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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jenny Eakin Delony (Rice)

Arkansas Made, 1896-1900, Jenny Eakin Delony, her most poignant work.
Jenny Eakin Delony Self-portrait
Virtually every state in the U.S. has it's "favorite son" artist. My home state of Ohio, for instance, often touts George Bellows or Howard Chandler Christie as its most worthwhile contribution to the great panoply of American art. Recently I stumbled upon a similar contribution from the state of Arkansas, except that this "favorite son" was actually a favorite daughter, Jenny Eakin Delony (Rice). The state of Arkansas has never been what you'd call the heart and soul of American Art. Its list of great entertainers, politicians, and athletes far exceeds that of its artists. Not only is its list of artists short, but contains the names of only two painters (both male, both relatively unknown). Though Mrs. Delony Rice wasn't on that list, she very well should be. Her portraits, miniatures, wildlife, and landscape paintings stand up well against those who were included.

Psyche (after Curzon), 1889,
Jenny Eakin Delony, painted
while studying in Paris.
As interesting as her work may be, Jenny Eakin Delony's art education would seem to be even more so. Born in Washington, Arkansas, in 1866, she starting in the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1886. She moved on to Paris to the Academie Julian for a couple years, followed by time spent studying and painting in Venice, before ending up back in Paris among the first group of women ever admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1896. From there she moved on to study "artistic anatomy" at the École de Médecine (whatever that might have entailed, drawing cadavers, possibly). Not satisfied with that, returning to the U.S. around 1900, she studied under the famed William Merritt Chase, eventually becoming his secretary (that figures).

If keeping up with Jenny Delony's travels as a student leaves your head spinning, tracing her whereabouts and various teaching positions during the remainder of her life would twist it off completely. Her portrait of Hetty Green in 1905, said to be the richest woman in America, lifted her to national prominence, though the majority of her portrait subjects were from her home state. Her work in establishing university art departments in Virginia and Arkansas ranks her as one of the great art educators in American History. She was also something of a "suffragette." She married twice. Her first husband, Nathaniel Rice, died after two years. She was divorced from her second husband after ten years, at which she returned to signing her work Jenny Eakin Delony Rice. She had no children. (When would she have found the time?) She died of cancer in 1949.

Stream in the Hills with Homestead, Jenny Eakin Delony,
the influence of William Merritt Chase is evident.


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