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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lydia Field Emmet

Grandmother's Garden, 1890s, Lydia Field Emmet.
Lydia Field Emmet Self-portrait, 1912 
As a portrait painter and writer, when I get to "interviewing" artists on line, it's awfully easy for me to stumble upon an intriguing portrait and, then basically "crumble" all over it, getting hung up on some aspect of the portrait to the point I almost forget what I was looking for in the first place. Never before in the history of art has it been so convenient to study virtually any aspect of art, any era of art, any type of art, or even any type of artist. I've been "blogging" since before anyone invented the term, starting shortly before I retired in 1998, and intermittently since. Ironically, even with the technological improvements of speed and software, it hasn't gotten any easier. Even as I've become a more experienced writer, switching from research in books to online resources, any elements of convenience and increased content have translated to greater depth and visual appeal rather than ease. If anything, it now takes almost twice as long to write an item like this as when I began years ago.

Spring and Autumn, 1892, Lydia Field Emmet as rendered by Tiffany Glass.
Two Brothers, 1909, Lydia Field Emmet.
Did parents really dress boys so they
looked like girls a hundred years ago?
Back then, I could only talk about art, making reference to various paintings, describing them, and hoping readers were already familiar enough with the artists and their work to follow along. Eventually I acquired an editor to improve my grammar and an assistant with an early form of high-speed Internet access to provide image URLs to correlate with what I wrote. Now, I do all that myself. For example, Lydia Field Emmet was a portrait painter from the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century, born in 1866, she died in 1922. Recently, one of her portraits tripped me up. Look at the portrait at right, an older brother and his younger sister, right? Now look at the title. Of course, little girls back then definitely did not wear short pants so...

Portrait of the Artist's Niece,
Lydia Field Emmet
Little girls looked like the portrait below of Lydia Field Emmet's niece--sweet, frilly, bow-bedecked, charming and unchastened. Lydia Field Emmet was at her best in painting children's portraits, though she preferred painting adults. In the years before portrait artist began routinely using photos, who can blame her? Children, despite they way they look in the finished portraits, were seldom ideally cooperative models. However, Lydia had trained with the best America had to offer, William Merritt Chase, Henry Siddons Mowbray, Kenyon Cox and Tony Robert-Fleury. The influence of England's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood can be seen in her stained glass double portraits rendered by Tiffany (above), while the Impressionist influence of William Merritt Chase can be seen in her Grandmother's Garden (top).

First Lady, Lou Hoover, 1932,
Lydia Field Emmet
Yet Lydia Emmet's most famous portrait subject was not a child but the wife of a former president, Lou Hoover. Lydia's portrait of this First Lady hangs today in the White House, the first female portrait artist to be so honored. However, despite hanging on the hallowed walls of the most hallowed building in Washington, it is Lydian Field Emmet's portraits of children which are the most endearing, notwithstanding the parental penchant of that era for what appears to modern eyes as the rather sissified dress of their preadolescent sons. Then again, perhaps it is this dated attire that makes them so endearing. Young boys of that era didn't wear suits and ties as they might be coerced into today, but at the same time, I find it highly unlikely they would have chosen the "cute" little sailor suits the artist depicts without the threat of physical force. However, despite the turn-of-the century "costumes" you cannot subdue the boyish affinity for "fun" as seen in Emmet's depiction of our young "fishermen" in the painting below.

Goldfish, a portrait of Roland and Peter Hazard, 1921, Lydia Field Emmet.


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