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 Ellen Day Hale  (1855 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/District Of Columbia      Known for: portrait, landscape and genre painting, print making

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Ellen Day Hale
from Auction House Records.
The Dragon Fly
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Painter, etcher, and writer Ellen Day Hale, was one of the few women professional artists of her era, late 19th and early 20th centuries, to 'rise to the top' at a time when men ruled the domain of fine art.  Heavily credentialed in painting and printmaking by study at respected institutions, "she also played a major role as a mentor for a younger generation of aspiring women artists, cautioning them 'against being too influenced by any one of [their instructors] . . .a fault common among artists of our sex." (Hirshler, 75).  She worked initially in a broadly-brushed, Barbizon* influenced style that evolved to Impressionism*, later becoming more carefully modeled under the influence of photography.  She was a painter of landscapes, portraits and genre paintings of figures in nature. 

Hale was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1855.  She studied in Boston in 1873 with William Rimmer and, from 1874 to 1879, with painters Helen Knowlton and William Morris Hunt, though her first painting lessons may well have been given by Susan Hale, her artist aunt.

She also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts* in 1878.  Hale's studies continued in Paris in 1881, where she took drawing with Emmanuel Fremiet, also studying with Emile Carolus-Duran and Jean-Jacques Henner.  She attended the Academie Julian* in 1882 and again in 1885, working with William Adolphe Bouguereau, Rodolphe Julian and Tony Robert-Fleury.  She also learned to do etching* in 1885.

Hale belonged to the prominent Beecher-Hale family in Boston.  Edward Everett Hale, clergyman, author, orator, was her father.  Emily Baldwin Perkins Hale, her mother, encouraged and supported her children in their desire to draw.  Hale's younger brother, Philip Lesley Hale, born in 1865, would also become an artist with her promotional help.  Hale, the only daughter in a family with seven sons, learned photography from her father.

Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, were Hale's grand-aunts.  Hale's great-great-uncle was the Revolutionary War patriot and hero, Nathan Hale, famous for his last words before dying by hanging at British hands, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Ellen Day Hale began taking private pupils and teaching in grammar school in 1877, about the time she began to exhibit at the Centennial Exposition* of 1876, and in 1878 at the Boston Art Club* with, as it turned out, her aunt, Susan Hale, and teacher Helen Knowlton.  Her paintings were exhibited at later international expositions as well, including the North, Central and South American Exposition at New Orleans in 1885, the Columbian Exposition* in Chicago, 1893, and the Appalachian Exposition of 1910.

During her career, she exhibited widely in America and Europe.  Some exhibitions include the Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Guild of Boston Artists*, and St. Botolph Club*; Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts; New York City's National Academy of Design*, National Arts Club* and New York Etching Club; Chicago Society of Etchers* and Art Institute of Chicago*; National Museum and Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.; as well as the Paris Salon* and the Royal Academy of London*.

Edward Everett Hale was chaplain of the United States Senate from 1904 until his death in 1909, and Hale, due to her mother's invalidism, helped her father as hostess during this period, living in the Capitol.  Her oils and watercolors paintings and etchings were exhibited at this time with the Society of Washington Artists, the Washington Water Color Club, Washington Arts Club and Corcoran Gallery, receiving several awards.

Hale traveled West several times.  In 1878, she was in Canada, Colorado and Texas, and in 1891, she was again in Colorado, visited Nevada and Arizona and spent much of 1893 in California where she stayed several months at the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena.  From that trip, she did paintings of the surrounding area and etchings of San Gabriel  and etchings of missions of Santa Barbara and San Diego.  She returned to California in 1896, stopping in Missouri and Colorado.  From these western travels, her extant works include large oil paintings such as Plains Indian Girl, and sketchbooks of drawings of many western scenes.  Her correspondence references other paintings and and sketchbooks, particularly sites in California.

She often traveled with her friend and companion, Philadelphia artist Gabrielle Clements, whom she had met in 1883 and who taught Hale to etch.  In the mid 1880s, they had traveled through France when Hale studied at the Academie Julian.  After the turn of the century, they had further travels in the Middle East, Algiers and Europe, while wintering in Charleston, South Carolina, where they taught etching to Southern women artists Alice Ravenel Huger Smith and Elizabeth O'Neill Verner.

Hale and Clements spent summers at Rockport, the artists' colony in Massachusetts. Hale's close friends, artists Cecilia Beaux and Margaret Lesley Bush-Brown, visited them there, along with her brother Philip and sister-in-law Lillian Wescott Hale. Hale had lived on both American coasts, and did not settle down from her travels until after the turn of the 20th Century.

She wrote a number of articles and books.  The Boston Traveler published her experiences as an art student in Paris, and she wrote History of Art that appeared in 1888.

Ellen Day Hale died in 1940.  Her work may be found in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as in Washington DC at the National Museum of American History, the U.S. Capitol Collection, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  Her self-portrait is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

John and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists
Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West
Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Wilhemina Cole Holladay, A Museum of Their Own: National Museum of Women in the Arts

*For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
An inveterate traveler, Ellen Day Hale toured extensively in search of subjects for her paintings and prints. As a result, her romantic landscapes, bold portraits, and charming genre scenes were featured at prestigious exhibition venues in both America and Europe, including the Paris Salon, the Royal Academy in London, and the National Academy of Design in New York. Modern scholars have designated Hale a “New Woman with an old name,” a reference to the artist’s prominent family and her refusal to conform to conventional gender roles in the Victorian era. Hale overcame the obstacles encountered by women working in a male-dominated profession to become an independent and widely respected artist.

Born into the Brahmin Hale-Beecher family of Boston in 1855, Hale’s genealogy is impressive. Her father, Edward Everett Hale, was an influential abolitionist, orator, and clergyman, who served as chaplain to the United States Senate. Her great-great uncle was the Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, and her great aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote the groundbreaking novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Hale likely received her first art lessons from yet another successful family member, her aunt Susan Hale, a watercolorist. Hale’s pursuit of a formal art education during the 1870s coincided with the Boston Renaissance, when cultural institutions such as the Boston Public Library and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts were established. From 1874 to 1879 Hale attended William Morris Hunt’s school for painting, where she studied under Helen Mary Knowlton. She taught Hale the Barbizon School method of painting, encouraging her student to develop interpretive sketches that captured the essence of the subject, rather than mechanically drawing it. Their efforts were rewarded in 1878 when the Boston Art Club exhibited work by both women.

In 1881, following a brief stint at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Hale commenced a nine-month sojourn to Europe with Knowlton. Following the tradition established by their male counterparts, the two artists traveled throughout northern Europe, then ventured south into France and Italy, visiting museums and copying paintings along the way. Although Hale studied briefly at the British Royal Academy, she eventually left Knowlton in London to pursue instruction in Paris. She studied there with Emmanual Frémiet at the Jardin des Plantes, worked in the atelier of Emile Carolus-Duran, and learned the French academic style at Académie Julian before returning to Boston in 1883.

Hale’s time in Boston was interrupted by her frequent excursions abroad to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, as well as her domestic travels throughout the United States (especially the American West). Despite her general aversion to the traditional limitations imposed on her gender, Hale nonetheless conceded to one: that women not travel alone. Hale found a like-minded female artist and travel companion in Gabrielle de Veaux Clements, who became her lifelong friend. In 1893, the two painters established a household together in Folly Cove near Rockport, an artist’s colony in Massachusetts.

Hale and Clements spent their summers in Rockport, but from 1918 until Hale’s death in 1940, the two wintered in Charleston, South Carolina. Hale’s work created during these residencies reflects her fascination with the local culture. Eager to contribute to the burgeoning arts renaissance taking place in that city, the accomplished printmakers helped organize the Charleston Etchers’ Club, whose founding members included Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, and Alfred Hutty. Verner’s daughter recalled Hale and Clement’s instructions: “We want to leave Charleston some of our skills … Get together a group so you can buy a press and we will show you how to use it … We’ll teach you, so you can teach them.” Established in 1923, the group offered instruction on printmaking, encouraged intellectual exchange, art criticism, and exhibition planning.

Hale’s paintings and etchings, some of which were displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, can now be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and National Portrait Gallery, among others.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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Ellen Hale is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Women Artists

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