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 Eulabee (Becker) Dix  (1878 - 1961)

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About: Eulabee (Becker) Dix
 

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Lived/Active: New York/California/Connecticut/Illinois / France/England      Known for: miniature portrait and floral still life painting

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Eulabee (Mrs. Alfred L. Becker) Dix
An example of work by Eulabee (Becker) Dix
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Greenfield, Illinois, Eulabee Dix became a noted painter of miniatures. For the first ten years of her life, she was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and then her family moved West, living briefly in Montana and then in Beatrice, Nebraska for several years.

Her special artistic talents and love of reading the classics were encouraged from childhood. When she was fifteen, she returned to St. Louis where she lived with a wealthy Aunt and Uncle, attended Washington University, and the St. Louis School of Fine Arts. In 1895, she joined her family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the state's most active art community outside of Detroit.

In Grand Rapids, she gave art classes and had the defining influence on her career, which was being influenced by the daughter of an Episcopal minister to work in portrait miniatures.

In 1899, Dix went to New York City where she studied with William Merritt Chase, whom she did not admire, and then studied at the Art Students League with George Bridgman, whom she thought wonderful. However, she turned again to miniature painting and made the fortuitous choice of teachers with William J. Whittemore, one of the founders of the American Society of Miniature Painters. From him she learned to manipulate watercolor on tiny sheets of slippery ivory. Recognition came early with two of her miniatures accepted by the American Society of Miniature Portrait Painters for their first exhibition in January 1900 at Knoedler Gallery. Miniaturist Isaac Josephi also came to be a mentor of hers.

Dix had commissions of prominent New Yorkers, especially a Mrs. Louis Bell, and the artist took a studio apartment at 152 West 57th Street in a tower that was part of Carnegie Hall. But the rooms were so small she lived out of a trunk. A fortuitous connection was that Frederick S. Church, also from Grand Rapids, lived in the studio next door, and he saw to it that she got around in New York artistic circles. Miniaturist Theodora Thayer also had a studio in Carnegie Hall and associated with Dix.

Dix charged into her career with aggressive resolve and began to hold Friday afternoon gatherings in her home. She became highly conscious of her appearance and began wearing fashionable clothing, even with limited income. In 1904, her life changed with the meeting of Minnie Stevens Paget, the wife of a General and close friend of Edward VII, who lived in both New York and London. To be near Paget, Dix lived in London in the up scale residential hotel near Stanhope Gardens in Kensington, and through Paget circulated in society and got numerous commissions including Ethel Barrymore, Countess Fabricotti, the Countess of Warwick, and several from Minnie Paget.

As a result of her new lifestyle, Dix was acquiring an international reputation, and she traveled between Europe and America. In New York, she painted Mark Twain, and in 1908, did the last painting of him from life.

In 1908, she met prominent Irish artist John Butler Yeats, father of William Butler Yeats, and joined a circle of distinguished persons in arts and letters that gathered regularly at the National Arts Club on 34th Street across from the Waldorf Hotel. This group of intellectuals included artists John Sloan and Robert Henri and writers Van Wyck Brooks and Alan Seeger. She also met Alfred Becker, a promising young lawyer from Buffalo who became her husband December 22, 1910, after an engagement of three years. They divorced in 1925, a result in part of each pursuing successful careers, his bitterness at her deliberately terminating a pregnancy, and the tensions caused by her alleged neurotic behavior and chronic ill health. The couple had two children, a daughter Joan and a son, Philip. Becker terminated the marriage by announcing he was in love with another woman and slashing the Charles Hawthorne portrait of his wife that had been done at Provincetown.

After that Eulabee Dix struggled financially. She divided her time between France and New York, but the stock market crash and Depression wiped out the fortunes of many of the people who earlier had enough money for portrait commissions. She became estranged from her son, who opted to live with his father, and despaired at her inactive career. She lived for about seven years on East 57th Street in a poor working-class neighborhood but kept up appearances by holding tea parties, dressing in extravagant outfits, always wearing a hat, carrying a cane, having a cleaning lady and eating French style. Her daughter remembered that her mother never lost her sense of being young and beautiful. She also painted floral still lifes, especially roses, on ivory, and lectured on the art of miniature painting.

In 1937, with her daughter married and estranged from her son, Eulabee Dix went to southern California for five years, and at first lived with friends on a ranch near Santa Barbara. Then, feeling emotionally unsettled, she briefly moved into a community of East Indian monks led by Ananda Ashrama who preached tolerance of all religions, simple living, and contemplation. However, Dix grew impatient, but reportedly the experience had a gentling effect on her personality.

Near Los Angeles, she took a war-time job for the Plas-Tex Corporation painting radium on small airplane parts but suffered from exposure to radioactivity. This resulted in a small pension that was important to her. She then worked in a laundry, ironing clothes, and hired out at the Beverly-Holly Machine Works, and joining the International Association of Machinists, drilled holes in aluminum airplane parts.

She became proud of her war effort, but her art career languished. In 1943, she exhibited in the miniature division of the California Art Club and had a retired gentleman friend. She returned to New York in 1945 and also estranged from her daughter, lived a lonely life "like a dislocated duchess." In 1951, she had her last portrait commission and it was from Robert Keller, president of the Chrysler Corporation. However, her eyesight failed, and she couldn't finish it.

In 1956, at the age of seventy eight, she abruptly sold her possessions, left New York City, and moved to Lisbon, Portugal where she lectured on miniatures and had an exhibit of her own work exhibited at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. It was her last exhibition and a resounding success with newspapers in New York and Portugal carrying the stories. She never painted seriously again.

In 1961, she returned to New York and then briefly moved in with her son and wife in Woodbury, Connecticut. She died June 14, 1961, and was buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis with nobody present except the Episcopal priest and an old friend, Dr. Adrian Blyer. No one could find a cause of death, and her daughter thought she had willed it because she was going to be moved to a nursing home the following day.

Source:
Jo Ann Ridley, Looking for Eulabee Dix


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