The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Loveby Alice A. Carter
Illustrators Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) and Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), and muralist Violet Oakley (1874-1961) captivated early-20th-century society with their brilliant careers and uncommon lifestyle. This richly illustrated biography traces the lives of these three talented women, who took over the Red Rose Inn, a picturesque old estate on Philadelphia's Main Line, and made a pact to live together forever-until one of them created havoc by leaving the fold to marry. Revealing a household of intimate friendship, mutual inspiration, shared ideas, and love, The Red Rose Girls unfolds against a backdrop of the emerging women's rights movement in an era when female sexuality was still little understood or publicly acknowledged. It is an unforgettable story of three extraordinary women artists who achieved success on their own terms. Full-color reproductions of the Red Rose Girls' artwork and wonderful archival photographs bring these women and their milieu to life. 175 illustrations, 60 in full color, 8 1/2 x 11"
- Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 8.62(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.62(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Academy Centennial
THE DATE IS THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1905. TEDDY Roosevelt is about to be inaugurated for a second term. Anheuser Busch has proclaimed Budweiser "king of bottled beers." It costs $150 a year to attend Harvard University. You can buy a standard Oldsmobile Runabout for $650 or a house for $2,000. Women will not vote in national elections for another fifteen years.
On this particular night Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley leave their communal residence for a banquet celebrating the centennial exhibition of the nation's oldest art institution, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Forty-one-year-old Jessie Smith, the oldest of the trio, approaches the evening with her status at the Academy already assured. At the 1903 exhibition she had garnered the institution's prestigious Mary Smith Prize for the best painting by a woman and is firmly established as one of the nation's foremost illustrators. Elizabeth Shippen Green, thirty-three, is also at the top of her career. The only woman under contract with Harper's magazine, she will be awarded the 1905 Mary Smith Prize within the week. The youngest, thirty-year-old Violet Oakley, enjoys a national reputation as an illustrator and muralist.
The local press anticipate the occasion with enthusiasm. "Distinguished men and women to assemble this evening at Academy of Fine Arts amid rare decorations," gushes the Evening Bulletin. Florists decorate the Academy's great stairway with palms, azaleas, and evergreens. Tables are set for the threehundred guests that the Bulletin describes as "the greatest gathering in this country's history of men and women distinguished, either as patrons or through actual achievement in the field of American art."
Now open for a month, the exhibition has received national attention and favorable reviews. John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, and Robert Henri have all sent canvases. Also represented are illustrators Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, and the three women, Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley.
The guests arrive at seven o'clock and file into the main gallery, which is reported to resemble a Florentine banquet scene from the days of the Medici. Seating assignments have been carefully arranged. Diners are meant to socialize. Husbands and wives are separated and so are the three friends. Jessie Smith, who is assigned a place opposite the head table, is facing away from Elizabeth Green and Violet Oakley, who sit at opposite ends of the second row. The guests dine sumptuously and apparently without alimentary concern on a multicourse dinner that includes deep-sea oysters, terrapin (Philadelphia style), fillet of beef, quail on toast, Virginia ham, mushrooms, spinach, new potatoes, hominy points, Waldorf salad, two kinds of cheese, Nesselrode pudding, and fancy cakes. An orchestra fills the hall with classical music.
The artists are a conservative group. The reporter from the Philadelphia Press is gratified to find no "long-haired freaks accentuating in extraordinary personality what they lack in genius." As for Smith, Green, and Oakley, the Press notes that they looked like "lovely echoes of their clever and beautiful work."
Speeches are made, toasts given. The mayor arrives late, but in time to catch the tributes to the venerable Academy given by artist William Merritt Chase, and by Caspar Clarke, director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The prizes are last, after coffee and cigars. Sculptor Alexander Calder is awarded the Lippincott Prize. The Temple Gold Medal goes to marine painter William T. Richards. Then a surprise announcement: a special gold medal in honor of the Academy's centennial is awarded to the illustrator Violet Oakley. She is the youngest person ever to receive the award. The hall erupts in applause, and Violet, stunned by this unexpected honor, is pelted with rose petals and carnation blossoms. Jessie and Elizabeth join the standing ovation but are unable to catch a glimpse of their friend in the crowded hall.
After the banquet, the three women return in triumph to their leased estate in Villanova: the beautiful and elegant Red Rose Inn. Awaiting their arrival is the woman behind the women: the fourth member of the household, Henrietta Cozens. Henrietta is not a working artist and contributes little to the household finances. Yet her assistance proves invaluable. She manages the estate, tends the gardens, even knits the nightcaps. The other three are properly grateful. They call her their "darling little Heddy," and make sure she wants for nothing.
In her 1929 essay A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf discussed why women authors failed to excel and devised a formula to rectify the situation. Women could achieve eminence, she contended, if given equal educational opportunity, financial independence, and privacy. Had Virginia Woolf known about these three intrepid American illustrators, she might have revised her specifications to include the opportunity to collaborate. For it was their unconventional living arrangement that freed Smith, Green, and Oakley simultaneously from both the domestic responsibilities and the artistic isolation that still inhibit many capable artists.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >