This appealing full-length portrait, one of the artist’s most popular works, represents the young Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes (1908–1983), a daughter of the Episcopal clergyman and educator Reverend Anson Phelps Stokes, who commissioned the portrait in 1911. Olivia was awarded an honorable mention when it was exhibited at the Carnegie Institute in 1912. The artist Guy Pène du Bois admired the painting for its spontaneity and vivacity, and the noted collector Duncan Phillips praised it, concluding that “the artist was evidently enraptured with the subject.” The Stokes family owned portraits by other noted artists of the day, including Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent.
Active in New York and Massachusetts, Lydia Field Emmet was one of the leading society portraitists of her generation. Particularly admired for her portraits of women and children, at the height of her career she was considered one of the most talented American woman artists, second only to Cecilia Beaux. Her fluid, painterly style was influenced by Sargent and William Merritt Chase. Chase had been one of her teachers at the Art Students League in New York, and she taught at his Shinnecock Summer School of Art on Long Island. With its tilted floor, slanted ground line, and slightly off-center figure placed within an evocative interior, Olivia recalls Chase’s depictions of children lost in the wonder of exploring the richly appointed rooms of their extensive homes.
This charming full-length portrait represents Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes (1908–1983), one of three children born to the Episcopal clergyman and educator Reverend Anson Phelps Stokes and his wife, Caroline Green Mitchell. Active in New York and Massachusetts, Lydia Field Emmet was one of the leading society portraitists of her generation. Particularly admired for her portraits of women and children, at the height of her career she was considered one of the most talented American woman artists, second only to Cecilia Beaux. Her fluid, painterly style was influenced by John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase. The latter had been one of her teachers at the Art Students League in New York, and she taught at his Shinnecock Summer School of Art on Long Island.
One of Emmet’s most popular works, Olivia amply demonstrates why she was considered particularly adept at painting children.
Illustrations of Olivia appeared in Art and Progress 3 (June 1912): 619; Fine Arts Journal 29, no. 2 (Aug. 1913): 477; St. Nicholas 42 (Dec. 1914): 106; and Ladies Home Journal 33 (Apr. 1916): 17. According to the artist’s Account Book, Emmet Family Papers, Archives of American Art, Reel 4765, frame 1015, she charged $1,500 for the portrait.
Emmet had taken pains to enter Olivia in the Carnegie Institute exhibition and was delighted at receiving the award. In a letter of May 9, 1912, she informed the Institute’s director, John W. Beatty, “I feel more glad to have received this from the Carnegie Institute than any other art institution in the country as its international character makes it much the most important and interesting one we have.” This letter and other correspondence relating to the early exhibition history are in the Papers of the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, 1911–1912, Archives of American Art, Reel 21, frame 730.
that picture [of] a little golden-haired girl in white, holding her hat at her back with its ribbons. The attitude is spontaneous, quick, vivacious. Her eyes sparkle, her mouth opened in a half smile discloses teeth that add a spot of animation to the composition. The handling of the head has been accomplished, in the matter of solidity and simplicity, with unusual success—the planes of light, well kept, are broken only just enough. So with the short white dress which is saved from monotonous simplicity by a well-placed necklace.
Guy Pène du Bois, “The Essentially Feminine Art of Lydia F. Emmet. Women Painters of Today. First Article,” Arts and Decoration 2 (Oct. 1912): 418.
The portrait also impressed the modernist collector Duncan Phillips, who described it to the sitter’s husband as representing “a very small & lovely child holding on to a sunbonnet which seems to have just slipped off her little blonde head. She is bright-eyed and smiling and the artist was evidently enraptured with the subject.”
Duncan Phillips to John Davis Hatch, Sept. 7, 1939, NGA curatorial files.
The portrait was commissioned in 1911 by Olivia’s father, the son of a New York banker who had aided in founding the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while he was secretary of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and serving as assistant rector of Saint Paul's Episcopal Church there.
He later served as resident canon of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, from 1924 to 1939. For biographical information on Stokes, see Who Was Who in America, vol. 3 (Chicago, 1960), 823. The sitter’s brothers were also notable in their day: Anson Phelps Stokes Jr. became the Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes II was a philanthropist.
In 1979 the National Gallery of Art acquired his collection of nearly three hundred American 19th- and 20th-century drawings.
For a more detailed biography of Olivia Stokes Hatch, see the finding aid for the Olivia Stokes Hatch papers housed at Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/pacscl/ead.html?id=PACSCL_BMC_USPBmBMCM86.
In addition to their many philanthropic interests, the Stokes family had a tradition of commissioning portraits from the most fashionable American artists. Beaux had painted a full-length portrait of Stokes’s parents (Mr. and Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes, c. 1898, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Sargent’s portrait of the subject’s architect brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes (1897, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) is a celebrated work.
For discussions of the Sargent and Beaux double portraits, see Doreen Bolger Burke, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 3, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born between 1846 and 1864 (New York, 1980), 204–205 and 247–251; for the Sargent portrait, see also Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Complete Paintings, vol. 2 (New Haven, CT, 2002), 122–124.
August 17, 2018
upper right: Lydia Field Emmet
Commissioned 1911 by Reverend [1874-1958] and Mrs. [1875-1962, née Caroline Green Mitchell] Anson Phelps Stokes, Lenox, Massachusetts; by inheritance to the sitter, their daughter, Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes Hatch [1908-1983, Mrs. John Davis Hatch, Jr.], Lenox, Massachusetts; gift 1983 to NGA.
- 107th Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, February-March 1912, no. 716.
- Fourth Exhibition: Oil Paintings by Contemporary Artists, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., December 1912-January 1913, no. 104.
- Seventh Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, City Art Museum of St. Louis, September-? 1912, no. 42, repro.
- Sixteenth Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, April-June 1912, no. 99, repro.
- Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Citta di Venezia, Venice, 1924, no. 21.
- The Emmets: A Family of Women Painters, The Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; The Danforth Museum, Framingham, Massachusetts, 1982, no. 48, pl. VI.
- American Women Artists 1830-1930, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; San Diego Museum of Art; Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist Univ., Dallas, 1987-1988, no. 20, repro.
- Extended loan for use by Vice President and Mrs. Dan Quayle, Vice President's House, Washington, D.C., 1989-1993.
- Extended loan for use by Mrs. Richard Cheney, Old Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C., 2001-2009.
- High Society: American Portraits of the Gilded Age, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg, 2008, no. 22, repro..
- Extended loan for use by Vice President and Mrs. Joseph Biden, Vice President's House, Washington, D.C., 2009-2015.
The unlined painting was executed on a heavy, highly textured, plain-weave canvas that is still on its original stretcher, although an extra set of tack holes indicates that at some point it was removed and restretched. An evenly applied, thick, gray-white ground extends over the tacking margins and over the tacks that attach the support to the stretcher, indicating that the ground was probably applied by the artist after the canvas was stretched. Infrared reflectography has revealed a very basic linear sketch outlining the contours of the figure and the features of the face and hair.
The infrared examination was conducted using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
- Pène du Bois, Guy. "The Essentially Feminine Art of Lydia F. Emmet. Women Painters of Today. First Article." Arts & Decoration 2, no. 12 (October 1912): 418, repro.
- Pattison, James William. "The American Art Annual." Fine Arts Journal 29, no. 2 (August 1913): 477, repro., http://www.jstor.org/stable/25587191.
- Earle, Helen. Biographical Sketches of American Artists. Lansing, Michigan, 1924: 109.
- Hoppin, Martha J. The Emmets: A Family of Women Painters. Exh. cat. Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA; The Danforth Museum, Framingham, MA. Pittsfield, 1982: 25, 61, color pl. VI.
- Tufts, Eleanor, Gail Levin, Alessandra Comini, and Wanda Corn. American Women Artists, 1830-1930. Exh. cat. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, 1987: cat. 20, color repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 175, repro.
- Cagan, Charlotte. "Portrait of Lydia." Berkshire Magazine XII, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 54-55, repro.
- Tappert, Tara Leigh. The Emmets: A Generation of Gifted Women. Exh. cat. Borghi & Co., New York; Olin Gallery, Roanoke College, VA. Roanoke, 1993: 25.