Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938)
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Elizabeth Nourse was an American portrait and landscape painter born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nourse and her twin sister were born to a Catholic family with ten elder siblings. As a young teenager, Nourse began her studies at the McMicken School of Design and was among a small number of women allowed to take the life drawing classes. Nourse excelled at school and studied for seven years, developing skills in drawing, sculpture and painting. She was later offered a teaching position at McMicken, which she chose not to accept.
After Nourse’s parents died in 1882, she decided to relocate to New York, where opportunities seemed to beckon. Nourse was funded by an art patron and took courses at the Art Students League in New York City. After merely a year in the city, Nourse returned to Cincinnati to pick up work as a home decorator and portrait painter. Nourse was able to spend a couple of summers the following year making watercolor paintings in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee.
By 1887, Nourse decided to leave Cincinnati again, travelling to Europe to study at the Académie Julian in Paris. She studied under master painters Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. Nourse enjoyed life in Paris, and after finishing her studies, she set up her own studio. In 1888, Nourse’s work began to be shown after a pivotal exhibition at the Societé Nationale des Artistes Francais, and she made yet another breakthrough for female artists, becoming the second woman to be instated as a member of the society. Nourse won several awards in Europe for her work and also exhibited throughout the United States in cities as diverse as Chicago, Nashville, Saint Louis, and San Francisco.
Nourse commonly painted portraits of peasant women in rural areas of France and would travel outside of Paris to capture images of life in the country. Many of her subjects were Breton mothers holding young babies and children, but she also painted women of diverse races and occupations. Nourse became a national celebrity in the art scene, featured by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and in her birthplace, at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Nourse’s paintings were also well-represented in France, making their way into the collection of the French government at the Musée du Luxembourg.
Unfortunately, Nourse fell ill in 1920, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer but was able to battle her cancer until her death in 1938.
Nourse is among the ranks of Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux in creating new standards and possibilities for women artists. Nourse was one of the few women painters of her time to receive international recognition. Her paintings are currently in major museums and private collections around the world. Do you think you own a painting by Elizabeth Nourse? Contact us. We are the experts on Elizabeth Nourse.