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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mary Elizabeth Price

The Breakfast Table, 1920s, Mary Elizabeth Price
Frederick Price, M. Elizabeth Price,
Rae Bredin, and Alice Price Bredin
aboard ship.
In researching various artists to write about I sometimes encounter entire families of talented individuals who have made their mark as artists (some more pronounced than others). The Pissarro family down through the 20th-century comes immediately to mind, as well as the Peale's of Philadelphia and the Wyeths of nearby Chadds Ford. If art runs in my own ancestral heritage it's a rather small, shallow stream. My mother's uncle, Elwood Rogers, was once a commercial artist in Lima, Ohio, during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. I recall visiting their home once, which was somewhat nicer than ours, so he must have done okay in his field. I believe his daughter also painted. As for my family, that's about it. Not so with the family of Mary Elizabeth Price. Her brother (far left in photo) owned a prominent New York art galley (always helpful if you're an artist). His wife was an Impressionist painter, while her sister married an American Impressionist. They all lived in and around the Impressionist art colony of New Hope, Pennsylvania, around the turn of the century.

The Cheerful Barge, Mary Elizabeth Price
Mary Elizabeth Price.
Mary Elizabeth Price was born in 1877 near he town of Martinsburg, West Virginia. Her parents were Quakers who moved to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and later to New Hope, Pennsylvania where Elizabeth grew up. She had a sister and three brothers. She began her art studies in 1896 at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, before moving on to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1904. Later she took private classes from William Langson Lathrop. Price began her career as a New York City art teacher in 1917 teaching at the Neighborhood Art School of Greenwich House.

Delphinium Pattern, ca. 1933, Mary Elizabeth Price

Summer Bouquet, Mary Elizabeth Price
When Price's work is recognize at all, it's usually her floral paintings which are mentioned. She painted on wooden panels coated with a mixture of gesso and red clay. Gold or silver leaf was applied over that followed by the painted image in oils. Her Delphinium Pattern (above) from around 1933 and Summer Bouquet (left) are typical of her work along this line. Personally I find both works rather dull and boring, so typical of that which was expected of women artist during this period, and only modestly Impressionistic. Now, compare them to Price's strikingly colorful The Breakfast Table (top) from the 1920s or her Cheerful Barge from about the same period.

Picking Flowers, Mary Elizabeth Price
57th Street Window, Mary Elizabeth Price
Despite her family connections, the work of Mary Elizabeth Price is not very well known. Could this be the reason why? Did her gallery-owing brother push her to paint what was popular (and salable) at the expense of what seems to have been a natural inclination to move beyond such "feminine" decorative pieces? Her Picking Flowers (above) is purely impressionist and totally gender neutral as is the case with her 57th Street Window (right). It's easy to claim, but impossible to prove, that had she been a man, adverse to "female" content, Price's career and name recognition as an artist might well be quite different today. Even so, some of her paintings have been appraised in the mid-five-figure range.

The Dorothy Bradford (from Provincetown to Boston), Mary Elizabeth Price
The Village Queen, Mary Elizabeth Price
In choosing artists about whom to write, I tend to give a little more latitude to women artist in order to allow for the difficulties they encountered in ascending toward the upper levels of the male-dominated art world of the past two or three centuries. That was not particularly a factor with the work of Mary Elizabeth Price. Her work stands up quite well without any special dispensation on my part. It would be trite, not to mention degrading, to say Elizabeth Price could "paint like a man." Yet, as her The Dorothy Bradford... (above) and her The Village Queen (right) would indicate, at her unfettered best, she certainly rose above any gender stereotype then or now, both in terms of style and content. Mary Elizabeth Price died in 1965 at the age of eighty-eight.

The Welldigger from Titusville, 1928, Mary Elizabeth Price
(not a flower in sight).


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