Who Art You? 22
Jessie Smith, born 1863, was a brilliant illustrator, but she also worked to encourage other female artists professionally and to help create opportunities to sell their works.
Who ART You?
Born: September 6, 1863
Died: May 3, 1935
Movement: The Golden Age of IllustrationAwards
Jessie Willcox Smith was the youngest girl born to Charles Henry Smith, an investment broker, and Katherine DeWitt Willcox Smith. She trained to be a teacher and taught kindergarten in 1883, but found that the physical demands of working with children were too strenuous for her. Persuaded to attend one of her friend's or cousin's art classes, Smith realized she had a talent for drawing.
Smith graduated from PAFA in June 1888. The same year, she was hired for an entry-level position in the advertising department of the first magazine for women, the Ladies' Home Journal. Smith's responsibilities were finishing rough sketches, designing borders, and preparing advertising art for the magazine. In this role, she illustrated the book of poetry New and True: rhymes and rhythms and histories droll for boys and girls from pole to pole (1892) by Mary Wiley Staver.
During her time at the Ladies' Home Journal, Smith enrolled in 1894 in Saturday classes taught by Howard Pyle at Drexel University. She was in his first class, which was almost 50% female. Pyle pushed many artists of Smith's generation to fight for their right to illustrate for the major publishing houses.
Illustration was one artistic avenue in which women could make a living at the time. At this time, creating illustrations for children's books or of family life was considered an appropriate career for woman artists because it drew upon maternal instincts. Alternatively, fine art that included life drawing was not considered "ladylike." Illustration partly became viable due to both the improved color printing processes and the resurgence in England of book design.
She illustrated a number of books, magazines, and created an advertisement for Ivory soap. Her works were published in Scribner's, Harper's Bazaar, Harper's Weekly, and St. Nicholas Magazine.
As educational opportunity opened up to women in the later 19th century, women artists joined professional enterprises, and also founded their own art associations. But artwork by 'lady artists' was considered inferior. To help overcome that stereotype women became "increasingly vocal and confident" in promoting their work, as part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer "New Woman". Artists "played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplifying this emerging type through their own lives.
Smith was a member of Philadelphia's The Plastic Club (founded 1897), an organization established to promote "Art for art's sake". Other members included Elenore Abbott, Violet Oakley, and Elizabeth Shippen Green. The group of women who founded the organization had been students of Howard Pyle. It was founded to provide a means to encourage one another professionally and create opportunities to sell their works.
According to an article printed by The New York Times in 1910, Smith made about US $12,000 ($322,671 today) per year and, like Norman Rockwell and J. C. Leyendecker, became as popular as a "media star". Smith was particularly known for her illustrations and advertising posters of children and women, which appealed to millions of people. Smith had a knack for painting children, persuasively using milk, cookies and fairy tales to achieve a relaxed, focused, child model. In her October 1917 Good Housekeeping article she wrote that "A child will always look directly at anyone who is telling a story; so while I paint I tell tales marvelous to hear.
She graced every printed cover of Good Housekeeping from December 1917 through April 1933, becoming the artist with the longest run of illustrated magazine covers. She created a total of 184 illustrations of family scenes for the magazine. The magazine said of her, "Certainly no other artist is so fitted to understand us, and to make for us pictures so truly an index to what we are as a magazine are striving for. The holding up to our readers of the highest ideals of the American home, the home with that certain sweet wholesomeness one associates with a sunny living-room—and children." She was one of the highest paid illustrators of the time, earning over $1,500 per cover.
Smith's style changed drastically through her life. In the beginning of her career she used dark lined borders to delineate brightly coloured objects and people in a style described as "Japonesque." In later works she softened the lines and colours until they almost disappeared. Smith worked in mixed media: oil, watercolor, pastels, gouache, charcoal, whatever she felt gave her desired effect. She often overlaid oils on charcoal, on a paper whose grain or texture added an important element to the work. Her use of colour was influenced by the French impressionist painters.
Most of Smith's work is primarily concerned with children and motherly love. Many reviewers say Smith was continually trying to recreate the image of love she had desperately needed as a child. Smith preferred to use real children as opposed to child actors, because she found professional children did not have the same soul, or will to explore, as amateur child models. She would invite her friends to visit, and watch their children play, to use as her inspiration.
Smith subsequently died in her sleep at her house at Cogshill in 1935 at the age of 71.
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