Elizabeth Nourse (American painter) 1859 - 1938
Tennessee Woman, ca. 1885
oil on canvas
94.62 x 64.77 cm. (37.25 x 25.5 in.)
American expatriate artist Elizabeth Nourse became widely known for her paintings of women and children during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Born in Mount Healthy, Ohio in 1859, she studied at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati. Shortly after her graduation in 1881, her parents died and Nourse began painting decorative panels carved by her sister to help support her family. When her twin sister married, she moved to New York where she studied at The Art Students League of New York and took life drawing classes with William Sartain. In 1885, the McMicken School of Design offered their first life drawing courses for women, and Nourse returned to Ohio to continue developing her skills in figure drawing.
In 1887, Nourse left for Paris with her older sister Louise and continued her education at the Académie Julian. She began a series of trips throughout Europe, Russia, and North Africa in 1889 where she found diverse subjects to paint. She primarily painted empathetic images of peasant women engaged in ordinary activities such as tending to housework and nursing babies. Although she enjoyed painting the folk traditions of different cultures, she also accepted commissions for portraits in order to support her sister and herself.
Nourse continued exhibiting her genre paintings and portraits of women. In 1895, she became the first woman to be elected an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and served as president of the American Women’s Art Association of Paris from 1899 to 1900. Although her work was often compared to Mary Cassatt’s paintings of wealthy Parisian mothers and children, Nourse remained committed to representing the working class women she encountered in her travels to France, Italy, Holland, and the Ukraine.
While many American artists left France during World War I, Nourse remained in Paris where she solicited funds and supplies for refugees. Her efforts were later rewarded in 1919 by the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1921 by Notre Dame University with the Laetare Medal for her charitable service to humanity.
In 1920, Nourse underwent surgery for breast cancer. She continued painting and exhibiting internationally until she retired in 1924. During her career she maintained a more traditional style, dismissing popular movements like Impressionism as passing trends. Nourse died in Paris in 1938.
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