become a part of village life. They reported that they could vacation in this way and have three excellent meals a day at a cost of only five francs ($ 1.00) each for board and room. Nourse's Cincinnati friend, Maria Longworth Storer, founder of the Rookwood Pottery, came to visit them in Saint Gildas with her second husband, Bellamy Storer, then ambassador to Belgium. During their visit Mrs. Storer purchased a painting Nourse had just finished, a light-filled scene of one of the nuns teaching two of the orphan girls in her care how to sew.

Elizabeth Nourse . En Dimanche, Brittany, 1908

On their return to Paris in the fall of 1894 the Nourses found the studio where they were to live the rest of their lives, at 80 rue d'Assas facing the Luxembourg Gardens. This quartier contained numerous artists' studios and was a particular favorite of the American expatriates. Just around the corner, on the rue de Chevreuse, was the clubhouse of the American Women Artists Association of Paris. Elizabeth served as its president in 18 99-1900 and it was probably then that Mary Cassatt gave her a pastel inscribed: "To my friend Elizabeth Nourse." Nourse was also the founder and first president of a group named the Lodge Art League in Paris which held annual exhibitions of French and European exhibition groups for women only. The fact that these groups were considered necessary speaks for itself. The women artists found that their work was not given adequate exposure in the exhibitions as available to them so they organized independent shows.

In 1897 the Nourses spent three months in Tunis visiting the Wachman sisters who were teaching there and, in 1901, they were the guests of Helen and Mary Rawson, another pair of Cincinnati friends who became expatriates, at their villa in Menton. The three pairs of Cincinnati sisters remained fast friends over the years and frequently visited each other. During these years the Nourses also enjoyed their favorite country retreat near Paris, Saint Leger-en-Yvelines, a village in the forest of Rambouillet some forty five miles southwest of Paris. Over the years Saint Leger became a second home to them and they eventually chose to be buried in the cemetery adjacent to the village church
there.
Elizabeth Nourse . Head of an Algerian (Moorish Prince), 1898
at the New Britain Museum of American Art


They were always happiest in the countryside and living close to nature seemed to stimulate Elizabeth's creativity. They lived there in a simple cottage rented from the Lethias family and their friendship with this family continued throughout their lives to include their children and grandchildren. One son, Daniel, still remembers fondly and recalls with gratitude one example of the personal charity they practiced. When he was ten years old they brought him to Paris to have some much needed dental work done, paid for it out of their limited resources, and then took him sightseeing for ten days in the city.

From 1894 to 1903 Nourse concentrated on rural themes, becoming almost exclusively a painter of peasant women. She rarely emphasized their picturesque qualities despite the different countries and circumstances in which she found her subjects. Instead, her figure paintings show aspects of her subjects' lives common to all cultures—women tending their children, working, or resting after their chores were done.

Nourse's straightforward approach to her subjects is evident in Normandy Peasant Woman and Child. This painting, now in the Cincinnati Museum collection, was bought by a Cincinnati woman, Mrs. James W. Bullock, who also commissioned Nourse to paint a double portrait of herself and her daughter in 1906 in Paris. In the peasant painting Nourse made the child the focus of attention as she usually did and she contrasted the woman's rough, redden hands with the child's soft skin, something she liked to emphasize. Anna Schmidt reported that several dealers objected to subjects like this as ugly and urged the artist to paint something pretty that would sell more readily. Nourse simply replied: "How can I paint what does not appeal to me?"

Elizabeth Nourse . Normandy Woman and Her Child
Nourse frequently exhibited drawings, watercolors, and pastels in the Salon as well as oils and it was her works on paper that first brought her recognition there. In 1901 she was elected societaire in that category and in 1904 a societaire in oil painting as well. This meant that her work was no longer juried and that she herself could serve as a juror. As a result of this official approval her reputation spread and she received an increasing number of invitations to exhibit her work.

By 1904 Nourse began to paint fewer peasant subjects, but she continued to concentrate on female imagery. A fine example of her drawing technique can be seen in the pastel Mother Feeding Her Baby which was acquired by the Smith College Museum of Art in 1911. This work has never been located since it was sold at auction in New York in 1949 with a new signature on it, that of Mary Cassatt.

Through the years Nourse was preoccupied with capturing light and she experimented with the depiction of the light of every day and season, such as lamplight, firelight, and twilight. Closed Shutters, a work that features bright sunlight streaming through shutters into a dim interior where a woman stands before a mirror, is a remarkable rendering of both exterior and interior light. It became the most famous work of her career when it was purchased at the Queen City Heritage
1910 Salon by the French Ministry of Fine Arts for the state's contemporary collection. It is currently on view at the Palais de Tokio in Paris and will be shown in a new museum devoted to nineteenth century art, the Musee d'Orsay, when renovation on the Gare d'Orsay is completed.

Elizabeth Nourse . La Reverie
Nourse was encouraged to try an even bolder experiment with light for the next Salon in La Reverie. In it, the figure, posed for by Louise in front of their studio window, is almost dissolved by the light as in an Impressionist painting. Interior and exterior spaces merge and divide while at the center of the composition the woman is reflected in the glass behind her as she contemplates yet another illusion, goldfish swimming through the translucent water of a crystal bowl. Painted in vivid strokes of blue, green, and violet, this painting demonstrates the skill Nourse brought to the illustration of the complex reflecting elements of glass and water.

Nourse was at the peak of her career in these years just before World War I, but in July 1914, when the Germans invaded Belgium, it marked the end of the art world as she knew it. The Salon lost its importance as dealers in London, Paris, and New York attracted the public by showing a rapid succession of modern style."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elizabeth Nourse: Her Training (Part II)

from "Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist" by Mary Alice Heekin Burke in the Queen City Heritage magazine, Winter 1931

Elizabeth Nourse . Etude, 1891
Oil on canvas
"The life and work of Elizabeth Nourse was indeed fascinating. In 1859 she and her twin, Adelaide, were the last of ten children...The three youngest children, the twins and Louise, who was six years older than they, always knew that they must prepare to earn a living. Louise became a teacher, one of the few occupations open to educated women, and the twins studied at the School of Design at the University of Cincinnati which was open to all qualified residents tuition free. (It became part of the present Art Academy in 1887). Elizabeth undertook the full curriculum taking five years of drawing and painting and four years of training in sculpture.

Her painting teacher was Thomas S. Noble, the director of the school, who had studied under Thomas Couture in Paris for three years. One can see in Nourse's work the application of Couture's precepts that Noble passed on to his students—rapid sketching to capture the first fresh idea of a subject, firm drawing, and strong contrasts of light and shadow. She also studied wood carving, china painting, and engraving, and, after her graduation in 1881, returned to study for two years in the first life class offered to women only. During her school years a nude model was available solely for the male students.

Of the many women who supported Nourse, however, the two most important were her sister, Louise,
and her Cincinnati friend, Anna Seaton Schmidt. Louise was indispensable as her companion, housekeeper, secretary, and business manager and Anna served as her chief publicist. The latter was a successful writer and lecturer on art and wrote enthusiastic articles about Nourse for international art periodicals and for her newspapers in Cincinnati, Boston, and Washington, D.C. She frequently visited the Nourse sisters in Paris and joined them on painting trips to Picardy, Brittany, Italy, and Switzerland.

In 1880 both of Nourse's parents died, then Adelaide married, and the two sisters, Elizabeth and Louise, lived together and saved their money to finance further study for the artist in Paris. Elizabeth was offered a position as teacher of drawing at the School of Design when she graduated, but she refused because she was determined to be a professional artist. Her self-portrait demonstrates that she thought of herself primarily as a serious painter.

To reject the security of a teaching position was a courageous decision because she had to support herself and Louise so she earned money in a variety of ways—illustrating magazine articles, painting portraits and flower paintings, and executing murals for private homes.

Elizabeth Nourse . Mums in a Teapot, 1889



Nourse was unaware that her technique was sound enough that she would be able to compete successfully with other young artists in Paris. Her early Cincinnati works prove that she could already represent the weight and mass of a figure, place it realistically in space and light, and capture a convincing pose and facial expression. They also demonstrate the realism that seems to have been her natural form of expression from the beginning and the type of subject matter that appealed to her most - ordinary, hard-working women...

In August 1887 the Nourse sisters arrived in Paris where Elizabeth enrolled at the Academie Julian, one of three schools M. Julian organized where artists practiced drawing under the tutelage of Parisian masters. All three had separate studios for men and women because propriety forbade their sharing a class with a nude model and the women were charged exactly double what the men paid for half the instruction time. The justification for this was that the women were considered amateurs.

Elizabeth Nourse . "Woman with a Harp,"1887
Oil on canvas at the Cincinnati Art Museum
 After three months' study Nourse was advised that she needed no further instruction and she set to work preparing "La Mère" for the spring Salon.

Elizabeth Nourse . La Mère, 1888
Oil on canvas, 45 1/2 x 32 in.
at the Cincinnati Art Museum

This is a beautiful painting, but done in a more finished technique than any Nourse had painted previously, a style designed to appeal to the academic Salon jury. With small brushstrokes she carefully blended the tones and used rich, dark colors. The jury not only accepted it, but hung it "on the line," that is, at eye level, a special honor for an unknown artist.

Nourse was always able to express sincere emotion in such subjects and avoid sentimentality. Characteristically, she omitted any anecdotal details that would relate it to a specific mother and child and thereby infused it with a universal feeling, that of any mother's tenderness for her baby.


Elizabeth Nourse . Emerson, 8 Months
Black, white and red chalk, 10 1/8 x 13 1/8 in.

This was an auspicious beginning for the young artist in Paris, but the next important step was to sell her work. It is interesting to trace the history of "La Mère" to see how difficult this could be. It took seven years and exposure at five exhibitions to do so, presumably for $300. It was bought by Parker Mann, a local artist, at an exhibition in Washington, D.C. in 1894 and by 1914 hung in the Princeton
study of Woodrow Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, along with Mrs. Wilson's own paintings. Mann was the first of a number of artists who purchased Nourse's work evidence of the high regard she enjoyed among her fellow professionals.

The artist signed this work E. Nourse, as she did all her early paintings. She apparently felt it would be received more favorably by the Salon jury and the public if they did not know she was a woman. By 1891 she felt secure enough in her reputation to sign her full name on her Salon entries, and by 1904, this became her standard signature.

The Nourses made their headquarters in Paris for the next four years but they traveled widely. Elizabeth took her only trip without Louise in 1889 when she spent six weeks with a friend in the Russian Ukraine. In 1889 and 1890 the two sisters spent a year and a half in Italy and it was in Rome that Elizabeth received an invitation to join the New Salon.

This new group was organized by the modern French artists, such as Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes, in reaction to the conservative standards of the established artists who made up the jury of the Old Salon. Nourse promptly joined the rebels although she took the risk that the new group might fail to gain acceptance and she would lose the opportunity to become a Salon painter.

The Nourses spent six weeks in Assisi where Elizabeth worked on two of her rare religious paintings.
Assisi had special significance for them since both were members of the Third Order of St. Francis, a lay group that observes a modified version of the Franciscan rule. The primary requirement is that members perform acts of personal charity, a pledge that the two sisters took very seriously and incorporated into their daily lives.

The result was that they became deeply involved in the lives of Elizabeth's models, feeding their children, helping the sick and elderly in their homes, assisting them whenever they were needed. This affected the way the artist saw her models. Because she shared their lives, she was able to portray the urban and peasant poor with a depth of understanding that eluded artists who knew them only as picturesque subjects.

Elizabeth Nourse . Peasant Women of Borst, 1891
Oil on Canvas, 38 5/8 x 21 5/8" Cincinnati Art Museum

Peasant Women Of BorŠt
Peasant Women Of BorŠt

After this Italian sojourn the sisters spent six weeks in Borst, a mountain village in southern Austria so remote that they arrived there in an ox cart. One canvas painted there, "Peasant Women of Bont," was bought the following year by seventeen prominent Cincinnati women and donated to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Most of the donors were members of the WAMA that had previously given the new museum a collection of pottery because this specialty promised "to open an abundant field of work for women."

The sisters returned to Paris for the winter, but, in July 1892 they were off again to work in Holland for three months. They shared a cottage and studio in Volendamwith the Wachman sisters, expatriate friends from Cincinnati who lived in Paris, Tunis, and eventually settled in Rome. Henriette Wachman and Elizabeth had been classmates at the School of Design and the four sisters remained
good friends over the years.

In April 1893 the Nourses returned to Cincinnati because Adelaide was ill with consumption. She died on September 12 and this left Elizabeth and Louise as the only surviving members of their immediate family since all their brothers and sisters had died earlier. It was a tragic lossfor the artist who had been especially close to her twin and it affected what we know about her today. She had always written detailed letters to Adelaide and she never again wrote so intimately to anyone.

From this time on she decided to make Paris her home."


Next: France, Elizabeth's Home

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist (Part I)

written by Mary Alice Heekin Burke*

Elizabeth Nourse graduated from the School of Design of the University of Cincinnati in 1880, went to Paris in 1887 when she was twenty-eight years old, and lived there until her death in 1938. During her career she achieved all the honors to which an expatriate artist could aspire.

Elizabeth Nourse, Self-Portrait, 1892
She was the second American woman elected a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts (hereafter the New Salon) one of two important Salons at the time. (The Salons were annual exhibitions of contemporary art held each spring in Paris, the international center of art during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They derived their popular name, Salon, from having been held in the Salon Carree at the Louvre when they were originated in the seventeenth century by the French government. After 1881 they were organized by French artists, the first of these being the
Societe Nationale des Artistes Francais (hereafter the Old Salon). Nourse showed her work in the Old Salon for two years until the New Salon was formed. The concept of the  commercial gallery was very new then so exposure at the Salon provided thousands of artists from all over the world their best opportunity to be noticed by important people—art critics, dealers, collectors—and gave them the experience of being compared with the leading contemporary artists. The exhibition was juried by famous artists and their acceptance of an art work gave it the guarantee of quality that collectors
and museum curators required to make their purchases.
Elizabeth Nourse . Head of a Girl, 1882
Nourse also won many awards in the international expositions: Chicago, Nashville, Paris, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. She was consistently invited to enter the annual juried exhibitions that were a prominent feature of the American art scene, at the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts, the Carnegie Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery.

Elizabeth Nourse . Les Volets Clos
As a final accolade the French government bought her painting, Les Volets Clos for its permanent collection of contemporary art to hang in the Musee du Luxembourg with the work of such artists as Whistler, Winslow Homer, and Sargent.

Nourse's career parallels that of other expatriate artists of the pre-World War I period, but certain aspects of it are unique. With Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, she was one of the few women painters to achieve international recognition for her work and, like them, faced certain obstacles that male artists did not encounter. She first had to prove that she was a serious professional since most women painters eventually marry or become teachers and fail to produce a significant body of work.

To acquire professional status she had to be recognized by the all male juries of the Salons and
international exhibitions and to be favorably reviewed by the art critics, who also were mostly men. As a Victorian lady she could not easily advance her career by forming friendships in these groups, as a male artist could. The social interchange of the cafe, so much a part of the artistic life of Paris in her day, was denied her.

Elizabeth Nourse . The Little Sister, 1902
To compensate for these disadvantages, she always had the total support of her family and of a large network of women friends who admired her work, publicized it, and bought it. Unlike Cassatt, Nourse did not have an independent income nor did she teach, as Beaux did. Yet from 1883 until her death, a period of fifty-five years, she earned her living as a professional artist and supported her older sister, Louise, as well. She was also unusual among both men and women expatriates in being almost entirely American trained. Except for a few months' study in New York and later in Paris at the Academie Julian, her style was formed at the School of Design in Cincinnati.

Another problem women artists share is that their work has never commanded the market as has that of male artists since it is thought that they are not serious professionals. This means that their paintings tend to be found one to a collector making them difficult to evaluate, and that they have rarely been the subject of one-person exhibitions and catalogs that would bring their work to public notice.

Next: Elizabeth's Training

* in the Queen City Heritage magazine, Winter 1931 edition

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dear Lizzie: The Life of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, Part IV

The Duvenecks had exciting plans to spend the winter of 1888 in Paris. They were able to rent the very same apartment in which they had been married. Frank planned to meet up with some of his "Boys," Louis Ritter, Theodore Wendel and Julius Rolshoven (who was also FBD’s godfather) and paint the model in an academy, and both Frank and Lizzie would create and enter works for that year's Paris Salon.

Francis also joined up with them there after a summer in Boston. Lizzie hired a British girl to act as Frank Jr.’s nanny and they got to work.

Portrait of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck by Frank Duveneck
Cincinnati Art Museum
Lizzie completed a large watercolor of Villa Castellani for her Salon entry and posed for Frank's full-length portrait of herself in her brown wedding dress. When it was finished in mid-March, she wrote: “Frank has painted a picture of me full length with which Papa is delighted and also all those who have seen it.” Then, only a few days after the letter was penned, tragedy overwhelmed the little family completely altering the course of their lives.

March days that year were full of snow; winter had rarely seemed so severe. On the Sunday the Salon jury voted in both her watercolor and Frank’s painting of her, Lizzie came down with a chill. Soon it was pneumonia and four days later, she died - on the anniversary of her wedding day, in the very room where she had been married two years before.

In a time-honored practice at the moment of death, Louis Ritter sat by Lizzie’s bedside and and carefully and sensitively drew her portrait. This precious drawing is now in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum. When we saw it in person recently, it was like being taken back to that room at that time.

Post-Mortem Portrait of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck by Louis Ritter
Cincinnati Art Museum
Her sickness and death all happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that the shock to her father and  husband was devastating. Duveneck disappeared from the house and was gone all day and half the night. Theodore Wendel, his pupil and friend, went out about midnight to search for him and found him in a little cafe which the artists often frequented, sitting at a table in the corner completely dazed and speechless.

The next day Lizzie’s body was taken to a temporary resting place and, as she had requested, would be taken back to Florence in May to rest in that "beautiful country of flowers she so dearly loved" at the Allori Cemetery.

Allori Cemetery, Florence, Italy
Her father’s worst fears had been realized. Just as his wife had died only two or three years after her marriage to him, so Lizzie had died two years after her marriage to Frank. Just as Lizzie was 18 months old when he had been widowed, so her child, Frank Jr., was just fifteen months old, and his son-in-law was left to raise his child alone. One link to his daughter was his son-in-law, but even moreso his grandson. It was unthinkable that he should be separated from him. And yet how could an old man and an inexperienced father properly care for this little boy?

At that point a cable arrived from Lizzie’s uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lyman in Boston, inviting them to bring Frankie to become a member of their family. So they sadly packed up Villa Castellani and returned to America.

Frank and His Son in Happier Times

The Lymans liked Duveneck and thought it unselfish of him to part with the baby. Though his decision caused him great sadness, he believed it was the right thing to do for his child.” He visited him every Christmas and spring vacation, and journeyed to Boston to see the boy in the summers, which he spent in and around the area, with visits extending over several weeks or even months. Later they travelled together in Europe. But Frankie never saw his father’s home in Covington nor his grandmother or other Kentucky relatives until he was a young man and his grandfather had died. He only really knew his mother’s side of the family...espcially since every time Frank would visit he would speak fondly of Lizzie. He shared the stories of their life together and recounted them over and over again with pride, satisfaction and humor.

The Duveneck House in Covington, Kentucky
After Frank had left his son in the Lymans care, he returned to his family home on Greenup Street in Covington, Kentucky. He now painted in a studio transformed from his mother’s washhouse in the rear of their home - and searched for a fitting way to pay his tribute to his dear Lizzie. Little did he realize that through this tribute, she would remain his constant companion until his own death in 1919.





Frank’s idea took the form of a bronze effigy of Lizzie to place on her tomb in Florence. This was a remarkable choice since he was not a sculptor - but then Frank Duveneck was a remarkable artist. He sought out advice from prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and also had the help of his Cincinnati sculptor friend Clement Barnhorn. The clay model was completed around 1889 and from that a plaster model was made - the very one that is displayed to this day at the Cincinnati Art Museum. From that the bronze was cast and set up early in 1891 on her grave.

Bronze Effigy at the Allori Cemetery, Florence
Francis Boott was so pleased with the memorial that in 1893 he commissioned a marble version, which was carved in Italy with Duveneck responsible for the finishing. Nine-year-old Frankie went with his grandfather to the museum in Boston to see the enormous heavy crate unpacked and set up on its pedestal.

Lizzie's Marble Effigy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
After it was installed, Mr. Boott and Frankie made a pilgrimage every Sunday thereafter to look on the serene and quiet face. The old man would tell the child stories of his mother. She became a living presence to him. Throughout the next decade a number of plaster copies were made for other museums. In 1917 at sculptor Daniel Chester French’s request, the Cincinnati Museum Association approved the casting of a bronze to be made for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

Lizzie's Bronze and Gilt Effigy at the Met
By the time it was done and gilded as well it was 1927, eight years after Frank’s death. And it, the marble at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the original plaster at the Cincinnati Art Museum are still on display.

Was it not the perfect tribute to Lizzie?

She who loved art
was made into a work of art,
her loving face recalled in clay, plaster, bronze and marble by a man who had loved her deeply
a face upon which her beloved little boy gazed fondly as the years passed -
a face that her beloved father would remember her by -

Their own dear Lizzie...


(This series of blogs are the script for my talk, "Dear Lizzie" at the Greenacres Foundation, Oct. 19, 2013.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dear Lizzie: The Life of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, Part III


Elizabeth Boott, 1880 by Frank Duveneck
from Frank to Lizzie, a Christmas present, 1880
It was not long before Lizzie and Frank’s relationship as student and teacher changed, and they became romantically involved. He painted a very lovely portrait of her, and that Christmas gave her a gift of his art, and finally asked her to marry him. She agreed. Frank's "Boys" were very happy for him, but that was not the case with Lizzie's family and friends.

Portrait of Francis Boott, 1881
Oil on canvas, 47 9/16 x 31 3/4"
Cincinnati Art Museum
Their decision to get engaged met formidable - almost insurmountable - opposition from Lizzie’s father, the well-to-do relatives in Boston and from friends. Although they all admired Duveneck’s talent, one can easily imagine the reasons for their opposition.
  • They believed Duveneck to be “illiterate” and unworthy of the well-bred, well-educated, cultured and monied Lizzie.
  • He was a penniless German-American Catholic
  • two years younger than Lizzie
  • whose mother and father ran a beer garden
  • in fact making the beer themselves in the basement of their own home
  • in the uncivilized state of Kentucky.

And it wasn’t simply the difference in their social circles. Duveneck’s lack of money made Boott fear that what the painter really wanted was his daughter’s money, plus he did not want to see anybody come between himself and Lizzie.

The Boott’s closest friends predicted disaster for the marriage. One of them wrote “For him it is all gain, for her it is very brave.”

Oh, the internal conflict that Lizzie must have had! It was a devastating choice between the man who loved her or her own father who had devoted his life to her...and to whom she had also devoted her life thus far.


A letter had been passed down to Lizzie over the years originally an injunction from her mother to her little son before his death. Lizzie inherited these instructions after his loss: “Watch over him, your father, in old age, cherish, love him, desert him not...Devote yourself to him, please him in little as well as important things.” She took this charge very seriously. She could not bring herself to desert her father who had loved her so well. The engagement was broken off...and her heart was also broken.

Lizzie Boott had to leave Florence. She took off for Spain with three women friends from the Hunt class. They copied Velázquez and toured the country both painting and enjoying the art of Spanish masters.

Girl in a Gray Shawl, 1883, by Elizabeth Boott

Upon her return Francis and she sailed to Boston where Lizzie buried herself in her work. She and Annie Dixwell who had gone to Spain with her prepared and held an exhibition. Lizzie had thirty-one oils and thirteen watercolors of Spain and Italy in the show.

Interestingly Frank also found himself in Boston painting portraits commissioned by friends of the Bootts, and Frank had not given up on Lizzie. He was not going to let her go easily. They managed to meet up and continued to see each other secretly.

It was a very stressful situation. And Lizzie continued to keep herself very busy with her art.

Jerry, 1883, by Elizabeth Boott
She traveled south to Georgia painting a trio of portraits of people who had been slaves before the Civil War: Mum Hannah, a mother with a corncob pipe; Neptune, the dignified father and their son, Jerry.

In 1883 alone she was included in exhibitions at the American Water Color Society, Boston Art Club, National Academy of Design, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Philadelphia Society of Artists. In 1884 she had a one-person show at Boston’s Doll and Richards Gallery. A portrait of a child, Little Lady Blanche, received high praise.

Seeing these successes the Bootts resolved to live in Paris, the art center where soon she and Annie Dixwell were enrolled in the new women’s classes at the Academy Julian - and, of course, she and Frank continued to meet up.

Academie Julian, Women's Class
Finally Frank broke through her ambivalence. When he went to see her off on an ocean liner sailing from Boston, he asked her to take him down to her cabin. When they arrived, he closed the door. In her hand she held a pair of gloves. Gently he removed them and slipped them in his pocket. Then taking her small hands into his big ones, said, “Now we have to decide this once for all. I’m not going to ask you again. This ends it. In spite of your father, will you and will you not be my wife?”

This time she dared not refuse but made one provision; that the marriage would not mean permanent separation from her father - now 73 years old - whom she could not abandon in his old age, and that it should be understood that their home was also his home and their family his family.

“This has been a long affair,” she wrote to an old friend in Boston, “lasting for years. The thing was given up entirely at one time, but on meeting again we find the old feeling is not dead, and we are going to make up life together as we did not like it very well apart...Send me your blessing, dear friend, and say you think I am right. I crave human interests in life. The abstract ones of art are not enough for me.”

Frank and Lizzie's Wedding Photo
On Thursday morning the 25th of March, 1886, a month before her 40th birthday, Lizzie and Frank were married by a Justice of the Peace in the Boott’s apartment in Paris. The day before, Francis Boott presented Duveneck with a legal paper to sign, relinquishing any claim to Lizzie’s estate should she predecease him. He also had his lawyers transfer her estate to him as trustee, a not uncommon practice for a Victorian father determined to protect the assets of a rich daughter. In the fashion of the day, the bride wore dark brown. And the groom borrowed a hundred dollars from one of his friends, a former Duveneck Boy, to cover the expense of the ceremony, and since Duveneck did not know French, Lizzie had to prod him to say “oui.”

Lizzie, Francis, Frank and Ann Shenstone
 After a month-long wedding trip, the newlyweds rejoined Francis Boott at the Villa Castellani, and the two painters set to work in space converted to a studio. They were very happy.  She wrote about a lovely walk they had taken...”We took our lunch to the top of one of the high mountains and spent two or three hours eating, sleeping and enjoying the magnificent view and reading...It seems such a natural thing for people who love each other to belong together, and it makes life so much more interesting to share all one’s thoughts and feelings with someone else.” Autumn continued golden in the Florentine hills, and Lizzie, who was expecting a baby in December, felt extraordinarily well.

Frank Jr. (F.B.D.)
As winter approached little Francis Boott Duveneck was born. Lizzie contently wrote:“I have just been in to see F.B.D. sound asleep...Dear baby, he lies with his long lashes drooping on pink cheeks. It is difficult to hold him now. He dances so in one’s arms and is full of life and spirits. I laugh to think I should have a child like him. I was always so mousey...” When little Frank was five months old, Francis Boott rescinded the prenuptial financial arrangement and having come to see his son-in-law for the good fellow that he was, restored Lizzie’s estate for her “sole and separate use and enjoyment.” And the little family prospered...although things were about to change drastically...

Next Installment: Tragedy Strikes

(This series of blogs are the script for my talk, "Dear Lizzie" at the Greenacres Foundation, Oct. 19, 2013.)




Monday, October 21, 2013

Dear Lizzie: The Life of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, Part II


William Morris Hunt
from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Happily at that time Boston was one of the cultural centers of America. One of the movers and shakers in that respect was charismatic artist William Morris Hunt. After returning from his own training in Europe he had been asked by a group of ladies, who had pursued the study of art in Europe themselves, to start a class for them. But he exclaimed, “If I teach at all I shall teach forty!” And Lizzie was one of those fortunate forty students.

Not only did she have the rare chance to study under a man who had learned at the art school in Dusseldorf, under Thomas Couture and Jean Francois Millet, but there was something else that was delightfully different for her. She got to study art in a group setting. Up till now her education had been private. She made many friends in Mr. Hunt’s class, ones that she would keep up with for the rest of her life. Indeed there is much correspondence from Lizzie to this group that gives us a great deal of insight into her life and that of the art world then.

In 1875 there was an event that was the beginning of a big change in Lizzie’s life, a particular art exhibit in Boston. Lizzie’s teacher William Morris Hunt was also a champion of artists of promise. He promoted them and bought their work and exerted himself in every way to help them. After seeing some of 27-year-old Frank Duveneck’s work, Mr. Hunt had sought him out and invited him to exhibit in June 1875 at the Boston Art Club. Frank had sent five paintings for the show:

Portrait of William Adams
the “Portrait of Professor Loefftz, ” the famous “Whistling Boy,” “The Old Schoolmaster,”  “ The Woman with a Fan” and the “Portrait of William Adams.” The pictures were acclaimed by Hunt and by the press, and a good friend urged Lizzie and her father to go and see the work of this “man of unsuspected genius.” They were so impressed that they purchased one of his paintings, the portrait of William Adams. From that time on, Lizzie could not forget Frank’s style of painting. His bold, fluid work was so different from her careful, painstaking approach thus far. And she made up her mind that she had to study with him.

Frank Duveneck painting The Turkish Page, 1877

In 1878 when she and fellow Hunt student had spent the summer studying near Paris with Hunt’s teacher Thomas Couture, they made a pilgrimage to Frank’s studio in Venice. In a letter she wrote to her American friends, “We found him and were pleased...He is a remarkable looking young man, and a gentleman, which I did not expect. He has a fine head and a keen eye and the perceptions strongly developed.”

Almost a year later she and her father went to Munich with the hope of lessons for Lizzie with Frank Duveneck. They rented an apartment there along with a studio for her. Then with trepidation, Lizzie showed Frank Duveneck her work. She did not know whether he would accept her as a student, but was able to write soon thereafter,“Try we did and he accepted at once and is to come tomorrow to my studio. Joy! Do you not all envy me?”
Frank Duveneck, Head of a Girl
He began his lessons with her by sketching a head in paint as she watched - completely fascinated. After the initial work was done in black he used very oily paint modelling it like clay. It was a very different approach than she had learned thus far.

In fact she enjoyed both Frank and his teaching so much that Lizzie came up with an idea to bring her teacher to her own home turf in Florence. When she first suggested that he move there, he answered, “That would be very delightful, but what should I do with my boys?” There were about thirty Americans who studied under him, the Duveneck Boys. “Why not bring them along too?” she suggested. “Well, that might be done. That might be done,” he replied. His boys excitedly agreed and Frank told Lizzie that he would also like a class of ladies as well - a revoluntionary idea for that time. She excitedly contacted her friends from Hunt’s class to come out, and they did.

Lizzie and several others also also made up a special club, the Charcoal Club for evening get-togethers. Duveneck, John White Alexander, Louis Ritter and others sketched and sang and had a good time. With Lizzie at the piano, Ritter played the violin. Duveneck was everybody’s favorite, as much at ease with women as with men. His escapades and humor were legendary with the group. It was not long before Lizzie and Frank’s relationship as student and teacher changed, and they became romantically involved.
Lizzie Boott and Frank Duveneck
Next Installment: Troubled Waters 

(This series of blogs are the script for my talk, "Dear Lizzie" at the Greenacres Foundation, Oct. 19, 2013.)