Category: American Art

Illustrations by Franklin Booth for “Glimpses …

Illustrations by Franklin Booth for “Glimpses of Munich Life” by Rene Reinicke

published in Scribner’s Magazine, April 1908

pen and ink 

courtesy of eoskins on Flickr x x x 

Lady with the Rose, 1882, by John Singer Sarge…

Lady with the Rose, 1882, by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907)Edmonia Lewis had …

Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907)

Edmonia Lewis had so much acting against her success during her time, yet she overcame prejudice to become a highly celebrated neoclassical artist. Born to a free African-American father and a Native American mother, she was orphaned at only five years old. As she grew, she was raised by her Chippewa aunts, and supported by her brother – who financed her course at Oberlin College in Ohio. She changed her Chippewa name of ‘Wildfire,’ and became known as ‘Mary Edmonia Lewis.’ While the college was considered progressive for its time, Lewis was subject to racism and prejudice. She was accused of poisoning her roommates, was badly beaten by a mob, accused of stealing supplies, and was eventually refused to be allowed to graduate. All were probably racially motivated, as there was little to no evidence to support them. This, however, led to her being tutored by the sculptural artist Edward Augustus Brackett (1818-1908).

Under the tutelage of Brackett, Lewis’ skills grew, as did her commissions. She earnt enough money off of creating portraits to fund her travel to Europe. She eventually settled in Rome, where her love of neoclassicism flourished. She experienced much more freedom there, in terms of her career and her spiritual identity. Many sculpture artists flocked to the area, due to the availability of marble, and skilled workmen. Lewis, however, preferred working through her process alone. Most other artists employed other workers for some part of the model work.

Edmonia Lewis’ work revolved around her own identity. She celebrated both her African-American and Native American heritage. She was often inspired by this heritage, and of the representation of historically strong women. This is all seen in works such as ‘Forever Free’ (1867), ‘Old Arrow Maker’ (1872), and ‘The Death of Cleopatra’ (1876).

Not only was Edmonia Lewis a woman, but she had African-American and Native American heritage and lived through the American Civil War. She faced strong prejudices that endangered her life. Yet she became one of the most celebrated sculptural artists of her time. She continues to be an inspiration to people today.


Hiawatha,’ and ’Minnehaha,’ both created in 1868, by Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907).

But the fearless Hiawatha

Cried aloud, and spake in this wise:

“Let me pass my way, Kenabeek,

Let me go upon my journey!”

And they answered, hissing fiercely,

With their fiery breath made answer:

“Back, go back! O Shaugodaya!

Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!”

 Then the angry Hiawatha

Raised his mighty bow of ash-tree,

Seized his arrows, jasper-headed,

Shot them fast among the serpents;

Every twanging of the bow-string

Was a war-cry and a death-cry,

Every whizzing of an arrow

Was a death-song of Kenabeek.

 Weltering in the bloody water,

Dead lay all the fiery serpents,

And among them Hiawatha

Harmless sailed, and cried exulting:

“Onward, O Cheemaun, my darling!

Onward to the black pitch-water!”

– An excerpt from ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ 1855, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). This was a poem that Lewis often drew inspiration from.

Above: ‘Forever Free,’ 1867, by Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907).

‘The Bird Collector,’ and ‘Masked Eros,’ by Fa…

The Bird Collector,’ and ‘Masked Eros,’ by Fatima Ronquillo (1976- )

Study of the portrait, and the finished ‘Por…

Study of the portrait, and the finished ‘Portrait of Madame X’, 1884, by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).

The Scandalous Portrait of Madame X

The Scandalous Portrait of Madame X

The famous ‘Portrait of Madame X’, painted by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), is a gorgeous work of art. However, when it was displayed at the Paris Salon in 1884, it became highly controversial.

At the time, Sargent used the beautiful socialite, Madame Pierre Gautreau (1859-1915), as his model. He hoped this would garner more attention to his career. The original work was slightly different, where he “emphasized her daring personal style” by allowing a strap on her gown to slip off her shoulder. When the work was revealed, it caused an uproar. It was the model’s mother who was particularly infuriated, seeing her daughter’s portrait painted in such a provocative way. The portrait received more anger than admiration, leading to Sargent re-painting the strap and re-named it ‘Madame X’ for more mystery and modesty.

While the work and Sargent’s reputation led him to leave France, it also boosted his fame internationally. He was in hot demand for commissioned work after moving to London.

On the left, there is a copy of the original work is on display in the Tate, in Britain. The right shows how Sargent censored the portrait.

William Sidney Mount, The Painter’s Triumph, 1…

William Sidney Mount, The Painter’s Triumph, 1838.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), A Woman an…

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), A Woman and a Girl Driving, 1881. Oil on canvas.

‘Madame Beauvoir’s Painting’ and ‘Marie-Antoin…

Madame Beauvoir’s Painting’ and ‘Marie-Antoinette Is Dead’, by Fabiola Jean-Louis

“The materials used for the paper gown sculptures are transformed in a way that allows me to represent layers of time and the events of the past as they intrude upon the present. Through the materials, I suggest that although we cannot change the past, we can act to change the present, as we activate the memories, visions, and legacies of our ancestors.”

Undine Rising from the Waters, 1880’s, b…

Undine Rising from the Waters, 1880’s, by Chauncey Ives (1810-1894)