Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of Artist Mary Lawrence Tonetti


Demeter's Choice

Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of My Grandmother as a Young Artist is the story of a young American sculptor named Mary Lawrence Tonetti who began studying under Augustus Saint-Gaudens at a very young age. She came of age in the art studios of New York and Paris in the late 19th century, and is most famous for her sculpture of Christopher Columbus for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

The author is the sculptor’s own granddaughter, Mary Tonetti Dorra, who had access to wonderful personal information to make the story rich with detail and insight. There are even copies of some of Mary Lawrence’s original pen and ink sketches and travel notes.

Demeter’s Choice tells the story of one woman’s choice between art and love. Mary Lawrence led a remarkable, artistic life both before and after her big choice. It’s a life worth knowing more about. And for the followers of this blog who like to hear about art history in Paris, I’ll point out all of the Paris sites and scenes of interest.

Mary Lawrence Tonetti (1868-1945). Source:

Mary Lawrence Tonetti (1868-1945). Source:

Mary Lawrence was a privileged young woman (her ancestors included a mayor of New York and Captain James Lawrence, a famous patriot famous for his wartime utterance: “Don’t give up the ship!”) who began a pampered life in Cliffside, her family’s large estate overlooking the Hudson River in Sneden’s Landing, New York. Mary was known to have grown up with a “robust temperament” and a taste for the outdoors. (Which to me is the Gilded Age way of saying she was a handful, a tomboy, a bit of a rebel. Funny how many of those kinds of Gilded Age girls turned out to be artists, especially sculptors….)

Mary enjoyed art from a very young age. When she was only seven years old, her family arranged for the up-and-coming Augustus Saint-Gaudens to come up to Sneden’s Landing to teach drawing and sculpture to Mary a group of other children. (Not a bad start for a kid!) When she was older, Mary continued art lessons at Saint-Gauden’s Fourteenth Street Studio in the German Savings Bank in New York City. Saint-Gaudens would have a huge influence on Mary’s life and career in art.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, mentor and friend of Mary Lawrence

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, mentor and friend of Mary Lawrence

German Savings Bank around 1872, site of Augustus St. Gaudens studio. Source: Office for Metropolitan HIstory NYC

The German Savings Bank around 1872, the site of Augustus Saint-Gaudens 14th Street studio. Source: Office for Metropolitan History NYC.

By the time Mary was twenty years old, she was personal friends with Saint-Gaudens’ whole crowd, including the architects Charles McKim and Stanford White. Demeter’s Choice has a lovely scene where Saint-Gaudens, McKim and White joined Mary for a picnic at Sneden’s Landing before she set sail on her first Grand Tour of Europe in 1886. There were hints that Charles McKim, a married man of nearly forty, was already falling in love with her despite their vast difference in age.

Accompanied by a supportive aunt and her more conventional sister Edith, Mary Lawrence made the Grand Tour of Europe, including a summer of sightseeing through Belguim and Germany before she would settle in Paris and begin her art studies it the women’s atelier of the Académie Julian.

Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian's atelier for women

Passage des Panoramas, just off of boulevard Montmartre in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian’s atelier for women. The studio is no longer there, but a stroll through the arcade will still give you a sense of the time and place.

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian.

Marie Bashkirtseff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian by a Russian student famous for her memoir, The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff.

Being a friend and an assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens opened many doors upon Mary’s arrival in Paris. He introduced her to many of the American artists who worked or studied there, including Mary Louise Fairchild from St. Louis, who was studying with Carolus-Duran and the Académie Julian on a prestigious fellowship. In Demeter’s Choice, the two Marys meet at the opening night of the Paris Salon of 1886, where Mary Fairchild’s portrait of Sara Hallowell was on display. Sara Hallowell was an American art agent for wealthy American art collectors such as Bertha Palmer of Chicago. Sara lived part of the year in Paris developing close relationships with Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin. Mary Lawrence was making all the right connections too, a rare opportunity for such a young artist.

Mlle S. H. (Sara Tyson Hollowell) by Mary Fairchild (1886). Source:

Mlle S. H. (Sara Tyson Hollowell) oil on canvas by Mary Fairchild (1886). Property of The Warden and Fellows of Robinson College, University of Cambridge. This is the portrait that was exhibited in the 1886 Paris Salon where Mary Lawrence met Mary Fairchild and Sara Hallowell. Source:

Within a week of her arrival in Paris, Mary Lawrence was invited to Auguste Rodin’s art studio which he shared with his student and young mistress Camille Claudel. Together they strolled through the studio where Mary got to see the models for The Burghers of Calais and some of the figures from The Gates of Hell. Today you can see these works for yourself at the Musée Rodin, one of my favorite museums in Paris. Inside you can even see some of Camille Claudel’s sculptures as well.

Mary and her sister settled into their apartment at 56 rue Notre Dame des Champs in the heart of the Left Bank of Paris, within a few blocks of some of the biggest names in the art world, such as John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran, James Whistler and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Saint-Gaudens and his wife lived nearby, at 3 rue Herschel just on the other side of the Luxembourg Gardens. Like many Americans ever since then, Mary came to adore Paris, from the macaroons at LaDurée, to the baguettes from her local boulangerie to a lovely stroll through the Palais Royal.



Being a young woman of privilege in the Gilded Age meant you had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe instead of having to freeze or starve your way through a miserable winter in Paris. Mary Lawrence left Paris for a few winter months in Italy with her family entourage before she returned to New York in the summer of 1887. By the spring of 1888, she had returned to Paris for another season of classes at the Académie Julian.

Once her second session of Paris art studies were over, Mary returned to New York, where she taught at the Art Students League, served as Saint-Gaudens’ assistant and worked on her own sculpting projects.

In the fall of 1891, Mary learned that she would be awarded a contract to create a statue of Christopher Columbus for the Chicago World’s Fair under the supervision of Saint-Gaudens. It was a huge honor. Most women who received commissions for the fair (such as Mary Cassatt, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies and Sophia Hayden) were contracted through a separate Board of Lady Managers led by the Chicago society queen Bertha Palmer. Mary Lawrence received her commission directly from the Fair Commissioners, who were all male. You can read a fun 1893 New York Times article about Mary’s commission here.

Demeter’s Choice tells the wonderful story of a fight between Mary Lawrence and her supporters versus Frank Millet, a particularly odious fair organizer, who objected to the prominent placement of her Columbus statue because it was made by a “female novice.” Millet actually arranged to have it moved to a spot near the train station. You’ll have to read for yourself to learn what happened next. If you look at the image below, it is amazing what a good job young Mary Lawrence did – she was young, but certainly no novice.

"Columbus Taking Possession." The Administration Building From Columbian Gallery: A Portfolio of Photographs of the World's Fair, The Werner Company. The prominent and handsome figure of Columbus, which stood in the portal, was the work of Miss Mary T. Lawrence, and represented the landing of Columbus, and the planting of the Spanish flag in the colonies of the New World. 1893. Source:

“Columbus Taking Possession.”  Mary Lawrence’s statue of Columbus, which stood in the portal of the Administration Building at the Chicago Worlds Fair. Source:

After the excitement of the Chicago World’s Fair was over, Mary went back to Paris. She continued her studies at the Académie Julian and renewed her many friendships with the artists of the Left Bank and beyond. Mary was on everyone’s guest list, attending soirées hosted by the likes of Charles Dana Gibson and James Whistler. It was at Gibson’s glamorous ball and then again at Whistler’s home at 110 rue de Bac that Mary Lawrence met François Tonetti, a sculpting assistant to Frederick MacMonnies. The rest, as they say, was history.

The plaque at James Whistler's home in rue de Bac where Mary Lawrence first met François Tonetti in 1893. Source:

The plaque at James Whistler’s home on rue de Bac, where Mary Lawrence and François Tonetti met for the second time in 1893. Source:

A close-up image of a portrait of François Tonetti by François Flameng. Source:

A close-up image of a portrait of François Tonetti by François Flameng. Source:

Even after she met the charming and passionate François, Mary Lawrence continued to work as a sculptor in her own Twenty-Third Street studio in New York and to teach Saint-Gaudens’ classes at the Art Students League through most of the1890s. Charles McKim continued to pursue her, as did François, her favorite Frenchman.

Saint-Gaudens didn’t want his protégée to marry, worried that she would give up her art for a house full of “festive children.” He asked: “wIll she just die and fade into the wife of François Tonetti…?” Others objected because François wasn’t from the “same stock” as the Lawrences. Mary’s own sister pressed her to choose Charles McKim, who offered a more proper and promising future than a bohemian artist could.

No matter what choice Mary Lawrence would make, it was clear that she wouldn’t die and fade away. She would always live in a world of art. Mary Lawrence lived the rest of her life surrounded by artists, founding and developing an artist’s colony in Sneden’s Landing. Generations of artists and actors have enjoyed living there, including Gerald and Sara Murphy, Orson Wells, Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie, Bill Murray and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Just for fun, you can check out this recent gossip article about Tom Cruise checking out the real estate in Sneden’s Landing.

Quite a story and quite a legacy. We are so lucky that Mary Lawrence’s granddaughter wrote it all down. 

Mary Tonetti Dorra. Source:

Mary Tonetti Dorra. Source:

Author Mary Tonetti Dorra has a list of appearances scheduled in early 2014. You can check them out for yourself on her website.

Review and Recommendation by Margie White of the American Girls Art Club in Paris

Rainy Days in Paris

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection. Currently part of the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit (2013).

Who doesn’t love this painting? I’ve admired it ever since I first started visiting the Art Institute of Chicago as a young girl. It’s so big that it welcomes you in – it feels like you’re right there on the sidewalk. Maybe you were walking in front of this couple and turned around for a brief look at the intersection behind you. Do your shoes still feel wet from the rain?

I understand that Caillebotte did not actually stand in the street to paint on a rainy day.  (If he had, I guess you would call it en pleuviex air, not en plein air?) This was a studio painting, but no doubt, Caillebotte had plenty of experience observing the effect of rain on the streets of his neighborhood. We do know he drew a sketch of it first, most likely on site en plain air. The drawing is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. As the Art Institute says, “This preparatory drawing seems to have been freely sketched on the spot before being laid out in the studio with a straightedge and compass to regularize the perspective lines.”

On my first trip to Paris, when I would look at every diagonal street corner and think of this painting. There are countless intersections like this in Paris, and so many rainy days. But there is only one Paris Street; Rainy Day. When I lived in Paris, I finally had time to track down the right place.

This iconic scene is located at the intersection of rue de Moscou and rue de St. Petersburg in the 8th arrondissement behind Gare St. Lazare, between Place de Clichy and Place de L’Europe. An easy walk from several Métro lines. I created a Google Map so you can check it out for yourself. Click on the street view and you’ll have the perfect view.

The scene of Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)

The scene of Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877). Funny that I should have captured this photo on a sunny day. It’s just not the same. (Not to mention the motorcycles and the lack of cobblestones!)

Rainy days in Paris can be beautiful. Or at least that’s what Parisians keep telling themselves so they don’t go bat-shit crazy during those long weeks of gloomy gray skies.

That’s what I told myself anyway. Check out these photos of mine and tell me you don’t agree. There’s just something about rainy days in Paris. . . .

A Paris puddle on Avenue Kléber in the 16th

A Paris puddle on Avenue Kléber in the 16th

A Paris puddle on Avenue Kléber in the 16th

A Paris puddle on avenue Matignon in the 8th

Rainy day, rue Cambon. Students on a cigarrette break from the Ecole Ritz Escoffier, across the street from Chanel Paris.

Rainy day, rue Cambon. Students on a cigarrette break from the Ecole Ritz Escoffier, across the street from Chanel Paris.

Paris street near Place de Vendome

Paris street near Place de Vendome

By now, Parisians are starting to wonder why I keep taking photos of the sidewalk.

At the corner of avenue Montaigne and avenue Gabriel in the 8th

The Painted Girls: Degas and the Dancers

painted girls

If you like historical art fiction, it doesn’t get much better than The Painted Girls, Cathy Buchanan’s new novel about the young ballerinas Degas used to paint and sculpt. Set in the seedy side streets of Belle Epoque Paris, this book tells the desperate story of three sisters who must find their way to survive in the dark world of the Paris demimonde.

The Painted Girls is based on the true story of the van Goethem sisters who danced at the Paris Opéra in the late 1870s and early 1880s. They lived on the slopes of Montmartre on rue de Douai, and after their father died, they had to scrounge for a living as best they could.

Although they were not classic beauties, the van Goethem sisters were talented enough to earn a place among the other novices, the “Petit-Rats” of the Paris ballet. But they still had to supplement their meager earnings with grueling jobs as laundry women or early morning bread makers. Soon, the younger sister Marie had a better opportunity.

The Paris Opéra

The Opéra Garnier

Inside the Opéra Garnier

Inside the Opéra Garnier

A regular at the opéra, Edgar Degas noticed skinny young Marie, the middle van Goethem sister, and asked her to model for him. She was honored to accept and relieved to earn extra money for the family. She was thrilled at the prospect of seeing her likeness at the Fifth and Sixth Impressionist Exhibits in 1880 and 1881.


Little Dancer Age 14, Wax sculpture by Edgar Degas.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C., COLLECTION OF MR. AND MRS. PAUL MELLON. Bronze copies were made after Degas’ death, including the one at the Musé d’Orsay in Paris.

The modeling scenes are some of my favorites in the book. Degas’ studio on rue Fontaine was just around the corner from Marie’s home in the 9th arrondissement. It is in that studio, overflowing with canvases, paints and pastels, that Degas began the sketches for Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, as well as numerous charcoal and pastel sketches of young Marie.

Cathy Buchanan’s website contains images of all of the artwork mentioned in the book. You can click on an image and read a related quote from the book. It’s just wonderful.

But there’s so much more to The Painted Girls than pleasant little scenes in Degas’ art studio. In fact, there is very a dark side to the van Goethem sisters’ lives. The oldest sister Antoinette gets involved with a violent young man of the streets, and Marie is singled out by one of the wealthy older patrons of the Opéra known as abonnées. The reader knows exactly where Marie’s relationship with Monsiuer Lefebvre is heading, that such gifts and favors are never bestowed without a price.

The sisters’ fall from innocence is tragic but not utterly without hope. In one particularly moving scene, young Marie is in despair, and raises a timeless question:

I want to put my face in my hands, to howl, for me, for Antoinette, for all the women of Paris, for the burden of having what men desire, for the heaviness of knowing it is ours to give, that with our flesh we make our way in the world. For there is a cost. . . . Would they say there is no cost, not so long as a girl takes no more than what a man decides her flesh is worth?

Both sisters make troubling choices, and find themselves even more deeply involved in the demimonde of Paris. When Antoinette’s love interest is arrested and accused of murder, the sisters’ conflicting loyalties nearly tear them apart. Can their family repair the damage and find a way to survive the poor, dangerous streets of Paris, without having to trade what men desire?

It’s an excellent read, although some might find the story drags a little during the criminal trials of Antoinette’s love interest, which could have been condensed down to one trial instead of two. However, that minor flaw still shouldn’t discourage you from seeking out and thoroughly enjoying this otherwise riveting book.

And when you’re done with the book, go back and enjoy more Cathy Buchanan’s website where she has also posted photos from her Paris research trip. I couldn’t create a better literary tour myself!

The Read: The Painted Girls, Highly recommended.

The Paris Tour: Take the Palais Garnier tour, a must-see in Paris. You can make an  Unaccompanied Visit nearly every day, or an English Guided Tour available three days per week. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to catch a ballet performance. Check out their 2012-13 schedule here. Then follow up with a visit to the Musée d’Orsay, where you can see one of the copies of Young Dancer, Age Fourteen, as well as one of my favorites, The Ballet Class. If you have the time to stroll through lower Montmartre, catch the Métro line 2 to the Blanche stop or line 12 to the Pigalle stop and browse through the van Goetham sisters’ old neighborhood.

van Goetham Home: 35 rue de Douai

Degas studio: rue Pierre Fontaine

Degas home: 6 boulevard Clichy

The plaque at the last home of Degas, 6 boulevard Clichy, Paris

The plaque at the last home of Degas, 6 boulevard Clichy, Paris


The last home of Edgard Degas from 1912-1917.

John Singer Sargent and Madame X in Paris

I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto

I first read Gioia Diliberto’s  I Am Madame X back in 2004. I might have even picked it as a book club read. It’s a fabulous Belle Epoque novel about the life and times of the celebrated 19th century American portrait artist John Singer Sargent and his most infamous model, American beauty Virginie Gautreau.

I read it again recently, because John Singer Sargent’s name keeps popping up on my travels through Paris art history. This book is even better the second time around, especially now that I know my way around Paris and I can really appreciate what it meant to be a Left Bank artist versus a Right Bank Artist.

John Singer Sargent had the best of both worlds.

He was the son of a wealthy, cosmopolitan American family that had lived abroad for decades by the time they arrived in Paris in 1874. They settled into a posh Right Bank apartment near the Champs-Élysées, which has since become a commercial building at 52 rue La Boétie. Sargent’s father took him to meet the young teaching master Carolus-Duran, who ran a popular Left Bank painting atelier in the heart of Montparnasse.

Sargent was only 18 years old, but he was already bursting with talent. He quickly earned the admiration of his fellow students and within a year was accepted at the rigorous L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1875, Sargent moved out of the family’s home and into a fifth-floor studio apartment at 73 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs with fellow art student James Carroll Beckwith.

The young American artists had found a promising location. The studios at 73 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs had also housed the famous French painter Jean-Paul Laurens, while 75 was the mansion-atelier of Adolphe William Bourguereau. By the 1860s, this small, winding road had already been nicknamed “the royal road of painting.” Even today, the address looks inspiring. It still has an impressive entrance and an inviting green courtyard.

Sargent, Beckwith and their pals led a young bohemian life in the Left Bank. They worked hard but still had time for wild evenings, moving the easels aside for dancing and drinking right in the studio. Sargent was known for entertaining his guests on a rented piano. On Sunday nights, they would clean themselves up for  a proper dinner party at Sargent’s family’s home with “educated and agreeable” conversation.

73 rue des Notre-Dame-des-Champs, once the art studio of John Singer Sargent

Courtyard of 73-75 rue Notre-Dame-des-Petit-Champs. Back in the 1870s, the gardens probably went all the way through to Luxembourg Gardens

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Carolus-Duran (1879)

In 1879, Sargent painted the portrait of his art teacher Carolus-Duran, and it absolutely launched his career. It was bold, theatrical, and presented a stunning likeness in both spirit and physicality. Sargent was only 23 years old and already one of the best portrait artists in France.

In Diliberto’s novel, Sargent meets the future Madame X at a Montparnasse restaurant. In reality, they may have met when Gautreau attended an informal party at Sargent’s studio on rue de Notre-Dame-des-Champs in 1881. Sargent was celebrating the completion of his portrait of Dr. Pozzi, one of Gautreau’s many reputed lovers. According to Diliberto, Gautreau was shocked by Sargent’s portrayal of Dr. Pozzi, a charismatic ladies man (and gynecologist) who had ungraciously tossed her aside before her marriage to Pierre Gautreau:

On an easel near the French doors stood Sargent’s painting of Dr. Pozzi. It looked like a portrait of the devil. Virtually the entire canvas was red – the sumptuous curtains in the background, the carpeted floor. The doctor himself was dressed in red slippers and the red wool dressing gown that I had seen him wear dozens of times. His pose was hypertheatrical; his face was caught in an intense observance of an object outside the canvas, and his elongated fingers tugged nervously at his collar and the drawstring of his robe. His fingers were as sharp as pincers and seemed spotted with blood. Had Pozzi just performed a gynecological operation? Deflowered a virgin?

I just love how Diliberto gave Gautreau such a blunt and penetrating voice. She is clearly no innocent about men, or for that matter, about Sargent’s ability to portray a model’s true character.

John Singer Sargent, Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881)

Sargent was determined to get the chance to paint Gautreau’s portrait. He obviously understood the PR value of painting the “professional beauty” who was the focus of such much attention and gossip in the affluent social circles of Paris. Gautreau thought about giving her business to other more traditional French portrait artists, but she may have felt a special connection to Sargent. They were both up-and-coming Americans with something to prove to the French.

In the meantime, steady commissions enabled Sargent to buy a large, new home and studio on the Right Bank, closer to all of his wealthy patrons. In the winter of 1883-84, Sargent moved to 41 boulevard Berthier, on the shaded side of a wide street whose light made it a popular location for art studios. It wasn’t far from the new mansions near Parc Monceau, and in fact just a few blocks from Madame Gautreau who lived at 80 rue Jouffroy d’Abbans.

In The Greater Journey, David McCullough describes Sargent’s new Right Bank studio:

. . .  a workplace elegantly furnished with comfortably upholstered chairs, Persian rugs, and drapery befitting his new professional standing, and with an upright piano against one wall, . . .

No longer would Sargent’s patrons have to track through the mud and past the questionable bohemians on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs.

41 boulevard Berthier has been replaced by a newer building, but this one next door is a good example of the types of buildings that once dominated the street, with large windows  and skylights on the top floors.  It was on this street that Virginie Gautreau would have gone to pose for her portrait.

Parc Monceau in the 17th, the center of the fashionable new Plaine Monceau area of the 1870s-80s. Monet painted this park several times.

80 rue Jouffroy, the home of Virginie and Pierre Gautreau in the 1880s.

By 1883, Gautreau finally agreed to pose for Sargent. He talked her into wearing a black dress that would highlight her unusual color, which included rouged ears, white pastey skin (thanks to lavender skin cream) and brightly hennaed hair. At the end of the day, Sargent may have painted her color a little too well. He captured her true character, just like he had with Dr. Pozzi. Her pose was so confident it seemed haughty.

But the strap was the last straw. The painting we know now, as it appears at the Metropolitan Museum in New Yorkwas retouched. The original painting looked like this – a little risqué, no doubt, but more balanced and much more interesting.

Nevertheless, it was a disaster at the 1884 salon. “Quelle horreur!” said polite Paris society. One critic said the flesh “more resembles the flesh of a dead than a living body.”

Sargent soon left for the summer in London while Gautreau disappeared to Brittany, far from the judgment of Paris. Sargent would keep his Paris studio on boulevard Berthier for two more years, where he proudly displayed Madame X. 

Although Sargent may have misjudged the limits of Right Bank tolerance and underestimated their hypocrisy (after all, many of the traditional paintings in the Salon were nudes, and they’re complaining about a little strap?), he would later say that Madame X was “the best thing I have done.”

John Singer Sargent in his boulevard Berthier studio with a retouched Madame X. The strap is repainted.

If your read I am Madame X you will find out much more about Virginie Gautreau: her New Oreans background, her family’s escape to Paris during the Civil War, her early years in a Paris convent school. It’s a well-told story in the voice of a fascinating woman.

 I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto: HIghly recommended.

American Girls Art Club: History

American Girls Art Club Courtyard in 2011

The American Girls Art Club, which once stood at 4 rue de Chevreuse on the Left Bank of Paris, is now known as Reid Hall, and is owned by Columbia University’s Global Centers Program.

The property was built by the Duc de Chevreuse and way back in the 18th century it housed the Dagoty porcelain factory. In 1834, the site was turned into a Protestant school for boys called the Keller Institute.

In the early 1890’s, Elisabeth Mills Reid, a wealthy American philanthropist and wife of the American ambassador, got the idea to start a residential club for American women artists in Paris. She knew about an arts club for men on the rue Paul Séjourné, and when she learned that the Keller Institute property was available, she got together with her friends, Reverend and Mrs. William Newell. The Newells were evangelicals who had been hosting Sunday evening social hours for American girls at their own home on the rue de Rennes. With the help of the Newells and the larger expatriate community in Paris, Elisabeth Reid established The American Girls Art Club in Paris, a residential club for young American women artists that provided matronly supervision and spiritual guidance.

The club thrived because it was affordable and very social. There was room for approximately 40-50 women in either single or double rooms at approximately $30 per month. There was a “dainty blue” receiving room for playing the piano and serving tea, as well as a reading room full of English-language books and magazines. The residents often strolled and sketched in the gardens of the courtyard. Each Sunday the Newells arranged an informal religious service followed by a social hour. The club hosted an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner every year.

The club was within walking distance of the Luxembourg Gardens, L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and many bookshops and restaurants along Boulevard Raspail. Although the female residents could not study at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts until 1897, many of them did study at prominent private ateliers in Paris, including the studios of Bouguereau, Whistler and Carolus-Duran.

The residents planned and hosted their own art exhibits at the club, inviting their fellow students and art teachers. In 1895, they formed the American Woman’s Art Association of Paris to host the annual show. Mary Cassatt, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low and other prominent women artists who were permanent residents of Paris helped preside over the club, serving as jurors and officers. Prominent Paris artists and art teachers attended the exhibitions, providing the members with valuable critiques and praise. Each year, the Art Club purchased one piece of art from the exhibition for display in the Club.

Anne Goldthwaite’s 1908 oil painting of the courtyard of the American Girls Art Club in Paris is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Take a peek at it here.

During World War I, the property became a hospital, and was held by the American Red Cross until 1922. Elizabeth Reid and her daughter-in-law then arranged for it to become Reid Hall, an association for American college women abroad. Gertrude Stein even made an appearance in 1931 at the invitation of one of Reid Hall’s art students.

In 1964, Reid Hall was bequeathed to Columbia University. For more current and historical photographs, visit Reid Hall’s Photo Gallery.

The unassuming front entrance to 4 rue de Chevreuse, the home of The American Girls Art Club in Paris from 1893- WWI.

The unassuming front entrance to 4 rue de Chevreuse, the home of The American Girls Art Club in Paris from 1893- 1914.

The view outside toward the courtyard

The view of the Reid Center outside toward the courtyard. Toward the back is a high wall that borders rue de la Grand Chaumiere, a street that is still full of art studios today. The lodgers could take a shortcut to their classes at nearby Académie Colarossi by exiting through a gate in this wall. 

A green classroom shed that was once used as a hospital room for WWI soldiers

In the courtyard: a green classroom shed that was once used as a hospital room for WWI soldiers.

Courtyard seating at the Reid Center today. I wonder how old that tree is?

Courtyard seating at the Reid Center today. I wonder how old that tree is?

The view from the courtyard back toward the main entrance of the Reid Center

The view from the courtyard back toward the main entrance of the Reid Center

Few paintings or sketches of the American Girls Art Club remain, although I was able to find this rendering in a scholarly journal.

The American Girls Art Club

The garden of the American Girls Art Club, artist and date unknown. Source: Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 26. No. 1 (2005)


Sources: and Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 26, No. 1 (2005)

The Passy Cemetery Artists: Manet, Morisot and Marie Bashkirtseff

Passy Cemetery

They say that the Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the second most visited tourist site in Paris, which might be true. What I do know is that the Passy Cemetery in the 16th arrondissement is also wonderful place for a quiet stroll on a beautiful day, especially for the art lover.

Manet and Morisot Tomb, Passy Cemetery

Passy Cemetery is home to the tomb of impressionist artist Edouard Manet, his brother Eugene, and Berthe Morisot, who married Eugene at the age of 33.

Edouard Manet: Portrait of Berthe Morisot reclining (Source: Marmatton Museum,


Berthe Morisot lived most of her life in the bourgeois area of Passy, first with her parents, and later with her husband. Berthe’s mother actually gave up her flat on rue Guichard to Berthe and Eugene after their marriage.

Berthe was a muse and model to Edouard Manet, and posed for him many times. Whether or not they were ever lovers, you can feel how well he knew her in his portrait to the left. The painting feels exceedingly intimate, doesn’t it? I love how Manet captured her easy elegance, but with a touch of the defiance she must have had in order to succeed as a female artist during that era. You can see this astoundingly beautiful portrait for yourself at Musee Marmottan in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

There is a lesser known surprise at the Passy Cemetery: the tomb of the impressionist Russian painter Marie Bashkirtseff, who studied at the Academy Julien in Paris until she died from tuberculosis at age 25. The tomb is a recreated art studio, not your typical religious monument.

But then Marie Bashkirtseff was not your typical 19th century woman. She is probably best known for her personal journals which were published posthumously in 1889, and which revealed her ambition, her feminism and her struggle for recognition in the male dominated world of art in 19th century France. They were considered radical, narcissistic and highly controversial at the time.

Marie Mashkirtseff's Tomb in Passy Cemetery










One of my favorite paintings by Marie Bashkirtseff is of female painters in a segregated art studio, the Academie Julian in Paris in 1881. Marie placed herself in the painting in the lower right-hand corner. At the time, it was considered highly controversial for women to paint from live nude models, so it is interesting that this painting shows a young model with a discretely draped cloth. I’m also a little amused by the fact that the artist holding a palette in the foreground appears to have lost her easel.

Marie Bashkirtseff: In the Studio (Source: wikipedia)

I highly recommend a walking tour of the Passy Cemetery on a nice day in Paris, followed by a visit to the Musee Marmottan. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of some exceptional women artists.