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Paris Salon Essays

Essay #2

The statistics on women artists seeking art education and exhibiting in 19th century Paris is quite revealing. On the average, women made up about 20 percent of the total number juried into the Paris Salon, but less than 10 percent attained an award. Women were not permitted to enroll for art study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and many French masters that taught privately would not accept women as students. However, there were three studios dedicated to women artists at the Julian Academie. While many women found refuge in these studios, the instructor critiqued the women once a week as compared to men who had works critically reviewed twice a week. Quite unfair given the fees for women were double the amount charged the men. Males paid fifty francs a month, the women one hundred francs.

“ If I could find time I would write a letter about it to the Transcript, for its been so hard for ladies to find the best advantages here without paying exorbitantly for the same, that we want our sister artists to know of it.”
May Alcott artist

Rhode Island women artists faced these same challenges. A surprising number of these local women were accepted to exhibit at the salon. This is a remarkable achievement for any artist, considering the fierce competition. Among those selected for exhibition were Sarah Chapin, Rosa Peckham, Helen Watson Phelps and Caroline Thurber. Their works are very rare and hard to find. The Alcott homestead has a Rosa Peckham portrait of May Alcott. There is a mayoral portrait done by Caroline Thurber at Providence City Hall. Helen Phelps painted the portraits of Mr. & Mr. Jesse Metcalf in the RISD collection. Some of these women are represented in the Providence Art Club collection. Rosa Peckham for example, distinguishes herself as one of the original signers of the compact for the Providence Art Club and the first woman to sit on the Providence Art Club executive board – as secretary of course!

Bert Gallery found no examples for the current exhibit at the gallery.

Who were the Rhode Island Women Artists who exhibited in Paris Salons?

1. Sarah Chapin (1874 – 1900)
Studied with Mary C. Wheeler and in Paris with Raphael Colin. She died very young at the age of 26. Paris Salon exhibits 1896, 1897 and 1898. Chapin was in the collection of RISD Museum. Was it de-accessioned in the 1920’s?

2. Rosa Peckham (1842- 1922)
Roommate of May Alcott in Paris, Salon exhibitor in 1878 and founding member of the Providence Art Club few paintings remain to view. A portrait of May Alcott can be seen at the Orchard house.

3. Helen Watson Phelps (1864 – 1944)
Primarily a portrait painter, she had a painting on exhibit in the Salon of 1886, In the Cloister. She studied at the Academie Julian with Raphael Collin.

4. Caroline Thurber (19th/20th Century)
She studied at the Academie Julian with J.P. Laurens and
Benjamin Constant from 1897 - 1901. Paris Salon exhibit of 1899. Born in Ohio moved to Bristol Ferry, RI. She painted mostly portraits of Rhode Island dignitaries including mayors, governors and college presidents.

In the current Bert Gallery exhibit Helena Sturtevant provides the one example of the many Rhode Island women who went abroad to study and exhibit in the Paris Salon.

Helena Sturtevant (1872 – 1846)
Paris Academie Colarossi with Blanche and L. Simon

Special Artist Notes: Student of the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Exhibited at the Paris Salon of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts. Descendent of Bishop Clarke of Newport.
Research from personal research files of LJ McElroy and Catherine Little Bert and American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, Lois Marie Fink, Cambridge University Press, 1990

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George Hitchcock (1850-1913), "Holland - Field of Flowers", watercolor, 6 x 12

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