Work It: Women Artists, Ellen Emmet Rand, and the Business of Seeing

March 23 – July 30, 2017  (closed May 8 – 15)

Work It features paintings by Ellen Emmet Rand and other women artists in the first half of the 20th century—how they fought for opportunities, paid their bills, and found ways to have their art and creativity seen and taken seriously. Featuring several works by Ellen Emmet Rand, as well as pieces by Dorothea Lange, Violet Oakley, Mary Foote, Eudora Welty, Lois Mailou Jones, and Imogen Cunningham, “Work It” features the diversity of styles and subjects that helped women achieve both recognition and security as working artists.

Ellen Emmet Rand (1875-1941) was arguably one of the most important and prolific American portrait painters of her time but likely you have not heard her name before. This is in spite of the fact that during her career, she painted portraits of famed author Henry James, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and over 800 other notables. Her early career was meteoric: she studied with William Merritt Chase; by eighteen she was a regular illustrator for Vogue; at twenty she was encouraged by John Singer Sargent and Stanford White to study in Paris. She returned to the US in 1901 and set about painting the most famous and important people who could afford her fees. Moving between diverse patrons—from state governors to opera singers—Rand carefully balanced changing social mores and fashions with her clients’ need to project authority, intelligence, and beauty through their portraits. For Rand, as with the other artists in this show, portraits, illustrations, advertising and fashion imagery paid the bills and supported families. Yet this work also, simultaneously, suggested that these women were not “real” artists, and instead only worked for money, not love or creative commitment. This exhibition looks to confront the complexity of the careers of women artists who had to work to have their art seen but also had to work for money.

Tuesday April 25: Ellen Emmet Rand and Women Artists in the Early 20th Century. A dialogue with Dr. Alexis Boylan and Dr. Emily Burns. Talk begins at 5:30pm.  See our calendar for details.

The exhibition’s opening reception, featuring our three exhibits coinciding with Women’s History Month, is on Thursday, March 23, 2017 from 4:30-6:30pm.  Murderous Chanteuse will perform at the reception. Free to the public.

Exhibition on view March 23 through July 30, 2017. (Please note the Museum will be closed May 8-15, 2017, as well as Mondays and holidays.)

The Benton’s collection of Rand’s work is viewable online, here.