By Kathleen Stone
Overall, “Remember the Ladies” is a love letter to an era and a joyful vision of painting.
Remember the Ladies: Women Painters in Ogunquit, 1900-1950, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, until July 16.
In the spirit of celebrating little-known careers, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art has mounted a small exhibition of works by female artists dating from the first half of the 20th century. Entitled “Remember the Ladies,” a phrase borrowed from Abigail Adams’ letter to her husband John, written in 1776 on his way to the Second Continental Congress, the exhibition places artists on a continuum of American history. which begins with the era of the War of Independence and continues to the present day. As the exhibition catalog points out, art made by women is only a tiny fraction of what contemporary museums show and collect. It has always been an unwavering prejudice, even though by the end of the 19th century and for several decades thereafter, change was in the air. Women reached new levels of education and professional employment and enthusiastically turned to art. This show highlights a small group of artists who spent summers in Ogunquit, studying with Charles Woodbury, founder of the city’s first arts colony. Because they made art their life’s work, these women were exceptional for their time.
Seascapes were Woodbury’s favorite subject. He used bright colors and vigorous brushstrokes in his work and conveyed this enthusiasm to his students. We see vivid colors throughout the exhibition. Take, for example, the book by Anne Carleton The ins and outs (circa 1930). Sportswear for beach goers in bright orange, navy blue, lime green and yellow. At Susan Ricker Knox’s Midi high (1936), even the rocks are streaked with indigo and orange.
Woodbury also told his students to “paint with verbs, not nouns,” a maxim they put into practice with broad impasto brushstrokes. Not only do the rocks and water seem alive, but people, even when they are lounging, have an energy about them. The same goes for Adele Watson’s black and white lithographs. These works lack color, but that doesn’t mean they’re sober; the rocks at the edge of the water rise and struggle. Boats at rest, in the painting by Nellie A. Knopf Untitled (New England Boats) vs. 1915, appear lively, as does the rocky landscape that surrounds them.
The artists’ outdoor stages, filled with vibrant, sunny colors and swift, vibrant brushstrokes, focus on prints rather than detailed renderings. A slice of American Impressionism, in other words. These artists continued the technique long after the movement died out in France. From what we see here, they don’t appear to have experimented with post-impressionism, cubism, or other innovative approaches that arrived at the turn of the 20th century, although such developments were well known in the arts community. visuals, especially after the Armory of 1913. Show.
It is instructive to compare these artists with some of their contemporaries. Near the room where the paintings in this exhibition are hung, you can see works by Marguerite Zorach, John Marin and Marsden Hartley, for example. These artists also took the coast of Maine as their subject, but preferred a flattened image plane, darker colors, and darker atmospheres.
While the women on this show were never as well-known as Zorach, Marin, or Hartley, they stood out, to say the least, because they were female artists. In 1930, according to that year’s census, only 21,000 women across the country were artists. Four hundred times more women worked as domestic servants. As was the case with female artists, many made a living teaching: Mabel May Woodward taught at Rhode Island School of Design, Nellie Knopf at MacMurray College, Agnes Anne Abbott at Wellesley College, Anne Carlton and Elizabeth Jewell in Massachusetts public schools. Gertrude Fiske was the first woman appointed to the Massachusetts State Art Commission.
Because “Remember the Ladies” celebrates women artists, it invites comparison with “Women Take the Floor,” the long-standing exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. (Artistic fuse review) Unlike the MFA exhibit, this one is small and focused, focusing on women who have been students at a particular art school over a period of several decades. This provides a tighter definition than the organizing principle (the genre) behind the Boston which admittedly has more famous names.
A printed booklet accompanies this exhibition. While it makes the expected statements about discrimination and the need for social justice, the text on the walls gives a generally gentle take on the situation in which these artists flourished. He tells us that in 1870 Massachusetts provided free drawing lessons for every resident and required art to be taught in public schools. It also includes the optimistic testimony of a male artist about the proliferation of female artists at the time. Overall, “Remember the Ladies” is a love letter to an era and a joyful vision of painting. People relax on the shore. The sun is almost always shining. Even as the clouds approach, as they sometimes do in some of these paintings, they aren’t really threatening. And women are making their way as artists.
Pierre Kathleen is a Boston-based writer. She is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars and the Boston University School of Law. They called us girls, her collective biography of women with unconventional ambitions in the mid-20th century, will be published by Cynren Press in March 2022. You can read more and sign up for a monthly newsletter about Intriguing Women in History on her website, www.kathleencstone .com.