Art Work

Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York

April F. Masten
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 328
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    Art Work
    Book Description:

    "I was in high spirits all through my unwise teens, considerably puffed up, after my drawings began to sell, with that pride of independence which was a new thing to daughters of that period."-The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote

    Mary Hallock made what seems like an audacious move for a nineteenth-century young woman. She became an artist. She was not alone. Forced to become self-supporting by financial panics and civil war, thousands of young women moved to New York City between 1850 and 1880 to pursue careers as professional artists. Many of them trained with masters at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women, where they were imbued with the Unity of Art ideal, an aesthetic ideology that made no distinction between fine and applied arts or male and female abilities. These women became painters, designers, illustrators, engravers, colorists, and art teachers. They were encouraged by some of the era's best-known figures, among themTribuneeditor Horace Greeley and mechanic/philanthropist Peter Cooper, who blamed the poverty and dependence of both women and workers on the separation of mental and manual labor in industrial society. The most acclaimed artists among them owed their success to New York's conspicuously egalitarian art institutions and the rise of the illustrated press. Yet within a generation their names, accomplishments, and the aesthetic ideal that guided them virtually disappeared from the history of American art.

    Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New Yorkrecaptures the unfamiliar cultural landscape in which spirited young women, daring social reformers, and radical artisans succeeded in reuniting art and industry. In this interdisciplinary study, April F. Masten situates the aspirations and experience of these forgotten women artists, and the value of art work itself, at the heart of the capitalist transformation of American society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9174-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: “American Louvre”
    (pp. 1-8)

    Probably on a morning in 1856, a little wisp of a girl holding a pasteboard folder walked up Broadway’s brick-paved sidewalk beside a bespectacled gentleman with a fringe of beard. The wide avenue was already bustling with vendors pulling handcarts, wagons toting barrels, and horse-drawn streetcars loading passengers. Brushing past the pair, men and women walked intently or strolled along in and out of the many-storied buildings where shopkeepers and artisans marketed their wares. On the corner a group of boys tussled with one another, vying for a good place to hawk the daily news and illustrated weeklies. The child...

  4. Chapter 1 Democratic Proclivities
    (pp. 9-38)

    During the 1820s, Anna and Sarah Peale traveled between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., painting oil portraits of eminent congressmen and still lifes of watermelons. Ruth W. Shute and her husband Samuel moved through the New England countryside capturing the likenesses of small-town Americans in a mixture of media. Emily and Maria Ann Maverick worked in New York City alongside their father as associates in an engraving and lithography business. Hannah Lucinda Forbes created memorial paintings on velvet for bereaved neighbors and other customers, and Mrs. B. F. Ladd taught “Poonah,” or theorem painting, on fabric and paper, as well as...

  5. Chapter 2 “The Unity of Art”
    (pp. 39-65)

    In her manualPractical Hints on the Art of Illumination, which came out in 1867 to good notices, Alice Donlevy emphasized the relationship between aesthetics and remunerative labor in industrial fields. Learning mechanical copying by hand, she informed her readers, is only the elementary step in the art of book decorating and is insufficient to secure employment. “Progress in the various processes of art reproduction will render the works of imitators useless, but will bring out thought, and create a demand for original design.” Studying the art of design could lead to other employment as well, because “the principles which...

  6. Chapter 3 “Art Fever”
    (pp. 66-90)

    In 1868, Louisa May Alcott began a story about the experiences of Psyche, a young woman trying to reconcile familial duties with artistic desires, with these words: “Once upon a time there raged in a certain city one of those fashionable epidemics which occasionally attack our youthful population. … it was a new disease called the Art fever, and it attacked the young women of the community with great violence.”¹ Alcott’s younger sister May was an aspiring artist, and Louisa drew upon May’s experiences for the story.² “Mistaking enthusiasm for inspiration,” Alcott wrote, the young artist attempted “every branch of...

  7. Chapter 4 “Harrahed for the Union”
    (pp. 91-128)

    Worried about the state of the country during the construction of his school in the 1850s, Peter Cooper decided to put the single word “Union” on the most conspicuous front of the building looking south and dedicate it to a “union of effort” in the nation. Against his wishes, the New York legislature added his name to the title. This addition was apt, for Cooper’s values, influence, and presence pervaded every part of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.¹ “On the evening of the yearly reception,” recalled School of Design Principal Susan Carter in 1883, “Mr. Cooper...

  8. Chapter 5 “Laborers in the Field of the Beautiful”
    (pp. 129-160)

    Surveying New York City’s cultural landscape in 1868, theNew York Evening Postwas “surprised to learn that we possess so numerous a corps of women laborers in the field of the beautiful.” In fact the “women artists of our city are already so strong in numbers as to justify the formation of a society whose object it is to assist all of their sister artists who may be in need.” Many of the fifty-four artists named in the article had been pupils at Cooper Institute’s School of Design for Women, where they were taught “not only how to draw...

  9. Chapter 6 “An Easier and Surer Path”
    (pp. 161-212)

    Returning home to Milton-on-the-Hudson after three years at “the Cooper,” Mary Hallock found she could work at her drawing almost anywhere, no matter who was present (Figure 27). She took her sketchpad and pencil with her wherever she went, on summer outings to Peg’s Beach and Black Pond or out-of-town holiday visits to the homes of family and friends. Eventually the back parlor of her parents’ home was converted into a studio where the artist could work without interruption and where the tools she used to transpose her drawings onto woodblocks could remain undisturbed. She called this period her “hallelujah...

  10. Chapter 7 “A Combination of Adverse Circumstances”
    (pp. 213-254)

    Cecelia Beaux (b. 1855) came to New York City to pursue a career as a portrait painter in the 1880s. Like her predecessors at midcentury, Beaux had chosen art as her work out of need, desire, and principle. “Although all sorts of intangibilities and uncertainties hovered about my existence,” she recalled in 1930, “there was one rock-bottom reality. I must become independent.”¹ To do so Beaux took advantage of the opportunities at hand. Having demonstrated a gift for drawing as a child, she was sent to study painting with an aunt who was a professional artist and then to art...

  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 255-258)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 259-306)
  13. Index
    (pp. 307-318)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 319-319)