Friday, June 19, 2015

WOMEN ARTISTS: Jane Peterson


Jane Peterson, one of America's most innovative artists, is the featured artist for June, in my Woman Artist Series.  She was a remarkable woman who lived a life of travel, independence, and adventure -- not common among her contemporaries.  


Here are 10 things to know about Jane Peterson, along with photos of her wonderful paintings and a few images and self-portraits of Jane, herself:

1.  Peterson's birth name was Jennie Christine.  She officially changed her name to Jane Peterson in 1909, following her first major American exhibition in Boston.

She was born in Elgin, Illinois in 1876.  She loved to draw from nature as a child, and she took art lessons at the Elgin Public Schools.  Despite having no formal art training, Jennie Christine was able to take and pass an aptitude exam for artistic ability, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Because of the results of this test, and with her family's support and encouragement, Peterson eventually applied and was accepted at the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York City.  Peterson's mother, proud of her daughter's talent, and anxious for her to succeed as an artist, provided Jane with $300 toward enrollment at Pratt (a significant investment at that time for her family.)

While at Pratt, she studied under Arthur Wesley Dow.  Dow's principles of simplified design and color are evident in Peterson's early work and continued to influence her, throughout her career.

2.  To support herself and pay for school, Peterson sold her own works and also gave lessons to fellow students.  Before graduating, she taught painting and became a revered teacher at Pratt.

After graduating from Pratt in 1901, Peterson became the Drawing Supervisor of Brooklyn Public Schools.  In 1906, she taught briefly at the School of Art & Design in Baltimore, Maryland.

She continued her oil and watercolor painting studies at the Art Students League in NYC, under Frank DuMond-- and also saved enough money for her upcoming travels.

3.  After studying art in New York, she embarked on her first European journey in 1907, traveling to Paris first, and later becoming a student of the Spanish Impressionist, Joaquin Sorolla, two years later. 

Like many young people, especially artists, Peterson extended her artistic education by taking the traditional grand tour of Europe.  For the rest of her life, she would frequently return to travel on the continent.  She traveled to Paris to study Modernism with Jacques Blanche, and to Venice and London to study painting with Frank Brangwyn.  

In 1909, Peterson went on to Madrid, where she was profoundly inspired by the energetic, sun-drenched style of the Spanish artist, Joaquin Sorolla, who became her mentor.  This experience gave new brilliance and spontaneity to her work.  


Girl in Striped Jacket (c. 1914)

4.  In 1910, Peterson's travels led her to Egypt and Algeria -- though traveling alone in North Africa was highly unusual for a Western woman at this time.  The painting below, Boats on the Nile, Dawn, c. 1910, depicts two traditional Egyptian sailing boats known as feluccas, gliding along the Nile.

Boats on the Nile, Dawn, c. 1910, oil on canvas

Soon after her return to the States, a major show of 87 paintings of Venice, Spain, Algeria, and Egypt was held at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1910.  This was her first one-woman exhibition, that eventually led to a near sell-out exhibition in New York City.

Sorolla arrived in the US soon after, to open his own exhibition at the Institute.  He then persuaded Peterson to follow him to New York, where he had been commissioned to do a portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

A Garden in Constantinople

5.  In 1912, Peterson journeyed back to Paris, where she associated with the members of the American Art Association, as well as the inner circle of Gertrude Stein, including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Her interest in watercolor began at this time, and on her return to the US in 1913, she began a six-year tenure at the Art Students League in New York, as an instructor of watercolor painting.  

She became quite gifted in watermedia, and enjoyed using gouache and watercolor, for some of her plein air works.  

Flag Day


6.   Peterson was introduced to the well-known designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and was invited to his summer estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where her favorite subjects were the lush gardens surrounding his enormous mansion.  The gardens themselves were often likened to Monet's gardens at Giverny.  His exquisite gardens were the inspiration for her to use gouache, rather than oils, for her quick garden sketches.  They are remarkable for their quality and freshness.

In 1919, Peterson accompanied Louis Tiffany on a transcontinental painting expedition, to Alaska and the Canadian Northwest, in his private railway car.  Her extensive travel, which included painting trips to points along the eastern seaboard, the West, and the Eastern Mediterranean, provided colorful subjects for the art's canvases.

Traveling and painting with Tiffany, Sorolla, Childe Hassam, and Maurice Prendergast, Peterson's art entourage was influential, powerful, and impressive.

7.  During World War I, Peterson painted war-oriented subjects that were exhibited, sold, or donated to promote Liberty Loans and the American Red Cross efforts.

This is one of my favorites . . . 

Reading at a Cafe, c. 1920

8.  In 1937, the American Historical Society named Jane Peterson the Most Outstanding Individual of the Year.  She was only the second woman to receive this honor.  In all her work, from landscapes to still-lifes, she blends traditional approaches to painting with the influences of the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Expressionists, and the Fauves.

At the height of her career, Jane Peterson's style may be described as "brightly hued, painterly, Post-Impressionist.  Peterson was well known for her Gloucester harbor scenes, Venetian vignettes, New York subjects, and her exotic Orientalist paintings of North Africa and Constantinople.  She is also well known for her vivid, richly-painted floral still lifes, and her beach scenes, created along the Massachusetts coast.

At the Beach

Because of her unique palette, energetic brushwork, and appealing subjects, Peterson was, and still is, one of the most sought-after painters in the art world.  She is still admired and praised for developing her individualistic style, intermingling bold color combinations with creatively unique designs -- masterfully rendered in oil, watercolor, or gouache.

9.  In 1925, Peterson married one of her art patrons, Mortiz Bernard Philipp, a lawyer who was 25 years her senior.  At Rocky Hill, their summerhouse in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Peterson completed many floral, beach, and pier scenes. 

After her husband's death, Peterson resumed her studies and travels around the world.  She would winter in Florida, and then spend the other seasons in Europe and New York.  She was very adventurous and fiercely independent and did not mind traveling alone.

After her husband passed away, she studied with a more modern painter, Andres Lhote, who helped bring even more color to her floral works.

In 1939, she married her second husband, James McCarthy, a prominent New Haven physician.  But, they separated within a year, and then divorced.

10.   Peterson had over 80 one-woman exhibitions and was recognized as a uniquely talented painter of distinction.  By the 1950's, Peterson's hands had become crippled with arthritis, so she was forced to paint much less frequently -- although, she did manage to paint until her death.  She spent the last five years of her life with her niece in Kansas, until she died on August 14, 1965, at the age of 89.

Her work is today represented in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Hirshorn Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.


  1. That final piece is exquisite - bright orange is wonderful. Is it watercolor?

    1. I don't think that one is a watercolor, Kathy. Peterson did paint watercolors and also used gouache, but I'm pretty certain that last one is an oil. I agree that it is exquisite, with the white lilies against that orange background.

  2. I stumbled across you from a Google search on gouache techniques. Serendipity. How wonderful to find your blog, and already I've learned about a new {to me} artist!