Oil on Board Painting by Famed American Realist Artist Elizabeth Nourse


Oil on Board Painting by Famed American Realist Artist Elizabeth Nourse - Fine, rare oil on board (mahogany) painting by Elizabeth Nourse, (born October 26, 1859 – October 8, 1938). Nourse was a realist-style genre, portrait, and landscape painter born in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, in the Cincinnati area; she also worked in decorative painting and sculpture. Described by her contemporaries as “the first woman painter of America” and “the dean of American woman painters in France and one of the most eminent contemporary artists of her sex,” Nourse was the first American woman to be voted into the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She also had the honor of having one of her paintings purchased by the French government and included in the Luxembourg Museum‘s permanent collection.Nourse’s style was described by Los Angeles critic Henry J. Seldis as a “forerunner of social realist painting.” Some of Nourse’s works are displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

The following is information supplied by the individual from whom Perry Adams Antiques obtained the Elizabeth Nourse painting: “My grandmother, Edna Malloy was born in Cincinnati in 1892. Her father was the CFO for Norfolk Southern, and the family traveled all around the country. After graduation she attended the Juilliard School in New York and majored in music. On a trip to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, she was introduced to my grandfather, Clarence Alley Thompson. Soon after, they married and had two sons. At the time my grandfather was working in the tobacco industry in Norfolk. They decided to move back to his hometown of Petersburg to raise their family. Interestingly enough her sister met and married a man from Petersburg also. His name was Ash White, and he went on to become the president of the Virginia Bar Association.

Edna’s social life was comprised of a circle of friends who were members of the DAR and the UDC, and as we have discussed earlier was a close friend and neighbor of Mary Lee. The Nourse painting, that we have always called the “Dutch Lady”, was gifted to her from her family the year it was painted (and she was born), 1892. It hung in her home in both Petersburg and in Virginia Beach and later in my father’s home in Hampton, Virginia. It was passed down to me where it has hung for 30 years in my house, in California. The provenance in this piece of art is that my grandmother was an amazing singer and piano player, a true artist in her own right. I think having a family was more interesting to her. I feel that her passion for art was possibly triggered by the fact that Ms Nourse was from Cincinnati, one of the first American woman to pursue art as a career, and given to her on her birth year.”

This painting is in superior condition, with vibrant colors and exhibiting impressive efforts by the artist to show the sun’s rays coming through the window panes onto the subject of the painting; it is boldly signed and dated “’92”, by Nourse and is housed in an excellent, original period frame. Perry Adams Antiques subjected the painting to diagnostic, black lighting, which did not evidence any defects in the painted surface whatsoever. On the back of the work, written in pencil, are the words: “Volendam” and “Holland”. Elizabeth Nourse was never content to simply stay in Paris, and in 1892, accompanied by her older sister, Louise, she took up residence in Volendam, Holland, for a three-month period. During this time, she was living on a dyke in a small cottage with her bed in a closet and no central heating. She actively painted several works during this time, and this is one of the products of this period.  This excerpt from her biography details this time

The sisters returned to Paris for the winter, but in July 1892 they were off again to work in Holland for three months. In the fishing village of Volendam, a favorite of many artists, they shared a cottage with Laura and Henriette Wachman, expatriate friends from Cincinnati. Elizabeth and Henriette, the painters, had a platform constructed outside their studio window so that they could work even in cold, windy weather. Elizabeth worked so prodigiously that she finished four large paintings as well as some twenty-two smaller ones during that happy summer.

The work measures as follows: Frame – Height: 20.5”; Width: 17.5”

Sight – Height: 12”; Width: 8.5”

Artist Biography – The Smithsonian Museum: Elizabeth Nourse’s considerable reputation as a Salon painter was acquired in Paris during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when that city was the leading international art center. Nourse was acclaimed by her fellow artists and the public alike, not only for her technical skill but also for the unique personal vision she brought to her subject matter.

She was one of the first American women to be elected a member of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and she won many awards in the international expositions of the time, in Chicago, Nashville, Paris, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. She was consistently invited to enter the annual juried exhibitions that were a prominent feature of the American art scene—at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Carnegie Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. As a final accolade the French government bought her painting Les volets clos for its permanent collection of contemporary art to hang in the Musée du Luxembourg with the work of such artists as James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent.

Nourse’s career parallels that of other expatriate artist of the pre-World War I period, but certain aspects of it are unique. With Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, she was one of the few women painters to achieve international recognition for her work and, like them, faced certain obstacles that a male artist did not encounter. She first had to prove that she was a serious professional since most women painters, now matter how gifted, were considered “Sunday painters” who would eventually marry or become teachers and fail to produce a significant body of work. To acquire professional status she had to be recognized by the all-male juries of the Salons and international exhibitions and to be favorably reviewed by the art critics, who also were mostly men. As a Victorian lady she could not easily advance her career by forming friendships in these groups, as a male artist could; the social interchange of the café, so much a part of the artistic life of Paris in her day, was denied to her. To compensate for these disadvantages, she always had the total support of her family and of a large network of women friends who admired her work, publicized it, and bought it.

Unlike Cassatt, Nourse did not have an independent income nor did she teach, as Beaux did. Yet from 1883 until her death in 1938, a period of fifty-five years, she earned her living as a professional artist and supported her older sister, Louise, as well. She was also unusual among both men and women expatriates in being almost entirely American trained. Except for a few months’ study in New York and later in Paris at the Académie Julian (where critics told her she needed no further schooling), her style was formed at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati.

When Nourse went to Paris in 1887 it was the Mecca for all aspiring young artists who hoped to refine their drawing techniques and to absorb the newest ideas in the contemporary art world. French academic training centered on drawing from the nude, and Nourse could already draw a convincing figure when she arrived. …

Nourse had not only developed an individual technique before she went to Paris but had also found her subject matter. Her interest in the peasant themes so popular among the Salon painters of her day was simply an extension of her preoccupation with the simple subjects she had painted in the Midwest—the daily routine of rural folk, especially women at work, mothers and children, portraits of Negro women and girls, and country landscapes.

Like every memorable artist, Nourse was able to express in her work an original personal vision that is immediately evident to the viewer, who may know nothing about her life. Her biography explains, however, why she brought such deep conviction to her portrayal of working people, particularly to women; to the importance of motherhood; and to the beauty found in the simplest aspects of daily life and of nature. These subjects, banal in the hands of someone less sincere and less skilled, reflected her basic values and Nourse was able to infuse them with a special sense of their importance and their universal meaning.

Mary Alice Heekin Burke and Lois Marie Fink Elizabeth Nourse, 1859–1938: A Salon Career (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum, 1983)

Luce Artist Biography: Elizabeth was raised in a Catholic family in Cincinnati. Her father was a successful banker until the Civil War wiped him out. The women in the family learned skills that would allow them to support themselves. Elizabeth took classes in painting and sculpture as well as wood carving, china painting, and engraving. After she completed her studies, she sold pen and ink drawings of local homes, made illustrations for magazines, and created mural decorations. When they had saved enough money, Elizabeth and her older sister rented a studio on Paris’s Left Bank, and Elizabeth enrolled in the prestigious Académie Julian. She was ambitious, and after only three months set to work on a painting for the Paris Salon. This bold move paid off when her finished work was accepted by the jury and placed in a prime spot at eye level. She remained in Paris for the rest of her life. (Burke, Elizabeth Nourse, 1859-1938: A Salon Career, 1983)



Member, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France

Elizabeth Nourse works are displayed at: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art

 National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., The Athenaeum, Alexandria, Virginia

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