(1874 - 1961)
Violet Oakley was active/lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey. Violet Oakley is known for mural, genre, portrait, illustration.
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is a press release from Richard Saiers, Capitol Preservation Committee, Harrisburg, PA: May 2003
Biography from American Illustrators Gallery
CAPITOL PRESERVATION COMMITTEE HONORS LT. GOV. CATHERINE BAKER KNOLL
AND INTRODUCES TRIBUTE BOOK ABOUT CAPITOL ARTIST VIOLET OAKLEY
PA-On June 10, 2003-the 129th anniversary of the birth of Capitol
artist Violet Oakley (1874-1961)- Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation
Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Clymer will honor Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker
Knoll with an official proclamation, and introduce the Committee's
newly published book entitled "A Sacred Challenge: Violet Oakley and
the Pennsylvania Capitol Murals".
Making history as the first
woman elected to the Office of Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania, Catherine Baker Knoll joins the Committee in
celebrating another important woman in Pennsylvania history, Violet
Oakley, who at the turn of the century received the largest art
commission ever given to an American female artist. At a time before
Pennsylvania women could vote or hold elected office, the Philadelphia
artist received the honor of creating forty-three paintings for the
State Capitol building-a task that would propel her to the forefront of
the American art world.
The ceremony will be held in the
Capitol's main rotunda beginning at 12:00 noon and feature remarks
given by Lt. Gov. Knoll and Committee Executive Director Ruthann
Hubbert-Kemper. In addition the Committee will recognize special guests
who knew or were affiliated with Oakley and contributed to the A Sacred
Challenge including: former neighbor Lisa Ulrich Burr; student painter
Joyce Pratt; Christian Scientists Ethel Adams and Glenna Liuzzi;
Woodmere Art Museum director Dr. Michael Schantz and registrar Mildred
Staib; State Museum of Pennsylvania curator of fine arts Lee Stevens;
and private collectors Loice Goucker and Brian Zahn.
contributions made by Violet Oakley are an important part of
Pennsylvania history and the Committee is proud to tell the story of
how one woman's talent and hard work became an integral piece of beauty
in the State Capitol-truly one of America's greatest public buildings.
It is especially meaningful to have Lt. Gov. Knoll, as the first female
Lieutenant Governor, here with us today to celebrate the notable
artistic achievements of Capitol artist Violet Oakley," said Rep.
Notable highlights of the ceremony will include a
presentation of "first stamped" books to Lt. Gov. Knoll and Rep. Clymer
using Oakley's original insignia stamp, which the artist featured
prominently in all of her published works, and the unveiling of a rare
piece from an Oakley mural that was removed during the mid 1980s
demolition of the All Angels' Church in New York City, now privately
owned by Stephen James and Peter Bates in Canada. After the ceremony,
birthday cake will be served and guests will have the opportunity to
purchase a book with an original insignia stamp.
Challenge" contains over 200 photographs and a foreword by Philadelphia
Museum of Art Curator Emeritus, Beatrice B. Garvan, "A Sacred
Challenge" gives meaningful insight into Oakley's entire life's work
combined with information about the Committee's 1992 conservation of
the Capitol murals. The Committee will offer this hard cover edition at
an introductory price of $49.95 with proceeds from book sales going to
the Capitol Restoration Trust Fund, which helps to restore the Capitol
Violet Oakley became one of the most prolific artists
in America, and a leading proponent of world peace. She embraced the
legacy of Pennsylvania founder William Penn as her own and for the
remainder of her life she steadfastly pursued peace and world harmony
as her goals. Her Capitol murals are her timeless message, one that she
herself termed, "a sacred challenge." These paintings serve as enduring
reminders of her creativity, inspiration and belief in an attainable
and lasting world peace.
Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art, Artists L - O
Unlike so many other illustrators, Violet Oakley's family was mostly
artists. Consequently, she did not have to struggle to gain permission
to study art and as a young girl in Bergen Heights, New Jersey, she was
encouraged to attend the Art Students League, which she followed a year
later with trips to Europe. With two grandfathers members of the
National Academy of Design, she described her infatuation with
illustration as 'hereditary and chronic.'
In 1896, Violet Oakley returned to the USA and enrolled at the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but within a year she changed
her focus and left for Drexel Institute to study under Howard
Pyle. It was while at the Drexel Institute that she met her
beloved companions, illustrators par excellence Elizabeth Shippen Green
and Jessie Willcox Smith. Like Maxfield Parrish she attributed
the Pre-Raphaelites as a great influence on her style as well as Howard
Pyle, whose contributions to her career are not unsung. Pyle
immediately recognized her talents, her sense of color and composition
and her deft handling of large-scale artworks. He felt that her
greatest ability was in large-scale works and encouraged that pursuit
although it would mean few illustration commissions. Ms. Oakley may
have been the only illustration student whose work Pyle admired but
that he encouraged to go in a different direction-other than
illustration. He continually attempted, wherever possible, to get
her commissions for large-scale murals and stained glass windows and he
was successful and Oakley got such commissions. Yet, she always
did illustrations whenever the opportunity loomed.
completed one of her most significant commissions in 1902, 'The
Creation and Preservation of the Union' which consisted of a series of
large murals for the walls of the Governor's Reception Room in the
State Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The
extraordinary working studies for the murals were issued in a portfolio
as limited edition art prints, they are illustrations by
definition. The finished paintings were a magnificent expression
of Oakley's fondness for history and the talent she had honed through
years of struggle as a pioneering female illustrator in a mostly
male-dominated profession. Elements of historical accuracy are
merged eloquently with sturdy skills acquired under the tutelage of
Howard Pyle. The commission took four years during which she also did
some illustration work from time to time.
In 1911, Edwin Austin
Abbey died while working on other aspects of the same project, and she
was awarded his work as well. During the next 19 years, she
completed the murals and also illustrated six illuminated manuscripts,
and a book on the murals. A committed artist of great integrity,
she documented her works well, had numerous exhibitions, and worked up
until the day she died in 1961.
Violet Oakley, painter, illustrator, muralist, sculptor, was born in
Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1874. She began studies at the Art
Students' League in New York, after then after studying a year with
Carroll Beckwith she went to Paris and became a pupil of Aman
Jean. She also was a pupil of Charles Lasar in England.
Biography from Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee
Upon returning to the United States she settled in Philadelphia where she received instruction from Cecilia Beaux and others.
her work led naturally toward illustration, she entered the class of
Howard Pyle. She collaborated with Jessie Willcox Smith in 1897 on Evangeline and in that "color work came the first suggestion for stained glass". Oakley also did illustrations for Collier's, Illustrated Weekly and Everybody's Magazine. She was also known for portraits and lakes.
In 1898 she executed mural decorations, a mosaic reredos, and five
stained-glass windows in the Church of All Saints, N.Y. She also
designed and decorated a window in the convent of the Holy Child at
Sharon Hill, PA.
In 1893 Oakley was commissioned to decorate the walls of the governor's
reception room in the capitol of Harrisburg, PA. Her preliminary
studies and drawings for these famous murals in the capitol at
Harrisburg were exhibited at the St. George Gallery, Hanover Square,
London. She was the first woman granted to perform such a
task. An art critic writing on this work said that: "her grasp of
the subject in union with great technical skill has placed Miss Oakley
in the foremost rank of American artists. She was chosen to
complete the important mural decorations in the capitol that Edwin A.
Abbey had been commissioned to do prior to her death."
successfully completed many other murals during her distinguished
career as a mural painter and became known as the pre-eminent mural
painter of her time. Violet Oakley designed the "Philadelphia
award" medal, an annual gift of Edward W. Bok, which carries with it
$10,000 to the citizen of Philadelphia "who has performed an act or a
service calculated to advance the best and largest interest of that
She was a member of the National Academy of Design; Philadelphia Art
Alliance; American Institute of Architects; Philadelphia Watercolor
Club and others. During her distinguished career she won numerous
awards including: medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1905; St.
Louis Expo. 1904; Panama Pacific Expo., San Francisco, 1915;
Architectural League, 1916; prizes, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,
1922, 32, 40 and others. Oakley's works are in many of the top museums
and public institutions in this country and abroad.
She passed away in Philadelphia in 1960.
Violet Oakley was born into a family of artistic tradition. Oakley's
formal artistic education was rather sporadic. Although she
studied at the Arts Student League in Philadelphia, and at various
institutions abroad during summer trips, the bulk of her training came
from copying works of the old masters on her own.
Biography from Frye Art Museum
The year 1896 was a landmark in Oakley's early career. Her family
moved to Philadelphia, where she soon entered Howard Pyle's
illustration class at Drexel Institute. She flourished under
Pyle's tutelage and soon became one of America's most popular
illustrators, designing covers for Century Magazine, Collier's Illustrated Weekly, Everybody's Magazine, St. Nicholas and Woman's Home Companion. At the same time, she also gained a reputation as a talented designer of stained glass.
In 1902, Pennsylvania Capitol architect, Joseph Huston, asked Oakley to
paint thirteen murals for the Governor's Reception Room. Huston
believed that choosing Oakley would "act as an encouragement of women
and the State." In fact, the Capitol project signified a
milestone in the history of American art, for it was the largest public
commission given to a woman in the country up to that time. In
addition, it allowed Oakley to transcend the conventional roles of
women painters as either portrait or genre painters, and to pursue a
successful career in the prestigious, but overwhelmingly masculine,
field of mural decoration.
Throughout her work on the Governor's Reception Room, Oakley received
much publicity. The Capitol murals won her the Gold Medal of
Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of fine Arts in 1905, making her
the first woman to receive this distinction.
After the death of Edwin Austin Abbey in 1911, she obtained the
commission to complete the contract for the Senate Chamber and Supreme
Court. Oakley painted a total of 43 murals for the Capitol
Building. Not only was Violet Oakley a talented artist, she was
also a social activist involved in the women's suffrage movement, and
totally devoted to the ideals of international government and world
peace. In fact, when the United States refused to join the League
of Nations in 1927, Oakley went to Geneva herself as a self-appointed
ambassador. Through her three cycles of visionary murals in the
Pennsylvania Capitol, Oakley sought to express her desire and hope for
"world peace, equal rights, and faith in the work of unification of the
Peoples of the Earth."
Note from Ruthan Hubbert-Kemper, Executive Director of the Capitor Preservation Committee.
"Some biographies for Violet Oakley list her birth place incorrectly as
Bergen Heights, but it should read Jersey City, NJ. We discovered
this as we were researching for the book our Capitol Preservation Committee
(CPC) compiled on Violet, who painted 43 murals in the PA
Capitol. We also recently made a discovery of a bust that is in
Nice, France. Thanks to a niece of Violet's whose father was the
sculptor, the Committee is getting a cast of this art, and will shortly
place it on exhibit in a case that currently exhibits other art by
Oakley in the Capitol Rotunda.
muralist, writer and pacifist, Violet Oakley gained public recognition
and critical acclaim for her professional achievements during a time
when popular opinion held that a woman's true vocation was as "the
angel in the house." In addition to establishing her reputation as an
accomplished artist, she also co-founded several Philadelphia cultural
and artistic organizations, taught art classes, and garnered
international attention as a proponent of disarmament and a supporter
of the League of Nations.
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Oakley's illustrations appeared in
many fashionable publications, including Collier's Illustrated Weekly
and Everybody's Magazine. Her murals grace the interiors of both the
Pennsylvania State Capitol and were in All Angels Church in New York
City, but that church was razed so the whereabouts of those murals is
unknown. Her pastel portraits of the dignitaries whom she viewed as the
prophets of internationalism were widely exhibited throughout Europe
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