The Business of Bodies: Ellen Emmet Rand (1875-1941) and the Persuasion of Portraiture
October 25, 2018 to March 10, 2019
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 25, 2018. 4pm – 6:30 pm.
Ellen Emmet Rand was one of the most important and prolific portrait painters in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century. If you were in government, business, the arts, a society woman, or even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt—and you could afford her fee—a Rand portrait was a signal of power and style. She re-envisioned the look of wealth, class, and business in her paintings. Yet, despite completing over 800 portraits and being one of the highest-paid female artists of her time, her reputation and acclaim all but disappeared after her death. This exhibition looks to assert Rand’s crucial place in the history of American art and critically consider the ways this artist negotiated her own career, family, and finances in modern, commercially-savvy ways
The Business of Bodies constitutes the most significant assessment of Rand and her portraiture to date. Featuring the collection of oil paintings, drawings, and photographs from the William Benton Museum of Art’s permanent collection, as well as works borrowed from museums and private collections across the country, this monographic exhibition looks to explore Rand’s work, and the business of painting portraits.
Rand worked as both a portrait painter and an illustrator for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Harper’s Weekly. She was savvy in her approach to portraiture and garnered commissions from the lions of business, society women, politicians, professors, lawyers, and scientists. Rand was notable because she was one of a very few women artists able to capture significant commissions: she painted three U.S. Secretaries of State, and was the second woman artist ever commissioned to paint a presidential portrait (Franklin Delano Roosevelt).
Rand was most remarkable in that she was able to support not only herself, but her entire family, with her work as an artist. She married William Blanchard Rand in 1911 and they had three sons. Her husband and children stayed in Salisbury, CT and Rand spent weekends with them, working in NYC during the week. She also supported her mother and sisters. Rand was the consummate businesswoman involved with the business of painting bodies, and, unlike some of her colleagues, did not have to rely on work provided by the WPA in the 1930s.
E.E. Rand died in December of 1941 at age 66 and today her name is quite unknown. Her reputation is lost to history largely because traditional, non-abstract, portrait painting fell out of favor as the 20th century progressed. Younger portrait painters like Alice Neel (1900-1984), active alongside Rand in the 1930s, explored abstraction: she painted darker themes in her portraits which were quite unlike Rand’s refined and elegant society portraits.
Yet, despite changing tastes and aesthetic preferences, Rand was clearly a force in the art world in the first decades of the 20th century. At mid-career, she was significant enough to be included in the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco: her painting In the Studio (1910) was hung alongside paintings by Cecilia Beaux and Thomas Eakins. The Benton loaned this key painting to the DeYoung Museum in 2015 for their centennial re-installation of this historic show. Seven years after the International, in 1922, Rand was the first woman artist to win the Beck Gold Medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
This exhibition was curated by Dr. Alexis Boylan, Associate Director of the Humanities Institute and Associate Professor of Art and Art History and Africana Studies Institute, University of Connecticut.