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 Alice Dow Engley Beek  (1867 - 1951)

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Lived/Active: Washington/Rhode Island / France      Known for: landscape, sculptor, graphics, marine

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
Pre War Holland, watercolor on paper, 38" x 27", signed "A. D. Engley Beek" lower left
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following are excerpts from a "Tacoma News Tribune" newspaper article dated April 25, 1982, courtesy of Don Gesch: The headlines for the article are: "Alice D. Engley Beek: internationally-known watercolor artist"; and "Her numerous works drew acclaim from afar while folks at home knew little of her success". The article follows verbatim:

Alice D. Engley Beek, a Tacoma artist who lived quietly and worked continuously here from 1907 to 1951, attained high honors in the world of art while her neighbors had little inkling of her success or standing in the art world. As a young girl among thousands of art students in Paris at the turn of the century, she submitted her work to the Paris Exposition Internationale, which awards the Silver Medal, the Gold Medal and the Cross of Honor. The next year she took the Gold Medal, the Cross of Honor and the coveted Grand Prix. She later recalled that it all "created quite a stir." Winning the Grand Prix placed her for all time "above competition" in subsequent Expositions Internationales.

Born in Providence. R.I. in 1867, the daughter of James C. Engley and Mary Elizabeth Dow Engley, she began studying art as a child under the direction of her mother. She later studied art at the Wheeler Art School, the Rhode Island School of Design, Ida M. Gardner's School for Girls and at the Sorbonne in Paris. In the US., she received private instruction from Sydney R. Burleigh, the American watercolorist.

During her years of intensive training in Paris, she studied under such masters as Puvis de Chavannes, L'Hermitte, Delecluze, Lezar and T. Robert-Fleury. She took private instruction from Edouard Ertz, the distinguished watercolorist, during her stay in Paris.

Beek also spent eight years in Holland, where she received valuable criticism from Josef Israels, one of Holland's great modern painters. Her paintings, with their serene beauty and finished technique, are often rich in color. Many have a Dutch theme, with windmills, lowlands, harbors, fishing boats and sailboats. Others are of the small cottages, the beaches and the moors of Europe. They are in all sizes, from tiny to large.

A newspaper article in the 1940's noted that 'she is the Dresden china type of the sort the word 'lady' was created to describe. . . one looks with wonder on this small person of so great renown. . ."

In 1897, the French government invited her to become a member of the Internationale Jury and Commission of Honour. French art critics admired her work so much that they chose a number of her watercolors to be sent as part of a French exhibit to the Omaha Exhibition in 1898.

She also served as secretary and treasurer of the American Art Society of Paris for several years and gave lectures on art in the galleries of Paris for the American colony living there. Victor Carle, commissaire general of art exhibitions for France, spoke of the "perfect execution of her watercolors . . . never before have we seen life-sized portraits painted with such vitality and strength, in this, the most difficult of all mediums to render. . . "

An article in "Town and Country Review", published in London, featured two of her watercolors which accompanied an article extolling her thus: 'There is no higher place in American watercolor distinction than has been attained by Mrs. Alice D. Engley Beek. She may be regarded, indeed, as the typical representative of the highest yet attained in watercolor work. . ."

While she was living in Europe, one of her teachers insisted on total recall of scenes viewed so that years afterwards, back in America, details of coloring and arrangement were clear in her memory, and she was able to paint scenes not seen for 30 years or more. Her works included landscapes in Holland, France, Belgium, Venice, France, and Rotterdam. There were paintings of a French girl frying pancakes, Dutch interiors, windmills, fishing boats, watermills, the Doges Palace in Venice, a little Italian girl, a French peasant, views of Amsterdam, along the Zieder Zee, an old Roman aqueduct, canal scenes, a rainy day off the coast of Dinan in France and a boat-building scene near Dover in England.

Following her marriage to a Dutchman, Anthony Beek, in 1899, she spent eight years studying and painting in Holland. After Mrs. Beek settled in Tacoma in 1907, she painted a series of scenes of France, Belgium and Holland as they were before World War 1 and 11.

The Beeks' son, Frederick, still lives in Tacoma. Here she was art director of the Annie Wright Seminary (now School) from 1914 to 1921 in the old AWS building at North First Street and Tacoma Avenue, and from 1931 to 1941 in the present AWS building. In addition, she had a private studio; among her Tacoma pupils were Phoebe Parker, Margaret Russell Mace, James Russell, Helen Keen, Marion Thomas, Thomas Handforth and Olive Bell Reid.

The busy artist also found to belong to Aloha Club, the Tacoma Art League and the National League of American Pen Women, Seattle branch. In a 1947 newspaper interview about her forthcoming exhibit of watercolors at Christ Episcopal Church, the diminutive, white-haired artist was 'mostly concerned that she wasn't going to take a good photo. . .' But her fears were not realized, "The News Tribune" photo attests. She is shown standing beside one her large paintings sketched in Holland titled, "Where the River Seeks the Sea".

In April 1981, 30 years after the artist's death in Tacoma, her paintings were displayed at the St. Mary's Academy in Portland for a benefit art sale. One, titled "White River", is a watercolor of a scene near Enumclaw. It was appraised at $30,000. A 1947 editorial in "The News Tribune" about Mrs. Beek noted that a Tacoma visitor had viewed an exhibit of her work at Yankton, S.D. The exhibit was at the state hospital, now called the South Dakota Human Services Center. The editorial noted that more than 500 Engley Beeks had been acquired over the years, a slight exaggeration. But the institution does, indeed, have a remarkable collection of paintings, and more than 100 of them are by Beek. . .Tacomans who might be passing through Yankton are invited to visit the exhibit and see a treasure house full of the work done by a woman Tacoma can be proud of -- Alice D. Engley Beek.

A News Tribune editorial in 1947 summed up the artistry of this prolific artist: 'The paintings of Tacoma's internationally famous artist are worth a great deal of looking at for the serene beauty of the scenes they depict and for the finished technique. . . Her watercolors meet man's profound need of meditation and tranquility. ." (End of article).

Mrs. Beek's son, Frederick, passed away some years ago. I (Don Gesch) may also add that two of Mrs. Beek's large paintings are displayed in the Great Hall of Annie Wright School, Tacoma, Wa.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from Don Gesch: "From the National Museum of Women in the Arts, I received an e-mail from the Associate Archivist, Jessica Roscio, which stated the following: "I checked our Archives on Women Artists and found that we do have a file on this artist. The file contains a number of newspaper articles and biographical dictionary entries, most of which were provided by the Tacoma Art Museum Library. We also have two photographs of her work, provided by a collector of hers in Tacoma".

The following biographical information is as printed word for word in the September 1935 "London Town & Country Review," courtesy Don Gesch.

There is no higher place in American water-colour distinction than has been attained by Mrs. Alice D. Engley Beek. She may be regarded, indeed, as the typical representative of the highest yet attained in water-colour work; and, as such, is extremely well-known throughout the United States of America.

Alice D. Engley Beek is a native of Providence, Rhode Island; and commenced the study of art as a child under the instruction of her mother. Later, as a student at the Wheeler Art School, her progress was so rapid that private instruction from Sydney R. Burleigh, the great American water-colourist, was decided for her. Then followed six years of intensive training in Paris, at several of the famous academies; working in oils, pastels and miniatures, under such renowned masters as Pucis de Chavannes, L'Hermitte, Delecluze, Lezar, and T.Robert-Fleury. From Edouard Ertz, the distinguished water-colourist, she received private instruction throughout her residence in Paris. She also spent eight years in Holland, where she was fortunate in receiving most valuable criticism from Josef Israels, Holland's greatest modern painter.

Her firm conviction that a water-colour could be painted, not only to equal , but often to surpass an oil, in strength and beauty, caused her to devote herself exclusively to this mode of expression. The enthusiastic manner in which her work has been received by critics, and the honours bestowed on her, have justified her faith in this medium.

Mrs. Beek has painted in many countries, and her work has been exhibited at all the principal exhibitions in Europe. At the Expositions Internationales, held in France in 1896, she received the Cross of Honour, the Gold Medal and the Silver Medal. In 1897, the Grand Prix (the highest award), the Cross of Honour, and the Gold Medal. As winner of the Grand Prix, her work was "above competition" at subsequent Expositions Internationales. At the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition at Seattle in 1909, she received a Grand Prize and a Gold Medal.

In 1897, she was invited by the French Government to become a member of the Internationale Jury and Commission of Honour, to which organization she still belongs. The French art critics admired her work so greatly that they chose some of her waterclours to be sent as part of a French exhibit to the Omaha Exhibition in 1898.

The American Art Society of Paris elected her Secretary and Treasurer, a position which she has held for several years. In Holland, she received enthusiastic praise from the Dutch people during her eight years of residence among them.

Mrs. Beek's versatility - the ease with which she handles a great variety of subjects - is a constant surprise to Art lovers. Skies, she paints in a manner all her own, and in a way, once seen, never to be forgotten. Her distance seems to carry the spectator on and on into space. By her fearless handling and mastery of difficult technique, elimination of unimportant details, and grasp of the great fundamentals, she has established a new standard for water-colours. (End of article).


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Alice Beek is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Paris Pre 1900

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