OUT OF THE BACKGROUND: CECILIA BEAUX AND THE ART OF PORTRAITURE
By Tara Leigh Tappert
Part II: Direction
There was no reason to suppose that my trend was to be serious or lasting.... But the unbroken morning hours, the companionship, and, of course above all, the model, static, silent, separated, so that the lighting and values could be seen and compared in their beautiful sequence and order, all this was the farther side of a very sharp corner I had turned, into a new world which was to be continuously mine.
Chapter 4: Art Training, 1876 - 1883
Cecilia Beaux continued her art training at the school of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts when it reopened in 1876. The Academy had suspended its classes in 1871, the year Cecilia took her first art lessons with Catharine Ann Drinker. In 1870 the Board decided that the Academy had outgrown its building on Tenth and Chestnut Streets and that it needed more adequate facilities for the study of art. They closed the art school while the new Furness & Hewitt designed building was under construction at Broad and Cherry streets.
During the late 1860s, the Pennsylvania Academy, as well as a number of other American art schools, had begun to pattern its curriculum after the French atelier system. Following the French example, American art schools began to emphasize the study of the nude. Courses in painting, modeling, sketching, and composition were offered, and students began to compete for prizes. The Academy's Board of Directors acknowledged the French influence in 1868 and unanimously elected Christian Schussele chairman of drawing and painting. Schussele was one of the first painters to bring this kind of art education to America, and it was under his influence that the Academy Board began to approve a number of changes.
Under Schussele's direction the curriculum was expanded, art education was professionalized, women students were seriously considered for the first time, and, when the school reopened in 1876, a new curriculum was put in place. Schussele taught the drawing and painting classes; he hired Thomas Eakins as instructor for the evening life class and retained Dr. Keen as the professor of anatomy; and in 1878 Catharine Drinker came on staff as a lecturer on perspective. Plans were also approved to engage a professor of sculpture, if the need arose.
During the late 1870s and early 1880s, the Academy also offered a sketch class; a costume class; a portrait class, which initially provided little professional criticism or instruction; and lectures on perspective and composition; students could choose to study with either Christian Schussele or the more progressive Thomas Eakins. Schussele offered a traditional academic program, with classes in "still life drapery," antique modeling (for both men and women), and life modeling (for men only). Eakins, on the other hand, provided a narrowly defined and intellectually based course of study. His ideas of a "pure art education" were based primarily on the study of the "nude human figure" through dissection of corpses and through the life and modeling classes, where painting, as opposed to drawing, was emphasized and photography was used as a teaching aid.
During the years when both Christian Schussele and Thomas Eakins were offering programs of study, Cecilia Beaux began attending the Academy, even though her Uncle Will strongly disapproved. Biddle feared his niece's exposure to "a rabble of untidy and indiscriminate art students and no one knew what influence." He "revolted against the life-class and everything pertaining to it," and his "chivalrous and also Quaker soul" judged the Academy experience to be "a more than doubtful venture." Biddle objected to the Academy, and he influenced Cecilia's level of participation. She never studied with Eakins, and she only took certain classes -- the antique class, the portrait class, the costume class, and in 1878 an untutored sketch class.
Nevertheless, during the late 1870s and early 1880s, many students did come to the Academy to train with Thomas Eakins, including a number of dedicated women, several of whom were close friends of Cecilia Beaux. Alice Barber, Catharine Drinker, Susan and Elizabeth Macdowell, Florence Este, and Margaret Lesley were just a few of the "tenacious" women who were willing to subject themselves to the rigorous demands of Eakins's teaching. He made no allowances for the "frailties" of women and insisted that they participate in all areas of study. Eakins made it clear that he was teaching artists, not "china painters."
The degree of work in anatomy under Eakins, in the late 1870s and early 1880s, was unique in American art academies. Under his supervision the dissecting class expanded to include most of the life-class students, including the women. Horses, dogs, cats, and a lion, as well as humans, were studied in the dissecting class. Plaster casts were made from dissected cadavers and hung in the life-class studio. Eakins felt that in order "to draw the human figure it [was] necessary to know as much as possible about it, about its structure and its movements, its bones and muscles, and how they [were] made, and how they [acted]."
In 1879, William Brownell interviewed Thomas Eakins concerning the Academy's focus on anatomy and dissection for an article for Scribner's Monthly. Eakins noted that It is dirty enough work at the best, as you can see.... We had one student who abstained a year ago, but this year, finding his fellows were getting along faster than himself, he changed his mind and is now dissecting diligently.... [The students] are, I assure you, as enthusiastic over their 'hideous' work as any decorator of china at South Kensington could be over hers. Brownell's reaction to the dissecting class as "utterly-utterly inartistic!" accurately reflected the feelings of many others, including Cecilia Beaux and her Uncle Will.
Eakins's daring program of study, which combined extensive work in dissection with the life-class experience of drawing and painting from both male and female nude models, met with considerable public opposition. Furthermore, Eakins challenged conventional Victorian values toward women, because it was thought that he viewed and treated the female students in his classes on an equal basis with the male students. Concern for the delicacy of the female students during Eakins's tenure at the Academy was expressed by the author of the following irate letter, conveying a sentiment with which Cecilia's Uncle Will would surely have agreed. Does it pay, for a young lady of a refined, godly household to be urged as the only way of obtaining a knowledge of true art, to enter a class where every feeling of maidenly delicacy is violated, where she becomes so hardened to indelicate sights & words, so familiar with the persons of degraded women & the sight of nude males, that no possible art can restore her lost treasure of chaste & delicate thoughts. There is no use in saying that she must look upon the study as she would that of a wooden figure. That is an utter impossibility. Living, moving flesh & blood is not, & cannot be studied thus. The stifling heat of the room adds to the excitement & what might be a cool impassioned study in a room at 35°, at 85° or even higher is dreadful.
While Cecilia studied at the Academy on a somewhat regular basis in 1877, she refused to study with Eakins and in fact had very strong feelings about him. Cecilia feared "succumbing to [the] obsession of his personality," admitting that "a curious instinct of self-preservation kept [her] outside the magic circle." Her concern was that if she studied with him, she would just be a "poor imitation" of what was in some ways "deeply alien to [her] nature."
Still, Cecilia tried the life class for ladies, attending one session on January 30, 1877, but it must have been a disturbing experience for her, because two days later, on February 1, she was in the antique class. Her drawing from the Academy's cast of the castrated Torso Belvedere [Illus. 25], completed less than two months later, reveals not only her ability to handle the subtleties of the human form, but also suggests her desire for a more cool, detached, and less impassioned way of learning human anatomy. It was not just her Uncle Will who thought that she should avoid Eakins's life and dissecting classes, but also Cecilia herself. Besides, Eakins tended to dominate his students too much, giving them little opportunity to develop their own individual direction and talent. Eakins's teaching was not for everyone, and Beaux recognized that it was not for her.
Nevertheless, she did watch "him from behind staircases and corners, at the Academy," and acknowledged that his teaching influenced her "even when getting only at third hand his general reasoning." Her friendships with such Academy students as Catharine Drinker, Margaret Lesley, and Henry Thuron gave her ample opportunity to learn many of the tenets of Eakins's teaching. While she was not interested in totally aligning herself with Eakins's naturalistic philosophy of art, she was open to those aspects of his teaching that were similar to her own developing ideas and style.
Beaux incorporated some of Eakins's principles concerning anatomy and structure, and color and light, and noted that, unlike herself, Eakins was not influenced by the craze for orientalia. She also recognized that her reasons for drawing bones and producing fossil lithographs were similar to Eakins's interest in anatomy and dissection. "Eakins found," she noted, "so much in bony structure, articulations and balanced weight that could be expressed by Art, and Art only." She accepted his principles of structure, because they were similar to hers. "From his pupils," she wrote, "I heard of 'points of support,' 'weight,' and 'balance.' The integral harmony of parts whether in action or static I believed in."
Charles Bregler, a devoted student of Eakins, recorded his teacher's criticisms, and some of the comments that he noted provide an insight into Beaux's understanding of Eakins's principles of structure and light. Eakins's quote illustrates what Beaux described as "points of support": "Get the foot well planted on the floor. If you ever see any photographs of Gérôme's work, notice that he gets the foot flat on the floor better than any of them." Another Eakins reference suggests Beaux's interpretation of his concepts of "weight" and "light." Think of the weight. Get the portrait of the light, the kind of day it is, if it is cold or warm, gray or sunny day, and what time of the day it is. Think of these separately, and combine them in your work. These qualities make a strong painter.
Beaux noted that Eakins painted "nearly colorless and dusky painting[s]," and was not an artist whose colors were "served up straight from the tube." During the years that Beaux was at the Academy, Eakins's own work ranged from historical paintings such as William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River (1877), to genre scenes like Courtship (circa 1878), and portraits such as Mrs. John H. Brinton (1878). Many of Beaux's paintings from the 1880s seem to incorporate some of Eakins's particular approach to realism. Most notably, she, too, used a dark and dusky palette.
Nevertheless, Beaux's reluctance to align herself with the new teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy in the 1870s and early 1880s, complicated by her uncle's refusal to permit her to study there on a full-time basis, kept her at arm's length from some of the most innovative developments in American art education in the late nineteenth century. Her distance kept her earliest art instruction within the mainstream of traditional American academic training, which primarily focused on drawing, first "from the flat" and then from antique and life models. Her work hardly moved beyond a proficiency in drawing until she began studying with William Sartain.
In 1881 a friend of Cecilia's from her days at the Lymans' School took a studio, organized a small private art class, and asked her to join. Unlike the Pennsylvania Academy School, her Uncle Will "entirely approved" of this more sheltered opportunity and generously paid her share in the class. Three mornings a week, the group worked from a model, and "once every fortnight" for more than two years, the Philadelphia born artist William Sartain came from New York to critique the students' work.
William Sartain was born on November 21, 1843, the third son of John Sartain, a prestigious Philadelphia engraver. William began his art career by studying drawing and engraving, and even though he was well on his way to a successful career as "an etcher of portraits and mezzotints," he "defiantly turned to painting at the age of twenty-four and worked for a year under Christian Schussele at the Pennsylvania Academy." William's devotion to painting was an "attempt to realize a long cherished ambition," and in 1869 he went to Europe to study art. For the next eight years Sartain lived abroad, training in Paris, sketching in England, Holland, Germany, and Belgium, and working for several winters in Rome and Seville. He also spent the winter of 1874 painting in Algiers.
Sartain began his Parisian art school experiences in the early 1870s, working first in the studio of Adolphe Yvon, who had been Christian Schussele's master. He soon left Yvon's for "afternoon work" in Brandon's studio; it was a complement to the training he sought with Leon Bonnat. For two years Sartain attended Bonnat's night school but when an afternoon class was organized he shifted to it and became "a pupil of the Evening School of the Beaux Arts." In addition to his studies, Sartain fraternized in Europe with former Pennsylvania Academy students Thomas Eakins, Henry Moore, and Charles Sprague Pearce, and with Parisian atelier students George Denisgrais, Germain Bonheur (the younger brother of the more famous Rosa Bonheur), P. A. J. Dagnan-Bouveret, and his inseparable companion Gustave Courtois. Later, when Beaux went to Paris to complete her own art training, it was with the last two mentioned artists that she sought guidance and criticism.
While Sartain's experiences in Paris were critical to his artistic development, the winter he spent in Algeria significantly influenced the kind of art work he produced for the rest of his life. Swayed by the popular craze for "orientalia," Sartain "collected a valuable notebook of materials" in Algiers and then used that notebook all his life to develop landscapes and figure compositions. Accompanied by his friend Charles Sprague Pearce, "who was in delicate health [and] wished to go along...to be in a less severe climate," the two were soon joined by the Bonnat student George Denisgrais, who spoke Arabic and took his companions to the cafés in the Casbah for their after-dinner coffee. Sartain noted that he never saw "an American or foreigner...but ourselves."
That winter William spent his evenings studying Arabic and his days painting in the Arab quarters of town. One sketching excursion took him to a beautiful "old arab cemetery at Bouzareah." It was seven miles off -- and we walked there with our sketching apparatus. I selected the tomb of a saint for my subject and in a very short time had my study completed. I never touched it again after that moment. It was sufficiently completed when we tramped back to Algiers. On his return to the States a few years later, his Tomb of the Saints of Bouzareah was exhibited and sold to a Boston collector for $500.
Sartain returned to America in 1877, settling in New York and earning his living by offering private art lessons. He also continued to paint, exhibit, and sell his own creations, finding a place for himself in the New York art world when his painting A Quiet Moment secured his election in 1880 as an associate in the National Academy of Design. The previous year Sartain had sent Nubian Shiek to the annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy, where it "was much admired and caused alot of students to ask [him] to take a private class there." Sartain agreed and "for some years went to it."
Cecilia Beaux was one of the students to join this private art class and became one of Sartain's "Billy girls," a nickname his students were given to distinguish them from those at the Academy. In the early 1880s Sartain noted that Philadelphia art students "were practically now all under either myself or Thomas Eakins." Sartain's instruction included a mix of personal and artistic experiences, and for Cecilia, just as Catharine Drinker had exposed her to the world of the Orient, Sartain opened the Parisian art world and the exotic Near East to her. When he first "appeared in the class as our teacher and critic," Beaux stated, "he was undoubtedly the first artist most of us had ever seen."
Yet when Beaux began to study with Sartain she "had never seen his work," and when she had, it was of little interest to her. Beaux thought Sartain "had been in Munich with Duveneck," and she described his work as "a few quiet landscapes...some strong heads, and small shadowy Oriental interiors" in an oeuvre that was "never very profuse." But Sartain had never studied in Munich, and Beaux's description of his work gives little sense of his artistic style. The landscapes he produced, such as Green Meadow and New Jersey Landscape, suggest his awareness of the French Barbizon tradition, while such realistic "Oriental interiors" as Algerian Water Carrier and Street in Algiers display the fascination with the culture of North Africa and the Near East that was then in vogue.
It may have been precisely Beaux's lack of interest in Sartain's particular style and type of work that made it possible for her to welcome his guidance. She acknowledged her debt to him when she stated, "I don't suppose he came twenty times altogether, but his instruction was enormously valuable to me." Beaux credited Sartain with teaching her how to paint with oils, and helping her to notice the various aspects of a model -- a tremendous contribution to a beginning portraitist. "What I most remember was the revelation his vision gave me of the model," she wrote. What he saw was there, but I had not observed it. His voice warmed with the perception of tones of color in the modeling of cheek and jaw in the subject, and he always insisted upon the proportions of the head, in view of its power content, the summing up, as it were, of the measure of the individual.
Sartain's penetrating but more casual approach to art instruction filled Beaux "full of strength," permitting her to bend "the material to [her] desire," and allowing her the personal distance that she needed to develop her own art style. Such an experience would have been impossible with Thomas Eakins. His approach to art instruction overwhelmed his students.
Cecilia thrived under Sartain's informal guidance, and in 1881 she and her cousin Emma Leavitt rented a studio in the Artists Fund Building at 1334 Chestnut Street. For a time, the Sartain class painted there, and although Sartain gave criticism infrequently, the women continued to work in Cecilia's and Emma's studio from a model "on certain days, without instruction."
In that studio, while still under the infrequent tutelage of William Sartain, Cecilia painted a double portrait of her sister Etta and first-born nephew Henry Sandwith Drinker. Les derniers jours d'enfance (1883) [Illus. 26], loosely translated "The Last Days of Infancy," was Beaux's single most important work of the 1880s, and Sartain recalled how he had helped her. "I taught Cecilia," he noted, "from the time she had only worked from the flat to the completion of her studies and her painting her 'Days of Infancy' under my supervision -- for which she came near getting the $2000 prize at the American Art Association, New York." Sartain helped Beaux perceive herself as a professional artist, and her experiences with Les derniers jours d'enfance made her acutely aware that she had turned "a very sharp corner...into a new world which was to be continuously [hers].
While Cecilia Beaux painted numerous portraits of her family throughout her long and productive career, this was her first significant endeavor. As such, it was a fitting tribute to her sister's traditional and maternal life, as well as to her own creative and professional ambitions. Les derniers jours d'enfance represented the opposite life choices of the Beaux sisters, and also suggested the roles and paths open to women in the late nineteenth century.
Etta had made a most satisfying marriage, and two of her six children had been born when her sister Cecilia painted her portrait. Little Henry had arrived in September of 1880, just ten months after the young couple had married, and a second son, James Blathwaite Drinker, was delivered two years later. For the first years of their marriage, Etta and Henry lived in the home of Henry's maternal grandmother, the deaf but energetic Catherine Shober. By 1881 the young couple were able to rent their own home at 4058 Irving Street, and while Etta managed her young and lively family, Henry developed his career.
Born in Hong Kong on November 8, 1850, Henry Sturgis Drinker was the third child of Sandwith and Susanna Budd (Shober) Drinker. Raised in the Orient, in Baltimore, and in Philadelphia, Henry attended Lehigh University and earned an E.M. degree, "Engineer of Mines," in 1871. Shortly after graduation he began his professional life with the Lehigh Valley Coal Company, and by the spring of 1872 he took a position as a Colliery Clerk at the Henry and Burroughs Collieries near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He then transferred to the company's railroad department, where he supervised the construction of the Musconetcong tunnel, an experience he recorded in his book, Tunneling, Explosive Compounds & Rock Drilling (1878). With the completion of the tunnel, Drinker decided "that there was not much future in engineering as a profession," and determined to become a lawyer, studying law with James E. Gowen and passing the Philadelphia bar in 1877. When Henry and Etta married in 1879, he was working for the attorney Byerly Hart, and when Cecilia began the portrait of his wife and son in 1883, Henry was a rising corporate lawyer for the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company.
Cecilia began the painting of Etta and Henry knowing that "[a] mother will do anything to have her child's portrait, and the same energy and confidence burned in my sister's veins as in mine." For the sake of the portrait, Etta and Henry regularly endured an hour-long "trip in the horse cars, [and then] climb[ed] eighty-four steps" to get to Cecilia's big and empty studio. It was an ambitious effort all around. Cecilia had never executed a full-figure portrait before.
The painting that the sisters fashioned is a contrived and imaginative image. Family heirlooms, including the Leavitts' Oriental rug and the Drinkers' table and vase, were brought to the studio to create the setting. The paneling in the background was found in a carpenter's shop and dyed to look like mahogany. Etta sat in an old steamer chair brought out of the storeroom, and she maintained "the desired pose with the aid of two flat cushions." Even Etta's frock was an illusion. She wore an old black jersey of Cecilia's and a specially made "black satin sleeve, fitting closely, with a little rich lace at the wrist." Draped across her lap was a "canton crepe shawl," which belonged to her grandmother Leavitt. Young Henry owned the costume that he wore, a blue-and-white-striped suit complete with white collar and black tie. Cecilia considered the highlight of the painting to be the group of four hands, which occupy the center of the composition.
In many ways, Les derniers jours d'enfance was the culminating product of all the influences in Beaux's Philadelphia art training, from Catharine Ann Drinker through William Sartain, and it indicates her awareness of the late-nineteenth-century art styles. Beaux's training with Francis Adolf Van der Wielen, and her work as a lithographer, are evident in the careful detail of the paneling in the background, the legs and feet of the table, the frame of the picture in the left-hand corner, the design in the Oriental rug, and the boy's carefully drawn suit. The faces of both her sister and three-year-old nephew are accurately and sensitively rendered. The wistful looks of both the mother and the child successfully capture the moment -- those last days of infancy.
The influence of Thomas Eakins is evident in both the psychological theme of the painting and its monochromatic tones, qualities that Thomas Anshutz probably noticed when he first saw the painting and gave it a rather diffident review. Beaux had gained an awareness of Oriental and Near Eastern art in her studies with Catharine Drinker, Camille Piton, and William Sartain, and the two sprigs of flowers, artfully arranged in the vase on the table, suggest an Oriental source.
Yet the strongest inspiration for Beaux's painting is James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (1871) [Illus. 27]. This quintessential painting of the Aesthetic movement was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1881, where Beaux no doubt saw it. "Beauty" was the raison d'être of the Aesthetic movement, and it was the beauty of Whistler's Mother to which the young artist responded. Beaux called her work a "landscape in form," and the artificial concept of the painting dictated that its value lay not just in its content, but also in its formal realization -- pleasing arrangements of masses, colors, and tones. Beaux's portrait hovers between Whistler's abstract approach to painting and the psychological realism of Thomas Eakins.
Les derniers jours d'enfance is just one of many paintings inspired by Whistler's portrait of his mother. Winslow Homer's portrait of Helena de Kay, painted in the early 1870s to commemorate her engagement and marriage to Century magazine editor Richard Watson Gilder, is another Whistler-inspired portrait. The Whistler, Homer, and Beaux portraits are all compositionally similar, and all are painted in monochromatic tones -- gray and black monochromes for the Whistler portrait and brown monochromes for the Homer and Beaux paintings. In each portrait the viewer's eye is drawn to the hands of the sitters: Whistler's mother's are calmly resting in her lap, Homer's Helena de Kay's are loosely holding a book, and Beaux's sister's are gently holding her son, while he lightly rests for a final moment in his mother's arms. A second point of focus is the flowers in the Homer and Beaux portraits: a pink rose on the floor by Helena de Kay, and two sprigs in the vase on the Drinker family table. The patterned drapery on the left in Whistler's portrait is its second point of focus. Yet of these three portraits, Beaux's painting most clearly displays a domestic American Aesthetic impulse. There are only surface similarities between Whistler's and Homer's more spartan settings and Beaux's busy and cozy interior. Her setting acknowledges a womanly awareness of fashionable home interiors of the 1880s.
Beaux began exhibiting in the Pennsylvania Academy annuals in 1879, but her work was little noticed before she submitted Les derniers jours d'enfance for the fall exhibition of 1885. Cecilia expected good reviews, because she had exhibited the painting in New York the previous spring in the American Art Association Prize Fund exhibition, and had nearly won a $2,000 prize.
Clarence Cook had seen the painting in New York and he had written a glowing review for The Studio: We like this picture. There is a large, simple, honest feeling in it. It has style. The people are not posing, the child is very naturally held, and the lady is not conscious of us, is thinking only of her charge. We shall hear more of this artist. Few figure-pieces have been lately painted here at all equal to this.
The painting received an equally enthusiastic reception that fall in Philadelphia, when Beaux was awarded the Pennsylvania Academy's Mary Smith Prize. Russell Smith, the founder of the prize, stated that he admired her "picture much beyond a simple liking. The subject is one of universal interest. The composition is unaffected and natural." The Philadelphia critics praised the painting for its "simplicity," noting that its "simple theme" lifted the painting "into the regions of poetry," and that, while her debt to Whistler's portrait of his mother was clearly evident, she had "avoided imitation...using only so much of it as was valuable for her own purposes."
The critics began to acknowledge Beaux's talent and intelligence, recognizing her ability to express a unique artistic vision, in spite of her sex. Les derniers jours d'enfance was considered a "peculiar expression of individuality...the ability of an individual mind." The creation of this painting represented the end of Beaux's American art training and was the picture that launched her career. Yet it also symbolized the affection the two Beaux sisters had for one another, while at the same time acknowledging their very different lives.
Chapter 5: Emerging Portraitist, 1872 - 1887
Les derniers jours d'enfance was the first portrait to bring Cecilia Beaux public recognition, but it was some twelve years earlier, when she was still a student at the Van der Wielen School, that she produced her first oil painting. Struggling with the balance between contour and line, Beaux created Self-Portrait #1 (circa 1872 - 1873) [Illus. 28], a bust-length image of a pretty but determined girl. She is shown in a black blouse against a dark background; and the red ribbons at her neck and in her light-brown shoulder-length hair highlight the image, as does the blush of French roses in her lips and cheek. Beaux's romantic portrayal was undoubtedly inspired by the work of Catharine Ann Drinker and the paintings of the English Pre-Raphaelites, but the image is also an arresting likeness. At seventeen Cecilia Beaux found her imagination captured by portraiture. She had discovered the medium that would eventually make her famous.
Cecilia Beaux's decision to paint portraits was judicious. By the late nineteenth century, despite the availability of photography as a portrait medium, painted portraits remained as popular as ever. Yet even more important, for the beginning young artist, was the portrait's customary place in the oeuvre of the woman artist. Portraiture, as Elizabeth Fres Lummis Ellett had pointed out in 1859, was a medium that a woman was traditionally allowed to practice, as it could be done in the "strict seclusion" of the home as an expression of "friendship and love."
The legacy of such sentimental attitudes toward the woman artist and portrait painting still lingered as Beaux began her career. Nevertheless, this earlier perspective, coupled with an increased demand for portraits in the late nineteenth century, made portraiture an avenue with substantially fewer obstacles for a woman with professional ambitions. For Cecilia Beaux, portraiture provided her entry into the world of American art, and her success in part can be credited to her ability to fully exploit the particular artistic opportunities that portraiture then presented to both the male and female artist.
As Beaux entered the Philadelphia art world, she joined a flourishing community of women actively involved in they city's thriving artistic life. Such women as Mrs. Sarah Peter, founder of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, Mrs. E. D. Gillespie, chair of the Associate Committee of Women for the Trustees of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, and Mrs. Annis Lee Wister, one of the managers of the School of Art Needlework, were all arts advocates promoting the artistic training of women. Mrs. Gillespie was also president of the Women's Executive Committee for the Centennial Exhibition. She had received federal funding to organize "an international feature" at the fair.
The artistic contributions of Philadelphia's women artists were frequently reported in the press and journals of the day. Catharine Ann Drinker had painted a copy of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of James Madison for the city's Centennial celebration, and had received $150 for the painting. Gabrielle D. Clements, a painter, etcher, and church muralist who regularly sent her work to the Pennsylvania Academy's annual exhibitions was first noted for her efforts as a portraitist. Blanche Dillaye was a watercolorist and etcher, and also a founding member and the first president of the highly regarded Plastic Club, an art club for women. The MacDowell sisters -- Susan and Elizabeth -- were actively involved in the life of the Pennsylvania Academy, and in 1884 Susan married Thomas Eakins, the school's controversial art teacher. At the time of their marriage, Eakins thought that Susan MacDowell was one of the best women artists in America. While Drinker, Clements, Dillaye, and the MacDowell sisters all experienced varying degrees of triumph and notoriety from their artwork and careers, Cecilia Beaux achieved a standing in the professional art world that surpassed them all.
Indeed, what distinguished Cecilia Beaux's art career from the careers of so many of her female contemporaries was her focused sense of direction, her tenacious persistence, the degree to which she pursued a public professional life, her reluctance to have her artistic identity primarily associated with women, and the excellence of her work. Beaux consistently viewed her portrait painting as more than just a feminine parlor skill; for her it was the respectable avenue through which she could gain widespread professional recognition. She worked hard, exhibited her paintings, and involved herself in the various art organizations then thriving in Philadelphia. By the mid-1880s, as her star began to rise in the Philadelphia art world, Beaux's efforts were rewarded.
Beaux credited some of her early success to a prudent decision to remain outside "the magic circle" of students who went to the Pennsylvania Academy to study specifically with Thomas Eakins. By avoiding an artistic philosophy and program of study that she found "alien to her nature," Beaux believed her early talents blossomed because she followed a path of her own. While Beaux's abilities had little to do with whether she studied with Eakins or not, it is nevertheless an interesting coincidence that, while Eakins was a brilliant artist, none of his students, either male or female, were nearly as artistically gifted. Even so, many of his Academy students developed good art careers rather than dazzling artistic reputations, including Emily Sartain and Alice Barber Stephens, who found their professional aspirations satisfied in fields clearly designated for women.
Emily Sartain devoted her life to the art education of women by serving as the director of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women for thirty-four years. The school was noted for its training in the decorative arts, and Sartain allowed her own painting and mezzotint engraving to take second place to her teaching and administrative responsibilities.
Alice Barber Stephens, like Cecilia Beaux, worked in order to augment her family's finances. She was a wood engraver, a photographer, and for ten years a teacher in the life classes at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. Still, Stephens's greatest artistic achievements were in book and magazine illustration, an area of art in the late nineteenth century that, by virtue of its anonymity, had become particularly accessible to women. One writer noted that it was only the "finished product" that the publisher was interested in, not the "sex of the producer." Another reviewer further revealed the current attitude toward design work while discussing Stephens's career. Illustration required manual skill but not intellectual thought, and therefore Stephens's success could be credited to her "boundless patience," and to the fact that she "never trusted her talent beyond a certain radius."
Cecilia Beaux, on the other hand, developed her art career beyond the confines of the design arts. In choosing to paint portraits, she selected a medium that was accessible to women and also had a long and notable history in the city of Philadelphia. The portrait style of Thomas Sully had dominated the first half of the nineteenth century. Referred to as the "American Lawrence," Sully had brought to Philadelphia the qualities of English grand-manner portraiture. His romantically inspired paintings, with dashing brushwork and vivid colors, set high stylistic and iconographic standards. Sully's influence and that of the English high-style portrait was later evident in the work of John Neagle, and it lasted well into the 1870s through the portraits of such artists as Beaux's teacher, Catharine Ann Drinker, as well as Anna Lea Merritt and Samuel Bell Waugh.
As Cecilia Beaux began her art career, she became a part of the continuing tradition of portrait painting in the city of Philadelphia. She was personally familiar with the paintings of Drinker and Merritt and had undoubtedly seen portraits by Sully, Neagle, and Waugh in the permanent collection and annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy. Still, Beaux's work, on the whole, was not within the English-influenced tradition of the early nineteenth century, but was rather in the more eclectic mode of international-style portraiture that predominated in the century's later years.
Portraiture had shifted from images imbued with idealism and romanticism to deep and lyrical portrayals filled with "subtlety of mood [and] psychological insight." Such thought-filled portraits were painted in either the straightforward artistic approach of the realists or in the tonal "art for art's sake" style of the Aesthetics. Both manners emphasized technique, but the realists were primarily concerned with displaying "truth" through images of everyday life, while the Aesthetics were interested in a more ephemeral and timeless portrayal of "beauty."
The international-style portrait took hold in Philadelphia through the realistic and in-depth psychological portrait studies of Thomas Eakins, whose approach to portraiture reigned in the city for several decades. Beaux acknowledged Eakins's realist influence, but because she never studied with him, she was free to pursue a myriad of other artistic trends that were also currently in vogue. As a result, Beaux's early portraits reveal her understanding of traditions in portrait photography and American drawing. They give evidence of her familiarity with Oriental art, seen through the multifaceted lens of the Aesthetic movement, and particularly for Beaux as expressed through the china painting of French ceramist Camille Piton and the paintings of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. She was also aware of French academic art, most notably through the Barbizon-like landscapes of William Sartain.
Between 1880 and 1888, when she sailed for Europe to finish her art training, Beaux painted at least forty-one portraits in a variety of media, produced approximately five landscapes and still lifes, and also filled several sketchbooks with a variety of drawings. Her portrait commissions came to her from the social world of which she was a part -- her friends, her schoolmates, and her neighbors. She also produced three commissioned portraits of ministers, two of which came through her involvement with the Woodland Presbyterian Church. Beaux also painted noncommissioned portraits of various members of her family, making them for her own pleasure, as gifts for the sitters, and as practical exercises for her commissioned portraits. While Beaux launched her portrait career with paintings of children on china plates, she made her reputation from the less clearly gender-defined full-scale oil portraits that she painted and exhibited throughout the 1880s.
Beaux painted her "first portrait entirely from life without criticism" in the large and barren Chestnut Street studio where Les derniers jours d'enfance had been painted. With the neighborly approval of the etcher Stephen Parrish, whose studio was next to hers, Beaux began a painting of her young friend Ethel Nelson Page (1883 - 1884) [Illus. 29]. The daughter of Samuel David and Isabella Graham (Wurtz) Page, and a descendant of Roger Williams, founder and governor of the state of Rhode Island, Cecilia first met Ethel in 1876, when the girl was just eleven years old. Drawn to Ethel's beauty, Cecilia produced a marvelous portrait of the coquettish but thoughtful young woman, shown in a three-quarter-length semi-profile pose and painted in tones of brown and red. It superbly illustrates the young artist's awareness of current artistic traditions. The dark palette and the insightful and sensitive rendering of her face suggest the realism of Eakins's Philadelphia portraits.
While this was the first of several paintings that Cecilia made of Ethel in the 1880s, it was one of the earliest portraits that she documented with a photograph [Illus. 30]. Seated in her studio in front of the painting, Cecilia holds a paintbrush and Ethel sits smilingly by. Even though Beaux had been sending her china paintings and watercolors to the annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy since 1879, it may have been her portrait of Ethel that she considered her first real entry "into the doubtful field of the Exhibitions." Beaux remarked that her "study of a friend" was "well hung...and considerably noticed." In fact, the exhibition of Beaux's portrait of Ethel Page may have inspired Girl in a Big Hat (1888), Eakins's later portrayal of his student Lilian Hammitt.
Still, it was the recognition that Beaux received in 1885, when she exhibited Les derniers jours d'enfance at the Pennsylvania Academy that opened opportunities for her in the Philadelphia art community. One endeavor particularly increased Beaux's professional reputation. In January of 1886 she was elected to the Jury of Selection and Hanging Committee of the fifty-seventh annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy, serving with Thomas Hovenden, Emily Sartain, George Frank Stevens, H. V. Poore, and George C. Lambdin.
The significance of the selection of Beaux and Sartain, upon who the majority of the work of arranging the exhibition fell, was noted in the press as marking "the first time in the history of art" that women served on the Hanging Committee. Their selection put an end to the debate that "women artists...would not give their time and care to the arduous work"; that women were incapable "of performing the duties" because they lacked the required "ability, judgment and knowledge"; and that "contributions would be few and unimportant, as no artist of repute would submit their works to be passed upon by such a jury." In fact, Beaux and Sartain enthusiastically met their obligation "with distinguished ability and with such eminent success as the world may see," and the two women made it possible for other women artists to later take "their fair share of work and credit of managing picture exhibitions."
Other reviewers were more critical of Beaux's and Sartain's work, and were also more condescending. While they admitted that "the ladies of the committee" performed their work "very well" as far as the galleries were concerned, they were "a little more lenient than a masculine committee would have been." One-third of the work in the exhibition was by women, and one of the critics felt that "the general impression [was] of crudity, ungainliness, and lack of inspiration."
Beaux was able to take on an assignment like the Hanging Committee because she ignored the negative criticism that implied that women lacked strength and judgment, and instead focused on her own capacity for hard work. Beaux possessed a strong work ethic, instilled in her by her family. "Even as a child," she wrote, "I had an instinctive desire for perfection. Not only that but my family always expected of me the very best work I could possibly do." At home, careful craftsmanship was required of the simplest domestic chores. Beaux translated that same concern for perfection to her art work and career. She further noted that "no kind of Art, music or other, had even been shown to me as a toy or plaything to be taken up, trifled with and perhaps abandoned." This same standard of perfection benefited the fifty-seventh annual at the Pennsylvania Academy. One art critic noted that "no exhibition held there for years had been so well hung."
As a young woman in her early thirties, Cecilia Beaux was just beginning to make her mark in the Philadelphia art world, and, most likely because of Beaux and Sartain, "women painters" were well represented in the Academy's fifty-seventh annual exhibition. Fifty-five Philadelphia women exhibited their work, and a significant number of those fifty-five, including Cecilia Beaux, Margaret Lesley Bush-Brown, Gabrielle D. Clements, Lucy D. Holme, and Mary K. Trotter, showed portraits.
It was, no doubt, Beaux's and Sartain's service on the Selection and Hanging Committee that caused a number of commentators to ponder the status of women in the arts in the 1880s. One critic was surprised that "the gentler sex is taking to art with a good deal of energy... [and] a good deal of success." Comparing the talents of men and women, he noted that "high achievement" would still be greater among young men. They "seldom take to painting unless they have or think they have some sort of particular talent or vocation, there being so many ways in which a man can make a living." This, the critic stated, was in contrast to young women, who have "fewer avocations easily open to them." Therefore, "dilettante taste...easily mistaken for talent" could be facilitated "by such schools as those of the Academy," and "many times more women [would] try to paint than ever will become artists."
Linking talent and vocation, the critic wrote that "[t]he only way to compare the two sexes...is to pick out any given number of women who do show some sign of a positive vocation and watch their work through a series of years, side by side, with that of a corresponding number of men." Those women artists who were "the strong ones" would not need "special allowances," while "the weak ones cannot be saved by it." The critic concluded that it was not gender, but artistic ability and vocational commitment that accounted for one's place in the established art world. Noting Beaux's and Sartain's work on the Hanging Committee, he wrote, The composition of the hanging committee at the Academy this year was of real importance as a recognition that professional honors and responsibilities belong to men and women alike. This will be of more actual service to the women painters than prizes offered exclusively to women, although these have been fitting and useful in the earlier stages of the Academy's school.
Despite the critics' occasional notice of the large number of women practicing art in Philadelphia, none of the women who were Cecilia's contemporaries developed the kind of art career that she did. Beaux's cousin Emma Leavitt, a portraitist and china painter with whom she shared a studio for a time [Illus. 31], never developed Cecilia's professional drive or her sense of vocation. Emma exhibited at the Academy during the 1880s and early 1890s, but her marriage in 1893 to Dr. Burton Alexander Randall brought an end to her painting career. Catharine Ann Drinker's marriage in 1878 to Thomas Allibone Janvier had shifted the focus of her art work from painting to writing. By the mid 1880s her career was more closely aligned with that of her husband. And Susan Macdowell's best work predated her marriage to Thomas Eakins. She did not seriously resume her art career until 1916, the year her husband died.
Cecilia Beaux's determination and self-confidence regarding her work and her career placed her in marked contrast with yet another two friends and colleagues. In the cases of Margaret Lesley and Florence Este, the difference may have been Thomas Eakins, as both young women had been students of his at the Pennsylvania Academy in the 1880s. Margaret continued to paint and exhibit her work after her 1886 marriage to sculptor Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, and she had a relatively successful career. But Margaret never gained the confidence that Cecilia Beaux had. When she was seventy years old, Bush-Brown offered her self-portrait to the Pennsylvania Academy. In a letter justifying her career and the painting, Margaret wrote, "I am aware that it may not meet with your approval, or that you have no space for it, and I should regret causing you any embarrassment."
Florence Este also knew Cecilia Beaux during her years at the Pennsylvania Academy, and in the 1890s she expatriated to France, where she quietly pursued a career as an engraver and landscape artist, painting in oil, watercolor, and pastel. While Florence regularly exhibited at the French salons, she never attained the kind of reputation that Cecilia did. In fact, Este's and Beaux's mutual friend, Thornton Oakley, discovered Florence quietly painting and living at reduced means when he traveled to France in the early 1910s. Oakley did what he could to give Este's work a larger audience, and after her death in 1926, he even tried to get the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take her paintings, but to no avail.
During the last years of her life, Este corresponded with Oakley, and her letters frequently included her opinions of her former schoolmate Cecilia Beaux. As she wrote about Beaux in the early 1920s, Florence noted that her "old personal beauty has gone: but she herself has gained in all that is fine." In fact, "she has acquired a freshness -- a sweetness & a power which she seemed to lack before. One used only to think of the success.... Now her personality overreaches it all."
There was good reason for Cecilia Beaux's personal and professional self-confidence. Despite the cultural constraints under which most women developed careers in the late nineteenth century, Beaux entered her vocation with the support of her family, and with a kind of artistic independence that her women friends who worked with Eakins did not have. In fact, when she showed Les derniers jours d'enfance at the Academy in 1885, one reviewer thought that it was to her advantage to not have studied regularly in an art school. There is to be noted in it not only an entire absence of that affection of smartness which disfigures the work of so many young painters.... There is little evidence in Miss Beaux's picture of this facility which comes for the most part from persistent though not necessarily prolonged practice in the schools.
In addition to Beaux's more autonomous approach to portrait painting, she had also quickly learned the value of marketing her work. She understood that exhibitions often functioned as picture fairs or bazaars to which paintings were sent in order to be sold. As one critic noted, The public has insisted on judging [the artist's] pictures with reference to their market value, and this last has grown to be closely associated with the indulgence of private, not to say selfish, tastes, that have preferred small and not over-ambitious pictures to that class of work which any painter who is really in earnest would like to have his reputation rest.
The kind of work that Beaux produced nicely fit the current preferences, and as her output continued to increase, she carefully selected, from among the best of her paintings, those that she wished to exhibit. Beaux's efforts were amply rewarded with favorable press reviews, which then brought her new commissions. The accolades heaped on Les derniers jours d'enfance in 1885 resulted that year in at least six commissions. She also made another four portraits of her family and friends, the most interesting of which was another painting of Ethel Page.
Beaux portrayed her captivating and lovely friend as Undine, a water nymph who, according to European folklore, could obtain a soul by marrying a mortal and bearing a child. Portrayed in a pale blue-green dress with a bodice of cream-colored ruffles, Ethel is silhouetted against an oriental black-and-mauve-colored drapery that almost looks like a lily pond. Beaux's Ethel Page as Undine (1885) [Illus. 32], like her earlier painting Les derniers jours d'enfance, is an idealized creation of womanhood. Beaux again turned to Whistler and the philosophy of the Aesthetic movement to present the beautiful Ethel as both ethereal and expectant.
Beaux exhibited Ethel Page as Undine at the 1886 American Art Association Prize Fund Exhibition, and Clarence Cook again penned a review. It recalls the late Mr. Sully's work, though certainly Mr. Sully never painted so well as this. Then, there is a certain pretty provincialism in the costume which, of course, our New York ladies will shrug their well set Redfern shoulders at. All the same, it has a simple-hearted charm of its own, and suits with the personality of the sitter.
The following year Beaux showed the portrait at the Academy's annual exhibition -- the show that she helped jury and hang. Her literary reference to Undine added to its attraction, and one reviewer noticed that, "though distinctly in the line of portraiture, [Ethel Page as Undine] is quite original in treatment." The painting was also awarded the Mary Smith Prize at the fifty-seventh annual, the second time in two years that Beaux had been so honored.
Beaux was clearly a young artist worth watching, and when she moved her studio to the Baker Building at 1520 Chestnut Street early in 1886, the press took note. She and Emma Leavitt now held the rooms "recently occupied by Mr. Liberty Tadd," and in her new studio Beaux completed a number of new commissions. Mr. George Burnham, a prominent member of the First Swedenborgian Church of Philadelphia, had asked her to paint a portrait of the church's pastor, the Reverend Chauncey Giles. Upon its completion, the portrait was described as "delightfully easy in pose, while as regards color and handling it is an advance upon anything Miss Beaux has yet executed." Burnham paid $400 for the Giles portrait.
George Burnham knew and liked Beaux's work, as she had painted a china plate for Mrs. Burnham in 1881. With the success of the Giles painting and the earlier portrait for his wife, during the summer of 1886 Burnham asked Cecilia to travel to Lake George and paint him at his leisure [Illus. 33]. For Burnham's portrait Beaux applied the lessons that she had learned the year before, when she had made a painting of her Grandmother Leavitt, seated in a cozy outdoor setting at the family's West Philadelphia home [Illus. 34]. When Beauxc turned to the Burnham portrait, she used the same semi-profile pose, but portrayed him on a porch, seated in a bentwood rocker. Holding a small book and a pair of spectacles, Burnham's pose suggests a momentary pause from some interesting summertime reading. The foliage in the background of the painting has a textured impasto quality that drew upon Beaux's skills as a china painter.
Beaux was developing a solid artistic reputation, and the critics were noticing her work. They considered Beaux to be "one of our best portrait painters" and believed that she was quite successful with "her masculine portraits." Her reputation rested on her ability to create dynamic and active manly images that adhered to the realist philosophy of accurately rendering the everyday life of the contemporary man. Beaux painted men of wealth and privilege, and surrounded them with the accoutrements of their vocations.
During the spring of 1886, Beaux painted two portraits that were particularly well received. The first was of George M. Troutman [Illus. 35], president of the Central National Bank. The critics described the painting as a strong "representation of an alert, energetic, and enterprising man of business," and Beaux's bold use of color placed the painting in a category "in which very few American painters excel[led]." The bank paid Beaux $494.40 for the portrait.
The other portrait was of the venerable Reverend William Henry Furness [Illus. 36]. Beaux had been asked to paint the retired minister's portrait by a circle of his friends. The eighty-four-year-old Furness was considered "one of the best thinkers and workers in Philadelphia" and had faithfully served the congregation of the First Unitarian Church for all of fifty years (1825 - 1875). The portrait was to commemorate Furness's years of dedication, and the group wanted to hang it in the parlor of their church.
Beaux portrayed the esteemed minister "sitting in his study, surrounded by his books and the familiar environment of his working hours." His pose was "easy and unaffected," and he looked as if "he might be in a pause of an interesting conversation." The critics liked this portrait and found that "the attitude of the figure, and the arrangement of accessories" gave it a "wholly unconventional" quality that nevertheless was thought to represent "the dignity and impressive character of historic portraiture."
Technically, the portrait showed that Beaux's "drawing" was "firm," her "modelling solid and round," and her "painting broad and free," especially her "flesh tints," which showed "an assured touch." Finally, the "forms and textures [were] carefully and closely rendered...each contributing its intended effect in the general scheme of color and light and shade."
Before Beaux turned the portrait over to the First Unitarian Church and received her fee of $500, she exhibited it in her studio on June 22 and 23, 1886, and then at Earle's galleries for a week. While it was at Earle's, one reviewer placed her portrait solidly within the style of the realists, considering it the best of contemporary portraiture: It is an admirably successful departure from the conventional portrait-commission, and is invested with the interest of a picture, while conserving the simplicity and dignity demanded by the character of the work.... Miss Beaux has copied nature with faithful care, and has concurrently reproduced those suggestions of individuality and personality.... In this respect the portrait is marvelously life-like, and no one not coldly indifferent and insensible can study the work without being impressed by the attributes of benign, gracious, potent manliness it presents.
Much of Beaux's success with both her clients and the critics rested on her ability to paint portraits that effectively captured the individual personality of each of her sitters. Her portrayal of Troutman showed him as "an alert, energetic, and enterprising man of business." She imbued her paintings with insightful characterizations of her patrons' lives, and she included the accoutrements of their careers or vocations. Furness was displayed at his desk, surrounded by his books. Beaux also executed her paintings in the most current artistic styles, adding elements that were intended to capture the viewer's imagination. The lily-pond-patterned drapery suggests the folktale of Undine in Beaux's second painting of Ethel Page. Cecilia Beaux's ambitious and thoughtful efforts in the art institutions and in the local Philadelphia exhibitions brought her and her work high praise.
Throughout the 1880s, Beaux exhibited her paintings as frequently as possible and in as many exhibitions as she conceivably could. In December of 1887 she showed several portraits at the opening exhibition of the Philadelphia Art Club. One reviewer believed that her painting of her Uncle Will's father, Edward C. Biddle (1887), would "rank with the best of this excellent painter's previous performances," an accolade that may have inspired her to be photographed with the painting. Beaux was working hard, gaining an enviable reputation, and making a surprisingly good income.
While Beaux enjoyed her successes in the Philadelphia art world, an opportunity was presented to her in 1886 that made the ambitious young artist want more. Her friend, the artist Margaret Lesley Bush-Brown, had planned a trip to Paris and was determined to take Beaux's Les derniers jours d'enfance with her and enter it in the Salon. Cecilia initially thought that the idea was insane, but she gave in when Margaret persisted. Taken off of its stretcher and rolled up for the trip, it was reframed when Margaret arrived in France. With the advice of the French academician, Jean Paul Laurens, Bush-Brown entered it for competition in the Spring Salon of 1887. Despite the fact that it was "the work of an unheard-of-American," the painting "was accepted, and well hung on a centre wall." Months later, the portrait was returned to Cecilia in Philadelphia, "bearing the French labels and number," and as the young artist sat endlessly before her painting, she longed "for some revelation of the scenes through which it had passed." Resting before the canvas, which she described as "dumb as a granite door," she decided to go to Paris and complete her art training. European instruction, Cecilia Beaux concluded, was absolutely necessary for a professional art career.
Chapter 6: Parisian Credentials, 1888 - 1889
Cecilia Beaux wasted no time in arranging her European studies. Accompanied by her cousin May Whitlock [Illus. 37], who had returned from Montana to travel with her, she set sail for Europe on January 15, 1888, on a Red Star steamer called the Nordland. Twelve days later the cousins arrived in Antwerp. Recalling Eugene Fromentin's Ancient Masters of Belgium and Holland (1882), Cecilia wrote to her family her first impressions of the Netherlands: Oh how I longed for my watercolor box. I believe I could have made an impression -- it was so simple. Why the Dutch could not help being colorists. Under such a sky -- not much sun to dazzle them. First there was the dashing greenish-yellow water. Then the black lines of dyke. Then a tawny grey fortress of walls -- then the rusty red roofs -- a red you never saw -- then the sky the softest purple grey. It was all in lines. Can you imagine it?
Although the cousins were tempted to spend some time in Antwerp and Brussels, they decided to continue on to Paris, arriving just a few days later. Like the artist May Alcott Nieriker, who wrote that "there is no art world like Paris, no painters like the French, and no incentive to good work equal to that found in a Parisian atelier," Cecilia felt Paris calling and was anxious to experience its art world.
Cecilia and May were met in Paris at the Gare du Nord train station by Cecilia's cousin Cecil Austin, a young medical student. Cecil's mother Sarah and his sister Constance were also living in the city, and while Cecil studied medicine, his mother was an art student at the cours of Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. The Austin relatives helped the cousins adjust to Parisian life and also assisted them in locating a pension to rent in the Pont de l'Ama quarter, at 12 Rue Boccador. For the next five months the young women lived there, and once they were settled, they began investigating the various ateliers and deciding where they would study.
By the 1880s young women from around the world were flocking to Paris for art training. Excluded from the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, woman turned to a number of commercial art studios that had opened and were specifically devoted to their art education. While Charles Chaplin was the first person to begin a "ladies studio," he was soon followed by Carolus-Duran, Léon Bonnat, Alexandre Cabanel, and Filippo Colarossi -- a former model with a keen business sense who called his studio Colarossi. But it was the atelier of Rudolphe Julian that quickly became the most popular.
Julian was a former prizefighter who decided to start an art school in 1868, a venture that succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. By the time Cecilia arrived in Paris in 1888, Julian had seventeen studios scattered throughout the city, with "seven given over to the ladies." Cecilia visited Julian's "Passage des Panoramas" atelier on February 2 and presented a letter of introduction to him written by her friend Nellie Hale. Apparently, Beaux's reputation had preceded her: Julian "Oh'd & Ah'd over" the letter, remarking that he had already heard of her. "Very flattering," the young artist noted. Julian invited Cecilia and May to "come...and see it all," and in a letter to her family, Beaux described his various studios. In the "Passage des Panoramas," she wrote, you go up a little dark staircase to the atelier. The reception room was quite fascinating -- a sort of studio with studies by the men pupils hanging about.... At the St. Honoré...there is a good light, and all quite comfortable -- just one room.... The old Julian's has several ateliers, the life class, a class for the head, and draped models -- also a queer studio where the 'eleves les plus fortes' do their Salon pictures.... The room where [the] ladies were was a longish attic up a lot of stairs.
May and Cecilia continued exploring the art studios for women, and a few days after their tour of Julian's, they "made a long expedition to Benjamin Constant's atelier." There they visited Miss Battle, a friend of Cecilia's Uncle Charley. "I like the place and the manner of the work," Beaux wrote, "but there were no advanced pupils & it is awfully far off." The cousins decided not to study there, and the following Monday they began their training at the Académie Julian.
Cecilia and May worked in the Julian cours at "28 Fauborge St. Honoré near the Madaline." Cecilia stayed there until May, when the school moved to new quarters at 5 rue de Berri, in an aristocratic section of the city. Marie Belloc described the rue de Berri atelier: First comes the anteroom full of the hats, cloaks, shawls, and luncheon-baskets of nearly a hundred pupils, belonging to every nationality and rank.... The huge studio is divided into three portions by thick, dark curtains.... In the section devoted to the académie (drawing from life) class, the model is placed on a table, and the students are grouped round in a circle so that each may obtain a good view; those nearest do a study of the head, those further off, l'ensemble.... No man, with the exception of M. Julian and the Professor is admitted under any pretense whatsoever into the studio.... Hard work is the rule, not the exception at the Rue de Berri.... A prize of one hundred francs is given every month for the best sketch taken from life, and he [M. Julian] always encourages even a premature attempt to get into the Salon.
Julian's studios were open every day except Sunday. On Monday mornings the models were chosen for the week, and those students arriving first took the best positions and retained them until the following Saturday evening. The "maissière," a student assistant, had the responsibility of posing the model every day. Professors were assigned to particular studios for a month, and on Thursdays and Saturdays they spent a couple of hours looking at the students' work, pointing out defects and giving advice.
The general routine at Julian's allowed students to choose their own masters and to come and go as they pleased. Rudolphe Julian had recruited an illustrious group of artists to criticize his students' efforts, and some of his professors included Jules Lefevbre, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Louis Boulanger, and Tony Robert-Fleury, who, like Julian himself, had studied with Léon Coginet at the École des Beaux-Arts.
These artist-professors gained varying reputations among the Julian students. Tony Robert-Fleury was the favorite master...he seldom, if ever, uttered a harsh criticism.... Jules Lefevbre criticized little but never praised, and [was] feared by his students. Bouguereau admired in others the very opposite qualities which distinguished his own work...[and] Boulanger [was] very popular, and often came in during the week to see how his young ladies [were] getting on. When Cecilia visited the studio, she noted that Bouguereau was the instructor that February and that Robert-Fleury would critique in March.
In choosing to work at Julian's, Cecilia submitted herself to a form of eighteenth-century art instruction that primarily stressed drawing from the human figure. While certainly dated, such traditional training was useful for Beaux, because she had done virtually no work in a life class while a student in Philadelphia. At Julian's the "abler or more advanced students immediately began to draw from the nude model," which is precisely what Cecilia did. Even though she already had consummate drawing ability, sketching from a nude model was something new for her [Illus. 38].
Beaux arrived promptly at 8:00 A.M. on February 12 for her "first experience" at Julian's, "beginning with a head in oils" with which she "felt pleased." Anxious to have her painting reviewed by the current Julian art professor, she made a point of being in class the day "Papa Bouguereau" came to critique the work. Beaux described the sixty-three-year-old Bouguereau as a tiny-round old man... [with] thin white sandy hair and beard and blue eyes. Looked a little apoplectic but nice and kind and like his pictures. His voice is thick and he speaks right along in a monotonous voice as if he knew beforehand what your work was like, and what he would say.... Try to imagine him saying "C'est pas mal, il y a des qualities -- mais, mais -- mais."
Like many of the academic artists, Bouguereau was one of the "current inheritors of the stricter interpretation of the past and the precepts of the École." His own work, which largely consisted of classical and religious subjects, displayed a high degree of technical competence. Bouguereau's conservative art style, in marked contrast to the contemporary and avant-garde efforts of the Impressionists, also stamped his approach to analyzing the work of his women students -- he critiqued from a traditional and conventional perspective.
Beaux noted that, when Bouguereau was at Julian's giving criticism, "all talking in the room [was] forbidden," and many of the girls followed him around to listen to what he said. Beaux was the only student who was painting then (the others were doing charcoal studies), and Bouguereau approached her from behind, "so that he saw [her] work before he saw [her]." She wrote that he "looked hard at me to see what I was like."
The painting that Bouguereau critiqued was the head that Beaux had started, which now was a "full painting" of a "head and shoulder with arm upward," executed with "a certain touch and freedom." It also had a "worked in" face. When her teacher made his analysis, the young artist had a mixed response to the criticism. Beginning with several compliments, Bouguereau said "pas mal, une grande abilité, que vous avez une addresse, je suis enchanté de voir." But then he more closely examined "the eye and various other parts" of her painting, and Beaux felt that she had "shocked him." He commented that it looked as if she had done these elements from practice rather than from observing the model, an idea that simply "galled" her.
Julian was also present for the criticism of Beaux's painting, and after the session the two of them had a long talk about her artistic approach. He told her that what she needed was "to gain a greater vivacity -- and resonance -- and brilliancy. [Her] work was grave, serious, well-considered but looked like an old picture that time had darkened. It had not enough absolute life in it." Julian noticed the darkened palette of Philadelphia and the influence of Thomas Eakins, and when Beaux asked him if she ought to be doing "charcoal academies," he said "no, paint life-size." This, she noted, "was...a compliment as the charcoal drawings are the general rule."
While Julian recognized Cecilia's talents, he also had his own interests in mind. He told her that she "ought to work all day and get the interest of all the Professors for such times as [she] wanted to get a picture in the Salon," asking her if she might have something to send them. "Of course he was pushing his School," she noted, "but I shall do [a] composition and I think that if there can be a place for me in that atelier where the other Julian girls are making their Salon pictures -- I will go there three or four afternoons a week." She considered getting her cousin Constance to sit for her so that she could receive criticism from Lefebvre and Boulanger.
Later in February she sent a letter to her family, telling them that it was too late for her to do a painting for this year's exhibition and that she was sorry to have disappointed her grandmother, who would have "liked [her] to paint something for the Salon." She was also disappointed for herself, "for even something small or badly hung would have gotten me an entrance ticket -- and admittance to varnishing day which is 10 frcs. unless someone -- an artist takes you."
Even though there was not enough time for her to submit work to the 1888 Salon, Cecilia was determined to make an impression on her teachers. She wanted Bouguereau and Robert-Fleury "to know me and recognize that I can do something. It will count in the long run." She soon wrote to her grandmother about her "second criticism by Bouguereau," of a study called The Milk Woman and the Pot of Milk. All student compositions were pinned up at the front of the studio, and Bouguereau then decided which is the best and which is second -- third, etc. Mine was by far the best -- and I was pushed forward so that he might know the author. But it was no honor to be best in that crowd they were nothing but ridiculous weak scraggles. The one who has No. 1 has a right to pose the model next time and have first choice of a place. Our next subject is "The Prodigal Son" and I have got mine well begun. It ought to be best this time too. I don't see how they have the face to give B. such things to criticize.
Even though Beaux's painting was marked number one, Bouguereau's criticism was frustrating for her. She had been painting according to M. Julian's advice -- but Bouguereau as they say -- at home -- wiped up the floor with me. It was "Vous n'avez pas asservér" this and "Vous n'avez pas vue" that -- all over it -- and when he was done he patted my shoulder and smiled and shook his head as if I had not tried -- when I had tried with all my might. I was too far from the model and too near my canvas to do anything so large and I have concluded not to try to paint anymore as long as I stay in the atelier. You must have room for painting.
Beaux soon realized that the conditions of art study in Paris were quite different from the private lessons she had taken in Philadelphia with William Sartain. In Paris, the ateliers were crowded commercial ventures filled with students at all levels of ability, while in Philadelphia just a handful of students worked in Beaux's studio on a regular basis, with Sartain appearing occasionally to criticize their work. Beaux had looked forward to her art study in Paris, believing that it was an important opportunity to have her work regularly critiqued by the masters. The reality of the ateliers for women was a great disappointment to her, and she was as frustrated by the crowded conditions as she was by the poor quality of the students' work.
Her initial experiences with Bouguereau and the Académie Julian spurred Cecilia to continue investigating other ateliers for women. Concerned that May was not getting "enough criticism at Julian's" the cousins decided, after an endorsement from Will Biddle, that at the end of the month, "she had better go to [the] Lasar" studio. "Lasar's portrait of Mrs. Boyle is the best in the [Pennsylvania Academy] Ex." this year, Cecilia's uncle wrote. It is a first class work, 3/4 length, life size. Col. Cooper knows Lasar well, says he is about 32, came from St. Louis, began there as a lithographer, has been in Paris and thereabouts 7 or 8 years, worked hard at the "Beaux Arts" & had a struggling bill, he started this class which is only 1 year old & wonderfully successful. Cooper says that Lasar has unusual talent as a teacher as well as painter -- in fact he considers him by far the ablest teacher & critic he ever met among men who can paint well & strongly themselves. Cooper calls him "Shorty."
Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1856, Charles Lasar studied in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts with Gérôme, and there his superior drawing ability and his "famous angle machine" made him something of a legend. Lasar soon became a popular teacher, establishing an art school in the Montparnasse colony in Paris. His sense of humor, his inventive and mechanical solutions to creative problems, his theories of art, and his entrepreneurial sense in marketing his aids for the study of art all drew a number of American students, particularly women. Lasar, in fact, was one of the few Parisian art teachers to offer theories of art to women, teaching them that each painting should be different, suggesting its own style. His book Practical Hints to Art Students (1910) set forth his theories and ideas.
Beaux had a "most comical" first impression of Lasar, noting that he was "a funny little young man with intensely bright eyes, and dark hair standing around -- and legs about two feet long. [And he] talks rather bad American, with no end of French excitement and gesticulation." She soon learned that, artistically, he was "more modern and less academical...teaches values and colors more than anything else, is very scientific and particularly good for outdoor work." May was soon studying with him, and Beaux, in addition to her training at Julian's, was considering working in both the studios of Charles Lasar and Carolus-Duran. I feel as if I must work for a while, at any rate in the afternoons -- so I think I will go [to Lasar's] to draw in the P.M.s -- and as I cannot paint at Julian's...go to Carolus Duran for painting in the mornings. It is expensive and he don't criticize drawing at all -- only color and painting.... I am sure the work there must be of a better order -- that is more advanced than at our Julian's. I don't feel as if I could go to Lasar only. He is such a little rat of a fellow, and the work in his cours is not very advanced either. I don't like to leave Julian's. The whole tone of the place is so good.... Carolus...is a splendid teacher, criticizes every week, teaches painting only. I shouldn't like Lasar for painting, he uses such a queer palette. We are going to investigate Carolus this week. Henner criticizes every other week at C's.
Beaux postponed studying at the Duran studio, as March was Tony Robert-Fleury's month to give criticism at Julian's. Well established as a Julian professor, Robert-Fleury was forty-nine years old when Beaux came to study there. His remarkable features were "rugged and expressive," Beaux noted, while his "enormous dark grey eyes" had "the most pathetic burnt-out expression." Robert-Fleury had trained with Paul Delaroche and Léon Coginet, had first exhibited his work at the 1864 Salon, and, with an oeuvre that included portraits, genre scenes, and history painting, he had won numerous awards.
Cecilia felt that she "had a greater triumph with Robert-Fleury than with Bouguereau," despite the fact that he had a less "benign" reputation than Bouguereau, and did not "temper his severities." Cecilia was sitting in the back of the room in a corner when Robert-Fleury gave the first criticism of her work. She wrote to her family that she was "scared stiff" when he left her neighbor and turned to her drawing. Surprised by the quality of her work, Robert-Fleury's first response was "C'est bien, c'est bien!" He then asked her where she had studied, and she told him that she had worked in America and had only been in France "a short time." She also informed him that she "had never drawn from life in a life class before," but that she "had painted a great deal." She also hoped that he did not think her "more than a beginner" as that is how she thought of herself.
Tony Robert-Fleury sat down to criticize her work, which may have been a figure study of a standing male model. He told her that she "should have showed the construction of the figure as well as got the outside forms correctly, that is, not treat the body like a shell with an irregular surface." Impressed with her efforts, Robert-Fleury "quoted some lines from Corneille about a man's value showing in his first act...[and] hinted at possibilities before me." As he rose, she remarked, "he said the nicest thing of all, 'we will do all we can to help you.'" As he passed her, he noticed her name on her drawing and said, "you are French too?"
Robert-Fleury then examined the compositions, and made no comment but designated Cecilia's as number one. Up until this lesson, Cecilia had considered "going to Carolus to paint," but she felt that "now that Fleury has taken such an interest I don't want to leave and go and be tormented by Miss [Lucy Lee] Robbins who is the tutor of C.D.'s atelier and who really forces people to leave." Beaux's Aunt Eliza was relieved when Cecilia gave up the idea of studying with Duran. "Do you know what sort of man C. Duran is?" Eliza inquired of her niece. "I hope you will not go to his studio."
Beaux's insatiable curiosity kept her exploring the Parisian ateliers. The week after Robert-Fleury first critiqued her work, she "went with some of the English girls down to the Passage (the bad Julian's) to see M'lle Beaury-Saurel's salon pictures," and she "entirely fell in love with the place." Beaux "realized that the work [was] better," that "the light too is arranged far better," and that "the whole spirit of the place" was reflected in "the splendid work hanging around by the men students." Cecilia felt that it was "a sin" that the Passage Julian's was "unhealthy," as she would have "lov[ed] to [have gone] there." She commented that "Of course I can learn in our place but the work around me is so poor. The best pupils in the 'Passage' are fond of making life-size charcoal portraits and they do them beautifully with the greatest finesse and style and firmness -- like Lefevbre himself." Beaux found it "hard to keep away" from the Passage studio.
A few days later Beaux was back at the Julian St. Honoré cours, lamenting Robert-Fleury's second criticism. He "did not overwhelm me with compliments this time -- and was satirical about my composition [even] though I had number 1.... [H]e said it was not 'trop mal' -- (I thought it quite a masterpiece)." Unlike her earlier experience with Bouguereau, when Robert-Fleury critiqued the work of the other students, she "learned a good deal from him...listening to what he says to the others.... 'Cherchez, Cherchez' that is the great word and one is goaded on by it."
One of Beaux's most successful compositions that spring was Supper at Emmaus, "an imitation of Rembrandt" in which she took a great deal of pride -- a study which she had brought forth "by means of an inward vision." When all the student compositions were again "hung up in a conspicuous place," Robert-Fleury remarked to Beaux that "[j]e n'ai pas vu les autres, mais je sais bien que c'est la meilleure." Julian also came and looked at her sketch and remarked "that they had never competed in composition before with the men, but that they would now.... They say," Beaux commented, that "the Americans both men and women do all the good compositions that are done, and at present all the best workers (women) except M'lles Bilinska and Beaury Saurel are Americans sometimes English." Yet Beaux's general view of the composition work of her fellow students was that it was "very stupid," and she could not "see how they [could] present such absurd conceptions. They seem to cast aside all common sense when they begin to compose."
A prize competition was set up by Rudolphe Julian that spring "between the men's class, the Passage and...the Fauborg St. Honoré," and each studio was given a model for a week with "the same pose and costume." The model was "a pretty girl in a Japanese costume holding a...parasol over her head." Beaux paid "15 frcs. extra" to participate in the contest, and she wrote to her Aunt Eliza that "some stars have come to us" to also compete in the concours.
Anna Bilinska, a young Russian woman, and Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, an American from San Francisco, were both award-winning Salon exhibitors, and "were doing pastels" for the competition. Beaux decided that she would "do an oil as I am more at home in that than anything else." Even though she felt that "there [was] not the least chance of my getting the prize," competing with Bilinska and Klumpke "is a good thing for me to do...and it will give me something interesting to bring home."
Beaux was soon disappointed, because the studio was crowded, her canvas was "nearly as big as Cochran -- and not an inch to 'get away' in," and her painting had "sunk into utter insignificance." It frustrated her that she was "doing [it] so to speak in my lap -- I who am used to 25 feet and a big looking glass." Bemoaning the quality of her painting, Cecilia wrote that it was "without either body or bones...and I feel at present as if I never had done anything really good. If I stay here long I shall lose even my manner of doing things not very well with spirit and style."
Awards were made in the middle of May, and Beaux wrote to her Aunt Eliza that Miss Klumpke got the medal for the Grand Concours and we are all delighted. Bilinska's was next -- in fact they gave her a medal too, but Klumpke 100 frcs. besides. The men must be mad. Mine wasn't even "placed" as they call it which means something like honorable mention but it was so really bad that I am thankful to let it slide unnoticed into obscurity -- and only hope the professors didn't know which mine was.
In addition to her Académie studies, Cecilia also visited and did copy work at the Louvre. She first went to experience the pictures at the beginning of February, shortly after she arrived in Paris. Comparing the Louvre to the Pennsylvania Academy, she wrote her initial impressions to her sister Etta. The bigness and gorgeousness of the Louvre does not surprise me at all. It is only when I compare it with our Academy of Fine Arts that I grasp it at all. Some of the things I have always longed to see I find perfectly satisfying -- The Venus of Milo -- Titian, Rembrandt and above all Rubens, with a good many others I delight in. On the whole, Beaux found "Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and...Van Dyck... disappointing," even though she thought some of the Van Dycks were "lovely." She exclaimed to Etta, "I want to copy in the Louvre more than go to Julian's." The old masters were helping her, and "working over one's own [compositions] makes one understand and appreciate the o.m.'s better."
That winter and spring, Beaux frequently went to the Louvre, absorbing the art work as well as the museum's ambiance. Fascinated by the copyists, Beaux wrote to her sister that the people who copy there are many of them little dried up old things both men and women -- who have been doing it all their lives. There is one old man there of 93 who is painting the galleries themselves without glasses. The picture was nearly finished and was really very good indeed.
In March, Beaux discovered a little room that was "only open for two hours on Saturdays." It contained drawings closed behind frames with doors, and "a good many of them were Raphaels." She noted that she was "going to take a sketch book up there next time and copy some of them." Both Cecilia and May were "infatuated" with their copy work. Beaux used the monochrome studies that her artist friend Henry Thuron had made for her, noting that she had "finished the Infanta Marguerite by Velasquez (one of Mr. Thuron's) and [had] begun a superb portrait by Rubens -- doing it smaller of course than the original though it is only [a] head and shoulders." May was up on a stepladder, "doing a darling little girl's head by Van Dyke." The easels and stools were furnished "by the dear Louvre itself," Beaux noted. "They give you every chanceand all for nothing."
As summer approached, Cecilia wrote to her Aunt Eliza that she and May were thinking about going to Concarneau. The Parisian art world shut down for the summer, and every year the sweltering heat, closed schools, and suspension of exhibitions drove artists out of the city to a variety of summer art colonies. The village of Concarneau was one of these art centers, and it was viewed as a step back into the Middle Ages, where the "superstitions, traditions, customs, dress, ideas and rhythm of life was unchanged from the 13th century." A seaside hamlet with two excellent hotels, the Voyageurs and the Grand, Concarneau also had plenty of lofts for improvised studios, and any number of Breton peasants willing to be hired as models. Located on the rocky Brittany coast, Concarneau had also been popularized and promoted among Americans by author Blanche Willis Howard, whose 1883 novel Quenn was a faithful account of the first American art season there.
Both Blanche Howard's account of the village, which Beaux had read before her trip, and the fact that Lasar was "going to be there with a class," influenced Cecilia's decision to go there for the summer. "I should [like to] take lessons of Lazar [sic]," she wrote, "if not out of doors, at any rate in the studio." The plan came to fruition when the cousins found travel companions and roommates in Catherine and Lucy Conant, an expatriate Bostonian mother and her artistic daughter. The Conants helped arrange the trip, as well as summer housing, and at the beginning of July the four women arrived in Concarneau, staying in the private home of the Valdenaires, rather than at the Voyageurs hotel "in the thick of things."
Their lodgings included rooms for the cousins and the Conants, kitchen facilities, and a "huge flower garden" at the back of the house. Cecilia noted that her room was large enough to also use as a studio, and that "the garden is a great consideration for there one can have perfect privacy -- and all sorts of lovely backgrounds." Mrs. Conant had assumed the role of guardian, watching over May and Cecilia "as if we were the two young sisters that had to be provided for." Lucy, "who at once picked up the Breton language," did all the grocery shopping.
Cecilia, May, and Lucy were soon comfortably integrated into the Concarneau summer art colony [Illus. 39]. "Regulars" included Edward Simmons, T. Alexander and Lovell Birge Harrison, Walter Gay, Clifford Grayson, Arthur Hoeber, Howard Russell Butler, and Charles "Shorty" Lasar. Many of these Americans were also from Philadelphia, including Florence Este, Mary K. Trotter, and Miss Van Trump, all former Pennsylvania Academy students who were in Concarneau that summer to study with "Shorty" Lasar. Rounding out the group were Irish artist Kate Kinsella, her younger sister Louise, Miss Benjamin Wright, Miss Boyer, Miss Rihl, the Life illustrator Mr. Hyde, and a young French artist named Mr. Andras. When not at work, the artists socialized with one another.
While many artists came to Brittany to paint the peasants in the context of the culture of the region, particularly the folkways and religious ceremonies that had remained unchanged for centuries, Cecilia Beaux was interested in painting the peasant women in order to develop her own technical approach to plein-air painting and to solidify her interest in portraiture.
A number of young Breton girls posed for Beaux that summer, and she began by painting "a lovely blue eyed 16 year old model" making a charcoal sketch of her first. Beaux then made a painting of "the head only," but soon wrote to her family, I caught her on the stairs the other day by a little window and she looked so sweet that I have almost decided to make a picture of her there.... She is opening the little window to look at the pigeons outside and is squatted comfortably down in a corner of the winding stair [Illus. 40]. Another peasant, the "beautiful young girl model...Rosalie," was the subject of a different July painting. Rosalie's cheeks were "like rose leaves," her eyes like "sapphire," and she had "straight dark eyebrows," an attribute that Beaux admired throughout her career. Sadly, Beaux noted, her portrait of Rosalie was "no adequate representation of her."
While these smaller paintings were useful exercises for Beaux, her experiences creating a portrait of Catherine Conant and the picture that she later called Twilight Confidences [Illus. 41] were especially instructive. Both paintings displayed Beaux's interest in portraiture, but represented very different efforts at "out door effects." The Conant painting was executed in the garden where they lived. Beaux portrayed her because "I can always have her...besides her color is very delicate and I am very much interested in it." The painting had "real value as a likeness and as a picture," and the background contained "delicate and distinctive work." It also attracted the attention of both T. Alexander Harrison and "Shorty" Lasar. Beaux noted that "[t]hey are all more interested in Mrs. Conant than the other picture because they are all tired of coiffs."
Twilight Confidences, which Beaux referred to as the "two heads picture," was developed from studies made at the beach at a certain time of day. The young artist regarded it as "the opening of a new era...that of working...for large simple out door effects," noting that she had a "gift" for the "memory of impressions" and "a kind of power for conjuring up objects in my brain and painting from them with a certain amount of realism." Beaux "worked and studied for hours" and "made the best possible improvement for so much of it is from memory and calculation and feeling." She wrote that "I can get so little on the spot that I can actually copy afterwards...[and] all this forces one to observe and to select in the most comprehensive and apprehensive way."
Beaux's approach to plein-air painting was influenced that summer by both T. Alexander Harrison and "Shorty" Lasar. Beaux knew of Harrison and had seen his paintings The Wave (1885) and En Acadie (circa 1885) before she came to France. Within days of her arrival, Cecilia's friend Florence Este had visited her and told her that Harrison also knew of her. Beaux wrote to her family that "he said of me 'Oh yes, she is arrivée' which don't mean arrived in Paris." Yet, when she met him that winter at a party at the Estes's he made a poor first impression. None of us liked him -- and we all feel that we have had a blow. He is very tall, very handsome, and distinguished -- dark hair and grey eyes, and long dark moustache. And the most cold, blasé expression. He looks one over as he would a horse. He has evidently two sides -- one for Art into which all the weight and feeling of his nature flows. The small part that is left amuses itself coldly. Such as thinking it a compliment to follow girls in the street. In Concarneau that summer, Cecilia found him more appealing. In addition to his elegant and "aristocratic proportions," she noted that "there certainly is a good deal to him."
T. Alexander Harrison was just two years older than Cecilia Beaux, but he had been studying and working in Europe for almost ten years. Born in Philadelphia in 1853, Thomas Alexander was the most eminent of a fraternal trio of painters that also included Lovell Birge and Butler Harrison. Thomas Alexander began his art training in Philadelphia in the studio of George Petit, and then spent five years as a topographical draftsman for the United States Coastal Survey. When he left his government position, he took another eighteen months of art lessons at the San Francisco School of Design and then entered the atelier of Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1879. In France, Harrison spent his summers working in the country: Grez, near Barbizon, in 1879, and Pont-Aven in 1881, with his brother Birge. At Pont-Aven he painted Castles in Spain, a "serious study of out-of-door nature, entirely apart from French influences." The painting was praised by the critics at the Salon of 1882 and was also noticed by Bastien-Lepage.
Harrison was soon largely painting twilight and nocturnal impressions of the sea and sky, and between 1884 and 1887 he produced a series of five paintings that established his reputation. For Moonrise, Crépuscule, The Wave, Bathers, and En Acadie, Harrison made memory sketches and then developed the "composition, color and tone" in the final studies. The style, which combined plein-air painting and an academic emphasis on the nude, was neither controversial, like Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe painted some twenty years earlier, nor experimental, like the Impressionist works of Monet and Renoir. Rather, Harrison's work was an audacious foray into difficult but acceptable territory, giving him a safely established reputation in the Parisian Salon and art world.
That summer in Concarneau, Harrison asked Florence Este "to bring him to call on the 'Beaux young ladies.'" At the end of July he invited Cecilia to his studio, where she saw "a good many of his studies" and had the opportunity for "a nice talk" with him, "apropos of painting from memory." Cecilia wrote to her Uncle Will about Harrison's sketches: He makes his studies in an incredibly short time, of particular effects and delicate values and never tries to find the same effect twice even when it is one that appears to be ordinary. The genius comes in his being able to get so much into one of these swift sketches that he can elaborate it without losing any of the freshness and truth of the first sketch. He makes a lot of different ones of nearly the same effect, same hour of day -- and uses them for what he don't want to do. And I imagine that for sea & sky effects he makes many calculations of what has to be under certain circumstances.
Both Harrison and Lasar took an interest in Beaux's work and supported and encouraged her efforts. Since this was the first time she had ever painted in the plein-air style, she relied on their advice. Harrison made her more conscious of the value of painting from memory, while Lasar stressed the importance of having a system and science to her work. "Mr. Lasar is foremost in the modern school," she wrote, "and won't have anything but truth.... He corrects your impressions of nature and tells you where you were wrong and where you didn't think and see." While Beaux admired Lasar as a teacher, she was nevertheless more cautious of his approach, noting that I should not like to be altogether under Mr. Lasar's influence. He tells you what to do and the scientific reason almost too much. Mr. Harrison is more comprehensive & far reaching than any of them, Bouguereau and Fleury not excepted -- and has the fine taste that Lasar couldn't have.
Beaux soon wrote to her family that she was working in "the new process -- whether I am equal to the new process or not remains to be seen." She related, I've had my model on the beach for my half hour nearly every night. Last night I didn't even paint her, but took a charcoal drawing...made in the studio...wrote all over it... [with] notes...of the color, from the model. You know my effect only lasts about fifteen minutes. I feel as if I could get the drawing and the color. The details and texture are the hardest, and also not enough time.... It is good practice anyway for the mind and eye -- and my own idea.
Indeed, Beaux found her own approach to plein-air painting by combining Harrison's ideas of memory with her own previous training as a china painter, when she had made notes of color and value on photographs. She coupled this with Lasar's "truth-to-nature" realism. As she experimented with plein-air painting, her work began to display "a great burst of...lighter colors, keyed to white," but a white that was "shaded to mix with the quiet tones of green and blue." While the peasant women in Twilight Confidences wore somber-colored costumes, Beaux noted that "the tone of [their] coiffe and col [mingled] with the pale blue, rose and celadon of the evening sky." Beaux's initiation to a blending of color and light is clearly evident in the background of the painting.
While working in the plein-air style gave Beaux an appreciation for "the charm of color and values," it could not surpass her primary interest in "character." She wrote to her Uncle Will that "[p]eople do seem to me more interesting than anything else in the world and that is the bottom of my success in heads." Even though she initially began Twilight Confidences as a plein-air painting exercise, the unique features of her models soon captured her imagination. One of the two women who posed for the painting was named Marguerite, and Beaux described her as "the broad rough type, eyes very far apart. She looks like a cow, but when you come to draw her you find her 'bony structure'...sound and fine and that she is distinguished." Beaux noted with surprise that "these peasants...don't look common. They have the certain look of race which one only sees in high bred people." She concluded, "[m]y two women are teaching me a great deal. Even if they are not a success they will have done much for me."
Beaux's portrait of Catherine Conant and her painting of the Breton peasants highlight themes that she would develop in her portrait work as her career continued. Fascinated by both beauty and breeding, in time Beaux only painted people who she felt exhibited these qualities, remarking at the height of her career that "it doesn't pay to paint everybody." Beaux's identity as a portrait painter solidified in Concarneau that summer, and as she developed her technical skills, she also made a personal commitment to a professional art career. She wrote to her Uncle Will that "art is more like a person than an idea to me -- a real friend."
At the beginning of September, Kate Kinsella was gone for two weeks, and Cecilia had the use of her studio. No longer isolated in her private garden, Cecilia was now "right next to dear Shorty and Mr. Harrison and Hoeber." Beaux noted that "[t]heir criticism is invaluable and teaches me something new every time." Lasar wanted to give her "some ideas about Composition (his strong point)," but he criticized her Twilight Confidences "when it was in a horrid state," telling her that she "had got hold of something that was too much for [her]." Harrison then "came in and said that if I took him for my professor I'd go on with it -- that there was mighty good stuff in it, observation and feeling -- 'You're investigating it -- that is, your own way,'" remarking that she "had great talent" and that she put "brains into her work; and that is what very few women do."
Harrison also sought advice from Beaux regarding Midnight Marine, a painting he was then creating. When several of her suggestions proved useful, he shyly offered to pose for her and to "give [her] something of his in exchange." Beaux first made a sketch from memory, sending it to her family and telling them that the portrait was a "good deal in the pose of the sketch...[but] without the cane." Harrison posed eight times, and while Beaux found him "hard to do," she completed the painting with his "patient and encouraging" assistance [Illus. 42]. He wears a beautiful creamy white flannel shirt -- dark blue neck tie, his corduroy knickerbockers, holds his beautiful palette in his hand, and stands looking down at me from his height of six feet two...grey...for a background -- altogether standing. Beaux noted, "It is, and it isn't a success...They all praise me for it, but I wish it was better. I don't know how well that he likes it."
The portrait brought Beaux an extraordinary amount of praise from both Harrison and Lasar. Harrison told her that she had the "right stuff" to become a painter, "the stuff that digs and thinks and will not be satisfied and is never weary of the effort of painting nor counts the cost. Even among the men here there is hardly one who does this." Lasar remarked that she approached her painting in "the right way, that is as a man would do it -- and that's the biggest compliment I can pay you." Both men encouraged Beaux's talent, endorsed her professional commitment, and told her to stay in Europe "one more winter -- to clinch it."
Harrison and Lasar were the first men to so clearly single Beaux out and place her in a different category from other women practicing art. Lasar generally held most women artists in "great contempt," as his experiences teaching them had led him to believe that women were "not strong enough, and [were] only fit for decorating houses." Not an uncommon attitude toward women in the arts then, it convinced Beaux that women who chose an artistic life had to overcome greater obstacles than men. She noted that "it is so hard for a woman to work with system and science and calm good sense and infuse into it all the spirit and feeling, dignity and unity that place it on a high level."
Although all three artists were nearly the same age, Beaux acquiesced to Harrison's and Lasar's instruction and opinions because of their greater experiences and successes in the Parisian art world. That fall she wrote to her Uncle Will that she was now very anxious to paint something for next year's Salon. I have nothing here now that I could leave that is [as] good as...I can do. And with the help that I should have now, on account of Mr. Lasar and Mr. Harrison's interest, as well as Mr. Julian's, it is a chance I might never have again.
Cecilia and May left Concarneau in the middle of October for a month-long trip to Italy. With a Baedeker guide in hand, they visited Lucerne, Milan, Venice, Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Genoa, touring the palaces, cathedrals, and art museums of these cities. On their way back to Paris, they stopped in Avignon, Arles, and Nîmes, visiting the towns of Cecilia's forefathers in France's Provence. Recounting the sites to her family, Beaux's color sense and fascination with portraiture again punctuated her letters.
In Venice, Cecilia saw the city from a subtle pastel perspective. The palaces were "pearly," the water "pale blue -- lively with black gondolas." In the morning "the sky was a luminous grey"; the afternoon "white light" had "color, no light and shade"; and the "red moon" at night caused the palaces to appear "ghostly over the black water." Venice, she wrote to her aunt, was the color of...tea rose, that is it goes from a creamy white touched with grey into the softest salmon and pale yellow, with the relief of bits of dark or char green and intense -- no tender, black.... The Ducal Palace isn't the brick dull color you generally see it painted but the palest ivory and I might say flesh color, with enough black discoloration to make it beyond anything refined and elegant. As for St. Marco -- it seems to almost bend under its weight of richness. It seems to have been made by a people who loved delicate harmonies of color, and understood them as well as any really oriental people, but at the same time have exuberant form besides.... Your first impression is a deep inexhaustible golden richness.... You see what apparently is a fine old oak open work carved railing, of superb arabesque design, and you find it is not oak but a lovely waxy deep yellow marble. It is all marble, where it is not gold mosaic and fresco.
Beaux was enthralled by the work of the European masters and was especially drawn to their portraits. In Venice, following "Mr. Ruskin's suggestions...the Bellini's and Carpaccio's and Cima's" all came alive for her, and she understood and appreciated them "a great deal." She liked the "strong head[s]" of the early masters "better than the Andrea del Sartos and Fra Bartolomeos." As to "Holbein's portraits and Dürer's, and Lorenzo di Credi," Beaux felt that they were "more 'grown up' but one cannot conceive of more learning, subtlety, freshness and unconsciousness. They appear to think that anything less than their careful work would be an injustice to art and their sitter." Struck by the quality of these artists' portraits, Beaux wondered "how they can be so hard, and so fleshy, so broad and so 'tight,' so modeled with their edges as fine as this sheet of paper, so entirely without suppleness and yet not dry." She noted that the paintings "very clearly instructed [me] in two points -- at least, that one must love to observe and must throw the weight of one's gift into selecting, drawing out the essence, the secret, of what one sees."
When Beaux saw a Titian portrait of a "young Florentine gentleman in the Pitti," she imagined "the secret" of the sitter and Titian's experience painting him. It is "an absolute wonder" she wrote. It is three quarter length, standing, in a black or dark 16th century costume -- that part is nothing in fact; the face is looking full at you, quietly. He is pale, and not handsome, exactly, too refined to satisfy himself with common pleasures, and yet has not satisfied his heart with any other. I think Titian was immensely interested in him, but could not make him talk much while he was posing, which I know bored [him] and if he had not been such a swell would have embarrassed him. He is not a portrait but a real man; but one don't think of realism nor of how this or that is painted.
Beaux later recounted her experiences in Italy with Harrison and Lasar. She talked to "Shorty" about the spirituality of Italian art "until the little man was choked," and was pleasantly surprised to discover that Bellini was a favorite of Harrison, who also shared her love of Venice. Beaux told Harrison that she "had come home with some of [her] ideas very much changed," and he responded that "he was sorry to hear it as he had considered [her] in a very healthy state before."
Cecilia and May were back in Paris by the middle of November, and for the next seven months they lived in "the Hotel where the Estes live[d]," at 30 rue Vaugirard. Cecilia also took a small studio "in the rue Notre Dame des Champs No. 34," thus situating herself "in the exact locality where [she] wanted to be...in the midst of [her] friends," the Bush-Browns, the Conants, and the Estes.
Cecilia was back in Paris with just one goal in mind -- to create a painting that could be exhibited in the 1889 Salon. She wrote to her grandmother that "[t]he main thing is to paint one portrait and do my best.... My portrait of Mrs. Conant is not sufficient -- I think for the Salon, nor the women's heads sufficiently finished." With her Salon ambitions in mind, Cecilia set about arranging her studio, "a funny little thing on the ground floor [with] a skylight and two long little windows under the eaves below the skylight." The artist from whom she rented it sold her a "go up and down easel, a stove, a large table, 3 small chairs and a divan." By the middle of December she had the studio looking "quite cozy" with "three rugs" and "a big hanging to keep out draughts, oriental and very nice.... The Louvre and the Bon Marché provided them." She also had "a platform made and a kind of screen."
Cecilia had also secured her model, "the beauty of beauties, Louise Kinsella," a young woman "so ideal" that Cecilia believed to "simply...copy her as realistically as possible would make of her an ideal work." Louise was the younger sister of the Irish artist Kate Kinsella, whose Concarneau studio Cecilia had borrowed for a few weeks in September.
Cecilia had such high expectations for this painting that, when she had problems with the "ensemble" and background, it worried her because so much was "at stake." That February, her usually high spirits gave way to considerable self-doubt. She wrote to her family of some of her "blues and anxieties," expressing disappointment that May was not giving her the encouragement and support that she needed. Cecilia sorely missed "not having any one to whoop me on as Mr. Parrish and Babb and Lodge used to." She wrote: I realize now that I ought to be Babb's friend forever for what she did for me then. I have to believe in myself, and feel happy, in order to do my best and have courage to fight it out. I don't need the spur nor the irritant of a skeptical spirit near me. May never has believed particularly in me as an artist and in her secret soul thinks...that I have been very much over praised.
Without May's encouragement, she didn't quite know where to turn. Harrison had "his own picture heavily on his mind," and Lasar was not of much help, as he knew less about ensembles than she did. The real problem was painting the background. "Getting the right thing to go behind a brown cloak. To keep it quiet and distinguished in color, and at the same time have enough difference and luminance." Florence Este provided Cecilia with "great comfort" whenever she saw her, and Beaux wrote to her family that "I hope my 'spunk' will hold out, but if it does it will be under the worst strain it ever had before."
In order for Beaux's portrait to be promoted at the Salon, she needed to associate herself with an established atelier. She had originally planned "to go to Julian's for three months -- half a day," believing that, if she gave up "Julian's my chances [at] the Salon will be small as there is going to be much more chance of being left out this year than usual and I daresay I shall be less lucky than with my first venture." Beaux later noted that she "wouldn't go a step to Julian's if I wasn't afraid not to. I mean afraid in regard to my picture in the Salon.... I should like to go to either Lasar's or Colarossi's where Dagnan-Bouveret teaches. They are so nearby, but don't like to shake free from Julian's."
Beaux reestablished her affiliation with the Julian atelier when she paid the director a visit at "the Passage" cours, asking him to visit her studio to critique her Salon painting. When Julian came a few days later, she was there alone and was "a good deal scared," as she felt that the background of the painting "was sunken in and the whole thing looked weak and horrid." Julian told her that she was a "true artist," with a great imagination "for creating an illusion." Yet he feared that, in her "enthusiasm for the ideal," she would "fall into convention." He continued that she must have "more method, more system" and that she should "compose" her portrait to her "taste" and as her "imagination dictated." She should search until she found exactly what she wanted and "then copy it with the conscientiousness d'un réligion'!" Cecilia commented that Julian "almost wept when he said this and I did not suppose the fat old fellow could become so earnest and excited. No dying saint appealing to the conscience of a much loved sinner could have adjured him more solemnly than Julian did me to 'cherchez la vérite.'"
Harrison and Lasar also reviewed Beaux's Salon painting. "Shorty" came to her studio in the middle of February, "while Louise was posing and approved of it," criticizing "the modeling of the face in one or two small places." When Harrison came, he "was very nice and kind about the portrait," commenting that she "seemed to [have] got the likeness," and that "it was tremendously solid -- almost too solid, a little over accounted in places and not enough 'lost and found.'" He advised her to "keep what you've got, and take out what you can," noting that "there was stunning modeling in it."
By March 11, Cecilia had received the frame for her Salon picture, and noted that "it looks quite well -- not fresh nor free but it is noble and dignified." The next day Louise gave Beaux her last sitting, and the following day she endured "the ordeal of having a number of people see it, including the Conants, the Hoopers, "the Kinsella crowd," and "several cours girls." Beaux noted that "Mr. Lasar came but I couldn't get him to criticize the portrait except to say that the background was 'too hot.'" By the end of the week, she sent her "picture out into a cold and cruel world," and tried to realistically assess her chances of getting it into the Salon. "It is done all I can do to it now," she wrote to her sister Etta, "and I shan't be surprised after all if they rejected it because it is very 'pas mal.'"
The following week Cecilia gave Julian's assistant, Anilie, her number so that he could "boost" her at the Salon. She wrote to her grandmother that "even that may not do it. There are such stacks of them.... I shan't feel dreadfully if it is 'run out,' and you mustn't, as it is very likely to be." A week later an elated Cecilia wrote to her family the news of picture. "'Admisé!'" she exclaimed, "[b]ut don't know yet whether a numero or not."
Cecilia had decided to go to "headquarters" and find out the news for herself. [I]t was with the courage of despair that I went -- alone as I was sure I had been refused -- and I thought I would rather be alone and have the long walk home to digest the calamity.... I rode in an omnibus up the Champs Elysée where the fateful Palais...looms up.... I saw a sign at the foot of some stairs, "Administration de l'Exposition des Beaux Arts a l'entresor" so I went up.... I waited a minute in some trepidation when a man appeared who didn't seem surprised to see me -- and he took me along an entry and showed me into another room where about six men were writing and left me there. One of them came forward and I faltered out my interrogation and gave him my name which he had to spell several times. Then he searched in a register and I heard the blessed word "Admise" -- I don't think I showed any emotion -- but thanked him and walked out -- and fell into the arms of Miss Atkinson (a nice English girl) and Miss Haskell (an American) who, the latter had come to find out her news. I waited in the entry while they went in and when they emerged grinning in a minute or two we all had a great time hugging each other and being "Oh be joyful" -- as Miss Atkinson is in too and has No. 3 -- which is very good. Having a number 1, 2 or 3 -- means that you have a chance of being well hung.
The Salon opened at the end of April, and Cecilia wrote to her Uncle Will that her painting was "as well hung as it deserves, and looks a little better than I thought it would. It is not on the line but it is in the middle of a wall with little pictures grouped around it. I shall at least know what not to do next time." She concluded, "I'm not proud of myself. It is brown, cold and has no charm." Beaux had expected too much from her portrait of Louise Kinsella.
While Cecilia had focused almost all of her energies into creating her Salon painting during the first three months of the year, at the beginning of February she permitted herself some time to practice drawing in an evening class at the Colarossi cours, working there whenever she could until the beginning of April. Regarded as one of the city's many "minor ladies studios," the Colarossi school operated "on strictly commercial principles," offering "much lower" fees and allowing students to "come and go as they pleased" without having to "pay for lost lessons." Colarossi was a former model who competed with other Parisian ateliers by securing such excellent artist-teachers as P. A. J. Dagnan-Bouveret and Gustave Courtois, who would "go around his studio three times a week" and offer criticism. While the student work by women was often considered "inferior," the criticism at Colarossi's was regarded as "of a severe type."
Dagnan-Bouveret and Courtois had trained together with Gérôme in the 1870s at the École des Beaux-Arts and had known Beaux's Philadelphia art teacher William Sartain. Both were born in 1852 -- Courtois in Pusey (Haute-Saône) and Dagnan-Bouveret in Paris. Their friendship began during the years when they were struggling Parisian art students. Courtois made his reputation as a history and portrait painter, while Dagnan-Bouveret's standing rested on his paintings of peasant life in the Franche-Comte. Beaux received criticism from Dagnan-Bouveret the year that he won medals of honor at the Salon and the Universal Exhibition for his picture Breton Women at the Pardon, placing him "in the first ranks of modern painters."
Cecilia Beaux's first impressions of the Colarossi studio were favorable. "We like Colarossi's very much," she wrote. It is rough there, but the class is a very nice one, almost entirely English and American, and many of the girls are friends. Miss Webster and Dabney, Boyer, Trotter, Stanley.... It is very weird at Colarossi's going there at night. We went with Miss Trotter and after passing through a hall of a house, descended into a strange court gleaming with broken statues, and bas reliefs, models standing around with a little flickering light falling on them. Then up and up long dark flights of stairs with only a small flaming lamp on the top step to light us into a vast atelier, where the men were fixing the gas lights not yet lighted. We didn't get started until half past-seven. Had a darling little Italian boy for a model. The most graceful, charming intelligent creature with enormous dark eyes, the brow of Apollo when you could get a glimpse of it under his shock of black hair. He entertained us with acrobatic performances during the rests.
Courtois and Dagnan-Bouveret were different types of artists as well as teachers. When Beaux began to study there, she described Courtois as "a big man with a blonde beard...looks like a German and a man of power," remarking that his criticism "was mild as a lamb...but they say that sometimes he is a roaring lion." Courtois "went through the room in about 15 minutes [with] only about one word to each girl." What he said, she noted, was "very much to the point," particularly his comments to her that she should "study the main lines more carefully and be more 'simple.' They never mention this word at Julian's, and I need it especially."
Beaux depicted Dagnan-Bouveret as "a man of small stature with dark hair and [a] beard" and "intense" deep-set eyes. Known as a man with "the most sympathetic nature and the kindest heart," he brought these qualities to the criticism of his students' work. Toward the end of February, he corrected the atelier efforts at Colarossi's, and Cecilia wrote a long discourse about him to her family. He is a gentleman and very quiet...Dagnan is the first really nice Frenchman it has been my fortune to meet. I wish you had seen his work and then I could tell you that he is just like it, and nothing more would have to be said. He is small and dark but not the usual type of Frenchman as he has a nice firm face, and looks what he is, tremendously in earnest. He doesn't look over thirty, but they say he is 36 or 8 and has been married for years. His portrait of his wife in last year's Salon was one of the two portraits of women that I liked. He is a realist, but never coarse, and there is no one else here so exact, true, precise, refined and charming all at once as he is. The men who have as much style as he are rarely so true or so naive. Those who have as much color have not his firmness and precision in character & modeling and drawing and those who can draw as well have not a certain refinement and elevation that his has no matter what the subject.
Cecilia believed that Dagnan gave each student a "conscientious criticism," yet as one of the "English girls" noted, "he thinks we are all mediocre." Cecilia enjoyed working at Colarossi's, as "the ideal of work... [was] far more artistic than at Julian's [and was] freer and allow[ed] for more individuality." Still, she believed that the students at the "Passage" were more serious, and that there was "ambition there that one don't find anywhere else."
In March, for the sake of her Salon picture, Cecilia returned to Julian's "Passage," where she "squeezed in among the 90." That spring she received criticism from Benjamin Constant, her last Parisian art instructor. Born in Paris in 1845, Constant had studied with Cabanel at the École des Beaux-Arts and, like William Sartain, his early work was influenced by the craze for orientalia. Constant won a third-class medal at the 1875 Salon for his painting Moroccan Prisoners. By the late 1880s he had shifted his work to decorative murals and portraiture, becoming one of the favored portraitists of English high society. While Constant had his own studio (which Beaux had visited the previous spring), he also occasionally offered criticism at the Académie Julian. That March, Beaux presented a painting of a head for Constant to criticize. He told her that the "drawing was virile and energetic," and later praised a figure study of a brunette "with rather a wizened face, pale pink background and... profile against the light" [Illus. 43].
Beaux completed her atelier work in April, drawing at Julian's in the morning and at Lasar's in the afternoon. Lasar picked apart her composition of Ruth and Boaz, and in disgust Cecilia remarked that everything with him was "'Number 18,' 'Rule 15'...reason and calculation. I'm afraid if I was with Lasar long I'd be reduced to a cipher." At Julian's, Robert-Fleury was decidedly more sympathetic. He told her to "travailler, travailler" on her composition The Disciples at Emmaus, and on those parts she struggled the most, he encouraged her to "cherchez."
As Beaux completed her art training in the Parisian ateliers, she assessed her experiences with her instructors, noting that she never got "much teaching out of any of them. They sit down and praise my work mildly and make a few small corrections." While the criticism was less than she had hoped for, her efforts were continually praised. Beaux commented that the professors saw "a lot of rather superficial or else very green but studious work," and when they came "across one that is thoughtful and workmanlike too" it would "actually raise [their] spirits."
Harrison, Lasar, and Julian especially lauded Beaux's talents, but the opinions these men expressed suggest the rather discouraging general attitude toward women studying art in the late nineteenth century. Julian had told Cecilia that "you belong above with the few superior ones. Tomorrow may be great for you, or it may be nothing. You can have everything 'si vous voulez,' but I fear for you that you will float hither and thither and the years will pass without it." Cecilia responded that "[h]e is not quite right about this. I do not weave in and from one opinion to another.... I feel that I have the mind, the temperament and the heart for what he says, if my character will only be equal to it -- and what an if that is." Since Julian could not predict the future, he could not have known how artistically focused and determined she would be.
Before returning to Philadelphia in August of that year, Cecilia made two trips to England -- first on holiday and then to paint several portraits. In May, Cecilia visited the George Darwin family at their home in Cambridge. Maud (Du Puy) Darwin was an old Philadelphia friend, whose younger sister Gertrude had sat for Cecilia when she was still a student with William Sartain. A friendship had developed between the Beaux and Du Puy families, as they both shared a Huguenot ancestry and a spare but genteel lifestyle.
During the summer of 1883, Maud Du Puy had traveled to England to visit her maternal aunt, Lady Caroline (Cara) Jebb, who introduced her to George Darwin. Plumian Professor of Mathematical Astronomy, Fellow of Trinity at Cambridge University, and the second son of Charles Darwin, George was some sixteen years older than Maud. While it was not love at first sight, a relationship soon developed, and the following summer, on July 29, the couple were married at the home of Maud's sister Mary Spencer in Erie, Pennsylvania. George brought his bride back to Cambridge, and they soon purchased a large Georgian house on the Cam River at Newnham Grange. It was there that Cecilia came to stay.
May Whitlock remained in Paris that spring to settle both her and Cecilia's affairs, and shortly after Cecilia's arrival in Cambridge, she wrote to May her first impressions of her friends. "The Darwins must be very well off," Cecilia commented, as "everything is the perfection of dainty luxury -- homelike and sweet at the same time." George reminded her of Dr. Bacon (another Philadelphia acquaintance), and Maud, she noted, had "lost the freshness and bounteousness of her once good looks...the gold [is] out of her massive hair and her figure is thin and stooping, but there is a certain loveliness about her and she is capable at times of looking very pretty." Two of Maud's four children had been born when Cecilia visited her that spring, and Beaux described the toddlers as "sweet little blue-eyed things."
Maud showed Cecilia all of Cambridge, including the university colleges and a scenic boat ride on the Cam. She also arranged luncheons, garden parties, dinners, and an organ recital to introduce Cecilia to her friends. Before her vacation ended, Beaux made a quick pencil sketch of Maud's baby Charles [Illus. 44], and its favorable reception resulted in orders for portraits of Maud, George, Mrs. Horace (Ida) Darwin (née Emma Cealie Kene), and Mrs. Henry C. Goodhard (née Rose Rendel), a family friend. Since Beaux liked "the idea of leaving some work in Cambridge," and coming home with a little bit of money, she accepted the commissions, thinking that "$75 a piece" was a fair price, "as of course they don't really know me here and besides in so short a time I shouldn't like to undertake a greater responsibility."
Beaux returned to Paris and helped May pack up their things. She spent a "morning at the Exposition [Universelle] among the pictures," where she "saw [hanging her portrait of] Mrs. Conant and wasn't ashamed of her." She also met her friend Henry Thuron, who was in Paris for the summer. By the end of June, May and Cecilia were sharing lodgings at Ashton House in Cambridge. Cecilia was ready to begin her summer assignments and had "a room in Maud's cottage for a studio," where the Darwins provided her with a table, some chairs, a black fur rug, and "two pretty jap screens." She "nailed up lots of photos" and some of her "Louvre studies," and pronounced the studio "quite nice."
After a trip to the National Gallery in London and an invitation from George Darwin to a soirée at the Royal Academy, where she was received by Sir Frederic Leighton, Cecilia began the paintings. She first started a pastel of Rose Goodhart and oil of George Darwin, and by the middle of July had begun pastels of Maud and Ida Darwin. Beaux noted, "[a]n anxious time is to come of course. I have not learned to be less but more anxious about my work."
Beaux was soon "in raptures over pastel," writing to her grandmother that it "is a medium that...is especially good for women's portraits." The first picture completed was that of Rose Goodhard, which Beaux noted "had only the mornings work of a week on it -- and is simply a happy hit." But it also gave her a lesson. "I found it impossible to get the deep tones in the hair with pastel on the paper I used." Beaux described Ida Darwin as "a little mousie creature [who] poses in a grandmother's brocaded dress very delicate and pretty -- green and silver, with lace around her neck, [and a] white lacy background." Particularly proud of her efforts with the portrait of Ida Darwin, Beaux noted that it "is simply walking firmly and smoothly on -- and was a likeness almost from the first stroke." While Cecilia wrote nothing to her family about her pastel of Maud Darwin [Illus. 45], the sensitive rendering of her friend's face and costume suggest her admiration and affection. Beaux portrayed Maud's head in a semi-profile pose, her large and luminous eyes seriously observing the viewer. Outfitted for the summer in a white flounced dress and hat, she wears a black-velvet ribbon at her neck. Maud's pose is similar to Beaux's 1883 portrait of Ethel Page. Beaux painted her friend's portrait under the great copper beech tree in the Newnham Grange garden, with Maud's young daughter Gwen looking on.
The three pastels that Beaux made that summer were simple, tightly executed bust portraits with plain or simple backgrounds. While the style was reminiscent of her earlier Philadelphia work, Beaux's Parisian art training and plein-air painting experiences were also clearly evident. The light dancing on the clothing, in the portraits of Maud and Ida Darwin, displays Cecilia's efforts at capturing the momentary effect.
Beaux thoroughly enjoyed her idyllic Cambridge studio, thriving in the bustle of Maud "always coming and going with her babes," and reading Democracy aloud to her and "Mrs. Horace." Cecilia noted that "orders are pouring in 'if I will only stay,'...I should soon have a real reputation. They think me a wonder." With difficulty she turned down offers to paint the Horace Darwin children, and Maud's relatives, Sir Richard Jebb, professor of Greek at Cambridge, his wife Cara, and their son Erasmus.
Beaux declared that "portrait painting would be the most ideal occupation in existence" -- but for a few drawbacks. The ignorance of all these people...is amazing. They think after you have worked an hour you have done what you see, and they ask each other anxiously whether its like or unlike -- and think if they don't tell you that the eyes or nose or mouth or chin "isn't exactly right" you'll never find it out for yourself.... They ought'nt to "want to see" so much.... And I do think that one of the rarest and biggest qualities one can have is humble respect for other people's professions.
Beaux ended her nineteen months in Europe by exhibiting
her four portraits "in the Darwin's dining room." With her art training completed and
her professional self-confidence enhanced, Cecilia returned to Philadelphia
in August, 1889, with a new commitment to her art career.
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