Gretchen Woodman Rogers (1881–1967) is one of the most gifted artists of the Boston school and was highly regarded as a painter in her day. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by Rogers, Five O’Clock (c. 1910). This addition to the collection demonstrates the National Gallery’s commitment to rewriting the art historical narrative and expanding the holdings of American women artists.
Five O’Clock features a female figure beautifully dressed in a blue and white gown. The woman has been identified as Kathryn Finn, who served as a model for several Boston painters. Her face is hidden by an elaborate hat covered in flowers, fruits, and leaves, a studio prop that appears in other paintings by Rogers’s contemporaries. In 1899 “a committee of ladies” supportive of independent young women but also concerned about their well-being organized a Students Club “for the benefit of girls studying in Boston away from their homes.” Every afternoon a member of the committee and a student prepared tea at five o’clock for members of the club. For young women studying at the Museum of Fine Arts, like Rogers, the late afternoon social event followed a morning of instruction, lunch at the sponsored School Lunch Club, and private studio work. Rogers’s Five O’Clock subtly acknowledges the ritual of afternoon tea that allowed one generation of women to support the aspirations of the next.
Rogers was born in 1881 in Boston, the daughter of banker Harry A. Rogers and Mary T. Brigham Rogers. When she was 20 years old, Gretchen became a student of Edmund Tarbell at the school associated with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William McGregor Paxton were the leading artists of the Boston school—late 19th-century painters who had studied abroad (primarily in France) and had returned to Boston. Rogers studied with Tarbell for almost eight years, and he described her as “the best pupil I ever had.” Rogers exhibited in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, DC, winning numerous awards. Following her mother’s death in 1937, Rogers stopped painting. She moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where her sister and uncle were both distinguished bacteriologists at Yale University. She died in New Haven in 1967.