Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Elsie Palmer Payne: Illustrator and Painter

Elsie Palmer Payne
with husband Edgar
ca. 1913 Photograph
California artists Elsie Palmer Payne and her husband Edgar Alwin Payne have each created a body of work that is distinct and original, yet while Edgar earned a reputation as a leader of the California landscape painters, Elsie's work has been unfortunately overlooked. When she discussed her career in relation to her husband's, she remarked with a note of bitterness, (Edgar) "never gave me time to paint! I was always busy waiting on him, packing and unpacking." [1] Edgar, a man firmly entrenched in Victorian values, held the position that "no matter how talented or able, a woman's place was to be at her husband's beck and call." [2] Although he did admire his wife's talent, he never promoted Elsie's work, or encouraged her to pursue a career, although she was a well-established, successful commercial artist when they met.

Elsie always had an interest in art, After graduation from high school, Elsie attended the Best Art School in San Francisco for her formal art training during the years 1903 to 1905. She pursued a classical curriculum beginning with drawing from antique casts, life drawing, to the use of color. During and after her studies from 1904-1907, Elsie worked in advertising for the Rimes Illustrating Company in San Francisco and later, for the firm of Verney and Green. [3] Elsie was a respected and successful commercial artist earning an excellent living on her own. In 1909, she met Edgar Payne in San Francisco and married him in Chicago on November 1912. Edgar was just emerging as a self-taught artist when they married and was beginning to be recognized for his work in the Chicago area and on the East Coast.

During their marriage, the couple spent time intermittently in Chicago where Elsie would assist Edgar with his mural commissions. Her drawing skills allowed her to sketch the figures while he painted them. Her work was similar to the style of American Illustration at the turn of the century and relied on lines and strong bold colors that focused on emotional appeal and decoration. [4] In 1918, they spent time sketching in Laguna Beach California, where they were founding members of the Laguna Beach Art Association. From 1919 until 1931, Elsie and Edgar traveled and painted in the American Southwest, Canada, Paris, and New York. The couple finally settled in Los Angeles in 1931...their daughter, Evelyn, born in 1914, attended almost a dozen different schools before she entered high school.

Elsie Palmer Payne
Carmel Coast
ca. 1935 (?)
Oil on Canvas
 Separated from her husband in 1932 because her disenchantment with Edgar's domineering and old-fashioned attitudes towards women, Elsie began to teach and paint in her Beverly Hills studio and later, opened the Elsie Palmer Payne Art School and Gallery in 1936. She became active in a number of organizations, including the Women Painters of the West (founding member), the National Society of Arts and Letters, and the California Art Club. Later, wehen her husband's health began to fail, Payne reunited with him to care for him until his death in 1947. She carried on the promotion of his paintings and his book while she continued her own career.

Elsie Palmer Payne
A Decent Burial
ca. 1942
Oil on Canvas
26 x 31 inches
Her 1942 painting A Decent Burial, based on an experience in Italy years before, won recognition and several prizes. During World War II she made pastel portraits of servicemen at local USO clubs and presented them to the Her later work including Bus Stop and The Thrifty Drug Store, painted in 1945, were American Scene compositions that resembled the Ashcan School treatment of subject.
Palmer worked in Los Angeles until 1969. She moved to Minnesota to spend her last years in Minneapolis with her daughter. 

Elsie Palmer Payne
Bus Stop
ca. 1943
Oil on canvas

Elsie Palmer Payne
The Thrifty Drug Store
Oil on canvas
ca. 1945
28 x 36 inches
As previously discussed, early in their marriage, Elsie assisted her husband with mural comissions and sketched alonside him as they traveled, yet her work was not influenced by him. In addition to oil, she used gouache and watercolor, and painted in a style that was uniquely her own. Unlike Edgar, she also sculpted. Her artistic themes included the West, flower studies, portraits, and genre scenes in Los Angeles.

Elsie Palmer Payne
Still Life
Oil on canvas
ca. 1940s
20 x 24 inches
 Exhibitions from 1913-1967 included those of the Palette and Chisel Club and AIC, both in Chicago, the Laguna Beach Art Association, Galerie Jacques Seiligman, Paris, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Woman Painters of the West, California Art Club, Ebell Club, Los Angeles, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, Pasadena Art Institute, Laguna Beach Art Association.

Retrospective exhibitions of her work were held at the Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, California (1988), and Petersen's Galleries, Beverly Hills, California (1990).

1. Cohen,Rena Neumann, The Paynes, Edgar & Elsie: American Artists (Minneapolis: Payne Studios, 1988), 72.
2. Cohen, The Paynes, 71.
3. Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), 244.
4. George Stern Fine Arts, .Elsie Palmer Payne (1884-1971), http://www.sternfinearts.com/elpapa1.html. (accessed March 5, 2013).


  1. I am so impressed,It's beautiful, and very beachy. Love those colors.

    beach art

  2. I've scene many paintings by Elsie and Edgar, and he should've been the one supporting her career. She was much more creative and talented.

  3. Elsie Palmer Payne was great…

    Edgar Payne v. Elsie Palmer Payne

    Bus Stop