Friday, December 20, 2013

Great Cincinnati Artists: Elizabeth Nourse

The First Communion.  (1895) 

Dear George,
Yesterday Katja and I went to see the Elizabeth Nourse exhibition at the Art Museum, and we loved it.  It was assembled to celebrate the museum’s recent acquisition of Nourse’s 1895 painting, “The First Communion”.  The exhibit included fourteen paintings by the artist from their holdings, along with several loans from local collections.  Elizabeth Nourse is regarded historically as Cincinnati’s most important woman artist, and we’ve enjoyed her works over the years. 

According to various sources listed below, Elizabeth Nourse was born in Mt. Healthy on Oct. 26, 1859, the youngest (along with her twin sister Adelaide) of ten children in a Catholic family.  Cincinnati at that time was a western outpost with a population of only 25,000.  At age 15 Nourse became a student at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati, one of the first women admitted to Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s new women’s life class.  In addition to drawing and painting, Nourse studied wood carving, engraving, and china painting.  She continued as a student at the McMicken School for seven years, graduating in 1880.  Offered a teaching position there, she refused because of her determination to become a professional artist.  Her parents died in 1882 when she was 23, and, assisted by a patron, she went to New York City to continue her training, participating for a short time in the Art Students League.  She returned to Cincinnati the following year, making her living painting portraits and doing murals in private residences.  For several years she spent her summers doing watercolor landscapes in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee.    

La Mere

Nourse moved to Paris in 1887 with her older sister Louise, attending Académie Julian and studying under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre.  Upon finishing her studies, she opened her own studio in Paris, and she lived in Paris for the rest of her life.  In 1888 she had her first major exhibition at the New Salon (the Societé Nationale des Artistes Français).  Her first salon painting, La Mére, eventually hung in Woodrow Wilson’s study at Princeton.  Nourse soon became the second American woman to be invited to become a member of the society.  This was one of the two major salons in Paris, the international center of the art world in the early twentieth century.  Nourse was also regularly invited to enter international expositions in the U.S., and she won numerous awards at Chicago, San Francisco, Saint Louis, and Nashville, as well as contributing to juried exhibitions at the Chicago Art Institute, the Carnegie Institute, the Corcoran Gallery, and other major venues.  In 1893 the Cincinnati Art Museum held a solo exhibition of her works, including 102 pictures and sketches in oil, watercolor, pastel, and pencil. 
Along with Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, she was one of the few women painters to achieve international recognition in the pre-World War I era, a time when critics and exhibition jurors were almost entirely men.  With the outbreak of World War I, most American expatriates returned home, but Nourse and her sister Louise remained in Paris, working tirelessly to assist refugees and raise money for clothing, food, and coal.      

Nourse’s paintings were frequently depictions of the French rural countryside and of peasant women.  Her paintings of women centered on everyday life – hard work, caring for children, rest at day’s end.  She had an operation for breast cancer in 1920.  By 1924 Nourse stopped exhibiting and painted only for her own pleasure.  Her cancer returned in 1937, and she died on Oct. 8, 1938.  Here are some of Elizabeth Nourse’s best-known works, several of which are on permanent display at the Cincinnati Art Museum and are included in the current show.  The exhibition continues through March 2nd and is well worth a visit.  

Self-Portrait.  (1892) 

Two Dutch Children.  (Undated)

Peasant Women of Borst.  (1891)

Normandy Peasant Woman and Her Child.  (1900) 

Head of an Algerian – Moorish Prince.  (1897)

The New Shoe.  (1910)

Among Neighbours. (1889) 

In the Church at Volendam.  (1892)

SOURCES:, “Elizabeth Nourse (1860-1938);, “Elizabeth Nourse”;, “Elizabeth Nourse, Rites of Passage”;, “Elizabeth Nourse Found Greatest Fame in Paris”;, “Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati’s Most Famous Woman Artist” (by Mary Alice Heekin Burke);, “Elizabeth Nourse” 

G-mail Comments
-Ami G (12-21): These are beauties!  Thanks.
-Gayle C-L (12-20): George, This is Most Fascinating!!!  She is an Icon!
As Always ,, Thank you for sharing :)
-Linda C (12-20): Very interesting, your blog is so interesting.  Looking for thanksgiving blog from Nola to send to jayme, loved it, could you resend?

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