Jane Peterson (1876-1965)

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  Jane Peterson (1876-1965)    The Windowseat   , not dated oil on canvas HMA purchase partially funded by proceeds from Hickory Museum of Art Guild trips, 1984.18

Jane Peterson (1876-1965)
The Windowseat, not dated
oil on canvas
HMA purchase partially funded by proceeds from Hickory Museum of Art Guild trips, 1984.18

At HMA’s 2007 Hickory Selects event, several people chose The Windowseat as their favorite, among them Joann Wilfong, long-time leader of the Museum’s Guild. She said that “I brought this painting to the attention of Mickey Coe as a possibility for purchase. Robert Cheek was a guest on the (WBTV) `Scene at Noon` news program, talking about his [Charlotte NC] gallery’s prestigious show by important women artists. The Windowseat was one of the two or three paintings he had taken to the TV studio to promote the show.”

Jane Peterson’s ambition was to be judged not as a woman but as a painter, and this she achieved. She became famous for a wide range of works from landscapes to still-lives. The Windowseat is typical of Peterson’s adaptation of American Impressionism. Significantly, her forms including people are more solid than those in works by European Impressionists. For Peterson, color is the most important, as in The Windowseat where the variations of reds and pinks help unify the picture, in dramatic contrast to the very white outfits of the two boys.

Peterson (pictured in 1920 on the left, and at her easel in 1928) was born in Elgin, IL. into relatively modest circumstances that did not include any formal art education. However, her ambitions led her to apply to the Pratt Institute (NY) to study art; and after she was accepted in 1895, she borrowed $300 (the relative equivalent of $8,600 in 2015) from her mother to study there.

After graduating from Pratt she studied and painted in Holland, Italy, London and finally in Paris, where she met and was influenced by other aspiring painters such as Picasso, Braque, and Matisse.  A solo exhibition of Peterson's work in 1908 in Paris attracted many visitors, leading to another show in Boston in 1909 and then a major show at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1910.  From there, she was invited to join the artistic circle at Louis Comfort Tiffany’s estate on Long Island outside New York City, where her favorite subjects were the lush gardens surrounding the mansion. (Tiffany, of course, is an artist best known for his work in stained glass such as windows and lamps.)

After another year in Paris, from 1913 Peterson taught watercolor painting for six years at the Art Students League in New York in order to support her own painting. Extensive painting trips, including to Alaska and the Canadian Northwest, and along the American eastern seaboard and western expanse, figured in her later career.  She continued to exhibit widely and often enjoyed sold-out shows, including at HMA in 1987.  Her work is today represented in the Brooklyn (NY) Museum, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and in many other public and private collections. 

The Windowseat continues to be a favorite of HMA visitors. When we showed it in early 2014 as part of Faces & Figures from the Permanent Collection, at the opening event we staged a tableau of live actors replicating this and a few other paintings; and later, a version of the tableau served as inspiration for one of Kate Worm's water color classes. (The children are real, but the dog is a stuffed toy. I know you were wondering.)

This painting and two oyhers by Peterson were part of the 2017 HMA exhibit Woman Made that showcased works by women artists in HMA's permanent collection.

Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015.