Elizabeth Gilbert Jerome – American Artist

Elizabeth Gilbert Jerome (American, 1824 to 1910)

Tropical Sunset, by Elizabeth Gilbert Jerome, is a testament to the creative will in an era when women were actively discouraged from pursuing careers in the visual arts. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Jerome’s youthful drawings were destroyed by her stepmother when she was 15. She subsequently commenced her studies in drawing and painting at the age of 27. Even then her education would likely have suffered from cultural constraints, as most art academies in mid-nineteenth century America did not accept women, and those that did would not allow them to participate in life drawing classes. [1] Nonetheless, in 1851 Jerome was studying in Hartford with Julius T. Busch. She studied further with Emanuel Leutze, and took classes at the National Academy of Design in New York and the Springley Institute. After marrying she moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where she lived near Frederick Church. Between 1866 and 1875 Jerome exhibited at the National Academy, and was recognized as a portrait artist. [2] Jerome later taught art, and counted African American artist and fellow Hartford resident Nelson Primus as one of her students. [3]

Given the subject and style of Tropical Sunset, Jerome’s proximity to Frederick Church in Hartford raises tantalizing questions regarding influence and acquaintanceship. Although her treatment of the South American landscape in several paintings is clearly indebted to Church-who was, incidentally, two years her junior-there exists no evidence that they knew one another. [4] All the same, the similarities are striking enough to encourage speculation that Church may have assisted in some of her paintings. [5]

Tropical Sunset features a subtle mastery of atmosphere consistent with the Hudson River School and Luminism. The foreground vegetation is exquisitely detailed, its contrasting green and red tones underscoring the picture’s exotic locale. By contrast, the distant mountaintops are broadly brushed in, further contributing to the atmospheric impression of the painting. The overall effect is of a faraway place so well steeped in reverie that one hardly notices the cleverness of a major compositional motif, whereby the posture of the two most prominent trees at left are echoed by the sails of the boats in the middle distance.

[1] Judith H. Dobrzynski, The Grand Women Artists of the Hudson River School, Smithsonian.com, July 21, 2010.

[2] http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/mountholyoke/mshm136.html, Jerome papers, Mount Holyoke College.

[3] Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.

[4] Jennifer Krieger and Nancy Siegel, Women of the Hudson River School (Catskill, New York, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 2010), 30.

[5] http://www.fineoldart.com/browse_by_essay.html?essay=327, Lawrence J. Cantor.

Essay by Jerry N. Weiss

information courtesy of Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, October, 2011.

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