Monthly Archives: October 2008

Julian Merrow-Smith

There is an article in today’s Guardian about one of my favourite daily painters.

http://shiftinglight.com/images/081012.jpg<<In 1997, Julian Merrow-Smith lost his job at London’s Lumière cinema. An art-school graduate, he bought a ticket to the south of France and began painting for a living. By 2004, he was making “about enough to survive on”. Then he came across a US artist, Duane Keiser, who was doing a painting a day: small oils, mainly still lifes, posted and sold on the internet.

“I thought: hmm, there’s a living to be made here,” says Merrow-Smith, a chirpy voice on the line from his studio near the village of Bédoin in Provence. So he set up a website and began painting postcards: perfect little 4in x 6in oil-on-gesso pictures of, say, vegetables from his garden or fruit from the market, and luminous, ever-changing Provençal landscapes. “What was important, at bottom, was that they reflect this place,” he says.

The first two sold instantly, for his fixed price of $100. Within a few months he was selling most days. Then in 2006 the New York Times found him. “That night I sold everything I’d ever painted, most of it more than once,” he says. “It was crazy. For weeks I had 500 people wanting to buy every postcard. I spent my days organising credit-card refunds.”

So now his site, shiftinglight.com, hosts an auction, each work selling to the highest bidder at 10pm each night, generally for between $150 and $650. “I have 3,000 subscribers to my mailing list, and a few real collectors,” Merrow-Smith says. “There are people with 25 or 30 of my works, and people who buy one a year.”

On Friday, he will paint his 1,000th Postcard from Provence. Each takes up to three hours, “depending on how much wine I’ve drunk the night before”. Some weeks, he concedes, “I’m throwing things at the wall in frustration. But then people tell me it’s the only email they actually look forward to getting. I’m making a living, but I’m also spreading a little joy. It is satisfying.” >>

The Red Rose Girls

I recently read The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love a biography of three women, who styled themselves after a picturesque inn where they lived and worked together. They were extraordinarily successful during what has been termed the “golden age of illustration in America.”Jessie

Primarily remembered for their representations of children and domestic life, illustrators Jesse Willcox Smith (1863-1935), Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), and Violet Oakley (1874-1961) captivated early-twentieth-century society with their brilliant careers .

Smith, Green, and Oakley were professional artists at a time when it was more common for women to take art classes as a symbol of social accomplishment rather than as a serious endeavor. They studied at the  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and met as students in  illustrator Howard Pyle‘s illustration class at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. Pyle provided specialized training in the practical and aesthetic aspects of illustration, encouraging his female students to take their careers seriously. This was unusual for the time, as female students were prohibited from studying life drawing in most art schools and typically studied art in segregated classes. Only those who were extremely determined made their way in the male-dominated art world. Illustration, however, was considered an acceptable career for women because the creation of images for childrens books and the newly burgeoning field of magazines were deemed an extension of womens “natural” talents for decorating and child rearing.

The Book of the Child [Frontispiece], by Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox SmithTheir notable achievements include Elizabeth Shippen Green’s exclusive contract with Harper’s Magazine, for which she designed hundreds of covers and interiors over a twenty-three year period. Violet Oakley’s was commissioned in 1902 to paint eighteen murals in the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, the first time an American woman artist had been given such a prestigious public commission. Jesse Willcox Smith became famous for her idealized pictures of children and domestic life in Collier’s, Harper’s, Ladies Home Journal, and Scribner’s magazines, among many others. In addition she illustrated more than forty popular books.

Life was made for love and cheer - Elizabeth Shippen Green

Ironically, in order to be viewed as serious professional artists, these women chose to forgo the very domestic life they so romantically portrayed. Committed to remain single and childless, they made a home together and relied on the support and domestic work of their housekeeper and friend, Henrietta Cozens, to sustain their prolific careers.  Cozens was not an artist, but gardened, cooked, and managed the household for the other three. Living together in their extended and unconventional family liberated these women to some extent from domestic distractions, while the supportive environment they allowed each other encouraged and sustained them in creating a world where art and life were inseparable.

Violet

In their genteel way these women were rebels, and yet their story, and their stylized illustrations were the epitome of respectability.