Editor's note: The following essay, with notes, was rekeyed and reprinted on May 31, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the Georgia Museum of Art. The essay will be published in the Fall of 2002 in the illustrated exhibition catalogue for The Art of Lucy May Stanton. Images accompanying the text in the upcoming exhibition catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the upcoming exhibition catalogue, please contact the Georgia Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
An Art in Living
by Betty Alice Fowler
Skills vary with the man. We must tread a straight path and strive by that
which is born in us; for strength is realized in action, and mind in council,
predicting the way to come of inborn nature.
Pindar, NEMEA I
Lucy May Stanton regarded as a privilege the ability to make a life of her own choosing. Though she was a high-minded woman who sought knowledge and experience, she aimed, simply, "to dignify the immediate." Best known for her miniature portraits, Stanton also produced many large-scale figurative works and landscapes. Her extensive training in Paris led to an anti-academic sensibility, one influenced by Impressionism, a style that is evident in her landscape paintings. In her miniatures, she developed a method of painting in watercolor on ivory that utilized these fluid, painterly skills and transformed the compact format from a precious and elegant piece of workmanship into one that possessed the conceptual qualities of full-scale works without sacrificing the intimacy that distinguishes the miniature portrait from larger ones. Lucy Stanton's portraits of African Americans and rural people, on ivory and on canvas, were another innovation. Unlike typical portraiture of the time, the works impart no wealth or social status; but neither do they contain social criticism. They instead illustrate the distinctive yet varied characters of certain regional types and of African Americans. Indeed, the most significant aspect of Stanton's portraits, which comprise the majority of her works, is the way she delineated the personality of her subjects, even children, in honest depictions created with light, shadow, and masses of beautiful pigments.
Born in Atlanta on May 22, 1876, Lucy Stanton was the daughter of William Lewis Stanton and Frances Louisa Cleveland Megee. Both parents were from the mountains of north Georgia, where their families were successful farmers. The Stantons did not own slaves, rather, they used a system of overseers and hired help for the work of the farm. Both W. L. Stanton and his father, John Wesley Stanton, fought for the Confederacy. W. L. Stanton was a sergeant in the Fourth Georgia Cavalry under the command of General Joseph Wheeler. Three weeks after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Mr. Stanton and Miss Megee were married. According to family legend, the groom's comrades-in-arms surrounded the church during the wedding ceremony in order to prevent any disruption by Union soldiers. The young couple, discouraged by the dismal prospects in Reconstruction-era Georgia, joined a group of like-minded Georgians and moved to British Honduras. Two sons were born to them, but both died during the long, difficult stay in Central America. The Stantons returned around 1870 or 1871, after Georgia had rejoined the Union and the vote was restored. They settled in Atlanta, where Mr. Stanton opened a wholesale store selling lumber, flour, hams, and lard from their parents' farms, crockery from France, and machinery and tools from northern factories. They built a Gothic Revival house on Gordon Street in Atlanta's West End, a fashionable new neighborhood, across the street from writer Joel Chandler Harris's home, the Wren 's Nest.
Lucy May Stanton and her sister, Willie Marion Stanton, born in 1877, enjoyed a rich, active childhood, and Lucy was given her first set of watercolors at the age of four. They spent summers at their grandparents' farms in the mountains and many winters in New Orleans, where Mr. Stanton and a partner brokered sugar, rice, and molasses from the Caribbean. There, they lived in the Pontalba, a pair of elegant old apartment buildings facing Jackson Square and next to the Cathedral of Saint Louis the King, where the family once took shelter during a hurricane. Encouraged by her mother, Lucy Stanton began her first painting lessons in New Orleans at the age of seven, working in oils and instructed by Madame Sally Seago, a French artist who taught her to paint from life and in full color.
Frances Stanton died in 1888. The girls went away to the Southern Female College in LaGrange, Georgia, and the next year, Mr. Stanton married Sallie Cox, a violinist and music instructor at the school, which was owned by her family and known as "Cox College." The Stantons spent the next year in Europe, where Lucy painted, studied, and had her first exposure to the art collections of many of the great museums. They visited universities in Germany, England, and Scotland, and Mr. Stanton gathered ideas for a college that he planned to establish under the auspices of the Baptist Church. In 1892, he began building the Southern Baptist College for Women in College Park, a suburb of Atlanta, and the school opened in the fall of 1894. However, pledged support for the project did not materialize, and Mr. Stanton was forced to sell his assets to meet expenses. In 1895, he negotiated with his brother-in-law, Professor Charles Cox, to move the charter of Southern Female College to College Park, and assume the operation of the facility.
Lucy Stanton graduated from Southern Female College, LaGrange, in 1893 with highest honors in Greek and Latin. The following year, she taught art at New Ebenezer College in Cochran, Georgia, one hundred miles south of Atlanta. In 1894, she was hired as assistant to James P. Field, her instructor of art and art history at Southern Female College and one of Atlanta's top artists. Soon she had painted at least two miniature portraits, the first a copy of a family miniature (Cat No. I) and another, of her sister, in 1895.
A first commission came in 1896, for a miniature of Adelina Patti, the brilliant soprano who was related to the Barilli family of Atlanta, friends of the Stantons. These portraits, like her previous miniatures, were created by stippling, the traditional dry-brush technique that she would eventually abandon. Madame Patti was pleased with the portrait and ordered two copies. Thus began Stanton's career as a professional artist. Her success with these first commissions no doubt inspired Stanton to develop fully her skills as a miniaturist. The Arts and Crafts Movement had taken hold in the United States, and the revival of interest in portrait miniatures was a response to a growing appreciation of unique, handmade objects as well as a reaction against photography. But the portability of the miniature must also have made it an attractive medium to an artist who would begin, at that time, to lead a fairly itinerant life.
"There is no art world like Paris, no painters like the French, and no incentive to good work equal to that found in a Paris atelier," wrote May Alcott Nieriker in Studying Art Abroad and How to do it Cheaply. For these reasons, perhaps, Stanton went to Paris in 1896 to continue her training. She studied with Augustus Koopman, a North Carolina-born artist, who instructed her in painting, etching, and sculpture, and led a group of young artists to Normandy to paint in the summers. She later credited Koopman with teaching her "concentration and original thinking." She also studied miniature painting with Virginia Reynolds, another American, who taught her a new technique, parallel brush strokes. She took classes at the Écôle de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Colorossi, two independent art schools open to women, and studied anatomy at the Sorbonne. Stanton is also said to have had "some sessions with [James] Whistler," though the nature of her studies with him is not clear. She would, however, come to revere the artist and his work.
Stanton returned to Georgia in 1898 and began to exhibit her work, receive critical praise, travel widely, and establish important, lasting friendships and connections. In her miniatures she mastered the method of looser, parallel brush strokes that she had learned in Paris, and created her first miniature portrait of an African American, Aunt Nicey Tuller, 1898 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). She took a studio in downtown Atlanta, offered private art lessons, and taught a drawing class at the Y.M.C.A. She established a reputation as a portraitist and was commissioned to paint many prominent citizens, including, in 1903, the late mayor of Atlanta, Charles A. Collier (Atlanta City Hall). She was one of several successful women painters in Atlanta of the time, including Mrs. J. R. Gregory, Adelaide Everhart, Kate Edwards, and Lucy M. Thompson, another miniaturist. Many of them, like Stanton, had trained in Europe or in New York and other American cities. Atlanta's women had been leaders in the cultural life of the city from its earliest years and were active both as artists and as supporters of the arts. Stanton taught again at Cox College, with her qualifications updated to include "student at Colorossi School and in art galleries, Paris, France."
Along with several other young women from the South, the Stanton sisters spent a year in New York City (1901-02). They lived at the Bryant Park Studios on West 40th Street. They often were entertained by friends who visited from the South; when it was their turn to host, they ordered prepared food, cutlery, linens, and china from the restaurant downstairs, which a waiter served in their flat. Lucy painted, taught privately, and wrote in her diary of the city's "wonderful essences" and "marvelous advantages in the way of good pictures." She and Polly Smith, an art student whom she met in Paris, took a course in practical charity nursing at the Episcopal Deaconess Hospital, training they would put to use a few years later in Paris. Stanton went to upstate New York, where she met naturalist John Burroughs, and she took summer canoe trips in Maine. She also visited Boston where she had many friends. In November 1902, her work was first shown in Boston, in the second annual exhibition of the Copley Society. The Atlanta Constitution reported on Stanton's achievement, noting that the exhibition's jurors rejected more than eight hundred paintings.
Willie Marion Stanton and Walter Tillou Forbes II were married in 1902. The couple lived in Athens, Georgia, where Forbes was the general secretary of the Y.M.C.A. Lucy Stanton was with them there intermittently over the next three years, finding for herself in Athens "a thoroughly congenial atmosphere." She became involved in the cultural activities of the town, home of the University of Georgia. The university, chartered in 1785, was then in transformation from a small college to a modem state institution under the leadership of Chancellor Walter B. Hill and the patronage of George Foster Peabody, who would become its principal benefactor. Stanton knew Hill and his wife; they called on her in Paris in 1905, and the three discussed ideas for the university gleaned from their recent visits to Oxford and Cambridge. She also met Peabody, who asked her to select paintings for the new library that he had given to the university and corresponded with her about the landscape plan for the campus. Stanton helped to organize traveling exhibitions and lectures in Athens, and appears to have written several newspaper articles aimed at encouraging the support of the general public for the visual arts. Years later, in 1919, the Athens Art Association was founded with the objective of promoting the cultivation of fine arts through lectures, art classes, and exhibitions. Stanton was among the organization's first invited speakers and was elected to life membership at the January 1920 meeting.
In spring 1904, Stanton went to Los Angeles to visit her father and stepmother, siblings, and extended family. Her father, a staunch Baptist, had written her expressing his concern for her spiritual welfare, as she, apparently, no longer attended church every Sunday, and was reading Elbert Hubbard, who was involved in the Arts and Crafts movement and whose writings Mr. Stanton regarded as immoral and pernicious. Lucy Stanton stayed in California nearly a year, painting and teaching. The press noted her arrival and continued residence there, and featured a large illustration of Aunt Nicey in one article, which stated that a local patron had commissioned Stanton for a copy of the work.
The Forbes' first child, a son, was born in January 1905; Stanton visited her sister in Athens, then left for Paris in the spring. She traveled by boat from Savannah to Boston, then met Polly Smith in New York, and they sailed for Europe. After touring England and Holland, they arrived in Paris in August. Stanton resumed her studies, notably with French painters Lucien Simon and J. Emile Blanche, both of whom worked with her on portrait painting. Since 1896, Stanton had exhibited at the New Salon of the Societé Nationale des Beaux Arts, and in 1906 she won a Blue Ribbon for Mother and Child, 1905 (Emory), a miniature of her sister and nephew, which, when exhibited, was hung "on the line," or at eye level, the highest honor.
Lucy Stanton returned home late in 1906. Exhibitions of her work in Atlanta in 1907 and 1908 were well received by the local press. Her art was praised highly, and so was her personality. One writer used the first half of his column to discuss Lucy Stanton's personal attributes and her character, citing "the gentleness and calm and sweetness that was [sic] hers as an Atlanta school girl" and especially her "low, well-modulated voice," and commended her for escaping the influences of the Bohemian atmosphere of Paris and avoiding "incidents that savor of Trilby episode." Later, another journalist, visiting her new studio on Cobb Street in Athens, saw deeper and called her "an artist by divine right," who, in refusing to compromise with life "meets it out on the level and in the sunshine and lives high." Indeed, Lucy Stanton was not a lady on a pedestal, and she forged an independent life as a Southern woman and an artist, two sometimes contradictory roles. She smoked cigarettes, drove her own car, and cooked for company in an evening dress. She had many close gentleman friends and correspondents, but she never married. There are suggestions of loss and heartbreak in her journals, but she also writes, "never has woman been more blessed than I with all the vital interests of life." She clearly saw her destiny; however, "The artist is often a complete type. Therefore he lives a lonely life -- often dies in poverty, desolation, having no children to carry forward his personality. His ideals and the highest life never quite fit -- these."
Mr. Stanton sustained a great financial loss in conjunction with his Southern Baptist College for Women, and he had a young family to support. He had provided for his eldest daughters, though, by giving them rental houses in Atlanta which, when occupied, generated some income. Lucy sold a portion of her property around 1905, bought the vacant lot next to her sister's house at 550 Cobb Street in Athens, and returned to Europe. Finding tenants was sometimes difficult, but failing that, in 1917, she and her sister agreed to "let some poor souls use the houses...[and] cultivate the six lots but not cut down any trees." Her notebooks reveal careful attention to economy and expenses, and throughout her career she relied on teaching and commissions for regular income. Despite her limited means, however, she was willing to support the arts in Athens, such as in 1914, when she proposed a series of three lectures at the university by Arthur Hoeber, art critic of the New York Globe, and offered to pay one-third of his fee and expenses.
Lucy Stanton was with her father when he died in Los Angeles in March 1909. She received a small inheritance that enabled her to build a thirty by twenty-four foot wooden studio dwelling at the back of her property in Athens. There, she would live and work; when away for extended periods, she leased the house to tenants. Stanton was convinced that, by living simply, the Southern artist could prosper in his native region, surrounded by familiar material. She herself recognized a new subject for painting in the African Americans who lived and worked around her. In depicting with dignity the poorest of subjects, she both anticipated and departed from the American Scene painters who flourished in the 1930s and 1940s.
Stanton's career coincided with the advent of Cubism and Fauvism and other new movements that were radical departures from the dominant style of Impressionism. "She was not awed by Picasso's broken world," wrote her nephew, W. Stanton Forbes, though there is little evidence in her writings or correspondence of her thoughts on modernism. She probably was aware of the trends in Europe, having lived in Paris, and may also have known of the Armory Show presented in New York in 1913. In fact, a few examples of her oil paintings reveal an experimentation with non-realistic portrayal, such as her portrait of John Burroughs (1912). The subject is rendered with swirls of paint in large strokes, identifiable by his bushy eyebrows and large white beard, but with otherwise barely discernible features, "not so much a portrait of the man Burroughs, as...of the concept for which he stands."
In 1914, at the age of thirty-seven, Stanton was on the brink of her mature career. Her miniature work had evolved fully into its third style, "puddling," characterized by a broken surface rich in detail that was a complete departure from any previous style of miniature painting. She was in demand as a portrait painter, and her works were exhibited regularly in the United States and abroad. Yet, she chose to remove herself, seeking what a friend called her "kindled solitude" in the Great Smoky Mountains, at Andrews and then Valleytown, North Carolina. The First World War had begun, and though she was in a remote mountain hamlet, she kept up with the news and commentary, corresponded with friends and colleagues, and sent her pictures to exhibitions. Her newly-completed portrait of Joel Chandler Harris was exhibited at the New York Water Color Club in November 1914, along with works by Childe Hassam and George Luks. In 1915, an exhibition of the American Water Color Society featured her Self-portrait: The Silver Goblet, 1(912 (National Portrait Gallery) and also included works by Georgia O'Keeffe and by Anne Goldthwaite, another Southerner.
Willie Forbes wrote to Lucy Stanton sometimes daily, reporting on family activities, tenant matters, and local news. Her niece and nephew, Frances and Stanton, were also faithful correspondents who sorely missed their "Aunty." Eight-year old Frances visited in the summer of 1914, traveling alone by train from Clarkesville, Georgia, to Franklin, North Carolina, where Stanton met her in a hired wagon. The visit was a great success, and Willie Forbes set about making plans for her own visit with the children the following summer. In a series of letters she discusses sleeping arrangements, the cost for them to take meals at "Aunt Jane's" (65 cents a day), and whether there is enough flat ground for her to "string up a dollar tennis net," but also laments that money is so scarce, "we can live on credit here in town but not up there." It does not appear that the family house party ever took place.
The portraits that Stanton created during this period, of her neighbors and herself, are among her most powerful. Her miniatures display her mature technique of broad washes, in which each form is finished in one brush stroke. After roughening the surface of the ivory so that the watercolor could better adhere to it, she tilted her workboard, to which the ivory was pasted, in different directions to control the flow of the washes. She rarely used stippling. For her miniatures she often made preliminary drawings and watercolors on paper, or even large-scale oil sketches. Such exercises enabled her to arrange compositions and color schemes before embarking on the somewhat restrictive process of painting on ivory, in which few if any changes or corrections could be made without having to start over. Stanton also made use of photographs in creating her portraits. Her records indicate many orders for miniatures and oils painted from photographs provided by patrons, and it appears that she herself also made photographs of sitters in her studio as a compositional aid. Occasionally she made multiple copies of a miniature at a patron's request or for her own collection of works for exhibition and sale. She ordered her ivories and paints from Paris. Aside from early in her career, Lucy Stanton always maintained her studio in her home.
Leaving the mountains in the fall of 1915, Stanton stayed with friends in Atlanta for a short while. Then, despite entreaties from her sister to come and live in Athens, she moved to New York in early December and worked on commissions there until the summer. She must have been delighted to receive a box of daffodils mailed from Athens by her sister in February, but she nevertheless was beset by difficulties, including three address changes, dental trouble, two clients who would not pay her for their orders, and the theft of her tickets to Maine by tourists at Slabsides, the home of John Burroughs.
In June 1916 Stanton went to Ogunquit, Maine, for the summer, the first of ten consecutive seasons there. She was among many artists from around the country who flocked to the picturesque village, known for its white sand beaches and friendly local population. That fall she moved to Boston. She had been hired to teach art history at Dana Hall, a girls' preparatory school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in a salaried position that provided her with the means to live in the city, but one that also left her time during the day for painting. Over the course of her ten years in Boston, she also taught at Miss Choate's School (1920-23) and at Milton Academy (1920-26). She always lived on Beacon Hill, a historic neighborhood where many of her good friends resided.
Women in Boston had long enjoyed opportunities for achievement in many areas, including the visual arts. Sarah Goodridge, a miniaturist, had her own studio by 1820, and Bostonians Harriet Hosmer and Edmonia Lewis were part of a tradition of American sculptors working in Italy since Horatio Greenough traveled there in 1825. The state legislature's Drawing Act of 1870, requiring public schools to offer instruction in drawing, had led to a need for art teachers and the opening of the Massachusetts Normal Art School (now the Massachusetts College of Art) in 1873. The School of the Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1877, admitting women, and there were also several private art schools where women could receive instruction. Art clubs and associations provided exhibition space for women artists and, in some cases, membership. Many prominent artists adhered to the tenets of the Boston School, a distinct local style of painting characterized by beauty, elegance, and refinement that was firmly established by the time Stanton arrived. Stanton was a member of the Copley Society and the Guild of Boston Artists. Both were important professional associations, with galleries located on Newbury Street. Most significantly, Boston, along with New York and Philadelphia, was one of the centers of the American miniature revival. Stanton's work was probably familiar to Boston audiences, having been featured in exhibitions there in 1902, 1912, 1914, and March 1916.
Critical responses to the November 1916 exhibition in New York of the American Society of Miniature Painters reveal how distinctive Stanton's paintings were. In one brief review, the writer complains of the "somewhat fatiguing marvels of minuteness," "the astonishing likeness to each other," and "the same painstaking conscientiousness, the same desperately cloying sweetness in color" prevailing among the works, but goes on to say that Stanton indicates "the possibility in miniature painting of escape from the general tightness to a broader and freer manner of painting," while the New York Sun praised her "fine free touch" and her "happy gift of characterization."
In 1917, Stanton won the Bronze Medal of Honor of the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters for her portrait, Joel Chandler Harris, Esq., 1914 (National Portrait Gallery). Her first major Boston exhibition was in March 1919 at the Doll & Richards Gallery. Alongside sculpture by Elizabeth Randolph Royce, Stanton showed nineteen miniatures and one oil painting. William Howe Downes, the prominent art critic of the Boston Transcript, wrote:
During the early 1920s, Stanton's works were chosen for important group exhibitions that included American artists whose styles spanned a wide range. Beach at Ogunquit (Cat. No. 23) and A Paris Garden (Cat. No. 7) were shown alongside works by Robert Henri, George Bellows, Mary Cassatt, Daniel Garber, and Ernest Lawson in a 1920 exhibition in Baltimore organized by The Charcoal Club. Two works on paper, Beacon Hill and Flowers, appeared in an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, under the auspices of the Copley Society in 1923. R. H. Ives Gammel and Philip Hale were two eminent Boston School artists whose paintings were also selected for the exhibition, along with those of Charles Woodbury, a well-known Ogunquit painter. A Memphis exhibition of the Southern Art Association in 1922 featured Kelly Fitzpatrick, Anne Goldthwaite, Marie Hull, Will Henry Stevens, and Alice R. Huger Smith, emerging Southern Scene artists. Stanton is one of six artists in that exhibition listed under the heading, "Miniatures." An Old Southern Home is the title of her single work in the exhibition's catalogue, suggesting an architectural subject, possibly unique among her known miniatures. On the other hand, Stanton's exhibition label from the show (one that is no longer attached to the back of a miniature) has the title, Negroes Working, a name given to at least two of the miniatures from her Little Murals series (Cat. Nos. 27 and 28) for various exhibitions. Throughout her career, Stanton's paintings were also featured in traveling or "rotary" group exhibitions such as those organized by the American Federation of Arts.
The dimensions she chose for her miniature portraits had become, over time, larger than the customary size for miniatures meant for display in a case. In an undated letter, Elsie Pattee, a friend and fellow member of the American Society of Miniature Painters, begs her to "keep in the ASMP. We all want you and the Society is growing to the idea of larger frames to be hung if necessary outside of the cases...We must have you." Likewise, her broad brush strokes were gaining notice. The secretary of the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters, A. Margaretta Archambault, wrote to her in 1923, "...your technique is revolutionizing the Boston workers. Miss Cross' Nassau sketches were much in your wash method, quite different from her former work, and both Miss Purdie and Mrs. Claus are working broader -- had you noticed it?" and the next year, "Your wash work is wonderful...I can see your influence on the work of other Boston artists."
Life in Boston suited Lucy Stanton, and she described to a friend her sense of belonging to Milton Academy and New England. Her influence on her students was positive and memorable. One, from Dana Hall, had written to her, "you created an atmosphere about yourself which every one of us girls admired and loved." Stanton had a reunion with her own teacher, Lucien Simon, when he visited Boston as a member of the jury for the annual Carnegie Institute international exhibition. She was among a group of architects, landscape architects, and sculptors who, in 1919, organized a series of seven lectures by Jay Hambidge, the noted scholar and author, who spoke on geometric ratios in nature and art. Stanton left the city for extended periods from time to time, such as in 1919-20, when she lived in Baltimore and taught at the Bryn Mawr School, and the summer of 1922, when she painted portraits and watercolors of the old Spanish missions in California. A vacation with the Pillsbury family resulted in a lush, tropical scene, Bermuda, 1925 (Sellars Collection), and she sojourned in New Orleans at the time of her one-woman show in 1924. At one point, she apparently considered teaching part-time in New York, but her schedule in Boston prevented such an arrangement.
The failure of the bank that held her savings may have prompted Stanton's move to Athens in 1926 after her first summer on Nantucket Island, but, according to her sister, she also wanted to be with her nieces and nephews. With a gift of $1,000 from her Aunt Ida, she built the first floor of a permanent brick house on the front of her lot, but her financial situation was precarious, and after a year it was necessary for her to rent out the new house and move back into the unheated wooden studio, where she lived for the rest of her life. She again immersed herself in cultural and political activities in Athens. She exchanged her paintings for lessons in botany, biology, and physics taught by professors from the university, but she herself taught art history to twenty young people at no charge. She canoed on the nearby Oconee River, collecting plants with a young student botanist. Fearful of the possibility of another world war after the United States failed to join the League of Nations, she helped to found the Georgia Peace Society, which held meetings in her studio, one of which, in 1928, was attended by Count Sforza, an anti-fascist Italian expatriate, who later represented his country in the formation of N.A.T.O.
By this time, Stanton was plagued by rheumatism in her hands, but she nonetheless produced some of her most important works, including Miss Jule, 1926, and Self-Portrait in the Garden, 1928, (both in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and a number of striking portraits of African Americans. Summers were still spent in New England; she traveled north in her T-model Ford. Stanton had a one-woman exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in February 1927, the year after the museum opened, and gave a two-month series of weekly lectures on the history of art at the Atlanta Woman's Club. Her work appeared in smaller shows at the Guild of Boston Artists and in numerous group exhibitions in Georgia and elsewhere. She continued to receive commissions for portrait miniatures, though the popularity of the art form had begun to wane, and discussed with an official from the Georgia State Archives a project in which she and fellow miniaturists Laura Coombs Hills and Elsie Pattee would execute commissioned portraits of distinguished Georgians.
At some point in her career, perhaps in the 1920s, she was dubbed "the Fragonard of the New World" by the American press. The metaphor seems justified; the oil portraits and wash drawings of Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) are notable for their expressionistic brushwork, and he also painted a number of miniatures in a similar, loose style. Her French critics endorsed the moniker, and, moreover, claimed her as one of their own, calling her art "more French than American," and her soul that of "a very French artist." Fragonard, like Stanton, was an optimist, lover of life and nature, and respecter of man at his most human levels.
The day after giving a party in her garden for her nephew's nineteenth birthday Lucy Stanton fell ill. She developed double pneumonia and died four days later on March 19, 1931, at a hospital in Athens. She was buried the next day at Oconee Hill Cemetery beneath a blanket of a thousand daffodils gathered from the gardens of her friends.
The breadth of Lucy May Stanton's personality and the strength of her particular artistic vision are revealed in her paintings and writings, and in the tributes paid to her during her life and after her death. "You are rich in rare qualities and a mystic of the land of beauty," a Baptist minister from South Georgia had written to her in 1915. Another, a young man whom Stanton befriended when he was in college, wrote of her at her death, "She had learned somewhere...that there is an art in living, that life itself is the finest of the fine arts." Many years later, another student friend recalled his conversations with Miss Stanton about Greek myths, from which he had gained knowledge that aided him in his career as a botanist. He went on to say what might have pleased her most: "She amazed me on how well she could handle a canoe."
1. Lucy M. Stanton, diary, n.d., Lucy M. Stanton papers, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library/University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia.
2. "Cleveland Genealogy" W. L. Stanton to W. H. Logan, College Park, Georgia, 28 June 1895 (reprinted in the Atlanta Constitution, 12 April 1897); "Funeral of Mrs. Stanton," Hargrett Library; Mary I. Stanton, "Two Master Farmers of the Seventies," Georgia Review (Spring 1962), 23; Frances Forbes Heyn, interview with author, New Orleans, 6 February 1998.
3. W. Stanton Forbes, Lucy M. Stanton, Artist, (Atlanta: Special Collections Department, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emery University, 1975), 4-5.
4. Forbes, Stanton, 7-8; Frances Forbes Heyn, interview with author, New Orleans, 26 April 1999.
5. Lucy Stanton, information form for The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Boston, 15 October 1925, Lucy Forbes Shevenell archives; Forbes, Stanton, 11; see also Environs of Cox College and Conservatory, College Park, Georgia, Hargrett Library.
The college was housed in a large building of brick and stone, built to house four hundred students and set in thirty acres of gardens. With a library, a museum of natural history and industrial sciences, a laboratory, art studio, chapel with pipe organ, and a mounted telescope, it offered a full liberal arts curriculum.
6. Lucy Stanton, information form National Cyclopedia, Shevenell archives; Willie Stanton Forbes, interview with Stanton Forbes, January 1958, transcript, Hargrett Library; Annual Report of Southern Female (Cox) College, 1894-95 and 1895-96, Cox College Papers and Lucy M, Stanton Papers, Hargrett Library.
The information on Stanton's college and early teaching career is inconclusive. She is listed as a sophomore in the 1890 catalogue of Southern Female College, LaGrange, (Cox College) and as the Art Medalist in its 1891 catalogue (Cox College's catalogues were combined with its annual report and published at the end of the school year). On the National Cyclopedia form, Stanton lists her degree as "Cox College, La Grange, Georgia, A.M. degree" (no year). Her sister stated that 1893 was the year of her graduation (interview, 1958).
Stanton lists teaching at New Ebenezer College during 1893-94 and at Cox College "after its removal to College Park, Atlanta, Ga. 1895-1896, & from 1899-1901" on the National Cyclopedia form. However, the 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1901 Cox College catalogues list her as assistant professor of art; in addition, the 1895 and 1896 issues describe her qualifications as "Full course graduate of Southern Baptist College for Women," though her father's college was only in operation for the 1894-95 school year.
See also Carlyn Gaye Crannell, "In pursuit of Culture: A History of Art Activity in Atlanta, 1847-1926, " (PH.D. Dissertation, Emery University Institute of Liberal Arts, 1981) 229. James P. Field is listed as one of only two Atlanta artists in the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895.
7. Willie Marion Stanton, 1895, illustrated in Forbes, Stanton, 21.
8. Crannell, "In Pursuit of Culture," 241; Lucy Stanton, composition book, vol. 2, Shevenell archives.
9. Erica E. Hirshler, A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in Boston 1870-1940, (Boston: MFA Publications, 2001), 64-65.
10. May Alcott Nieriker, Studying Art Abroad, and How to Do It Cheaply, (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1879), as cited in Hirshler, A Studio of Her Own, 76.
11. Lucy Stanton, information form for National Cyclopedia, Shevenell archives; Lucy Stanton, diaries, Hargrett Library; Forbes, Stanton, 75; Lucy Stanton to Ida and Quillian Stanton, Paris, 31 December  Willie Forbes, interview with Stanton Forbes, 1960-61, transcript; W. Stanton Forbes, "Peach trees blossom in red clay," Hargrett Library.
Stanton's diaries indicate that she maintained a correspondence with Koopman for many years and that he visited the South in 1910. Regarding Whistler, while W. Stanton Forbes listed "some sessions with Whistler" during 1895-96 in the "Biographical Chronology" contained in Lucy M. Stanton, Artist, the only other reference to these studies found by the author were family recollections of the lost pages of a letter from Lucy Stanton to Ida and Quillian Stanton from Paris, probably in 1905, two years after Whistler's death. Willie Forbes recalls that in the missing portion "she [Lucy Stanton] probably refers here to her teachers," and that, therein, Lucy Stanton also described praise for her miniatures from someone whom they believe to have been James Whistler.
Lucy Stanton writes extensively in her diaries 1900-15 of Whistler's personality and his paintings, particularly the portraits, and of his method of selection. "How he discriminates, chooses, eliminates!" she wrote after seeing twenty-four of his paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. She also saw Charles Lang Freer's collection of paintings by Whistler in Detroit, when she studied the history of Greek architecture and sculpture at the University of Michigan. Several diary entries from February 1915, Andrews, North Carolina, describe her process of painting a miniature watercolor, Blue Lady or A Fantasy in Blue (whereabouts unknown), which was inspired by her studies of Whistler and the ancient Greek sculptors. She describes the portrait on ivory as a full-length girl in blue against a blue background with arms just lifted to put on a white shawl.
12. Crannell, "In Pursuit of Culture," 231-49, 210; Lucy Stanton, photo album and clipping (8:7), Hargrett Library; Annual Report of Southern Female College, 1899, 1901; Cox College Papers, Hargrett Library.
13. Willie Forbes, interview with Stanton Forbes, Athens, Georgia, 1960-61; Lucy Stanton, notes in photo album, 1901; Lucy Stanton to family, Maine, 5 September 1902, Hargrett Library.
14. "Atlanta Artist is Honored: Miss Lucy May Stanton Has Work Hung Out at Copley Society Exhibit in Boston," Atlanta Constitution, 30 November 1902; See also Kate Masterson, "How the Bachelor Girls Overrun New York," Atlanta Constitution, 30 November 1902. The latter is a long, disparaging feature article about the futility of the yearly exodus to New York of young women in search of career opportunities. In it, the descriptions of studio living arrangements and other specific details, including a photograph of a young woman painting a portrait of two children, are so similar to Stanton's own experience as to suggest more than a striking coincidence, though the Stanton sisters went to New York for education and experience, rather than to work.
15. Lucy Stanton to Ida and Quillian Stanton, Paris, 19 November 1905, Hargrett Library; Thomas G. Dyer, The University of Georgia, A Bicentennial History, 1785-1985 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985), 152-58.
16. Lucy Stanton to Ida and Quillian Stanton, Paris, 19 November 1905, Hargrett Library.
Charles Leavitt was the landscape architect of the University of Georgia. It is not known which paintings Stanton advised the university to acquire.
17. Clippings, Hargrett Library; Athens Art Association, Selected Documents from Archives portray A Historical Panorama of the Rise of Athens Art Association and its Activities, 1984, 174.
18. W. L Stanton to Lucy Stanton, Los Angeles, 8 March 1904; "Among the Studios," 21 May 1904 and 7 January 1905, Los Angeles Express, Hargrett Library. Elbert Hubbard was a successful American businessman who retired at the age of thirty-five to found the Roycroft Press and community. He and Gustav Stickley were well-known proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States.
19. Lucy Stanton to Ida and Quillian Stanton, Rijsoord, Holland, undated (summer 1905), Hargrett Library; Lucy Stanton, information form, National Cyclopedia; Forbes, Stanton, 22-23.
20. Clipping, Atlanta Constitution 27 January 1907; Royal Daniel, "Dux Femina Facti Est: Being a Weekly Story of Some Famous Georgia Women Who Have Never Had Time to Get Married and Are Making Their Contribution to the World," Atlanta Constitution, (n.d.), Hargrett Library.
Trilby is the heroine of a serialized novel of the same name by George Du Maurier (1894). She is an artist's model in Paris who falls under the mesmeric influence of the Hungarian musician Svengali. "Dux femina facti est" refers to Dido in The Aeneid of Virgil. It is translated as "A woman was the leader in the deed."
21. Grace Elizabeth Hale, "In Terms of Paint': Lucy Stanton's Representations of the South, 1890-1930," The Georgia Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3, Fall 1993, 583. Hale has written extensively on Stanton from a historical perspective. See also, Grace Elizabeth Hale, "Painting in the South: Class, Gender, and Race in the Life and Work of Lucy M. Stanton" (M.A. thesis, University of Georgia, 1991) and Grace Elizabeth Hale, "'Some Women Have Never Been Reconstructed': Mildred Lewis Rutherford, Lucy M. Stanton, and the Racial Politics of White Southern Womanhood, 1900-1930," Georgia in Black and White: Explorations in the Race Relations of a Southern State, 1865-1950, ed. John C. Inscoe (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1994).
22. W. Stanton Forbes, "Peach trees blossom in red clay;" W. Stanton Forbes, memoir; Lucy Stanton, diaries, Athens, Georgia, 1910, 1912, 1913; Lucy Stanton, notes (undated), Hargrett Library.
23. Willie Forbes, transcript of interview with Stanton Forbes, 1960-61; I. C. McCrory to Lucy Stanton, College Park, 10 October 1914; Willie Forbes to Lucy Stanton, Athens, Georgia, 7 May 1917; Lucy Stanton to Chancellor David C. Barrow, Andrews, North Carolina, 14 June 1914; Hargrett Library.
24. Walter T. Forbes to Lucy Stanton, Athens, Georgia, 27 March 1909; Willie Forbes, transcript of interview with Stanton Forbes, 1960-61; Lucy Stanton, diary, 1910, Hargrett Library.
See also, The American Scene and the South: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1930-1935, ed. Patricia Phagan (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 1996).
25. W. Stanton Forbes, "Peach trees blossom in red clay" and "John Burroughs," Hargrett Library.
26. See Carol Aiken, "Ivory and the Art of Miniature Painting," in Searching for Eulabee Dix: The Illustrated Biography of An American Miniaturist by Jo Ann Ridley, (Washington: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1997), 290.
Aiken states that Stanton's wet-in-wet methods of "puddling" and "broad washes" are techniques "virtually without historical precursors in the preceding centuries, except perhaps, in the completely non-traditional nineteenth-century watercolor miniatures on ivory by Goya."
27. Marion McDaniel to Lucy Stanton, Quitman, Georgia, 7 January 1915, Hargrett Library.
28. See Lucy Stanton, exhibition catalogues, 1914 and 1915; Nat H. Walker, "Miss Stanton," newspaper clipping, Andrews, North Carolina, 10 December 1914, Hargrett Library.
In this article, the reporter describes his realization, upon learning that Stanton was mailing pictures away, "insured for $200," that there was a talented artist in town. He urges his readers to help her by buying her pictures.
29. Willie Forbes to Lucy Stanton, Athens, Georgia, 26 June 1914, 2 March 1915, 28 May 1915; Hargrett Library.
30. For a detailed explanation of Stanton's technique, see Forbes, Stanton, Chapters III and IV. See also Aiken, "Ivory and the Art of Miniature Painting." Stanton's notes on orders, correspondence with patrons, studio photographs, and preliminary drawings and paintings are included in the collections of the Hargrett Library and Emory University, the Shevenell archives, and in private collections. Stanton rented studios in Atlanta c. 1898-1901 at the Y.M.C.A. and the Grande Opera House and in Athens at 185 Hull Street, where she directed "The School of Drawing and Painting" in 1908-09.
31. Willie Forbes to Lucy Stanton, Athens, 11 October 1915 and 16 February 1916; Lucy Stanton, diary, 18 February 1916; Lucy Stanton to Sarah Moss, Ogunquit, Maine, 28 July 1916, Hargrett Library.
32. Lucy Stanton to Sarah Moss, Ogunquit, Maine, 28 July 1916, Hargrett Library. Stanton described her teaching duties; "It pays a good salary and requires only three mornings and one afternoon of my time, leaving the rest of my week free for painting." See also, Lucy Stanton, information form for National Cyclopedia and Lucy Stanton's notes, Shevenell archives.
33. Hirshler, A Studio of Her Own, 5-7, 65; Erica E. Hirshler, "'Sisters of the Brush': Artistic Education for Women in Nineteenth-Century Boston," Laura Coombs Hills, A Retrospective (Newburyport, Massachusetts: Historical Society of Old Newbury, 1996), 5-7; Lucy Stanton, exhibition records and newspaper clippings, 1902-16, Hargrett Library.
34. Clipping (review of exhibition Montross Gallery, November 1916), Shevenell archives; "Miniature Painters' Exhibit at Montross's," New York Sun, n.d., Hargrett Library.
35. William Howe Downes, "Miss Stanton's Portraits," The Boston Transcript, 7 March 1919, Shevenell archives.
36. Lucy Stanton, exhibition catalogues 1920-23, Hargrett Library; Lucy Stanton, exhibition labels, Emery University and Shevenell archives.
37. Elsie Pattee to Lucy Stanton, New York, (n.d.); A. Margaretta Archaumbault to Lucy Stanton, Philadelphia, 20 April 1923 and 25 November 1924, Shevenell archives.
38. Lucy Stanton to Sarah Moss, Ogunquit, Maine, 20 June 1921; Caroline Lyder to Lucy Stanton, (n.d., c. 1920); Forbes, Stanton, 31; William Howe Downes, "Distinguished Visitors," Boston Evening Transcript (n.d.), Shevenell archives; Maria Chapin to Lucy Stanton, New York, 23 October 1923, Hargrett Library. Bermuda is illustrated in Before 1948: American Paintings in Georgia Collections (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 1998),114.
39. Forbes, Stanton, 18, 70; Willie Forbes, interview with Stanton
Forbes, 1958, Hargrett Library; Lucy Stanton, Family Expense Record, 1928,
Shevenell archives, 11, 27; Mary Burnet Fradier, telephone interview with
September 2001; Frances Forbes Heyn, interview with author, New Orleans, 26 April 1999; Sforza to Lucy Stanton, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 16 August 1928, Hargrett Library.
Family accounts state that Lucy Stanton taught at the University of Georgia, but the records of the Office of the Provost do not confirm this. The university offered very little art instruction before the late 1930s, when the department of art was organized by Lamar Dodd.
40. Forbes, Stanton, 18; exhibition catalogues, Hargrett Library; Lucy Stanton, composition book, Shevenell archives; "Miss Stanton will continue art lectures at Woman's Club," Hearst's Sunday American, 13 February 1927; Ruth Blair to Lucy Stanton, Atlanta, Georgia, 1 February 1930, Hargrett Library.
41. Garland Smith, "Georgia Woman Famed Miniaturist," The Macon Telegraph, 10 March 1929; Comte Charbrier et Gabriel Sérac, three reviews of Stanton's exhibitions, Revue du Vrai et du Beau, 1924, 25 August 1925, 25 February 1927, Hargrett Library; Marion Lou Grayson, Fragonard and his Friends: Changing Ideals in Eighteenth Century Art (St. Petersburg, Florida: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982), 7-10.
42. Forbes, Stanton, 18-19.
43. Lamar Sims to Lucy Stanton, Albany, Georgia, 14 December 1914; Rollin
Chambliss to Willie Forbes, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 21 March 1931; J. L.
Stephens to Stanton Forbes, Tifton, Georgia, 3 May 1966, Hargrett Library.
About the author
Betty Alice Fowler, curator of the The Art of Lucy May Stanton exhibition, in preparing this essay, aside from extensive field research in Boston and New Orleans, spent weeks in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia where the Lucy May Stanton papers are on file. Betty Alice Fowler is grants writer at the Georgia Museum of Art.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Georgia Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.