|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
|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|
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 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."