“Genius has no sex — U defy anyone to distinguish between two canvases, one of which shall be the production of a woman, and the other of a man.” so writes the artist William M. Chase.
The stories of Rosa Bonheur, the painter, and Harriet G. Hosmer, the sculptor, are told elsewhere in this volume. While they are the world-renowned examples of woman’s artistic work, they are not the solitary instances. Many women decorate china and paint sachet bags and do many pretty but unimportant things without ever having known the thrill of creative genius. But these are not artists, any more than an ordinary carpenter who builds a barn is an architect.
Woman is naturally more artistic in her tastes than man, and it would seem that man must become somewhat womanly (if not effeminate) in order to be artistic. While all admit that woman is artistic, many still refuse to admit that she is creative. We do not seek to prove her case, but simply give a few indications of real genius and creative ability.
Many of the designs for books and magazines were wrought by women. Mary Hallock Foote’s writings are illustrated by herself. Woman is creative in fiction — she can “see all things,” and if she cannot put them into pictorial form, it is not that she lacks creative power, but manual skill to execute her ideas.
Some years ago Prang offered a competition prize. Miss Dora Wheeler tried for the prize and won it against such artists as Vedder and Caryl Coleman. On the following year double prizes were offered. The one prize was to be awarded to popular vote; the other by vote of the artists. Both the vote of the general public and of the artist were for Miss Wheeler’s picture.
Miss Mary Cassett produced the work of art which decorated the tympanum of the great gallery in the Women’s building at the World’s Fair at Chicago, and one has said, “It was a sufficient justification for the existence of the building, that it called out such a work from the hand of a woman for its adornment.”
Of the artists in this country, seventy percent, are women, and we see no reason why the proportion should become less. The world loves the beautiful and is willing to pay for it. Woman is by nature fitted to appreciate the beautiful and by training is able to produce on canvas and in marble and bronze, the artistic embodiment of noble ideas. So this field is destined to be occupied even more largely by women.
We ought to distinguish, however, between those who handle paint and clay as a fad or pastime, and those who make it serious work, and adopt it as a profession. There are few men who dabble with painting or modeling, but of women there are hundreds, and this had te effect of cheapening the general artistic work of woman and giving to the world the impression that woman is man’s inferior in art.
We have no right to deny woman the amusement to be derived from attempts at art work; we only insist that these attempts shall not be classed with works of genius, thus lowering the general estimate of woman’s real achievements in painting and sculpture.
Our present purpose is to show the lack of interest in art fifty years ago, when there was little enlightened appreciation of it outside a small circle of enlightened people who were the admirers of such artists as Copley or Allston, and to contrast with with this limited acceptance its position in the United States today, especially as it affects women.
The large art schools of the country significantly indicate the direction art is taking. Among them the Woman’s Art School of the Cooper Union affords a suggestive example; and its sister schools throughout the country tell the same story of the broadened intellectual life of women. When we allude to the schools of Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, and mention the new buildings that have recently been erected for museums and schools in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Chicago, and speak of the art departments connected with Harvard or Yale, in which women have equal opportunities with men for study; to say noting of the studios filled with art collections at such women’s colleges of Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith, we see how large a field art now occupies; without counting the myriad children now learning to draw in the public schools of the United States.
Genius is the rarest of gifts. But when we look back and see the portraits by Angelica Kauffmann, and the carvings by the daughter of Erwin von Steinbach in Strasburg Cathedral, we recognize, that, here and there, among those who follow an intellectual life, there have been women artists of high gifts. But art which touches a whole population is better indicated on a lower plane than that which affects people of genius; and we find thousands of young American women now seeking to embody their ambition in artistic form.
The paintings of more than two hundred women in a late exhibition of the Royal Academy hung side by side with those of eleven hundred male contributors. Visitors to the English gallery may recall the portraits by Mrs. Jopling, Mrs. Perutini, or Mrs. Stillman as among the best works there. Justice concedes that these English women rank well with men.
Fine paintings are few, compared with the multitude of articles in porcelain, carvings, or ornamental designs, designated as industrial art. One phase of art expresses itself through a small class of engravers, where delicate taste and deft handicraft appear. Here are found the principal compositions of Mrs. Hallock Foote. In these she depicts remote Western life and the arid scenery of the desert where the cactus protrudes above long stretches of sand. Such a landscape forms the setting of rough Mexicans or Indians, varied by the soft-haired women and children of the Eastern states. These illustrations form a chief attraction of some of our most prominent periodicals.
Many interiors of dwellings and public buildings show that women decorators have worked successfully. The names of Mrs. Wheeler and Miss Revere Johnson are well known. In the Union League Club of New York and the Seventh Regiment Armory the richly-glowing work of some portions was painted by a woman; while the harmoniously-toned stained glass by a sister artist attests her talent and skill. Magnificently embroidered curtains, where nets filled with glittering fish that have suffered a sea change into something new and strange, evince the elegant taste of a lady foremost as a decorator.
The rooms of the Associated Artists in New York disclose a charming life. Modern tapestry is wrought here by hands that follow closely the methods of Beauvais or Bayeux; while masses of roses or trailing vines in their luxuriant beauty and the varying forms of nature are copied in floss on satin. Textile fabrics of many sorts appear wrought by fingers that weave a glitter into satin or give a bloom to homely fabrics. This little world has its own intense life, while it is scarcely known outside except by such stately pieces of embroidery as the great curtain of the stage at the Madison Square Theater. In other directions of beautiful embellishment the art-paper manufacturers have produced some of their best hangings from designs furnished by women. The silk factories of the Messrs. Cheney owe to our art students, patterns for brocades and satins, besides suggestions for weaving their splendid goods which add to the sheen of satin in the diaphanous effect of velvet, or which by various threads and surfaces increase their richness and beauty.
Among new directions of art, pen and ink illustrations furnish a promising field. Newspapers and magazines are filled with many a sketch from the busy brain of a woman, printed from her drawing without the intervention of the engraver’s block.
Among the rich American women are found such ladies as Mrs. Maria Longworth Nicholas, now Mrs. Bellamy Storer, who founded the Rookwook potteries at Cincinnati, and herself supported a pottery school. Cincinnati pottery is widely known, and in it the influence of women is clearly discernible. Miss Louise McLaughlin has the credit of rediscovering the Haviland underglaze. She modified this Haviland process with Japanese methods till an attempt was finally made for a distinct style; and her potteries are now famous for their unusual variety of glazes and clay surfaces.
A few of the results already achieved by American women in the applied arts may be summed up as follows: Women have designed successfully for jewelry, lace, book covers, stained glass, oilcloths, carpets of all grades, rugs, wall paper, silks, table linen, dress goods, ribbons, handkerchief borders, and many other things.
Miss Emma Humphreys of Delaware, Ohio, for the past few years has supported herself easily by making designs for wall papers and printed silks. Miss Carrie Smith of Smithville, L.I., has for the past seven or eight years secured an ample livelihood by designing rugs. Miss Elsa Bente of New York is employed by the Tapestry Brussels Company to make designs for woven silks. Miss Clara Wooley of Wilkesbarre, Pa., earned in ten weeks over five hundred dollars on wall paper designs. Miss Mary A. Williamson of Indianapolis, Ind., designed the brocades for the inaugural robes of Mrs. Harrison and Mrs. McKee. Miss Ina Bullis of Troy, and Miss Mary Gazgam of Utica, N.Y., are employed by two of our largest and best known paper manufacturers. Miss Ama Malkin is employed in the designing room of Messrs. Cheney Brothers’ silk mill of South Manchester, Connecticut.
These few examples will serve to show that the position of women in the applied arts is no longer problematical, but an assured fact; that they can and do succeed as designers is a certainty, provided their instruction is practical, not theoretical.
As to the payment received by women for their designs, it is quite as high as that received by men for the same grade of work; and, best of all, there is a steadily increasing demand for it. New factories are constantly springing up, old factories are enlarging their plants; each man is the rival of the other, and tries to produce the greatest variety of goods twice a year. American women have also designed for foreign manufacturers. Therefore let the would-be designer learn how to apply the principles of design practically, as well as artistically, let the originator herself be a practical designer, and thus secure independence.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.