OUT OF THE BACKGROUND: CECILIA BEAUX AND THE ART OF PORTRAITURE
By Tara Leigh Tappert
Part IV: Accomplishments
I very earnestly believe in the value of the text which is there should be no sex in Art.... There should be neither advantage nor disadvantage in being either a man or a woman. I am pointing, I know, to a millennium at least in the woman's view if I predict an hour when the term "Women in Art" will be as strange sounding a topic as the title "Men in Art" would be now.
Chapter 10: Two Sisters, 1905 - 1912
1905 was a momentous year for both Cecilia Beaux and her sister Etta. At the respective ages of fifty and fifty-two, they both had settled into new homes -- Cecilia had completed Green Alley and began spending half the year in Gloucester, and Etta had moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, following the career of her husband, Henry. Although the interests of the two sisters had always been markedly different, they had nevertheless been competing with each other for years. Etta marveled at Cecilia's ability to go out and conquer the art world, while Cecilia admired Etta's marriage and her six attractive and intelligent children. Each sister regarded the other's choices "as the better part of life." One idealized the rewards of a family and the other the laurels of a career. Yet their fascination with each other's accomplishments blinded them to the sacrifices inherent in each other's decisions. Wife and mother required one kind of tailoring and professional woman another. The lives the Beaux sisters each fashioned reveal the boundaries they accepted.
Etta's life revolved around her husband and family, and the move to Bethlehem was to accommodate Henry's career. In Philadelphia, he had progressed from general solicitor to assistant to the president at the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but he was now afforded an opportunity to serve the school from which he had graduated more than thirty years earlier. Henry was appointed President of Lehigh University.
While Bethlehem was no more than an hour-and-a-half train ride from Philadelphia's Reading Terminal, life there was as different from Philadelphia as a "circus" was to a Quaker "meetinghouse." Located in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, Bethlehem was a wild and vigorous industrial town where railroad, steel, and coal-mining interests coalesced. Henry relished the city's raw and boisterous personality and thrived as the new president of its university. He happily assumed responsibility for turning out engineers for the area's industries. But his shy and quiet wife never quite adjusted to the energetic community.
Etta missed her more genteel life on the peaceful Haverford campus, where the family had lived from 1893 until the move to Bethlehem in 1905. As the university president's wife, she struggled to find both a meaningful way to express herself and a place in the exuberant Bethlehem community. Yet despite the difficulties of her new life, Etta adored her husband and by all accounts had a marriage that was the picture of wedded bliss. Etta had given birth to four sons and two daughters between 1880 and 1897, and, in addition to her marriage, she considered the children her supreme accomplishment [Illus. 93]. All of her sons pursued brilliant careers in law and medicine. One of her daughters was beautiful and high spirited, and was the prize of fashionable society, while the other was plain, quiet, and artistically gifted, making her mark in the world with the books that she wrote.
Henry maintained a comfortable life for Etta and the children, first moving his family around West Philadelphia and then building them a comfortable house on the grounds of Haverford College. He had also acquired Curlew Cottage at Beach Haven, New Jersey, and from 1888 until the children were grown, the family regularly spent their summer months at the seashore there.
While Henry provided the luxuries of his family's cozy existence it fell to Etta to manage the house and cottage as well as her children's complicated and busy lives. Etta maintained a large and lively household in Haverford. She monitored her children's school schedules, their language tutors and music lessons, and she focused her attention on her energetic husband, who had little interest in a social life beyond the family. Henry never brought "friends to the house with the exception of one or two men," and he refused to "go to anything that resembled a party [or] have one at the house." In addition to her family, Etta also supervised a number of Irish servants, demanding the same standards of domestic perfection to which she had been trained as a child. Etta allowed "no nonsense or careless work from her cook, waitress, laundress, upstairs maid, coachman, children's nurse, governess, and coachman-gardener." Under her selfless guidance a kind of "furious energy" permeated the Drinker household.
It was Etta's "natural traits of loveliness" and her "unselfish love and ever-present thought...for others" that had won Henry's heart so many years earlier. Yet Etta viewed these qualities as merely natural expressions, since she believed she could do little else, given the limits of her bad eyesight: "I couldn't read and do abstract things like that. I couldn't even read piano music very well. So I just did things for other people. I made Cecilia's aprons and bonnets. I made tippets for grandma and slippers for Uncle Will."
When she married Etta had transferred her devotion to her family. While Henry regarded her sense of duty and gentle leadership, learned at her grandmother Leavitt's knee, as the virtuous attributes that Etta drew upon in training and fashioning him and the children, her price for such selfless fidelity was ultimately quite high. Sometime in the mid-1890s, when Etta was in her early forties, she suffered "a serious nervous breakdown...became a very bad sleeper and remained highly nervous from that time on."
While never regarded as an invalid by the family, when Etta moved to Bethlehem, where her household and maternal responsibilities diminished, she floundered because her extravagant and selfless care giving had so significantly limited her identity. Her home mainly became an extension of her husband's presidential position, frequently serving as a meeting-place for Lehigh University faculty and students, as well as visiting dignitaries. It was hardly the domestic sanctuary that she had maintained in Haverford.
Etta's marriage and her husband's accomplishments granted her an exalted place in society; outside of this she had no discernible identity. As Henry's wife, Etta traveled around the world and could have met whoever had interested her, but she was shy and self-effacing and rarely chose to place herself before the fashionable world. Still, Etta's agonizing restraint might not have mattered if she hadn't compared her life to that of her younger sister. Etta habitually humbled herself in the face of Cecilia's accomplishments, admiring her sister's ability to work and thrive among the glamorous elite. From Etta's perspective, her own life was humdrum by comparison. Cecilia knew such "fine people;" she had lived in Paris, stayed in the White House, and painted the President's wife.
On the surface, Cecilia's life seemed sparkling indeed. But her focused pursuit of success also exacted a price. As her reputation increased, she was frequently away from her family, and even though Philadelphia continued to be her home throughout the 1890s, by the end of the decade she had begun a peripatetic existence that lasted for years. In addition to teaching at the Academy in Philadelphia, Cecilia's frenetic schedule often required her to travel to New York, Washington, D.C., New Haven, Boston, and Pittsburgh. She executed portrait commissions, served on juries for various art exhibitions, and arranged solo shows of her own work. The demanding pace at which she lived occasionally gave way to bouts of loneliness and self-doubt. At those moments she would look at her sister's life and covet its conventional triumphs, next to which the rewards of the art world seemed a hollow substitute.
Etta's simple acceptance of a woman's natural role also seemed easier to Cecilia than her own more complicated choices. Although she acquiesced to most cultural expectations, Cecilia also spent her career advocating the position that a woman need not be unsexed because she had chosen a profession rather than marriage. All her life she cultivated platonic friendships and maintained loyal family ties as a devoted niece, sister, and aunt. Eventually she was able to carve a place for herself that both literally and figuratively satisfied her hunger to belong. In her design for her Gloucester, Massachusetts, home, Green Alley, Cecilia found a way to fully express her multifaceted personality, and as she settled on Eastern Point, she discovered friends who both understood and validated her choices.
The picturesque village of Gloucester, Massachusetts, with waves crashing on a rocky seashore, had begun attracting artists as early as the 1850s. Within a few decades, the hamlet had also become Philadelphia's answer to the more ostentatious summer colonies at Newport and Bar Harbor. Gloucester provided a summer escape from the heat of the city to an existence of nature and culture in which austere, rugged beauty and simple living predominated -- qualities compatible with the Quaker temperament of so many from the City of Brotherly Love.
Cecilia made the first of many summer visits to the idyllic New England fishing village in July 1887. Reports on the charms of Gloucester by artist Stephen Parrish, who in the 1880s had a studio next to Cecilia's in Philadelphia, and by Florence Este, a friend and fellow art student from the Pennsylvania Academy, may have encouraged her adventure. Both Parrish and Este had been regularly summering in the North Shore community since the early 1880s.
Traveling with her Aunt Eliza and Uncle Will, Cecilia and her relatives stayed at the Fairview Inn, a lodging established in 1842 for "people of gentility," located just above Niles Beach where Eastern Point begins. Gloucester's luminous beauty and serene setting were attractive to Cecilia, and by the late 1890s, along with a bevy of Leavitt, Biddle, and Drinker relatives, she was regularly spending a part of the summer there. Every year they arrived the last week of June and checked into the same rooms at the Fairview Inn.
For a few weeks each summer, Cecilia relaxed and enjoyed the company of such artists as Ellen Day Hale, Philip Hale, Gabrielle D. Clements, Anna Hyatt Huntington, and Maxfield Parrish. She also became a part of a community of other interesting and professionally well-placed individuals who were beginning to regularly summer in Gloucester. Cecilia soon realized that her love of the seashore village was based on these growing friendships, and also on a dawning awareness that in Gloucester she could successfully combine portrait work -- "long, unhurried bouts of painting," and leisure time -- "off hours...spent in delicious air." At the turn of the century, Cecilia began shifting her painting season from winters in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia to summers in Gloucester.
After spending several summers at the Fairview Inn, Cecilia wrote to George Seymour in June of 1903 that she had "taken a HOUSE at Eastern Point." She described it as "a nice placebut not an atom like mejust plain respectable suburban with a little Architectural sweeteningand no flavor at all."
The rented cottage was on Cape Ann, and Cecilia called it the Rock of Calif. May Whitlock, her Parisian study companion and cousin, agreed to serve as the housekeeper, and Anne Dehon Blake, Cecilia's artistic Bostonian friend, came as the boarder.
That summer in her rented Gloucester cottage, Cecilia experienced a peaceful and contented sense of place. Since 1897 she had been living a frenetic and mobile existence, traveling up and down the East Coast to complete portrait commissions and to fulfill other assignments. She had kept a studio in Philadelphia until the end of the decade, but in 1899 she had found it necessary to open another one in New York. For at least six years, Cecilia intermittently lived and painted in her New York studio, located on Washington Square, but she also made temporary living arrangements in boarding houses and with friends, commuting to the homes of her sitters or borrowing studios to complete commissions when working in cities other than Philadelphia and New York.
Throughout the 1890s Cecilia could always return to West Philadelphia and stay with her beloved aunts and uncle at 4305 Spruce Street. The three relatives maintained the family residence as long as they were able. But after Aunt Emily's death in December 1903, Uncle Will no longer wished to live there, and Aunt Eliza was too frail to continue in the house on her own. Such changes in the family's circumstances forced Cecilia to also soberly consider the next phase of her own existence.
That summer, while staying in the Rock of Calif cottage, Cecilia envisioned a way in which she could combine both work and pleasure in Gloucester. She experimented with a routine that suited her personal and professional purposes. She agreed to paint a portrait of her Philadelphia friend, Mrs. Charles H. Ludington, if Mrs. Ludington would come to Gloucester and sit for the painting there. The commission turned into an enjoyable holiday, and it was soon followed by visits from George Seymour, who came to see her in July, and her sister and niece Ernesta, who arrived there in August. Cecilia soon saw the value of establishing a summer work schedule and building a house and studio of her own. The following August, when the decision was made to close the family's West Philadelphia home, Cecilia placed a land contract in Gloucester on a "little lot beset with all sorts of briars."
Indeed, thoughts of permanently settling in Gloucester had begun to take hold in 1902 when Cecilia's nephew, Henry Sandwith Drinker, a law student at Harvard University, had introduced her to twenty-eight-year-old A. Piatt Andrew. Born into a prominent La Porte, Indiana, family, Andrew had completed his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1900 and was just beginning an illustrious career in economics. When Beaux met him, he was teaching that subject at his alma mater. Andrew was also completing a summer home on Gloucester's Eastern Point, and in September 1902 when Red Roof was finished, he invited Beaux to the housewarming festivities. Cecilia enjoyed Piatt's company, began a portrait of him that year, and took great pleasure from the numerous young Harvard men, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who were soon regularly visiting Red Roof [Illus. 94].
With Andrew leading the way, Eastern Point developed into a summer community of bachelors and unmarried women whose lives would soon become intricately interconnected. Boston decorator and architect Henry Davis Sleeper, five years younger than A. Piatt Andrew, had studied architecture in Paris, worked in publishing in Boston for awhile, and finally made his living as an interior decorator [Illus. 95]. His most stunning accomplishment was Beauport, his own Gloucester home begun in 1907. Its name was inspired by French explorer Henry Champlain who had called the Gloucester harbor "Le Beau Port." Over the next two decades, Sleeper's house stretched and grew in five directions and began to burgeon with a fine collection of colonial antiques. The house became such a curiosity that a steady stream of New England cognoscenti were soon dropping by to admire his handiwork.
A selection of interesting women from various parts of the country also settled on the Point, and while Beaux was the most renowned, the other women were also talented in their own rights. Joanna Davidge, headmistress of Miss Davidge's Classes in New York, built a summer home called Pier Lane. Caroline Sidney Sinkler, a South Carolina and Philadelphia belle, who was a generous patron of various Philadelphia cultural organizations, constructed a Gloucester cottage that she dubbed Wrong Roof. Indiana artist and teacher Lucy Taggart transformed a
late-nineteenth century Gloucester house and renamed it Timolat; she also forged a friendship with Cecilia Beaux, and at the end of World War I she accompanied Beaux to France and England while she painted the war portraits. The loosely associated presence of these various women on Eastern Point earned them the sobriquet "Dabsville" -- for Davidge, Beaux, and Sinkler. Later, Boston art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner was made an honorary member of the Dabsville group, as she was a regular visitor to Andrew's Red Roof and was a friend of many other Gloucester inhabitants.
It had been with the help of A. Piatt Andrew that Beaux found the Rock of Calif cottage in 1903. She took it for the summer and then rented it again the following year while she searched for an available tract of land to buy. She soon found an ideal spot, a thickly wooded space on the harbor side of the road," which was "part-way between the lighthouse and the town of Gloucester. She recalled, so solid was the tangle of catbriar, primeval blueberry, ilex, bay and sassafras that entrance upon it was impossible. Over all rose tall wild cherry trees. Two great maples stood with only a gate's width between them on what was then the narrow graveled road to the Point. There were many high, flat-branched trees...which I later found to be tupelo ... [their] stems were thick and gnarled with age...as if drawn and composed by a master artist. It was a "bosquet" ... [and] this thick, inviolate wood...caught me unescapably in its branches.
Beaux purchased this strip of land on Eastern Point in the summer of 1904 and then employed the Boston architectural firm of Charles Cummings to help design and build Green Alley. Dallas McGrew, a young man whom she had met through A. Piatt Andrew when he was an architecture student at Harvard, was then employed with Cummings and was assigned to work on her house. Architect and artist soon became good friends [Illus. 96], and while the house was under construction during the spring of 1905, all Cecilia wanted to do was "go to Gloucester and watch Green Alley building" [Illus. 97].
Beaux dreamed of Green Alley as a sanctuary hidden from the road by a tangled thicket of woods, a practical but inviting estate that accommodated the main divisions of its owner's life. The shell-toned stucco house with a peaked grey roof and a pink bricked loggia, whose walls held terra-cotta bas-reliefs of the work of old master artists such as Donatello, was built for "friendship" [Illus. 98]. A separate and secluded studio almost as large as the house was built for "work" [Illus. 99]. Connecting the two main structures was a grassy terraced area [Illus. 100]. These buildings were a metaphor for the separate personal and professional spheres of its mistress's own life, and its layout literally embodied the social, cultural, and philosophical values imposed on professional women at the turn of the century.
Green Alley's practical design defied stylistic categorization. Beaux described it as "Tropical Colonial," because it reminded her of houses in the Azores, but others saw Italian and Greek influences. By connecting the Gloucester village road to the house and studio by narrow allées through the woods [Illus. 101], Beaux also created an impression of Green Alley as a coherent living body in which each part was harmoniously related to another. When it was completed, Green Alley was said to have its own personality.
Indeed, Green Alley concretely manifested Beaux's belief that her career as an artist was a sacred calling. She entertained friends on "the cloisters," a terraced area, and worked in a studio that looked like a "tiny chapel" with a "pointed roof and high, narrow windows." Inside the studio opposite its entrance was "a sort of bay [that was] treated like a chapel" [Illus. 102]. An "austerity" pervaded the place, as well as "a sense of the lofty impulse of creative labor, of a sincere devotion to truth and beauty, a feeling of the dominance of service in a high cause."
While Cecilia's studio symbolized her devotion to her craft, her home represented the nurturing balance of family and friends. The house contained a spacious living area [Illus. 103], as well as her private rooms, guest quarters, and servants' chambers. It was Cecilia's two domestics, Anna Murphy and Natale Gavagnin, as well as her dowdy cousin, May Whitlock, who kept everything running smoothly. Cecilia had inherited Anna from her sister Etta, and the red-headed Irishwoman faithfully served her for forty years. Natale had been a Venetian gondolier when the Gilders met him and brought him to America. Dressed in a white sailor suit with a colorful sash, he worked for Cecilia from 1907 to 1928, when bouts with heart disease took him back to Italy where he soon died [Illus. 104]. Anna cooked, cleaned, and fixed her mistress's hair, while Natale chauffeured, gardened, and generally added an exotic romanticism to life at Green Alley. His popularity was such that Isabella Stewart Gardner tried to steal him away, but Natale always remained faithful to his "own Senora." Cecilia used her cousin May to entertain her sitters with readings from interesting novels and short stories. With the help of her servants and also May Whitlock, Cecilia was able to balance the demands of her career and the pleasures of her social life.
Those who visited Beaux at Green Alley learned to respect their hostess's schedule. Her niece Ernesta, who spent many summers there and often posed for her aunt, noted that Beaux "always painted in the morning." It was "9 o'clock in the studio, a break about 11 o'clock with cocoa or a hot meal or something for about 15 minutes and then work until 1 and nothing interfered with it. There was no telephone, no servants coming in with messages -- Nothing." Ernesta further commented that Cecilia "always took a rest in the afternoon -- after lunch" and never "paint[ed] in the afternoon [or]...on Sunday."
While Cecilia always maintained a select group of friends, she enjoyed a wide variety of people, particularly young men, with whom the question of marriage would never become an issue. Beaux "liked them very much," her niece Ernesta commented, "she didn't care...how bright they were. She just loved them. They came to see her and they loved her." Her interest was more than satisfied through her friendships with A. Piatt Andrew and Henry Davis Sleeper. Both men valued Beaux's companionship and advice and often came to Green Alley for afternoon coffee [Illus. 105]. Beaux, in return, regarded Sleeper as a confidant, with whom she could stroll in the evening, and Andrew as an engaging dignitary, who brought amusing companions to Gloucester [Illus. 106]. Cecilia took great satisfaction in the career successes of her illustrious neighbor, and during the summer of 1908, before Andrew went to Europe on behalf of the newly formed National Monetary Commission, she arranged a Roman bon-voyage party for him in her studio [Illus. 107]. All of the Point personalities turned out for the event, as well as Dorothea Gilder and Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose place at the dinner table was indicated by her nickname, "Y".
While the young men on Eastern Point amused Cecilia, the friendship she developed with the young illustrator, Thornton Oakley, touched her deeply [Illus. 108]. A frequent visitor to Green Alley, Oakley was some twenty-five years her junior. Cecilia had first met him in Gloucester in 1898, when he and his mother were guests at the Fairview Inn. Thornton studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but his heart was in illustration, and he applied in the summer of 1902 at the Howard Pyle School of Art, and began his art training.
Thornton's unflinching determination to pursue an art career may have been the quality that captivated Cecilia's imagination. She took the young would-be artist under her wing, and the two of them were soon "wandering along Grape-Vine Cove; scrambling at low tide over seaweed, daring the isthmus of treacherous stones to clamber up majestic Braces, and all the time talking about art." Beaux chatted about her portrait commissions and showed him "the outlines of new paintings barely visible on the pale canvases." As their friendship developed, he spent summer evenings with her at Green Alley. In the winter he visited her in her New York apartment amongst her carvings, velvets, tapestries, and furniture -- all from France and Spain.
During the summer of 1908, Thornton spent a week with her at Green Alley, a visit that was particularly significant to Cecilia [Illus. 109]. Thornton idolized Cecilia and found her an inspiration for his art, but Cecilia fell in love with Thornton. Despite their age difference, or perhaps because of it, Cecilia had allowed Thornton to touch the divergent elements of her life. He admired her as an artist and appreciated her as a woman.
The depth of Cecilia's feelings for Thornton became painfully evident in the following year, when he wrote to her of his engagement. She sent him a bittersweet congratulatory reply:
Even though Cecilia took the news of Thornton's engagement rather badly, their friendship eventually transcended his marriage. Two years after he married Amy, Thornton traveled to New York to see Cecilia. She recalled -- It was glorious. First we talked and then had tea and over to the Park which was quite deserted and very sweet. Then we went down to the little restaurant and sat long to talk. Out again for walk...and up to the apartment. I put on the Indian robe he brought me and lay on the floor while he read me his "Impressions of China." He calls it "In the Land of the Red Dragon."...If I could only have a succession of such hours during the leisure times I would ask for nothing better.... He...is coming to G[loucester] while his Amy visits her fam[ily] in August.
The strong feelings that Cecilia felt for Thornton quickened when he visited her, and he may have been the inspiration for her poem A Girl to a Lover. It suggests a desire for a companion with whom she could share both her work and life.
In spite of her heartfelt poem, there is nothing to suggest that Cecilia and Thornton consummated their relationship. Lansdale Humphreys, his daughter, noted that he "was extremely puritanical and even violently opinionated against anyone he knew who had love affairs outside of marriage." Lansdale viewed her father's and Cecilia's relationship as a "love affair...of a spiritual nature only." Even though Amy was not threatened by their friendship, she still kept a "very strict eye" on her husband. Yet, when Beaux broke her hip in 1924 and turned to Thornton each spring and fall to transport her back and forth between New York and Gloucester, Amy never accompanied them on these trips. She told her daughter that "it was better for artists to have a chance to be alone together to discuss art, and...a third person would be in the way."
Thornton was devoted to Cecilia, first with a sort of hero-worship, which he expressed in a Christmas letter one year. "You are the most wonderful of people," he wrote. "When I think of you I feel as though I could move mountains." Over time, he became a steadfast and enduring friend, encouraging her to become an integral part of the Oakley family. He frequently invited her to Woodstock, their Villanova, Pennsylvania, home, and she occasionally went to visit them when she was in Philadelphia to see her sister or nephew. "She often came...for tea or a meal," wrote Lansdale, and "there was always great excitement getting things ready for her when she was expected, on the part of my mother." To Amy Oakley, Cecilia Beaux "was more a famous personality in the art world than a friend."
Beaux traded on her status, particularly with young male artists. She took notice of George Bellows when he attended a dinner for her in Columbus, Ohio, in January 1909. At the top of her profession, Beaux was in the city to deliver two lectures -- "Modern Art in Relation to the Public" and "Portrait Painting" -- under the auspices of the Columbus Art Association. After the dinner, Bellows wrote to Cecilia asking her for "a little photo of yourself." Her consideration of him, he continued, "made me feel very chivalrous at our little party, and made it an immensely happy occasion which I will pigeon hole in my memory. I have only a very few pictures of girls and they are very choice." In New York that spring, Beaux went to Bellows's studio to see his work and regarded it as "most refreshing." Two years later she saw Bellows and his wife at a December opening at the National Academy of Design, but her attention had moved on to twenty-six-year-old George Biddle, who had come to Green Alley the previous summer to consult her about studying art. She found Biddle a "charming youthand worth wasting time over."
Beaux kept a steady stream of male admirers throughout her life, and her niece Catherine remarked that these "noticeably good-looking...willing followers" were usually "ten or twenty years her junior." Occasionally one of the young men made a more than passing impression. John Wilkie was a New York businessman, a widower, and the father of two young boys when Cecilia met him in March 1911. He was a new man in her social circle, and she liked him immediately. He was as taken with her as she was with him, and some two weeks later, in the middle of April, he sent her "a glorious sturdy gorse." His gift launched their friendship, and that spring they occasionally spent time with each other. Yet Cecilia gave herself a warning after a visit from John at the end of May, confiding in her diary that he "never seemed so attractive...I have to remember and KNOW...and beware." Just a few days after this visit, she was relieved to get away to Gloucester for the summer season.
Yet, when Cecilia returned to New York at the end of the year, John Wilkie's attentions resumed. He sent her candy, flowers, and cigarettes, and frequently invited her out to dinner. When he saw her at a gathering at the end of December, he walked her home and they had "some rather intimate talk." While Cecilia "wish[ed] there could be more," his interest both flattered and frightened her. After a New Year's Eve celebration, she noted in her diary that "J. Wilkie [was] wonderful at the party last night, standing near. I am afraid of him. I feel almost too free and happy among admiring eyes and bending-over heads. This should not happen often [as] I should deceive myself and think I could have it."
Despite her premonitions, the friendship continued to blossom, and Cecilia came to care more and more about John's opinion of her. At the end of January she attended a party at his house, and when the rest of the guests were speaking French fluently; her own rusty efforts embarrassed her. She believed that "to be ignorant and stumbling is a great destroyer of predilection."
Yet at fifty-six, Cecilia was still an alluring woman. She took great pride in her youthful appearance; often deceiving these admirers into thinking she was younger than she was. John Wilkie was no exception. In March 1912 when young Jack Mabbett arrived at Cecilia's apartment for a visit while Wilkie was there, Cecilia felt that John was displeased with her, even though the three of them had a "very gay timevery teasy." She worried about her youthful deception in the context of her continuing relationship with Wilkie. "I dont know how to convince him of the truth. Hints don't seem to take. He thinks me young. Shall I have to tell him that I watched Lincoln's funeral."
Wilkie, indeed, had become more than a passing amusement for Cecilia. A month later, when she had not heard from him for several weeks, she felt "abandoned and very low." But at the beginning of May, they went out to dinner again at the Lafayette, and John came back to Cecilia's apartment and stayed until midnight. She continued to wrestle with her feelings for him and in anguish wrote in her diary -- "have I not a right to such things." What he touched in her "was an echo of youth" that was confirmed when he invited her, at the beginning of June, for a weekend at Tuxedo, his family's estate.
Joining Cecilia and John for the week-end were Wilkie's two sons and his crippled sister-in-law, Ethel Brown, who managed the housekeeping and was responsible for raising the boys. Cecilia found Tuxedo much more striking and int[eresting] than I expected.. High hills near together and a lake that lies between and looks like the Rhine. We drew up at a house opening down from the road new and handsome. Two dear little boys ran out and a French man servant. Then the wonderful cripple Aunt Ethel Brown rolled herself forward.... The house is shallow and the feature is the steep hill that pitches down at the back to the valley and river. A great balcony hangs into the tree tops.
Allowed to choose her own room, Cecilia put on evening makeup before dinner. "War paint J. W. called it when I came down." She recalled, After din[ner] we sat in the big drawing room talking busily when we suddenly remembered outside and went out on the balcony. What a spectacle. I shall never forget it nor when nor where it was. Down, down into the dark deep valley with twinkling lights here and there. A great mountain flank opposite night color, and above the full moon sailing up in splendor through the deepest richest blue...
We sat for a while and then Ethel B went to bed and J.W. and I leaned long on the rail looking into it and talking of very deep and sacred things...At 12 we went up and he took me with a candle to the little boys room, dark and moon touched too, and we looked at their lovely sleeping faces, and then knelt by the window looking into the trees and listening to the Whip poor will and breathing the wood odors.
It was a wonderful time and when I got to bed I lay close to the open window and saw the stars as I slept and waked.
One of the best times.
The next morning Cecilia got up and played "Parcheesi and Flag" with the children. When their father came down and saw them playing together, he said that his son didn't "know that he has the Queen of Hearts sitting right in front of him." These shows of affection startled Cecilia and she wrote, "think of my having such as that said to me NOW." Their time together crystallized for Cecilia what it was about John Wilkie that she so admired. He was "a disciplined soul, without priggishness or solemnity."
Within days of their trip, Cecilia was off to Gloucester for the summer season, and while Wilkie came to see her there at the end of July and again in October, the intensity of the weekend at Tuxedo was never again to be repeated. At the end of the visit in July, Cecilia wrote that she was "so glad to have him even if I must be a different being from what I ever have been before. I must accept this. He is a real friend." Even though Wilkie sent her roses and gave her a pin for Christmas when she returned to New York that fall, the relationship had changed, and Cecilia never mentioned him again in her diaries after that year.
Cecilia's perpetual fascination with handsome and charming young men was partly due to her defiance of contemporary opinions regarding the sexual allure of her generation of single professional women. As a rule, they were thought to be physically undesirable and androgynous in identity and the artists and critics who wrote about Beaux's life and work often characterized her as having the qualities of both sexes. But, unlike her sister Etta, Cecilia found it impossible to confine her own identity to the accomplishments of a husband. She chose a single existence to accommodate the demands of her career but surrounded herself with adoring attractive young men who both satisfied her heart and spoke to her challenge of contemporary attitudes.
While these young men added a certain zest to her life, her art career always remained her primary concern. With the completion of Green Alley, in 1905, Cecilia had provided an anchoring place for herself, a comfortable home and work place to which she could regularly return. Green Alley had also helped her sharply focus both her personal and professional identities, and the existence that she established there initiated a new symmetry in her life.
For the first few years after finishing Green Alley, Cecilia continued to wander up and down the East Coast during the winter to complete portrait assignments, but by 1910 her life had settled into an unusual schedule of work and pleasure. From May to November, Beaux continued her summer routine of ceaseless portrait painting in her Gloucester studio, which she then followed with a winter season, from December to April, of less intensive work and pleasant socializing in New York, in the apartment and studio that she kept there.
In New York, Cecilia was close to the center of the art world and conveniently located between Boston and Philadelphia, the two other cities to which she still frequently traveled for work. The stimulation of winter activities in the city enlivened her, and she maintained a busy social life that included her nurturing friendship with the Gilder family. She always located herself within walking distance of the Gilders, renting an apartment at 20 Gramercy Park in 1910, and living there until 1914, when she settled into 132 East 19th Street, the apartment with studio that she kept for the rest of her life. In Gloucester, in addition to the draw of her own reputation, the summer beauty of the village itself was also an inspiration. Beaux's numerous clients -- many of whom were friends and acquaintances of several of her Eastern Point neighbors -- came for sittings and viewed their time with her as a holiday, as did her family and friends. Beaux's New York and Gloucester schedule was just the right balance for her.
Chapter 11: Consummate Portraitist, 1902 - 1914
By the time Cecilia initiated her New York and Gloucester schedule, she had reached the point in her career where she could selectively choose her sitters. While numerous people sought her services and her clientele expanded beyond her own social world, those she elected to portray still reflected her own interests and successes. Beaux's paintings of her family and friends were declarations of affection but the portraits completed for her carefully chosen patrons represented her ideals of American upper-class life. They were finely brushed depictions of beauty, intelligence, and position. She also executed a number of intriguing images that expressed her patriotic devotion during the years surrounding World War I. Iconographically, she continued to suggest her sitters' characteristics, but she now relied more than ever on the formal conventions of the grand-manner portrait. Stylistically, she still incorporated the Aesthetic, Impressionist, and academic styles, but she also added the classical elements of the eighteenth-century English grand-manner portrait, for which there was a resurgent interest at the turn of the century.
Beaux took her first Gloucester commission a year before she rented the Rock of Calif cottage and three years before she built Green Alley. In 1902, while staying at the Fairview Inn, she accepted an assignment from a committee of graduates of Rhode Island's Providence High School. They had asked her to paint a portrait of Sarah Elizabeth Doyle, an eminent and elderly Rhode Island educator who had been principal of the girls' department of their high school [Illus. 110]. Miss Doyle was a suffragist who was noted for spreading "feminist propaganda among pupils who became the majority of the city's teachers." She was the first president of the Rhode Island Women's Club, a prime mover in establishing Pembroke, the women's college of Brown University, and a charter member of the Board of Trustees of the Rhode Island School of Design.
The Providence graduates wanted a painting that expressed Miss Doyle's "strong, womanly personality," and they felt that Beaux would be able to create the appropriate token of appreciation of their teacher's "faithful service in the schools of Providence and of her deep and lasting influence upon the women of [the] community." Beaux was at work on the painting in August when she wrote to Dorothea Gilder that "the portrait is tough work, though I like Miss D." The artist's affection is evident in the portrayal, as she first emphasized the maidenly educator's strong-minded personality and then added an undulating movement around her sitter's dignified figure that highlighted her own fine and dexterous brushwork. Beaux included the portrait in her 1903 exhibition at the Durand-Ruel Galleries, where the critics acknowledged her technical accomplishments as well as her sensitive portrayal of character. "Indeed," one reviewer wrote, it is "with women who are turning grey that Miss Beaux is most successful."
The Doyle portrait not only gave Beaux a glimmering vision of the possibilities of a successful summer painting schedule in Gloucester; it was also one of several commissions that she accepted from well-known female educators. Yet, between the commission for the Doyle picture and that of the portrait of Nurse M. Adelaide Nutting, Beaux occupied herself with the completion of Green Alley and a fourth trip to Europe in the spring of 1906.
Cecilia began planning her two-month vacation at the beginning of the year, sending a suggested itinerary to Dorothea Gilder, who had agreed to accompany her. "My heart is set on three things, Spain -- a peep into Tangier -- and a run up to Avignon and Les Baux for a little shopping.... I would like to spend Easter in Rome but I fear to undertake Italy for fear of being beguiled & I must set back May 1st."
That March Cecilia and Dorothea traveled with a group that included the writer Maria Lansdale. They arrived in Gibraltar on the twelfth, and the following day they were in Tangier. The next three weeks were spent in Spain, where their first destination was the Moorish city of Granada. There they saw a Persian caravan and also stopped to see Alhambra, the palace of the Moorish kings. The tour continued through the cities of Seville, Cordova, Toledo, and Barcelona. They also spent several days in Madrid, where the high points for Cecilia were five mornings spent at the Prado studying the work of Velásquez and Titian and an afternoon, toward the end of March, visiting the Spanish portraitist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida.
At the beginning of April, the group went to France, stopping in St. Rémy, Arles, Cannes, and Avignon. From the last-named city Beaux sent A. Piatt Andrew a postcard telling him something of her trip. The traveling companions then moved on to Italy, arriving there on April 10 and indulging themselves, for another several weeks, touring the historical sites around Rome and Naples. They went to St. Peter's for Easter, just as Cecilia had wanted, marveling at the beauty of the Sistine Chapel as well as the Raphael frescoes. Cecilia also visited the Villa Medici and its gardens, and the French Academy with Maria Lansdale, and a few days later she went to see the graves of Keats and Shelley with Dorothea Gilder. She then went to the Borghese villa and the villa d'Este, as well as the Appian Way catacombs and the Vatican. She saw paintings by Titian, found Michelangelo's Moses and David, and the ancient statues of Marcus Aurelius and Venus. Beaux's holiday in Spain, France, and Italy satisfied both her appetite for art and her appreciation of the best of European culture. When she returned to the States at the beginning of May, she was refreshed and ready to start work anew.
Almost immediately, she began a posthumous portrait of the American naval war hero John Paul Jones for the class of 1881 of the United States Naval Academy, a commission that may have come to her through Robert Emmet, a member of the class and the fraternal twin of Rosina Emmet Sherwood. Beaux was in Gloucester creating the picture when she wrote to George Seymour, "J. P. Jones and I decided to do a portrait together between May 15 & 31st and by that date we expect to have completed it." She met the deadline, and the portrait was presented on June 9 at an Academy reunion dinner in Washington, D.C., where it was seen by nearly one thousand cadets.
The Jones portrait earned Beaux $1,000, which she received just days after her first meeting with M. Adelaide Nutting, a nurse who was serving her last year as Superintendent of Nurses and Principal of the Training School for Nurses of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Miss Nutting had given Johns Hopkins her resignation in April, taking effect a year from that date, to become the chair of Institutional Management in the Teachers College of Columbia University.
In recognition of Nutting's contributions toward the expansion of the nursing profession and the development of training programs in some of the country's finest schools, the Johns Hopkins alumnae association and the pupils of the school of nursing had commissioned a portrait of Nutting as a token of their affection and loyalty. She had been a member of the first graduating class of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses and had then headed the school until her resignation that spring. Those who had commissioned the painting wanted a portrait of Nutting to present to the Board of Trustees "so that she might be kept in remembrance as she lived and worked among them." Beaux was chosen as the artist, and Nutting arrived at Green Alley on June 20, 1906.
At their first meeting, Cecilia surveyed Adelaide with "a keen level glance," a look "which seemed to be doing alot of things, rejecting and accepting and debating all in a moment. I am sure," Adelaide wrote to her sister Minnie, "she was disappointed then and there in her subject." Yet, as Beaux got to know Adelaide Nutting, she found her a kindred spirit. Here was another woman who, like herself, regarded her professional calling as sacred.
Beaux was able to visually capture the idea of a professionally inspired commitment through the uniform that Nutting's students had insisted she wear for the portrait. "It was of soft black silk with a narrow white collar and cuffs, black girdle and a small white skull cap." While Adelaide feared that the costume was too severe, Cecilia remarked that she "always wanted to paint someone in that kind of cap and garb, and thought it ought to do well." The costume suggests a nun's habit, and Nutting wore it to the studio for her next sitting.
Cecilia began the portrait by spending an hour "deciding upon the right pose, light, etc." Adelaide described the experience in a letter to her sister. A small platform about one foot high was wheeled out and, in a sort of arm chair placed upon it, I sat in every conceivable attitude, Miss Beaux meanwhile studying me through a small piece of paper which she had torn to resemble a frame, two by three inches. Then I stood for a while, first on one side of the room and then on the other, turning this way and that against a golden brown background and finally against the gray linen background made by the curtains of the large French windows. This seemed to satisfy something in the mind and eye of the artist and was finally decided upon. Beaux then asked if there were no papers or something that I used to carry in my hand and laughingly I mentioned the little red leather notebook, which was quickly decided to be the very thing needed especially after hearing that I seldom made rounds without it so that it was as familiar to my pupils as any part of my uniform. Beaux then made further adjustments to the pose. When she got me before the grey curtain turning as though to walk away from her but looking back, she began to seem satisfied and said softly "Yes, that's pretty nice," once or twice over.... She finally settled on this asking me to...cross my hands, saying that although she only intended to do a bust, she might take in the hands.
From the end of June until July 27, in the morning from 10 to 12:30, Nutting regularly came to Beaux's studio to pose for her portrait. The picture that emerged was a somber study of a dedicated professional woman, executed in monochromatic tones with Nutting's red-leather notebook as its one color note [Illus. 111]. Cecilia's cousin May played the piano while artist and sitter "tend[ed] the sacrifice," and during their breaks and at the end of their sessions, the women lingered together. This summer of 1906 was Beaux's first full season at Green Alley, and she proudly displayed her new home. She also introduced Adelaide to her frail Aunt Eliza who was staying with her then.
Cecilia put the finishing touches on the Nutting portrait that September, and then she sent it to an exhibition in Boston, where her Bayley art-handling agents told her it was "a success." The portrait was thought to characterize a type of American woman for which one reviewer wrote the following critical commentary. The portrait of a nurse by Cecilia Beaux is one of the most remarkable characterizations of a type that has come from the brush of this exceptionally talented painter. It is a type which many persons know, and which unites the sanviter in modo with fortiter in re. A useful and estimable personage, strong of will and very capable. The head is painted with extraordinary certitude, candor and comprehension. The following February, it went to the first biennial exhibition at the Corcoran, and the inevitable comparison with John Singer Sargent was made. Sargent was exhibiting his group portrait of Doctors Welch, Osler, Halsted, and Kelly, as well as portraits of Miss Garrett and M. Carey Thomas. The critics noted that, while Sargent was "in a class by himself...Miss Beaux crowds him a little all the same." They felt that the painting of Miss Nutting displayed "simplicity, directness and feminine charm...while technically it leaves absolutely nothing to be desired."
During the summer when Cecilia was painting Adelaide Nutting's portrait, she adroitly balanced her personal and professional commitments. Not only did she complete the painting; she also cared for her Aunt Eliza and took in her nephew Henry, who was "recovering from nervous prostration." While Henry was soon himself again, Aunt Eliza died at Green Alley at sunset on August 30. Cecilia was with her, holding "her sweet hand to the end." The letters of condolence that Cecilia received included one from Adelaide Nutting. "How this little house has lived already," Cecilia wrote back to Adelaide. "It seems as though it must show on the walls. Tears, agony, exaltations, mortality -- a few short moments of ecstasy and many hours of labor and striving."
It took Beaux several weeks to regain her composure and to begin work again. That fall she did a quick oil sketch of Grace Nichols, posing her in the cloister. She was also approached by a "committee on the utilization of museums of art by schools and colleges" to give two lectures in Boston at Simmons College in the spring of 1907, and in October she had her first meeting with the Bulkley family to tentatively arrange a springtime schedule for a mother-and-daughter portrait.
As winter set in, Beaux resumed her usual work schedule. In January 1907 she sent paintings and drawings to the annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy and in February to the new biennial exhibition at the Corcoran. At the beginning of March, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to view the Corcoran exhibition with her nephew Henry, and then she went over to the White House to spend half an hour with President Theodore Roosevelt. John Beatty again asked her to serve on the jury for the international exhibition at the Carnegie Art Institute, and again she was the only woman to help choose paintings. He also asked her to send a group of pictures for the exhibition, and since these were "invited" they need not be "considered by the Jury." She left for Pittsburgh on March 6, spent two days helping to select the show and hang her own group, and also attended a banquet at which there were only "three other ladies."
Beaux's major projects that spring were her lectures at Simmons College and the Bulkley portrait. She began thinking about the lectures in November and January, but she fully turned her attention to them at the beginning of April. That month she also began work on the Bulkley picture. The commission, along with ideas presented in her two lectures, provides an interesting window into Beaux's maturing attitudes regarding the role of art in society, the function and responsibility of the artist, and the aesthetic elements necessary to make a successful portrait.
Tickets to her Simmons College lectures -- "Modern Art and the Public" and "Portraiture" scheduled for April 30 and May 14 -- were sold out by April 24. After she stepped to the podium on the afternoon of her first lecture, she began by declaring that "Art has always been modern," and that "we should never separate the art of our time from the past. There is no fundamental reason for new standards. Art is what it has always been -- a RESULT of Humanity -- not a gift of the Gods to one period -- and withheld from another." By applying Scientism and Darwinian theories of evolution to the role of art in society, she continued, our universe is made up of myriads of cycles each made up of infinitely divided periods of change...the cycle of art is as large as the cycle of conscious life on our planet...What we should never lose sight of is the fact that we are links, segments of the great circle, live and responsible -- for the cycle of art is not a string, as it were, of people called artists. The thread runs through every heart.
Seeing art as the embodiment of a people's "beliefs and ideals," Beaux stated that the "language" of religious inspiration was "closely akin to that of art." She felt that the prophet, poet and artist were responsible for the manifestations of a culture's devotion and dreams, with the artist as "the seer" who "makes beliefs tangible." As the artist is "the Anointed, the CHOSEN VESSEL," the artist must "illustrate life -- at its points of keenest vividness, and most comprehensive interests. What he gives should be something impossible to communicate in any other way."
The American artist, Beaux believed, must respond to a culture predicated on youth, success, power, and ambition. While "the art proclivities of our Public are not exactly noble, they are intensely vital, sane, and absolutely in line with the conditions...Art is not born of beauty. It is born of life -- and in one form or another, vigorous, developed life always turns toward beauty." Beaux optimistically believed that the artist and the public would meet "on the ground of Beauty, Line and Color, and above all -- Style," and that the American desire for luxury would develop the public's taste.
Beaux commended both Augustus Saint Gaudens and Sargent for their "reverence to humanity," and their "real respect for the sacredness of the [artistic] calling." In the work of Saint-Gaudens, Beaux saw the "everlasting dignity and power of some of our greatest heroes," and believed that he was the only contemporary artist who truly came "into conjunction with the spirit of modern thought." The best of Sargent's portraits were "united with the desires and spirit of his time," Beaux declared, because they expressed what Americans then loved best -- "power, line, color...swift perception and certainty of performance... [and] the liveness of life," which "we are not able to see for ourselves in life itself." In closing, Beaux noted the genius of writer Guy de Maupassant, as observed by Leo Tolstoy: he had a "faculty of intense, strenuous attention -- revealing in the objects and facts of life, properties not perceived by others."
During the two weeks between her first and second lecture, Beaux worked on the Bulkley painting. She wrote to Thornton Oakley, "I have just got back from my lecture in Boston and begun to live a normal life. It was a terrible thing to dread...but like the other events of its kind.. BIRTHDEATHand MARRIAGE it is not so bad when it is over." A few days later, as she wrote to George Seymour that her work was "really too much for me, but I try to make up for it by neglecting friends and everything else."
Beaux accepted the commission for Mrs. Jonathan Bulkley and her Daughter Sarah Tod (née Sarah Little Tod) because the girl appealed to her and proved to be a "very interesting child" [Illus. 112]. As in Mrs. Alexander Sedgwick and Christina the blond-haired Sarah is the focus of the portrait. Seated on a reproduction Empire Centennial-style window seat, upholstered in a deep lavender-gray fabric, Sarah is portrayed in a ruffled white dress with a tan satin sash. Her audacious red shoes and pink hair ribbon provide the portrait's color notes. The child's mother stands behind her in a creamy apricot and blue-gray dress. At the end of the year Beaux included the painting in her solo show at the Boston Art Club, and one critic noted that "the whole picture is vibrating with complimentary colors."
Both the technical qualities and iconographic messages embedded in this mother-and-daughter portrayal suggest Beaux's attitudes toward the proper role for women, and they also visually display concepts that she presented in "Portraiture," her second lecture. The portraitist, she began, may feel about her work something akin to the pride of a "mother of a large family of sons." Portraiture, the class of art in which living persons are the subject of the work always has two great elements...these are Imaginative Insight and Design. The first of these, Imaginative Insight may be so slight as to be hardly perceptible, or...it may be monumental and profound. But the second quality, that is, Design, is always present, in any work of art of whatever kind, worthy of the name.
Beaux believed that "imagination sees secrets hidden from the ordinary mind -- and the truly imaginative artist in every field of art sees charm, interest, beauty, in subjects as well as objects, where the ordinary mind sees nothing to linger over." Expanding on some of the concepts that she presented in her first lecture, Beaux compared the "equipment and nature" of the artist to the priest, equating both with vessels, an idea instilled in her from George Herbert's poem, "The Priesthood." The born artist, like the priest, was "one of the truly elect," and he possessed "by the gift of nature...the force of thought" [united] with the force of matter." Within the artist "the power of the Senses [was] raised to the power of Spirit."
The artist's real gift was an ability to see and transfer "an abstraction of reality" into a "thing not as itself but as the painted or modeled essence of itself." Through "trained strength plus creative impulse," the artist produced "warm, inspired, fresh and...logical work, steeped in beauty, [and] saturated with mind." Sargent's portrait of the Goelet child was an example of such an imaginative abstraction: "Were the living subject to pass before us, we would, in the old phrase, disbelieve in the evidence of our senses." Sargent had made "reality...soar into mystery."
The portraitist's "great preoccupation is to make a Design in which the nature of the person will be the central theme," Beaux maintained, believing that the expression of a personality was best accomplished when only one characteristic was chosen and highlighted. The effort then became a "collaboration between personality, artist and material," and the success of the resulting production depended on a felicitous relationship that began with "the dramatic intention of the first slight drawing" and continued through the "infinite reconciliations, shiftings, compromises between the absolute (that is, the weight and momentum of the personality) and the flexible power of line, modelling and color." In closing, she declared, the painter of portraits naturally falls in with humanity on every side, and it is part of the necessary poise and control of his life that he should realize that he must not squander this relationship if he would produce works worthy to take their place among the great vital examples of the Past.
After her lecture at Simmons College, Beaux went to Green Alley, opening her house and studio for the season toward the end of May. Her project that summer was a portrait of Mrs. Richard Low Divine (née Susan Sophia Smith). Beaux was awarded the commission by the sitter's daughter, Gertrude Ritter [Illus. 113]. Beaux had her first meeting with mother and daughter on July 4. The women had just arrived in Gloucester with two King Charles spaniels. One of the dogs, a lantern, and an Oriental screen became a part of the composition, which Beaux spent several days arranging before she began the picture. Beaux painted the dignified sixty-three-year-old woman in a flowing white dress with a string of coral beads at her neck, seating her in a favored red-lacquer Chippendale settee with her dog, Peggy, lying on the bench at her side. Beaux created a genteel Oriental setting, which is suggested through a diagonal composition, the lantern on a red, flared base, and the partly folded plain screen near a doorway in the background. A rim of light illuminates the left side of Susan's head and shoulder, and then emanates into a glow in the surrounding space, where it creates a mysterious and supernatural quality that brightens into the shimmer of iridescent hues seen in the dress. The halo of light around Mrs. Divine's head may have been a witticism on her client's name.
Susan Divine posed for Beaux from July to the beginning of September, and when they were not at work, Cecilia included Susan in some of her other activities. She invited both mother and daughter to tea and took Susan boating with friends. She arranged a luncheon so that Susan could meet her Uncle Will, and when Susan left Gloucester on September 7, Beaux was there to see her off. Shortly after Susan left, Cecilia went to Tyringham to visit the Gilders, and while she was up there, she and Richard and Helena went to Lenox to have lunch with Edith Wharton at The Mount. Back in Gloucester, Beaux added the finishing touches to the painting of Susan Divine, varnishing it at the beginning of November before sending it off to Columbus, Ohio, to the Ritters. Natale, Beaux's recently acquired manservant, proved to be "invaluable as a shipper & packer."
A month later, the Divine portrait was back in Boston for Beaux's solo show at the Boston Art Club, and the following spring, it went to Pittsburgh for the annual exhibition at the Carnegie Institute. The friendly relationship that Cecilia had established with Susan Divine and Gertrude Ritter also resulted in an invitation to exhibit a group of paintings and to speak in Columbus, Ohio, in January 1909. The art association advertised her lectures on placards on the city's streetcars, and reporters enthused about this opportunity for Columbus art lovers to see "the master pieces of Cecilia Beaux's magic brush," and then to meet the woman herself, whose talents had been "perfected by years of untiring work in the mastery of the technical details of drawing and painting." Beaux spent a week in Columbus, where she was feted and entertained, and on January 4 and 8 she again delivered her Simmons College lectures.
The accolades of an admiring public were now a regular part of Beaux's professional life. In January 1908 she received a letter from a University of Pennsylvania official. "It is my agreeable duty to inform you," he began, that at the stated meeting of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania held upon Tuesday, January 7th, it was voted to confer upon you the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law, upon February 22nd 1908. The conferring of the Degree will be part of the ceremony of "University Day," when, this year, the Hon. Joseph H. Choate will deliver the Oration. Beaux was asked to appear in a cap and gown for the ceremony held at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia [Illus. 114]. As she advanced from her front-row seat on the stage to receive her degree, the audience rose and applauded and remained standing during the ceremony. The University had extended her an unusual compliment by asking Richard Watson Gilder to make the presentation, which he did through a poem, "Praise Of Portraiture," that he had written for her. He described portraiture as the "art that holds the fleeting spirit fast," and ended with the lines:
Shortly after the convocation, Cecilia wrote to Gilder about the poem, "I feel much more proud of IT than I do the L. L. D."
The place in society for successful professional women continued to be a topic discussed in the press. Beaux's persistent position -- that a woman's work should be regarded without consideration of gender -- had started to take hold. In 1908, a columnist writing about the contributions of women artists recorded both her opinion and its influence on her supporters: Young women art students are resentful if in speaking of her anyone persists in mentioning her as a woman painter instead of merely as a painter and instead of considering her work merely as painting without reference to sex...The good painters do not enjoy being likened to Sargent, no matter how great their admiration of him, for it seems to imply a lack of personality or of individuality, yet it would be hard to suggest Miss Beaux's school without mentioning [Sargent]... Her painting, however, speaks for itself and its excellence has been recognized everywhere.
Two years after completing the Nutting portrait and less than two months after she received her honorary L. L. D., Beaux accepted a commission to paint the portrait of Wellesley College president Caroline B. Hazard. The eminent educator certainly met Beaux's criteria as a dedicated and professionally thriving woman. Without an earned academic degree of her own, Hazard had become the fifth president of Wellesley, assuming the presidency in 1889 and serving until 1910. Enrollment doubled during her administration, and the curriculum expanded. She added instruction in household economics, established the department of music as an academic unit, sponsored a college choir, and founded a department of hygiene and physical education. She also built a president's home and raised funds for the erection of four dormitories. Known internationally as America's foremost woman educator, Hazard was also a prolific author. The year Beaux painted her portrait, Hazard's book A Scallop Shell of Quiet was published.
Caroline Hazard was a close friend of Catharine Drinker Janvier, Beaux's first art teacher, and it may have been Janvier who recommended her former student for the commission. Sittings began in Boston at the end of March and continued through the first weeks of April; then they stopped abruptly, as Miss Hazard had taken ill and required a serious operation. Not until the following November was the president well enough to pose again, and when she did come back for her sittings, Beaux created a solemn three-quarter-length portrayal [Illus. 115]. The distinguished president is presented in academic robes and a white hood, posing at an elaborately carved lectern and holding a book.
Professional women at the turn of the century existed in a tightly knit and closely interconnected world. In 1916, nearly ten years after Beaux painted the portrait of Caroline Hazard; she was approached by the 1901 graduating class of Bryn Mawr College and asked to paint a portrait of one of their own. Beaux's sitter, Marion Reilly, had received a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from Bryn Mawr in 1901; she then served as Dean of the college from 1907 to 1916, when she was appointed to the Board of Directors. Reilly's promotion was the impetus for the commission.
For Beaux, the assignment highlighted the intimate world of the elite and educated woman. Marion Reilly had prepared for college at Philadelphia's Irwin School, an academy at Twentieth Street and Delancey Place where the daughters of some of the city's most fashionable families attended. Marion was a student during the tenure of its founder, Agnes Irwin, a woman with whom Cecilia often stayed in Boston, and whose portrait she painted when Irwin was the Dean of Radcliffe College.
After completing her Bryn Mawr undergraduate degree, Reilly had continued advanced studies in mathematics and physics in her college's postgraduate school. She then spent 1907 and 1908 at Newnham College, Cambridge University, working with the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. She also studied at the University of Gøttingen and took a leave of absence from Bryn Mawr to work in the mathematics department of the University of Rome in 1910 - 1911. Reilly, "an unfaltering feminist in the best sense" of the word, was the "able ally" of President M. Carey Thomas in making Bryn Mawr the college known for "the highest standards of scholarship for women." Reilly's administrative capabilities and knowledge of educational problems were put to the service of many schools and associations. She became an active member of the American Association of University Women, and she served on the boards of the Irwin School, the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, and the School of Horticulture at Ambler.
In November 1918, Marion Reilly came to Green Alley to pose for her portrait [Illus. 116]. It was the end of the season, and she and Beaux were alone there. Using a three-quarter-length pose, Beaux portrayed the serious thirty-nine-year-old educator in a dark-blue dress and a dark-lavender robe with a blue-black Greek key pattern on the sleeve of the robe. The following February, the painting was Beaux's only entry in the annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy, and that spring it was presented to Bryn Mawr at the school's commencement and then hung in the library.
Beaux's conviction that careers for women were sacred callings was visually demonstrated in her somber and serious portrayals of professional women. To complement these visual statements, Beaux began to publicly speak and write her views on careers for women in the arts. She granted an interview to a young reporter from the Boston Herald in September 1910, and he came out to Green Alley to talk to her.
A "woman now has every opportunity that a man has," Beaux began optimistically, telling the reporter that a woman could now be "admitted to any art school where she may apply," and that "there is no reason why a woman cannot become as great an artist as a man." She was then posed the question, why did fewer women than men succeed as artists? Her response was an explanation that was both Darwinian and cultural. "Strength is the stumbling block to many women," Beaux remarked. We encourage them to get started and then we demand too much of them.... A man who does a man's work is a normal human being. A woman who does a man's work is a kind of super woman. She must be two selves, one who supplies energy for the world's work, the other the woman who fulfills the obligations custom has laid upon her. In addition, Beaux believed that few women had a sense of "devotion to something abstract, something outside themselves -- an ideal." The practice of art, she believed, was "a matter of contemplation, reserve, quiet, forgetfulness of time and condition." It required a kind of "devotion that takes no count of consequences," and a spirit willing to "follow no matter where it leads you."
Three years later, Beaux wrote an article, "Why the Girl Art Student Fails," for Harper's Bazar. Here, she challenged the few who she believed would actually succeed: The would be artist should realize first of all that nothing but a high degree of natural gift will in the end prevail. Hard work and determination to succeed are indispensable, but they are not sufficient.... The all-important question is whether a girl is qualified, whether she is endowed by nature for the life she wishes to lead.... The amount of life and energy futilely devoted to so alluring and so cruel a divinity is appalling. Winners must have real strength.
To Beaux, the "rough material" that constituted the successful artist included "ingenuity, perseverance, and power of concentration," traits not much called upon or developed in the early stages of art-school training. In fact, Beaux believed that the truly gifted woman who had a clear idea of what she wished to do was best served by self-study and development, as it taught her how to think and invent for herself. Since she believed that women had "a less abundant physical energy than men," the few who wished to succeed had to be willing to sacrifice time, strength, and pleasure. Although privation and obscurity might be the early safeguards of talent, the beginning art student should remember that she must ultimately earn a living from her work. Beaux recognized that not all women interested in an artistic career craved high visibility. For those less ambitious, she suggested the arts and crafts, as it was a field with opportunities "never before opened," and the skills acquired could also be applied to domestic life.
Beaux clearly believed that few women had the stamina to persevere and succeed at the highest professional levels. Indeed, she thought that the place for most women was in the home, and she considered the efforts for woman's suffrage to be wrong-minded. These rather conservative attitudes are increasingly evident in her later portrayals, and they are in marked contrast to her somber and serious images of career women. Beaux's portraits of mothers and children, socially prominent or wealthy women, and beautiful young girls are sumptuous, inviting, and fanciful.
Beaux created her last commissioned portrait of a mother and child in Gloucester during the summer and fall of 1909. She had been painting and exhibiting portraits of various members of the Buttrick family since 1905 and knew them all quite well when she was asked to create a posthumous portrait of Olive (Bagley) Buttrick, who had recently died in childbirth. Executed when she was in her mid-fifties and well past her own childbearing years, the picture of Mrs. Stedman Buttrick holding her son John has a warmth and tenderness practically unknown in her oeuvre [Illus. 117]. Beaux visually captured the bond of a mother and son in this portrait, a heartfelt connection recalling the opening of her lecture on portraiture at Simmons College in 1907. Beaux had noted then that "the awkward love of a boy for his mother, and the pride of a mother in having reared a man, were the two finest things in the universe." She now conveyed this sentiment on canvas, portraying Mrs. Buttrick in a three-quarter-length standing pose, holding her baby, with whom she shares a loving glance. This intimate scene is further highlighted by the sitters' clothes -- the mother is casually adorned in a scarlet dress and cream-colored kerchief, and her child wears a loosely fitting, simple white frock. The affection displayed in this portrait suggests Mary Cassatt's Mother and Child.
Beaux painted only a few portraits of mothers and children during her career, and indeed she was better known as a painter of society women. She was thought to occupy "much the same position in the art world that Edith Wharton [held] in literature." By the 1910s, more and more articles were being written about Beaux's life and career, with reporters attributing the success of her paintings of women to her own gentility and femininity. One reviewer observed that both Beaux and her paintings suggested the good word "lady"...the fine mind, the deep intuitions, the poise, the delicate reserves of the woman of the highest breeding, the woman who has lived in the broadening and uplifting society of other fine minds, of fine books, fine thoughts and activities. Indeed, Beaux painted at least twenty portraits of society women between 1910 and 1920 and again exhibited the best of them in the annual exhibitions.
In June 1910, the Stephen Merrell Clement family came to Green Alley and finalized a time for Beaux to paint a picture of Mrs. Clement. The wife of a successful Buffalo, New York, banker, Mrs. Clement returned to Gloucester with her children and servants in July and took "a cottage at Magnolia for the portrait." Cecilia began the painting, arranging the pose and completing a preliminary drawing, and then received distressing news from her sister, Etta, concerning her Uncle Will's health.
Will Biddle had contracted pleurisy in the spring, from which he never fully recovered, and that summer Etta brought him to Bethlehem to live with her and her family. As Cecilia began the Clement portrait, she wrote to Helena Gilder that if the elaborate plans for the painting had not been "set in motion long ago," she would have preferred to have spent "most of the summer in Bethlehem" with her Uncle Will. Cecilia monitored his condition from afar as she began the Clement portrait, writing a letter to him in which she described her sitter. Mrs. Clement was a "tall, ample but not fat" woman, who had a "fine neck" and was, indeed, "quite superb."
When Will Biddle took a turn for the worse toward the end of July, Cecilia postponed work on the Clement portrait and went to Bethlehem for a few weeks. Her uncle had changed from the last time she had seen him, and during the time that she was there, she found it "hard to let him go." She read a Roosevelt article to him and fixed him grapefruit, but she "dared not hope." By the beginning of August, the doctors predicted that Biddle would live for only another few days. Beaux stayed in Bethlehem until August 7, seeing him for the last time as he slept "with folded hands." He died on August 9, two days after she left.
When Beaux returned to work on the Clement portrait in the middle of August, she decided to create a painting that had touches of her old Philadelphia home [Illus. 118]. She seated Mrs. Clement on the green Louis XV French revival sofa that had been in the parlor at 4305 Spruce Street, and then captured her sitter's regal bearing by displaying her in a simple black-velvet evening dress that emphasized her neck. Beaux worked on the portrait through the fall of 1910, and when she had a solo exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in 1912, the Clement painting was given "the place of honor on the east wall opposite the portrait of Miss Perkins."
As Beaux settled back in New York at the end of the year, she was surprised -- given the success of her solo exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries in New York the previous spring and the number of articles that were published that year about her life and career -- that the publicity had not generated any new commissions for the winter. Never one to sit around idle, Beaux decided to use this time to create a number of portraits con amore. In January 1911, she began a painting of her close friend Helena de Kay Gilder [Illus. 119]. It was intended for Helena's daughter Rosamond, "in memory of all the work she did last year on the papers." Richard Watson Gilder had died in November 1909, and shortly after his death his youngest daughter began organizing his voluminous correspondence, which she published in a volume of selected letters in 1916.
Cecilia was especially attentive to the Gilders in 1911, as Richard's death had left a void in the life of his family and friends. In commemoration of his life and career, Century Magazine published a number of articles in February 1910, including one by Beaux on Gilder's contribution to the arts. The Century Magazine issue was just one of several memorials extended to the highly regarded editor and reformer in 1910, and the preparation of these kept the family busy and involved throughout the year. Yet by 1911 the accolades had faded, and Helena and the children were left to quietly contemplate their own memories of him.
Cecilia was especially empathetic that winter because of her own recent loss of her beloved Uncle Will, who had been like a father to her and "was the last of the dear old home." The portrait she painted of her friend in her New York studio commemorated Helena's memory of her departed husband. The artist posed Helena next to a window, wearing a black widow's veil over her hair and shoulders. An ivy plant is on a ledge to her left, and she holds a sprig from the trailing vine in her lap. That May, when it was finished, Beaux wrote to Dorothea Gilder that her "mother's portrait [had] been seen and [was] really approved of." In addition to the portrait of Helena, Cecilia also painted a picture of Francesca called The Silver Box; she made a copy portrait from a painting of family ancestor Rodman Drake; she produced a sketch of Dorothea Gilder's fiancé, Dallas McGrew; and in the spring she executed a quick sketch of Henry James for Helena.
The eminent author was on one of his rare visits to America in 1911, and he came to see Helena Gilder in the middle of March. Helena had asked James to sit to Cecilia for a drawing, which he posed for on April 12 and 13 in her New York studio [Illus. 120]. Beaux set out to portray the spirituality of Henry James' soul, a rather lofty ambition that was hampered by the reality of the author's rather plain features. Beaux noted in her diary that it was "impossible to represent the delicacy and spirituality of his mind by his physical appearing [sic]," but she resolved this by creating a drawing that was dominated by the author's head. She minutely explored the bone structure of his face and the weight of his flesh, and finely modulated the light and shade by manipulating the charcoal's substance in sharpened line and broader planes. No effort was spent on the background or the clothing, which were simply but firmly marked. When James saw the drawing, he was duly impressed. "His verdict," Beaux commented, "was uttered with more than his usual hesitation: 'Astonishing...a...economy...of...means.'" Cecilia remarked, "He will not forget me I am sure." Indeed, the author had enjoyed the artist's company, and that June he paid her a visit at Green Alley. He came to lunch there with Isabella Stewart Gardner and disagreed about everything, from Sarah Bernhardt to New York, but at a less cantankerous moment he graciously pronounced Cecilia's summer home a "dear little place."
The portraits Beaux painted that spring for the Gilders were not the only ones that she did that year con amore. That summer she also fulfilled a more than ten-year promise to her newly married nephew, Henry. In 1900, when they had been traveling together in Holland and saw a painting of a bride and bridegroom holding hands in the Hague, Cecilia had told Henry that she would paint a portrait of him similarly posed when he married.
That summer, Beaux created a highly colored, celebratory portrait of Henry and his new bride, Sophie Lewis Hutchinson. She painted the newlyweds outdoors at Green Alley, standing "hand in hand in sea-clothes under a loggia" [Illus. 122]. Sophie Hutchinson "was cousin to half of well-bred Philadelphia," and Henry had courted her "by playing the piano with her, four hands." At the end of a visit to Green Alley in August 1910, the young couple had announced their engagement [Illus. 123], and less than a year later, on May 16, 1911, in Haverford, Pennsylvania, they were married. Cecilia wrote to Dorothea Gilder, Sophie was THE most beautiful bride I ever saw. They are at Green Alley. I gave it to them for their honeymoon, and they went straight there. I went up myself the week before and got it ready for them and to leave -- not to be there myself for two weeks, a some what complicated performance, especially when one aims at perfection. They have Natale and a cook.
Beaux joined the newlyweds toward the end of May and immediately began the sketches for the portrait. A festive spirit prevailed during the poses, with "the rests filled with duets -- chiefly Schubert, but also Tchaikovsky" played by Henry and Sophie. In the few weeks, when the young couple stood to Beaux for their portrait, she had gotten the composition in order, and had noted in her diary that she was "crazy to go on with the background, which should have an ideal of mine of morning loveliness." The painting was intended to suggest new beginnings -- a marriage and a new day.
Titled Portraits in Summer, the picture was not only a tribute to the old-master painting of a bride and bridegroom that Henry and Cecilia had seen at the Hague in 1900; it was also inspired by Beaux's current interest in eighteenth-century English grand-manner portraiture. Cecilia considered it one of her "best things," and sent it off to exhibitions in 1912 at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Corcoran, and the Carnegie Institute. Her family, on the other hand, ruled it a failure, noting that there was "something false" about it, "very far from Beaux's best style." The artist's use of an eighteenth-century grand-manner motif seemed jarring to them, and they were unable to separate Beaux's lofty concept for the painting from the reality of Henry's and Sophie's contemporary lives.
The portrait was a gift and a legacy for the young Drinker newlyweds, with a value that was both sentimental and monetary. At the time that she completed it, Beaux was one of America's most eminent portrait painters, with a clientele that had expanded beyond the East Coast. Her work was regularly included in the annual juried exhibitions, many of which she herself had helped to jury. Periodically she still held solo exhibitions of her work, and her contributions to the art world were consistently rewarded. Beaux was also a spokeswoman for her profession, and she frequently lectured and wrote articles about the various dimensions of life in the arts. Indeed, Beaux now represented the professional artistic woman in America, and was considered not only a notable portrait painter but also a public figure.
Beaux's professional standing was again acknowledged in June 1912. At Yale's commencement, she was one of twelve candidates awarded an honorary M.A. Her sister Etta and niece Ernesta came to New Haven for the ceremony, and when Professor Theodore S. Woolsey presented the degree to her, he described her accomplishments: As a master of technique and interpreter of character, she stands high amongst American portrait painters; in picturesqueness of treatment and charm and harmony of color, she is without a peer. Six years later in 1918, she was regarded "as one of the foremost virtuosos of the brush," and, with William Merritt Chase deceased, she held "next to Sargent, the highest place."
Not surprisingly, with such impeccable credentials, Beaux was called upon to paint portraits of numerous business and professional men. Most of the commissions were fulfilled in her New York and Gloucester studios, and many of them were official portraits for the institutions with which the men were associated. Beaux's talent spoke for itself, but the ease and pleasure she took from her sitters' company, as well as the careful arrangements she made to accommodate their schedules and preoccupations, reveal why she was in such high demand. The qualities she searched for in her sitters also must have attracted them: the good in my subjects is the matter of absorption. The deeper into a face I look the more conscious I become of the noble character enlightening it and the more captivated by the task of interpreting the nobility. I paint the goodness of men and women, however deeply it may be hidden away.
In 1910, Beaux captured on canvas the noble character of Dr. William Henry Howell [Illus. 123], Professor of Physiology and Dean of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, a commission she undoubtedly received because of her earlier success with Nurse M. Adelaide Nutting. Arrangements had begun in December 1909, with a suggestion that Beaux visit the University and watch the doctor as he lectured. D. R. Hooker, Dr. Howell's assistant, noted that his employer's natural reserve and modesty were replaced with a certain assurance when he was teaching, "giving his face the light of inspiration." Beaux's own schedule prohibited her from going to the University, however, Dr. Howell agreed to give her time in July -- "up [to] a week." He traveled to Gloucester during the summer and again in the fall, and Beaux painted a bust portrait of him in a black academic gown with a bright red hood.
Beaux's portrayals of professional men included full-length studies, simple busts and half-lengths, and swift and fleeting sketches. She consistently used a dark and somber palette and combined Realism and Aestheticism to create pictures reminiscent of the work of Eakins as well as such old masters as Rembrandt, Velásquez, and Frans Hals. In addition to their stylistic merits, Beaux's flattering characterizations were also designed to suggest intelligence and aristocratic dignity. She believed that her portraits of men should "convey a sense of the avoirdupois of the person's character," and should proclaim "This man was a leader with vision and understanding; an autocrat, in his way, but just and honorable and courageous."
Such glinting visions of success radiate from her 1910 portrait of Buffalo, New York, banker, Stephen Merrell Clement, and her 1912 depiction of Philadelphia financier, Clement Buckley Newbold. A successful president of the Marine Bank of Buffalo, fifty-year-old Clement was also a layman at the city's Westminster Presbyterian Church and a devoted supporter of his alma mater, Yale University. In a portrayal that paid careful attention to such details as a pearl scarf pin, a signet ring, and a rolled letter, Beaux created a solemn image of Clement, who critics described as a strong and "forceful type" [Illus. 124]. As for Newbold, Beaux had known him since 1896, the year she painted a portrait of his fiancé, Mary Dickinson Scott. When Newbold's young wife died from appendicitis just a few years after their marriage, Beaux's portrait of her became one of his most visible lasting memories. In 1912, Newbold asked Beaux to paint his own portrait [Illus. 125]. That spring she traveled regularly to Philadelphia in order to complete the commission, and discovered to her astonishment that Newbold was fifty-four years old. Beaux noted that he was "wonderfully young and vital...has thick brown hair and other signs of youth," qualities that she then incorporated into her sophisticated study. The year after the portrait was finished, Beaux saw it favorably placed at the National Academy of Design annual exhibition.
By accentuating her sitters' heads in the portraits of Congressman Sereno Elisha Payne, John Whitfield Bunn, and George Arliss, Beaux underscored her belief that "the most interesting subject to paint is a person who is highly intelligent." Beaux felt that "thoughtful and intelligent people have more subtly modeled faces than dull and stupid people.... If a person is interested, you see it in his eyes, which really dilate and glow."
Beaux's successful retrospective at the Corcoran in February and March 1912 may have brought her name to the fore when the House Ways and Means Committee began searching for an artist to paint a portrait of their retiring chairman. That September, New York Congressman Sereno Elisha Payne came to Green Alley to pose for his portrait [Illus. 126]. Beaux had never met the man before he came to Gloucester, and she was surprised by his appearance, as he had a "large and imposing" head, "a queer frame like a duck," and he "looked so like [her own] father that it was startling." As she began her preliminary drawing, Payne was both "astonished and intensely interested" and was then amazed that in just ten days she had nearly completed his image. Beaux chose to emphasize the old Congressman's head, a portrayal reminiscent of her drawing of Henry James sketched the previous spring. The stern visage with white hair, eyebrows, and mustache emanates from a background in tones of black. At its completion, Beaux's portrait of Payne was the first to be placed in the House Ways and Means Committee room.
The following year, Beaux was requested to paint a portrait of the president of the Springfield Marine Bank in Springfield, Illinois, a commission that she accepted because the eighty-two-year-old Midwest banker, John Whitfield Bunn, had been a friend of Abraham Lincoln's, and she wanted to hear his stories of the late President. Born on a farm in New Jersey in 1831, Bunn had moved to Springfield, Illinois, when he was fifteen or sixteen. He met Abe Lincoln shortly after his arrival, and the two soon became close friends. Bunn first went to work in a grocery store owned by his brother Jacob, but he eventually became a wealthy, self-made man from the lucrative career he forged for himself in the world of finance. When Lincoln ran for President in 1860, Bunn first contributed anonymously to his campaign and then openly, after Lincoln found out about his donations.
Beaux's painted her portrait of Bunn at the end of his career, and the old gentleman came to her New York studio with his niece for a ten o'clock appointment on February 17, 1913. Bunn surprised Beaux, as he was "entirely different from what I supposed...fine, big and full of life.... Decided on pose in back room, entirely opp[osite] to what I intended." At their first meeting, she noted that the banker "did not seem to want to talk about Lincoln," and felt that "if he does not I shall feel cheated." Yet once he relaxed, Bunn began to tell his stories, and the next day she recorded, "Mr. B. did talk some. Wonderful. I almost wept."
Beaux apparently agreed to a reduced fee for the Springfield Marine Bank, but Bunn asked her to make a copy and also told her that he wanted to pay her all she was not getting from the commission. A gesture that was "very generous." The elderly banker's head is highlighted, and he is posed holding on his lap a copy of Richard Watson Gilder's book on Lincoln, along with a pair of eyeglasses. Bunn's munificent spirit is reflected in Beaux's thoughtful and dignified portrayal [Illus. 127]. Bunn's niece was "wild over" the portrait and he "was pleased too," and Beaux confided in her diary that he "insisted on prepaying with 100 bill also 20 for the engraving of Lincoln." The following October she received a letter from J. O. Humphery, a Federal judge in Springfield, Illinois, noting that "the portrait of Mr. Bunn was shown to the members of the most important Club in the city last Saturday night and elicited the favorable comment of all who saw it."
Soon after Beaux completed the Bunn commission, she took another extended trip to Europe. This was her fifth, and she was there from April until the beginning of September. She sent three paintings to a Parisian exhibition, but also did her usual sightseeing and visiting. In London she called on John Singer Sargent and Martinez Eduardo Rosales, and in Paris she spent time with T. Alexander Harrison, the Swedish portrait painter Anders Zorn, and she dined with her cousin Cecil Austin and his wife Gertrude. During July, she was with her Boston friend Anne Dehon Blake, and wrote to Helena Gilder that "Anne is not very strong and cannot do any vigorous things so we cab it most of the time which leaves me with quite a lot of stored up energy." On the voyage back to the States at the beginning of September, Beaux's companion was young Francesca Gilder.
As soon as she was back, Beaux quickly plunged into two new commissions, but that October, when she approached the actor George Arliss with a request to sketch his portrait, she had something other than monetary gratification in mind. Arliss agreed to pose for her, writing that he was "sincerely flattered that you wish to draw me, and so place me with the immortals." Arliss had been a star on the American stage since 1902, the year he had come to New York from his native London. At the time of Beaux's request, he was in Boston for a six-month run of his successful play Disraeli. Despite a dreary day of pouring rain, Arliss arrived at Green Alley on October 26 and posed to Beaux for the entire afternoon.
The portrait, done for Beaux's own pleasure, records with a touch of humor the suave and confident middle-aged actor wearing his trademark monocle [Illus. 128]. Beaux wrote to Helena Gilder that her stylish and urbane portrayal of the actor is "one of my best drawings," also recording in her diary that it was met with "great satisfaction" by her sitter. Although she signed it "To George Arliss," she retained the original and sent the actor a replica, which he used to illustrate a 1915 Vanity Fair article about his career.
In the same week that she completed the Arliss sketch, she began a portrait of a true New England blue blood, Miss Margaret W. Cushing, a woman who was her age. Born into a distinguished Newburyport, Massachusetts, family in February 1855, Margaret could trace her ancestry in the colony back to the seventeenth century. Cushings over the generations had been ship owners, judges, and clergymen, and during Margaret's lifetime it was the accomplishments of her widowed uncle Caleb that she especially admired. He was a statesman, a lawyer, and a diplomat, and he was also the first elected mayor in Newburyport. Margaret served as his hostess, managing his social affairs, and she also accompanied him to Switzerland when he went to the Geneva Tribunal in 1872. Never married, Margaret remained in the family home all her life; yet she made a mark in her community through her support of local history.
Beaux's portrait of Margaret Cushing well represented what a lady was, and, as one critic noted, Miss Beaux makes it quite plain that fine ladyship is something that is not bought but lived. Her types of fine women surmount the pearls and the satin, and each one flames with an ideal. The artist captured her sitter's well-bred New England gentility, as well as her family pride, in a sweet and lovely portrait filled with mementos that finely documented Margaret Cushing's life [Illus. 129]. The lace wrap she wears was bought in Paris, and her silk skirt was from London -- a gift from her father to her mother, while the fan she holds was given to her by her Uncle Caleb, bought in Madrid when he was the United Sates Minister to Spain.
In her mid-fifties, Beaux could relate more personally to the genteel society matrons and career women whom she continued to paint than to the young women whom she depicted in portrayals that focused on their youthful beauty. The artist had spent her life trying to capture on canvas an ideal of beauty, and by the 1910s this ideal had crystallized into a measurable standard. Built on the foundation of what she considered good bone structure, the ideal woman had dark hair, dark eyes, and a head where the mouth, eyes, and brows were all a straight line. When she was intelligent, there was a "distance between the eyes... a considerable depth from the ear to the top of the head; and also from the nose back to the ears." Beaux accepted sitters by measuring these qualities both by eye and by touch.
In cases where Beaux was not personally acquainted with her sitter, it was easy for her to indiscriminately apply her standard of beauty and then create a frivolous or decorative image rather than a strong depiction of character. In the commission for eighteen-year-old Dorothy Perkins, she also incorporated classical conventions of the eighteenth-century English grand-manner portrait and took the liberty of subsuming the girl's identity into the story of the picture [Illus. 130]. Beaux had been approached by George Perkins, a partner at J. P. Morgan & Co., to paint a portrait of his wife in 1909. But, just before the commission was to begin, Mrs. Perkins's mother died, and she was not up to the sittings. George quickly decided that his daughter Dorothy would be painted instead, and the girl began posing in Beaux's New York studio, "standing for hours" and having a perfectly "miserable time." She stood for the portrait under protest, only doing it to make her father happy. It was a chore to go for the poses, and her tedium was only slightly relieved by her future sister-in-law, who accompanied and read to her as she posed.
Beaux selected Dorothy's dress and arranged the pose. She told the young girl that she was trying to make it like an old portrait, like a Romney or Reynolds. While Dorothy's father liked the painting well enough, Dorothy was disappointed. "It's a pretty picture," she remarked, "but it doesn't look like me." When it was first finished, Dorothy's friends came to see it, and she kept a notebook of her companions' impressions. The consensus was that it was lovely, but it didn't do Dorothy justice, and it made her look about five years older than she was. The Spanish portraitist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida saw it and wrote that it was "magnifique," but the proportions were not right. Dorothy's hip was "too far down."
Beaux exhibited the painting at the Macbeth Gallery in 1910, at the Corcoran in 1912, and at the Women's Cosmopolitan Club in New York City in 1914. One art critic who considered it "not only Miss Beaux's finest portrait, but...one of the finest portraits ever painted," saw Dorothy as an archetypal model, imbuing her with qualities that the girl's friends would not have recognized:
The fact that Beaux found it necessary, during the later years of her career, to impose such an identifiable standard of beauty on the young women she portrayed speaks more to her own issues of beauty and status than to those inflicted on the girls. In the 1920s, Beaux's friend Florence Este noted that her "old personal beauty [had] gone," and in its place was "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." While Beaux believed that pursuing a career need not unsex a woman, none of her portraits of professional women represented that conviction. Indeed, they more clearly reflected the necessity of sacrifice and commitment, and beyond her Self-Portrait # 3, not even subdued sexuality is evident in these portrayals. The suggestion of allure as well as competence in her own self-portrait indicates that she considered herself unique.
By the 1910s, Beaux's ideas regarding the choices available to the professional woman had hardened into a creed, and she found it difficult to consider other life options than her own. While her commitment to a professional identity and the expression of feminine allure had helped to expand the emotional dimensions available to career women, she was wary, nevertheless, of the now multiple opportunities available to a new generation of women. Her apprehensions were poignantly evident in her varying relationships with her nieces, the Gilder girls, and the daughters of Rosina Emmet Sherwood.
Beaux's messages to these children were confusing, because they were admired more for their beauty and adherence to traditional roles than for their sense of adventure and intellectual capabilities. Physical beauty was clearly the favored attribute, and Ernesta Drinker, Dorothea and Francesca Gilder, and Cynthia Sherwood met Beaux's standards for this and were painted time and again. The plainer sisters -- Kitty Drinker, Rosamond Gilder, and Rosamond Sherwood -- failed to meet her ideal of beauty, and with these girls Beaux rather cruelly applied another standard that she adhered to: "It doesn't pay to paint everybody."
Kitty Drinker grew up hearing about the "right kind" of bone structure and that the way they were "stayed till you were ninety." She hated Beaux for thinking that "hers wasn't a forehead to paint" but "a forehead that will go to Bryn Mawr and write a book." At that time, the child thought this was a fate too dreadful for contemplation." In about 1910, Beaux was invited to the Sherwood home for tea and asked to inspect young Rosamond, her goddaughter, as a possible portrait subject. Ros noted that she was "paraded out to be looked at," and even though she herself believed that she was "unpaintable," she still "felt lower than mud" when Beaux rejected her. Rosamond Gilder, the youngest of the Gilder children, had facial deformities from an inept use of forceps at her birth, and the only time she posed for Beaux was as a model for the clothing in the artist's war portrait of Premier Clemenceau.
While Beaux considered these plainer sisters to be unpaintable, she could have promoted their other gifts if she had so chosen. Each one had other talents at which they succeeded -- Kitty Drinker was a writer, Ros Gilder was a theater critic and assistant editor of Theatre Arts Monthly, and Ros Sherwood was a painter. As it was, Beaux was not especially sympathetic or supportive, and her somewhat complicated relationship with her niece, Kitty, reveals the reason.
Kitty Drinker became a successful writer who also married and raised two children. These varying accomplishments flew in the face of all the values and beliefs upon which her aunt had based her life and young Kitty awakened discomforting feelings in the older woman. "With me, Aunt Cecilia had never permitted an intimacy or scarcely a friendship," Kitty recounted.
Over the years she and I had developed a sparring relationship. Harry told me she was jealous of me -- palpable nonsense, and I told him so, but he stuck to it. "You're coming up Katz," he said. "She sees it."...In the mornings when I disappeared upstairs with my typewriter Aunt Cecilia showed restlessness and made veiled remarks about certain daughters who lived at home and devoted themselves wholly to their aging parents. I had trouble keeping a straight face. "You old Tartar!" I wanted to shout...Don't pull my leg Auntie, you and I are too much alike for cozening.
While Kitty challenged her aunt's belief that a woman could not be married and also professionally successful, more importantly she dared to occupy an artistic spotlight that her aunt had solely possessed for years. Beaux hated the competition, and Kitty found it safer to admire her artistic relative from afar, noting that, despite the unpleasant encounters, nothing "detracted from the magnetism, indeed the inspiration of Aunt Cecilia's presence. Her strength flowed out; her vision of the world and of beauty held contagion. My debt to her was great."
While Kitty was forced to settle for distant adoration, her beautiful sister, Ernesta, bonded tightly with her aunt, who had been painting portraits of her since she was just two years old. There was an admiration between them that was mutually sustaining. Cecilia was in continual awe of Ernesta's exquisite beauty, and Ernesta was perpetually fascinated by the lifestyle of her glamorous aunt. Ernesta remembered Cecilia's visits to Haverford, when she was a child, as "gala occasions when [she] would go to her room at the head of the stairs, see her Paris clothes and delight in all she said or did." When she grew older, Ernesta began staying in Gloucester with Cecilia, becoming her aunt's "child for weeks at a time" and posing for numerous portraits year after year. Aunt and niece had compatible temperaments and similar social interests, and Ernesta's more traditional expectations never challenged Cecilia in the same way that Kitty's did.
The same qualities of beauty that drew Cecilia to her niece Ernesta also attracted her to Dorothea and Francesca Gilder. Of the two sisters, Cecilia was particularly attached to Dorothea, showering her with the same degree of affection that she gave Ernesta. Before Dorothea's marriage to the architect Dallas McGrew, she often came to Beaux's New York studio to pose for the artist when she was between commissions. Beaux had won awards from the paintings she had made of Ernesta and the Gilder sisters in the 1890s, and between 1900 and 1914 the girls served as models for at least another fifteen paintings and sketches.
These efforts culminated in two portraits Beaux painted in the spring and fall of 1914. They completed her oeuvre of dark-haired, beautiful American girls and they embodied her visions of the modern woman. Exactly twenty years after Sita and Sarita and The Dreamer, Cecilia portrayed Dorothea in After the Meeting and Ernesta in Ernesta. The paintings represent two entirely different types -- Dorothea is a woman of action and purpose, and Ernesta is an ideal of regal privilege and elegant simplicity.
Stylistically, the painting owes a debt to the work of Edgar Degas, French Impressionism, and Oriental patterning in the way Beaux has juxtaposed bold black-and-white stripes from Dorothea's dress with the flowers and garlands found on the fabric of the chair. Beaux sent it to the annual exhibition at the National Academy of Design at the end of the year, where it was "honorably placed" and "sold to the Toledo Art Museum for quite a good price." Seeing it as one of Beaux's most contemporary efforts, the critics commented that "her canvases remained consistently modern in spite of the devious paths that have been surveyed within her time toward a more emphatic modernity," and that her portraits "do not date."
Inspired by the theme depicted in After the Meeting, Beaux began a companion piece that fall in her studio at Green Alley. At the end of October, she wrote to George Seymour, "Ernesta is here, lovelier in every way than ever. I am painting her...& begin to shove away everything else to get it done" [Illus. 132]. The portrait of Ernesta met with the same critical acclaim as After the Meeting, and when it was purchased from her solo show at Knoedler's by the Metropolitan Museum of Art the following summer, one reviewer recognized it as a display of refinement and privilege: There is an attitude of expectancy in the figure and the slender hands resting lightly on the couch. That a maid is undoubtedly just outside the picture, bringing in the tea service, was the idea of the visitors who had the first view of the picture.
Beaux carefully selected the accessories and Ernesta's costume, choosing mostly polished surfaces and white fabrics to reflect the cool green colors of the background. The seeming elegance of this portrait is somewhat deceptive however, for, as Ernesta later wrote, I had on a white satin petticoat, my satin slippers were on a loose piece of black velvet. I wore a white cashmere sweater, and my head went through two yards of white chiffon. The bench was covered in white oil cloth. The studio was very bare -- not prettied up at all -- the big easel, the platform for some sitters and some wickedly uncomfortable wooden chairs.
In spite of Ernesta's account of the bare details of her sitting, the illusion Beaux created was that of a sophisticated debutante, who believed that the world was at her feet. Once the picture was hung at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it "asserted itself at once," as an exemplary portrayal of a young woman who was "lovely in her simplicity -- alert and eager for life, yet with a poise of manner that brooks no liberties." It was considered a portrait that "belonged in every girl's school in America" as it "stands as an incentive to simplicity in dress, reserve, eagerness for the good things of life, and girlishness in manner." Beaux painted this optimistic image of a beautiful and wealthy American girl as the world was plunging headlong into World War I.
Chapter 12: War Service, 1915 - 1920
Cecilia Beaux's summers on Eastern Point were spent with socially and politically active people. During the 1910s, as the world's political unrest escalated, their sense of patriotic allegiance was translated into service. A. Piatt Andrew, as usual, led the way, first serving as the treasurer of the American Red Cross, from 1910 to 1912, and then as a delegate to its ninth international conference in 1912. These experiences helped prepare him for the work he undertook during the war.
In 1914, well before the United States officially entered the war, Andrew was one of a group of Americans in Paris during the first Battle of the Marne. He had gone over there to help set up an emergency ambulance unit, and within a year he reorganized and developed it into the American Field Service. Attached at first to the French army, this service of college volunteers was transferred to the American forces in September 1917. Andrew was commissioned a major and was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and at the end of the war the United States, France, and Belgium all gave him high decorations for his assistance.
The Gloucester community rallied in support of Andrew's ambulance service, and when he came back to the States on two weeks furlough in the summer of 1915, his visit was "a dizzy week" for Beaux, "everybody tumbling over everyone & giving me no chance to enjoy anyone." In a letter to Helena Gilder, Cecilia wrote that Andrew is well & full of it all as you may imagine. Is terribly down on Wilson of course.... Also Thornton Oakley was making what he hoped would be a quiet & private visit! And Dallas turned up. I was delighted to have him and he has stayed two days without a bag to see and talk with the recruiters. A. P. A., Harry Sleeper, Joe Thomas & Jack Hammond. A. is recruiting for 25 new men for the ambulance. Andrew was able to elicit commitments to the American Field Service from most of his Gloucester neighbors, with the writer and engineer Leslie Buswell joining the A. F. S. as an ambulance driver.
While Andrew was on furlough, Beaux made a quick sketch of him in his colonel's uniform, which she then sent to his mother for Christmas that year [Illus. 133]. Three years later, she painted Leslie Buswell in his khaki Red Cross uniform with the Croix de Guerre he had been awarded in 1915 in full display on his jacket [Illus. 134]. Later, when the young ambulance driver was married, Beaux gave him and his bride, Mary, the painting as a wedding present.
Yet Beaux wanted to do more for the war cause. In addition to several other Red Cross officials whom she captured on canvas, she made a donation to a hospital in Avignon, the area in France where her father was born; she supported the Red Cross in Gloucester with a $200 contribution, she painted a portrait between 1916 and 1917 of Flora J. Whitney that was sold at a war-relief benefit for the American Hospital in Paris by the Whitney Studio on Eighth Street in New York; and in September 1917 she hosted a lecture in her Gloucester studio by Mr. C. Lewis Hind, of London, who discussed "Enterprise and Employment for Naval and Military Officers Disabled by the War."
Cecilia had strong nationalistic feelings for France and America, and she found ways to use her artistic talents to express both her patriotism and support for the allied cause. She created allegorical images filled with symbols of liberty and patriotism and made other paintings that were specifically intended to support the war cause. Her figurative depictions drew upon the academic American Renaissance style, in which the spiritual and moral aspects of culture were elevated to a noble and idealized expression. Drawing from classical and Christian traditions -- in which female figures personified goddesses; the muses, and graces; and the Beatitudes -- French and American academics further used the idealized female to represent beauty, and the universal virtues of wisdom, liberty and justice.
Beaux's earliest effort at classical imagery was Dorothea with a Lyre (1905). Using a half-length pose, she portrayed Dorothea Gilder in a simple, low-necked green dress with red highlights. A green-and-red wreath of ivy surrounds her hair, and in her hands is a five-stringed lyre. Dorothea is an artistic muse. Four years later, Beaux painted The Banner Bearer (1909), an allegorical portrayal of Ernesta which was a blatant expression of patriotism and liberty [Illus. 135]. Ernesta's plain white frock and dashing yellow sash suggest that Beaux's 1887 portrait of Fanny Travis Cochran was a source of inspiration. Beaux wrote to Richard Watson Gilder, I am doing a head of Ernesta which I hope will mean something.... Her little classic head is bound with bay and she holds the staff of a banner, bending a little to it -- her head bowed a little like the Psyche in the Museo di Napoli. I would like to call it "La Soeur du Hero's."
This genteel personification was followed several years later by a study called The Portent (1914), an Athena-like figure representing the goddess of wisdom and war. The model in The Portent has a contemplative gaze that implies an awareness of world chaos and an inability to bring about change and order. Following the war, Beaux painted a poster, Victory Bearing Away the Infant Future (1921), for an American Legion Fourth of July celebration in Gloucester. A. Piatt Andrew, who helped found the Legion at the end of the war and served as vice commander for the state, undoubtedly solicited the poster.
Yet Beaux`s most unusual artistic expression in support of the war was her Range Finder for the Camps, painted in the spring of 1918 for the Art War Relief. On a nine-by-five-foot canvas, she created "a fast landscape" of France, called a target, and when it was completed, it was given to army officers for use with recruits. The target's unusual function was described in an article. These are landscapes rich in color and fertile in evidences of the handiwork not of man alone, but also of nature. As you can see, the countryside is filled with highways, waterways, hills, bridges, villages and trees.... They are targets, [but] are not targets, however, in the ordinary sense. No one will actually shoot at them. Their use is solely educational. You see, large numbers of men in our own and the other Allied armies have been drawn from cities and from classes not previously trained to observe.... For accurate artillery, machine gun and even rifle fire it is essential for them to be able to differentiate between, say, two clumps of trees, or two ruined villages. While production of the target allowed Beaux to feel "happy in being really useful at last," her greatest show of patriotic devotion came at the end of the war.
Motivated by a sense of history and patriotism, Beaux thought that portraits of the "distinguished leaders among our Allies should be executed during Victory year, by an American artist, to be ultimately the property of the Nation or some National or public Institution." In a letter to Robert W. de Forest, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, written in the winter of 1918, Beaux presented her proposal: I want to offer my services to go to France to paint two or more such portraits; if sittings can be given for them. I desire no remuneration of any kind, and of course would see to all my expenses in the matter, if my offer should be accepted.... Naturally I am thinking of the most distinguished -- M. Clemenceau, Marshal Foch, General Joffre.
The artist wanted the museum administrator to write a letter of support on her behalf to Colonel Edward M. House, President Wilson's right-hand man, that would be personally delivered to him in Washington by her literary friend Ida Tarbell, who was also supporting Beaux's proposal [Illus. 136]. De Forest wrote to House that Beaux had "conceived the patriotic idea of painting several portraits of the most distinguished Frenchmen associated with the cause of America in the war," and that "she has only the patriotic impulse common to all Americans and particularly common to one who is linked by heredity to France as she is."
Beaux was one of many to propose portraits as a way to commemorate the world's leaders at the end of the war. The plan that she suggested eventually dovetailed with the mission of the National Art Committee, an organization formed in April 1919 for the purpose of painting "portraits of all the great men of this war -- those who have led up to a military success and led up to peace." The Committee estimated that $25,000, including expenses, would cover the costs of one artist painting three portraits, and that the entire project could be managed on $200,000 to $250,000. Fundraising was accomplished by assigning a large metropolitan city as a sponsor for the portraits of a particular artist, with a subcommittee then established in the city and composed of the socially prominent there. Eight American artists were selected for the project, including Cecilia Beaux, whose work was underwritten by the city of San Francisco.
Beaux had set sail for France on May 14, two days after quickly penning a note to Thornton Oakley that she was going there "to paint portraits," noting, "this that follows is secret.... I am fearful not of the work but that those who are arranging & who commission me may not succeed. So don't talk." Cecilia had been willing to afford the expense of the portraits herself, but undoubtedly she was pleased when the National Art Committee announced the project at the beginning of June in the New York Times.
Beaux had just turned sixty-four when she went to Europe to fulfill the war portraits commission, arriving in Paris at the end of May with her Gloucester neighbor and travel companion, Lucy Taggart. Harry Sleeper, another of the Gloucester friends, met the two women when they got there and found rooms for them in the luxurious Hotel Vouillemont, a feat "which Diplomacy [had been] unable to accomplish." Even though the city was in a state of chaos, Cecilia wrote to her sister that she "never loved Paris so much -- our boys are everywhere -- too many of those. It would be well now for them to be off."
Beaux had been commissioned to paint the portraits of Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, Admiral Lord David Beatty, and Premier Georges Clemenceau, yet arrangements for her assignment still had to be worked out. On her arrival, she had gone to the United States Embassy to speak to Henry White, the honorary chairman of the National Art Commission and the head of the American Peace Mission. She met him in "the great rose & damask room he presided over, after being shunted past a dozen U.S.A. watchers." While Mr. White was "very nice," Beaux quickly realized that it was "not going to be easy to get even a glimpse of the great C.," and that it would be best if she went "to Belgium first."
It took Henry White nearly a month to complete all the necessary diplomatic details for Beaux to go to Malines, Belgium, to begin the portrait of Cardinal Mercier, and while she waited, Harry Sleeper took her and Lucy Taggart on two excursions, the second of which gave them a view of the devastation France had endured. At the end of the month, just before they were to leave for Belgium, Cecilia was afforded the opportunity that she had hoped for -- a chance to see Clemenceau. The experience and memory eventually influenced the composition of her portrait of him. Cecilia witnessed Clemenceau's speech to the Senate in the Loge du Corps Diplomatique, after the signing of the peace treaty. As she wrote to her sister, Clemenceau entered among shouts & roars, mounted a tribune directly opposite where I was & read his address quietly as if he feared his own emotions. The light came very much from above but even then, he looked tired & old. He has a wonderful rich fresh complexion & no wrinkles. He did not "let off" at all but I felt his immense force & could make up my mind about many things.
By the beginning of July Cecilia and Lucy had arrived in Brussels and were received by Brand Whitlock, the minister for the American Legation, who provided the artist with an introduction to Cardinal Mercier. Accompanied by one of the minister's young secretaries, Cecilia traveled to Malines on July 6 to meet the Cardinal at the Archevêché. In awe of his wartime triumphs in protecting the people of Belgium, Cecilia nearly wept when she met the tall and slender man and told him "how he was beloved in America."
Mercier gave her a short tour of available rooms in the Archevêché, and the artist selected "a large bare room" for her studio. It was near the Cardinal's "cabinet de travail where a shell had come through the ceiling and had only been roughly patched up." The chamber contained "high windows on both sides," and although she had hoped for an "ancient Gothic" setting, she reconciled herself to the room, which was "only late 18th century." She also quickly settled on a pose for the portrait, which was based on her respectful reverence for the man's accomplishments. I thought of Cardinal Mercier's will to defy Germany, and protect his country, his flock...the shepherd towering over the wolf, a father fearless before savages who are seeking the lives of his children. Moral grandeur in action.... The Cardinal must be standing, the head slightly bent, and somehow to be attained, the semblance of a forward movement.
Beaux approached this commission differently from her more usual assignments. To begin with, the veneration with which she regarded the man acted as an inhibitor, making her reluctant to "pull him around as [she did] some people." Since she wished the experience to be a pleasant one for the Cardinal, she only asked for short sessions, at which she worked on both the developing canvas and "a study head" to which she continually added when he posed -- a new approach that was "awkward" for her [Illus. 137]. While Mercier gave her numerous sittings, the sessions were not always the best, as he came in the afternoon, "when the light was not good," because the sun sent "great patches of light across the room and on the very canvas" itself.
Beaux created a "wonderful" and "fearless" head, and emphasized Mercier's robes as the emblematic manifestation of his relationship to God. She described his garments in a letter to her sister: The long red mantal [sic] which has an immense train was made to wear on horse-back and was intended to go over the horse's back and cover him. The tiny scarlet cap he wears is called the sol deo. "To God only." It is not removed even before a king. The Cardinal takes it off for God only. His gold chain and pretoral cross he took off for me to see and hold in my hand. It has to be painted too. There is a broad centeure [sic] of crimson ribbon around his waist and his black soutane has its short cape and all edges bound with crimson cord. A "tall" and "beautiful" young abbé posed in the Cardinal's mantle for Cecilia, and the headgear used for the portrait was later changed to "a bright scarlet biretta" [Illus. 138].
It was an exceedingly hot July and August when Cecilia painted the portrait, and she and Lucy lived in a nearby convent, where they made friends with nuns, and the artist accommodated herself "to unheard of situations while I am painting!" Over the course of the summer, as Cecilia worked on the portrait, the heat, the light, the makeshift studio, and her extreme reverence for the Cardinal all exacted a toll on the painting. She struggled in frustration, knowing that she would not be able to "realize my dream" for it. Still, her disappointment was balanced by the Cardinal's regard for her and his delight with the picture. While Mercier found most artists to be "rather cruel," he came to see Beaux as "si bonne" and said that she was welcome to stay as long as she wished. As for the painting, he told her "Il y a beaucoup de portraits [sic] de beaux tableaux mais vous étes la seule qui a fait l'aime [sic]."
Beaux worked on the portrait until the end of August, when the Cardinal left for America, and she returned to Paris with a promise from her old friend, T. Alexander Harrison, that she could use his studio to finish the painting. In her assessment of her summer's work, "the hands are chaos, the background a mess -- and... there is very little really good painting in the whole thing." She felt that it needed to be finished "in a real studio -- for the light."
Back in Paris by the beginning of September, Cecilia was again at the mercy of the diplomatic corps. It took them nearly a month to bring the painting to Paris, and Harrison's vacant studio went unused all that time. While she waited, Beaux visited Lieutenant Jean Julien Lemordant, a French furniture designer and artist whom she had met in New York the previous spring, when a dinner had been given in his honor at the Vanderbilt Hotel. Lemordant had been blinded and crippled during the war, and Beaux regarded him as someone who represented "the full significance of the ideals of France -- Great Art and Great Heroism." She also attended an October opening of an American exhibition in which the portrait she had submitted was reproduced in the show's catalogue, and she again contacted Henry White, who confirmed the arrangements for the portrait of Admiral Lord David Beatty and advised her that "Clemenceau would throw any one out of the window who proposed 'portraits' to him now."
By October 10 Beaux was in Harrison's studio, furiously completing work on the Mercier portrait before leaving for London on October 23 to begin the Beatty painting, as he had promised "a few brief sittings after Oct. 21st." When Cecilia and Lucy arrived in London, the artist's old friend, Louise Wood Wright, opened her home to them until they were able to secure rooms at the Hans Crescent Hotel in the middle of November. With Louise's assistance, Cecilia also found Miss Berkeley-Johnson, "a nice little female artist," who was willing to rent Beaux her studio for a month.
The artist had her first meeting with the admiral at his home in Regent's Park on October 31. It was a short and formal encounter, in which she responded to his businesslike behavior with a succinct explanation of her mission. Beaux won Beatty's interest and attention, and he soon made time for her in his busy schedule. Cecilia, in turn, accommodated the work to the scarce time that the admiral could give her. She relied on photographs "to help along," she made a study drawing that she was "quite proud of," and she used another model -- a "poor little actor out-of-a-job" -- to pose for her when Beatty was not available.
Beaux's vision for the portrait was twofold: she wanted to capture the man's striking good looks and aristocratic nature, and she also wished to suggest the role he played in the 1916 Battle of Jutland, the only major naval engagement between the British and German fleets during the war. The picture was composed by the beginning of November, with the North Sea in the background and the admiral in a three-quarter-length standing pose, with his hands folded on the hilt of his sword, and wearing "his naval jacket -- double breasted with gold buttons and broad gold braid on the sleeves" and displaying "three rows of ribbons." Beatty left his cloak and sword for the artist to work with, and Beaux soon dubbed the painting "Baron Beatty of the North Sea [Illus. 139]."
Beaux assessed Beatty's features by first studying photograph clips of him and then appraising his looks at their first meeting at his house. She noted her first impression in letters to her sister, her nephew, and Dorothea Gilder McGrew, describing him as "very good-looking but looks a little 'Alliboney.' You will know what I mean." He was "a shortish man...with brown hair -- and an intense lined face though he is only forty-odd." He was "handsome," but also "strained," and his looks were "the hard lived" kind, he "feels his care." As she began the portrait, she continued to evaluate him, finding features that she could emphasize. Beatty was "a falcon -- falcon-eyed, falcon-beaked, and I have him in his cloak facing right out with both hands straight in front on the hilt of his sword. The falcon on his perch," yet one with his "wings clipped."
While Beatty posed no more than five or six times for Beaux, the artist made the most of each session. During the sittings she told him witty stories, regaled him with tales of her various portrait commissions, discussed world events with him, and divulged her "two best Lincoln first hand stories." This, she wrote her sister, was "to keep him going -- and also staying." The sketch that Beaux had created at the first sitting was given as a gift to Beatty during the first week of January, when the portrait was completed, and the admiral had come for a final session on January 7, the same day the artist had scheduled her return to Paris. The portrait was consigned to the care of Beaux's friend Louise Wood Wright, whose husband John, an English etcher, pronounced the painting "historical," while a "Boston woman" said that "tears came into her husband's eyes when he saw it."
Cecilia had originally planned to return home in November 1919, but delays with the portraits changed her schedule, as did her increasing determination to paint the Clemenceau picture before she returned. Lucy Taggart had gone back to the States in December, and Cecilia was now on her own in Paris without an assisting companion. Clemenceau had refused to pose for her until after France's January elections, but the wait went on even longer when he made a trip to Egypt, following his defeat, and he contracted pneumonia while he was gone. Still, Beaux was not one to be easily put off, and during Clemenceau's absence she rented a studio from Suzanne Bartlett, the wife of the sculptor Paul Bartlett, at 15 rue du Cherche Midi and worked out the composition for the painting. She wrote to Etta, "I am going to get it all going & have a pose or two at the end instead of the beginning.... I have made a sketch for the Clemenceau portrait & have it fully in mind."
Beaux waited for Clemenceau for nearly four months, occupying her time in the company of such friends as Florence Este, Molly Lloyd, Corinne Smith, and Miss Fitch, and taking pleasure from such letters as the one from Thornton Oakley, notifying her that she had been given an honorary membership in the Art Alliance in Philadelphia. In April she sent the Mercier portrait to the Paris Salon, where the reviewers felt that she had captured the Cardinal's "noble attitude" and that the painting could "hold its own with the best portraits of the time." That same month, Rosamond Gilder came to Paris to be Beaux's companion and assistant, arriving just in time to accompany her on her first meeting with Clemenceau.
When the arrangements finally came together on April 27, it all happened so fast that I could hardly keep up.... We went in [a] taxi to the rue Franklin No. 8. He lives in a real house with a front door but you reach it by a court.... We went into a room with big windows & yellow silk curtains -- a big dining table otherwise non descript.... Le President du Conseil popped his head in the door. I really made some sort of noise. Ros said I whooped & before I knew it I was crossing the hall with him to his study... Then he said, "Well to begin with we hate each other." I said that was only half true. He has a great horseshoe table in front of a big window looking out on a little garden full of green.... I told him the picture was composed, that during his absence I had been experimenting.... I told him I knew him perfectly & did not expect or ask real sittings.... He is fascinating & does not look more than 60.
Three days later, Rosamond and Cecilia made a second visit to Clemenceau. "Out stalked the tiger," Beaux's young companion wrote, "lashing his tail and growling furiously" and greeting Cecilia with a "decided twinkle," he said, "Well I would like to kill you -- but the Law does not allow it! It is a stupid law." Clemenceau then told her that, as far as he was concerned, posing for portraits was an exceedingly boring activity, to which the artist responded that she "wouldn't do this at all were it not for my country. You know it's for my country."
Careful not to tax the great man's patience, the artist slowly won his confidence by making only short visits for notes and flattering him by reading "four volumes of his writings." By the end of May, Clemenceau realized that Beaux would not abuse his time, and he made her a "liberal offer" to "come when you like -- any day at this hour [10:00 a.m.], or better still at 9:30."
The artist was now longing for a model -- "some little old man for the general figure -- and the grey [suede] gloves," but when no one could be found, young Rosamond Gilder -- who had worked for the Children's Bureau of the American Red Cross during the war -- was drafted for the pose. Rosamond recalled, Suddenly it occurred to us my uniform coat was just the right color and could be adapted to the purposes...so...none other than little Ros...stands for Clemenceau -- as a last war service!... It is merely to give the outline or bulk against the background -- & suggest the folds of the coat etc. CB's study from Clemenceau is the real model -- but it helps to have me pose there now and then.... I never expected to pose for CB -- & least of all as Clemenceau! It's really awfully funny! -- But it helps in a jovial cause -- et voila!
While the idea of the portrait had come to Beaux when she saw Clemenceau speak in the Senate the previous fall, she used the more intimate setting of his private office for the actual composition [Illus. 140]. Ros's drawing of his office shows the semicircular desk behind which Beaux painted him. Even though Clemenceau's features are somewhat caricatured in the portrait, it is, both compositionally and stylistically, the strongest of her three war portraits. By creating a strong intellectual head and by placing his grey-gloved hands in a commanding position on the podium, Beaux had succeeded, one reviewer felt, in capturing both the "decisive character" and the "elemental essence of the man." Another critic noted, "She has painted, indeed, the 'Tiger' of France in all his force and with all his moving personality."
As Beaux completed the Clemenceau painting and her year in Europe was coming to a close, her Parisian friends and colleagues hosted dinners, luncheons, and garden parties in her honor. Yet the culminating event, in recognition of her year of work, was a two-day exhibition -- July 5 and 6 -- of her three war portraits at the Galerie Georges Petit, "the most important gallery in Paris." Beaux had struck up a friendship with M. Dezarrois, a charming young Frenchman who was the editor of "La Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne" and the "right hand [man] of M. Benedite, Director of the Luxembourg," and it was his idea to plan the show. With the help of Rosamond Gilder, who had created a list of Americans to invite, Dezarrois had secured the gallery, had five hundred invitations printed and distributed, and had asked Paul Leon, le Ministre des Beaux Arts, to open the exhibition. A short notice of the show also appeared in the Washington Herald.
Although it rained on the day of the opening, there was still a steady stream of guests, including members of the American diplomatic corps, various French museum directors and government art and cultural-affairs officers, as well as artists and friends. Throughout the afternoon, they regularly appeared at the "tres chic" affair, with Beaux at her "splendid" best, "talking to all the people, making herself delightful & interested all the time." The highlight for Cecilia was the delivery of "a big 'gerb' of roses" from her wounded friend, Jean Julien Lemordant. In the hospital and unable to attend the opening, he had arranged delivery of the flowers with a handwritten note. In his honor Cecilia carried the bouquet during the reception.
At the close of the exhibition, Rosamond and Cecilia took a short trip to Vichy, where they again saw Clemenceau, and then traveled to England for a ten-day visit before setting sail for America. Cecilia was anxious to get home. During the year she was gone, Dorothea Gilder McGrew had died of tuberculosis and diabetes, the wives of her nephews Henry and Jim had given birth to a daughter and a son, and her brother-in-law had retired from Lehigh University. Cecilia and Rosamond were back in America by the beginning of August, with their return noted in the Gilder family's Four Brooks Farm guest book: RG landed in New York on the 3rd of August after three months in Paris with CB.... CB was painting Clemenceau during the months of April, May and June, having previously painted her portraits of Cardinal Mercier & Admiral Beatty. All these portraits exhibited in Paris with great success. Francesca went to N.Y. to meet RG and CB.
On her arrival Beaux spent some time with her family, went to Green Alley for the fall, and was back in New York by November, ready to begin her winter schedule. On December 15 a dinner was given in her honor at the Cosmopolitan Club, followed two days later by her studio exhibition of the three war portraits, an afternoon event attended by such artists as Edwin Howland Blashfield and Harrison S. Morris. Beaux regretted that George Seymour had been unable to attend the private viewing, writing to him that "tomorrow they go out against the Philistines, or worse to live with them for a while."
The National Art Committee's mandate to memorialize the leaders of the recent war through a grand commissioning of lavish, high-style portraits not only spoke to the Committee's regard for the men and women who were portrayed but also signified "the last instance in American history when portraits were considered the principal means of permanently recording the identities of great heroes." The eight artists commissioned by the Committee had completed their work by 1921, and a collection of twenty of the paintings began a two-year national tour under the auspices of the American Federation of the Arts. Never before had a group of official paintings been so eagerly awaited by a national audience, with the show opening in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January 1921. The exhibition then traveled to what was then the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where the collection attracted some 5,400 visitors during the two weeks it was on display in May. Following its tour from coast to coast, the collection returned to Washington in 1923 and was given to the Smithsonian as a gift to the nation. It went on permanent exhibit in a specially constructed space on the third floor of the Museum of Natural History.
While the war portraits were considered "composite interpretations of personality and character" and were regarded "in the fullest sense [as] historical documents open to the world," they also connoted the end of an artistic era.
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2009 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.