Friday, November 15, 2013

Mary Curtis Richardson: The Mary Cassatt of the West

File:Mary Curtis Richardson - Portrait of Mary Blanche Hubbard.jpg
Portrait of Mary Blanche Hubbard
Oil on canvas
Mary Curtis Richardson (1848-1931) was an impressionist painter and suffragette.

Late nineteenth-century women used  gender to their advantage and claimed the child portraiture genre for themselves. Richardson became one of San Francisco's most celebrated painters of children.

Her father, Lucien Curtis, headed overland to the gold fields of California in 1849, while in the following year, Mary, her sister Leila, and her mother traveled to California via the Isthmus of Panama to join her father. The family settled in San Francisco.

She married Thomas Richardson, a man in the lumber business, who relocated to San Francisco from Canada.

In 1866 Mary and her sister traveled back to New York City to study wood engraving at Cooper Union. When they returned to San Francisco the sisters opened a wood engraving business and by the 1870s, both she and her sisters established the first women-run engraving company in San Francisco. The company became the Women's Printing Union.

When she was fifty years old, Richardson embraced a second career. Convinced by family and friends to pursue painting, Richardson studied with William Sartain at the Art Students League in New York and won the Norman Dodge Prize of the National Academy of Design for the best painting by a woman artist in the United States. After those honors, Richardson received numerous commissions to paint members of San Francisco's elite society and their families. 
Joseph M. Bransten (Son of MJB Coffee Magnate)
Date Unknown
Oil on Canvas
Oakland Museum of California

Richardson's work was forthright and sensitive, but free of the over-sentimentalized style that was popular at that time. By the 1910s, she was known as the "Mary Cassatt of the West" and she was singled out as the most important portraitist in San Francisco by Charles Keeler, ranked with painters William Keith and Thomas Hill.

Mary Richardson exhibited her portraits and paintings of mothers and children at the San Francisco Art Association between 1895 and 1901; the Vickery, Atkins & Torrey Gallery, San Francisco, in 1909; and the National Academy of Design, New York City, in the late 1880s. She and her husband remained in San Francisco in a home they built for themselves in 1888.

Mary Curtis Richardson

The Sleeping Child
No Date
Oil on canvas

 The Sleeping Child was eventually acquired by the Legion of Honor.

Seated Child Holding a Rattle
No Date
Oil on Canvas

Bonhams San Francisco - Mother and Child
The Young Mother
No Date
Oil on canvas

The Young Mother won a silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Despite her success and her feminist tendencies, Richardson felt compelled to tell an interviewer: "I am not a woman with a career; I am just a worker."

Mary Curtis Richardson died on November first, 1931, at her home and art studio in Russian Hill.
Further Reading and Sources
Ask Art: The Artist's Bluebook,
American Gallery: Greatest American Painters,
Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945
Artists of the American West, Volume I, Doris Ostrander Dawdy
"San Francisco Women who have Achieved Success," Overland Monthly 44 (November 1904), 517

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