OUT OF THE BACKGROUND: CECILIA BEAUX AND THE ART OF PORTRAITURE
By Tara Leigh Tappert
This manuscript was completed in 1994 as the accompanying publication for the 1995 Cecilia Beaux exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Unfortunately, as a result of funding shortfalls this full study of the artist's life and work was replaced by a souvenir catalogue for the run of show. Now, fifteen years later, as an online publication with Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO) -- a non-profit dedicated to furthering education in American art through advocacy, publications, and research -- this manuscript will see the light of day. A special TFAO emphasis is building an archive of significant texts, authored by scholars and other informed individuals, beneficial for the study of art history in the United States. I am grateful to John Hazeltine who agreed to accept the manuscript and thankful that Shana Herb Johannessen has prepared it for online accessibility.
The document is presented as it was completed in 1994, and in some cases ownership information of paintings, drawings, and other materials is no longer current. (More recent work on Beaux provides current information.) Additionally, the manuscript is published online without its images, but includes a list of illustrations with captions. For future Beaux scholars these images are available in the Cecilia Beaux collections at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where my Beaux research papers are now housed
The original acknowledgments listing the people (many of whom have moved on to other institutions) and resources that made this wonderful experience possible are included below.
Tara Leigh Tappert
On a sultry summer day in 1974, I visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and in a hall humming with oversized fans, I stood transfixed before Cecilia Beaux's painting Sita and Sarita. This enigmatic portrait of a young woman and her cat came to represent Beaux's world for me -- a mystery to unravel. Since then, I have pursued the threads of Beaux's life and career, and in turn, she has given me marvelous experiences and wonderful adventures.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Beaux's great-niece and namesake, Cecilia Drinker Saltonstall, who has generously provided me with materials still held within the Drinker family, including photographs of paintings. I have stayed at Beaux's summer home and studio, Green Alley, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and watched its remarkable transformation over a ten-year period, by a woman no less an artist than Beaux herself, the late Nina Saunders, much supported by her husband Roger. I have spent s summer in the Berkshires organizing an astonishing and still privately held archival collection that includes a great deal of Beaux material -- papers owned by Helena and John Pappenheimer, Gilder and Anne Palmer, and the late W. de Kay Palmer, descendants of the Richard Watson Gilder family, with whom Beaux had a close relationship. I have been awarded predoctoral fellowships from the George Washington University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Winterthur Museum, which facilitated the completion of a dissertation on Beaux, and I served as the guest curator for a Cecilia Beaux exhibition organized by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
I first discovered Cecilia Beaux while I was completing a practicum in the Detroit office of the Archives of American Art, when I was in a master's program in the mid-1970s. The Archives had recently acquired the Beaux papers and Elizabeth Bailey, who was then on staff at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts -- an institution with which Beaux had been closely associated -- had written an article on the Beaux papers for the Archives of American Art Journal. This article led me to Beaux's autobiography, Background with Figures, which then took me to Family Portrait, the family biography by her niece Catherine Drinker Bowen, and to Frank Goodyear's catalogue essay for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art's 1974 Cecilia Beaux exhibition.
The more I read the less I seemed to understand her. Each writer presented an entirely different image of her, and when I had finished, I had the impression of looking at Beaux through a cracked mirror, fractured into bits and pieces that didn't quite come together. But by this time, Beaux's life and work had captured my imagination, and as I delved into my study of her I came to realize that the limited roles available to women in America at the turn-of-the-century, coupled with Beaux's expression of these roles in her portraits, were the keys that unlocked the door to understanding Beaux's own personal and professional choices.
As her biographer, I have been especially fortunate. There are voluminous documentary sources -- archival papers, oral histories, and visual images -- regarding her life and career. The bulk of Beaux's papers are divided between the Archives of American Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but there are also a number of other public and private collections containing Beaux material. Early Drinker and Leavitt family history is found in the Drinker papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the records of the Woodland Presbyterian Church, and the Presbyterian Historical Society, all in Philadelphia. The Cape Ann Historical Association, and the Sawyer Free Library, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, contains material regarding Beaux's life on Eastern Point. Beaux's male friendships are illuminated in the correspondence with New Haven lawyer, George Dudley Seymour, whose papers are in the Yale University Library, and with illustrator, Thornton Oakley, whose papers are in the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Further clues to her life and career are provided in the Richard Watson Gilder, the Century Magazine, and the Thomas and Catharine Drinker Janvier papers, at the New York Public Library, and also in the papers of her niece, Catherine Drinker Bowen, located at the Library of Congress. Some of Beaux's most frankly intimate letters regarding her life and portrait commissions were written to Richard, Helena and Dorothea Gilder, and are in the collection of papers still owned by their descendants. Some Beaux material is also still held by her descendants.
Beaux's associations with the Pennsylvania Academy are documented in the papers of one of the Academy's directors, Harrison S. Morris, at the Princeton University Library. Beaux also taught a private portrait class in New York, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton Blake, which is discussed in an interview with Mrs. Blake conducted by the Columbia University Oral History project. Institutions, to which Beaux was associated, such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, also maintain extensive files on her. Other collections in the Archives of American Art with information about Beaux include the Carnegie Institute papers, the Macbeth Gallery papers, the Jesse Wilcox Smith papers, and the Walker Hancock papers.
While Beaux's paintings and drawings are owned by museums and galleries throughout the United States, as well as in England, France, and Italy, much of her work is still in the hands of descendants of her sitters, and in private collections. A catalogue raisonné, prepared by her nephew, Henry S. Drinker, and published by the Pennsylvania Academy in 1955, is still the first source for tracing owners of her portraits. Other useful collections include the Frick Art Reference Library, and the Inventory of American Paintings and the Juley collection, at the National Museum of American Art.
Drinker and Gilder relatives have generously shared Beaux material with me. In addition to Cecilia D. Saltonstall, other Drinker and Leavitt descendants who have provided me with information include the late Ernesta Ballard and her daughter Alice, Caroline Saltonstall, Suzanne Drinker, Ezra Bowen, Henry Middleton Drinker, Mary S. Drinker, the late Pemberton Drinker and his wife Priscilla, Susan Drinker Moran, the late John L. Randall, and Mary Eliza Drinker Scudder. Other people who knew Beaux personally, who have researched her life and work, or who have paintings and sketches by her have also contributed to my research. I am grateful to Elizabeth G. Bailey, the late Richard Barker, Bettina Blake, Sarah Burns, Vidal Clay, Victor Cornelius, Mrs. George H. Denny, Susanna J. Fichera, Andrew Gray, the late Walker Hancock, Charles Harper, the late George H. Hart, Philip Hayden, Frederick D. Hill, John G. Hines, Lansdale Humphreys, the late John A. Kouwenhoven, Patricia Likos, Townsend Ludington, Franklin Riehlman, Julia Shipway, Maria M. Skinner, Edwin L. M. Taggart, and Alfred J. Walker.
Research for this book has also been facilitated by a number of librarians, archivists, and curators. I am grateful for the assistance of Jean Fitzgerald, Bob Brown, Cathy Stover, Liza Kirwin, and Peggy Ferrick of the Archives of American Art; of Cecilia Chin, Patricia Lynagh, Martin Kalfatovic, and Roberta Geier of the National Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery library; of Brandon Brame Fortune, Ellen Miles, and Lulen Walker of the National Portrait Gallery; of Judith Stein, Jeanette Toohey, and Cheryl Leibold of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; of Katherine Martinez, Neville Thompson, and Bert Denker of the Winterthur Museum; of Gené Harris of the Brandywine River Museum; of Nancy Johnson of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and of Katherine Kovacs of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. I am also indebted to Lillian B. Miller, the Smithsonian's Historian of American Culture and Editor of the Charles Willson Peale Papers. Her patient guidance, as my dissertation advisor, sustained and encouraged me, and continued to echo as I prepared this manuscript.
Extensive research projects frequently take over the writer's life, affecting relationships with family and friends. Over the years that I have researched and written about Cecilia Beaux, I have been the recipient of various forms of encouragement. My aunts, Dorothy Gay and Marian Green, my cousin, Ann Watts, and my friends, Ramona Austin, Marianne Doezema, Barbara Vandegrift, and Lisa Lyons have listened to me talk about Beaux with enthusiasm and interest. My brother, Tod Tappert, has kept me humored. For my birthday one year, he made a special pasta dinner that he named the "Sicilian Bows." Dean and Nancy Nance, Kathy Phynizy, and Bill and Peg Crowther all opened their homes to me while I conducted my research. Betty Etzler, Susan Steif, Bev James, Seymour and Pauline Kavesky, Kate Martin and Bill Renninger, and their children Elizabeth, Theodore, and Margaret have all been faithful and supportive friends. Finally special thanks go to my father, Herman Henry Tappert, for instilling within me a love of learning.
Tara Leigh Tappert
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