Lillian Mathilde Genth (1876-1953)

The Bathers,      painted before 1928. Oil on canvas.   Purchase funded by A. Alex Shuford, Jr. in 1956.

The Bathers, painted before 1928. Oil on canvas.   Purchase funded by A. Alex Shuford, Jr. in 1956.

According to a March 23, 1956 handwritten note from Wilford Conrow to Paul Whitener, in the Spring of 1956 Conrow went to a set of Parke-Bernet Gallery "sales of Metropolitan Museum paintings from their`permanent' collection." (The ironic quotation marks around "permanent" are Conrow's.) "I can think of no-one who knows [as much about] what you already have at the Hickory Museum ... as myself", which was no doubt true and which made Conrow the best intermediary for HMA in New York City at the time. The Bathers by Lillian Genth was what Conrow bought for HMA.

Born in Philadelphia, Lillian Mathilde Genth studied art at the Pennsylvania School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art and Design) and then for a year with James McNeill Whistler in Paris. Whistler's focus was on female nudes in pastoral settings; and this focus likely influenced Genth to turn in 1906 from landscape painting to depicting beautiful women, primarily nudes in outdoor settings, posing her models away from prying eyes at her woodland summer home in the Connecticut Berkshire Mountains. Such nudes are the works for which Genth is mostly known.  

However, after producing about 150 of these nudes and gaining significant critical and financial recognition for them including exhibiting throughout the 1910s and the 1920s in the United States, Canada and South America, in the late 1920's Genth declared that she would never paint another one.  On August 12, 1928, she even issued a press release to announce her decision, "Miss Genth begs to announce that she has definitely discontinued painting nudes. ... Money ... must be subordinate to art."" From then on, she painted only portraits along with scenes of her travels.

Between 1926 and 1927 she traveled throughout Spain. Her paintings from this time show her passion and admiration for Spanish culture and include images of powerful women in vibrant colors. She then traveled to North Africa, Japan, China, Fiji, Bali, New Guinea, and Thailand where she was commissioned to paint a portrait of the King. She always traveled alone and carried all of her materials and paintings with her. (The two illustrative paintings on the left are not in HMA's collection.)

When she returned from her extended trip to Asia in 1931, she announced that she would cease painting European and African subjects and focus on the Orient, which she then did. When asked her reasoning for again changing her subjects, she simply said, “People live in cycles." She lived in New York City for the rest of her life.

Genth was awarded a number of prestigious art prizes beginning 1904. In 1908 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician, an important honor bestowed by her professional peers and a particular distinction at the time for a woman. Her work is part of the collections of the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the Brooklyn Institute Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others.

The Bathers was part of the 2017 HMA exhibit Woman Made that showcased works by women artists in HMA's permanent collection.

Information mostly from Lillian Mathilde Genth 1876-1953 A Retrospective. Hickory Museum of Art, March 17 to May 27, 1990. (Publication)

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