Skip to Main Content
March 25, 2024

National Gallery of Art Acquires Two Paintings by Women of the Boston School

Mary Bradish Titcomb, "The Writer"

Mary Bradish Titcomb
The Writer, c. 1912
oil on canvas
overall: 76.2 x 63.5 cm (30 x 25 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from James and Christiane Valone in honor of Nancy K. Anderson

Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired two works by women painters of the Boston School: The Writer (c. 1912), by Mary Bradish Titcomb (1858–1927), and The Breakfast Tray (c. 1910), by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1877–1971). These two paintings—along with Gretchen Rogers’s Five O’Clock (c. 1910), acquired in 2022—bring greater balance to the National Gallery’s existing collection of excellent works by men artists of the Boston School. Titcomb, Paxton, and Rogers were part of an early 20th-century effort for women to secure independence from restrictive cultural roles and live as self-supporting professionals.

Titcomb’s The Writer is on view opposite Rogers’s Five O’Clock in Gallery 70 on the Main Floor of the West Building. Paxton’s The Breakfast Tray will join these two works in the galleries beginning April 12, 2024.

At a time when women were actively engaged in the fight for suffrage, the men artists of the Boston School enjoyed great success by marketing images of women engaged in activities traditionally defined as feminine—such as sewing, knitting, and reading—or posed in elegant interior spaces, unengaged in any activity.

Women artists of the Boston School, who competed in the same market as their male counterparts, often produced similar works. However, they also created works that referenced women’s efforts to establish professional careers as artists, writers, and musicians. By finding ways to pay for academic training, establishing support groups, securing independent studios, exhibiting their work widely, and serving as their own marketing agents, they represent an important inflection point in the history of American art.

The Writer (c. 1912) by Mary Bradish Titcomb (1858–1927)

Mary Bradish Titcomb moved to Boston in 1886, where she enrolled in drawing classes and taught drawing in public schools to support herself. In 1902 she resigned her teaching position and enrolled in painting classes taught by the highly regarded men artists of the Boston School: Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, William Paxton, and Joseph DeCamp.

After several years of study, Titcomb leased a studio space and launched her career. The Writer (c. 1912) depicts a young woman seated at a table, writing or sketching in front a row of flowering narcissus. Although she exhibited the work on multiple occasions, she never sold it—choosing, instead, to keep it for the rest of her life, perhaps as a reminder of her own struggle to live an independent life as a professional artist.

The Breakfast Tray (c. 1910) by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1877–1971)

A key member of the Boston School, Elizabeth Okie Paxton first studied art at the Cowles Art School in Boston. As a professional artist, she exhibited in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, contributing over the course of her career to six Corcoran Biennial exhibitions (1912–1941). It was at her first Corcoran show that she exhibited The Breakfast Tray (c. 1910), described as “sensuous” and “daring” in an early review. Unlike the work of fellow artists Tarbell, DeCamp, Benson, and her husband, William—whose subject matter favored picturesque landscapes and images of genteel women in interiors—Paxton’s composition depicts cascading sheets, tossed pillows, a pair of women’s shoes strewn on the floor, and an elaborate breakfast still life on a chair next to the bed. With its allusions to undress and perhaps even sexuality, the work was exceptionally modern and provocative for its time.

Contact Information

General Information
For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]

Chief of Communications
Anabeth Guthrie
phone: (202) 842-6804
e-mail: [email protected]

The National Gallery also offers a broad range of newsletters for various interests. Follow this link to view the complete list.

Related Resources