Titcomb, Mary Bradish – American Artist

Mary Bradish Titcomb (American, 1858 to 1927)

Mary Bradish Titcomb was one of leading women painters of the Boston School. She was born in Windham, New Hampshire in 1858, and moved to Boston at age twenty-eight to join the swelling ranks of women training to be art instructors in the state’s public schools.[1] After completing her studies at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, she was employed as the director of drawing for the town of Brockton, a relatively public position that brought her early renown for her ability to define and communicate the principles of aesthetics. In 1902, Titcomb resigned her position in Brockton and enrolled in classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.[2]

Titcomb studied with two of the Boston School’s most celebrated impressionist portrait artists, Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell.[3] Their influence is clearly visible in the remarkable brushwork and sensitivity to light, color, and compositional balance evident in Two Girls, Old Lyme. The work was likely painted in 1905, the year Titcomb made a summer sketching tour to the impressionist colony huddled between the eastern bank of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Supporting the date attribution is the fact that 1905 was also the year that Titcomb altered her signature to the gender-neutral, M. Bradish Titcomb, to avoid prejudice by exhibition jurors.[4]

Titcomb was likely drawn to Old Lyme because of the colony’s growing reputation as an “American Giverny”. The date of her visit is significant. The colony’s most famous resident, Childe Hassam, another artist with deep ties to Boston, painted that year his celebrated Church at Old Lyme, a defining work of American Impressionism. Titcomb’s style meshed well with the Old Lyme group and she must have been pleased with the work she produced as a result of her visit. In 1911, six years after her stay, she exhibited Morning at Boxwood, a view of the town’s second-most famous mansion (after the Florence Griswold House), at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.[5]

Titcomb exhibited regularly throughout her long career. A single-artist show was held for her at the Copley Gallery in 1913. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson’s purchase of Titcomb’s Portrait of Geraldine J., upon seeing it at the Corcoran Gallery, brought her national acclaim. She also exhibited regularly with “The Group,” an association of prominent Boston women artists that included Laura Coombs Hills and Lucy Conant.[6]

[1] Nancy Allyn Jarzombek, Mary Bradish Titcomb and Her Contemporaries: the Artists of Fenway Studios, 1905-1939, exhib. Cat. (Boston: Vose Galleries, 1998), 1.

[2] Jarzombek, 4.

[3] Eleanor Turk, ed., American Women Artists: 1830-1930, exhibition catalog (Washington: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1987), no. 54.

[4] Turk, no. 54.

[5] Peter Falk, ed., The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: 1876-1913 (Madison: Sound View Press, 1913), 476.

[6] Jarzombek, 21.

Information courtesy of Shannon’s Fine Art Auctions, April 2010.

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