Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938)

Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938)

Born in Mount Healthy, Ohio, in 1859, Elizabeth Nourse hailed from a large family with ten children and began her studies in earnest at the nearby McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati, where she stayed for seven years and was one of the first women admitted to the life class led by Thomas Satterwhite Noble. Tragically, both of her parents passed away in 1882, yet Nourse continued to pursue her education and enrolled at the Art Students League in New York for a brief time. She ultimately returned to Cincinnati by 1883 and took on portrait work in addition to decorating interiors and painting landscapes of the Appalachian Mountains. Several years later, in 1887, Nourse was able to go abroad to Paris to round out her artistic studies at the Académie Julian under the guidance of Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. Her foundational work and the skills she honed in Cincinnati proved valuable, as Nourse completed her education under a year and held her first major exhibition at the Société Nationale des Artistes Français in 1888. She decided to make her move to Paris permanent and additional shows would follow in the capital, including at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Paris Salon, while concurrently she sent work for exhibition in the United States at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other major venues, and to her Washington, DC dealer, V. G. Fischer Gallery.

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As a woman in a male-dominated field, Nourse’s immediate success and her ability to support herself without the necessity of marriage or a second career in teaching speaks to her dedication and tenacity, and to the solid foundation of the McMicken School’s curriculum. When she arrived in Paris, she had already established her personal approach to painting which combined strong draftsmanship and a refined handling of light and shade, and she also had a clear idea of the subjects important to her, those of women and children and the routines of everyday life. Many of these paintings were likely inspired by summers spent in the more rustic environs of Saint-Léger-en-Yvelines, located southwest of the capital, where Nourse and her sister Louise rented a small cottage and where the artist could sketch among the residents and capture quieter moments of maternal intimacy. These themes showed well alongside the peasant subjects presented by more veteran Salon painters, thus Nourse was embraced by the art circles of her time and was one of the first women elected as a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Accolades soon followed at shows in Europe and the United States, including medals at international expositions in Chicago (1893), Paris (1900), St. Louis (1904), and San Francisco (1915).

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