Maud Humphrey, Artist, Illustrator and Watercolorist (New York 1868-1940)
Maud Humphrey was born March 30, 1868 in Rochester, New York to John Perkins Humphrey (DOD 1906) and Frances V. Dewey Churchill. Raised in the 3rd Ward an area of the Rochester elite. The pride of her prominent family origins is apparent with the use of her maiden name in the signature on all her art. She started drawing at a young age. At the age of 12 she studied under Reverend James H. Dennis, a family friend two nights per week. Rev. Dennis studied art at the National Academy of Design. The school was free and after two winters of instruction that included oil painting her eyes failed. For 2 years she did not use her eyes for reading or drawing. She suffered with migraine headaches the remainder of her life, but maintained a high level of creative productivity. The love of art and drawing grew along with her. The influence of Daniel Power’s art collection drew Maud Humphrey to the Powers Building gallery. Here she sketched and studied originals and copies of old masters. Humphrey’s art career developed hand in hand with the “Golden Age of Illustration”.
By the winter of 1884 she started illustrating for children’s books and magazines. Then in 1885 she left for New York City of study in the Art Student’s League. Each winter she returned to New York City to continue her studies that were interrupted by commissions and return trips to Rochester. Two terms of watercolor instruction was all she received. From 1886-1887 she took “life” and “antique” art classes drawing from live models and plaster casts. Then at sixteen Humphrey started illustrating in children’s magazines. These commissions were from The Century Company and House of Harper. She won Louis and Prang and Company competitions for Christmas card and created Valentine designs. Now 20 she gave a child’s picture to a friend, who took the picture for framing to Frederick A. Stokes Company. Mr. Stokes was impressed with her work. Through correspondence Humphrey agreed to illustrate a book for Mr. Stokes. The project developed into two years of her exclusive contract with the company for her color work.
She was driven creating an estimated quality 10 colored drawings per week. Her art began to fulfill her life because of continuing publisher’s acceptance. She limited herself to 5 hours of sleep a night. Humphrey developed a personal style of dressing in colors of gray and white with lavender or mauve accents for her professional wardrobe. She had grown to a tall 5 foot 10 inches with an hourglass figure, but with extremely small feet and hands. The sophistication of her style included lace chokers, bows, scarves, colorful ribbons and high heels. She hated hats, but featured hats in her art, since they were the style of the day. Her hair was curly with the occasional professional permanent wave. Humphrey was fashionable while working in her studio wearing crisp smocks and stylish shoes. (Her maternal grandfather was a shoe manufacturer with a home at 5 Greenwood.) The neatness of her studio was also reflected in the quality of her artwork.
In 1891 she served on the Board of Control for the league. During this time she was commissioned for more illustrations in New York City. The league provided valuable professional connects for more commissions. The winter trips moving back to New York City to study at the Art Student’s League continued through 1894, which including painting and sculpting.
During 1891 she traveled to Paris as documented in The Julian Academy (Paris 1868-1939) Spring Exhibition Catalog of 1989 published by the Shepherd Gallery. Humphrey is listed as attending and studying painting, watercolor and illustration. Unfortunately the exact years of study and the names of her instructors are not listed. A letter to a relative reports seeing her in Paris, which is dated 1891 from Paris states she studied privately with Jules Dupre and James McNeil Whistler.
By 1893 Humphrey was known as the child painter, but she also worked in black and white and painted other subjects. Her commissions were not limited to New York City, but included Chicago and St. Louis. Humphrey created the children studies from her friend’s children and young professional models. Because of her ability to work rapidly, she would sketch the children at play and then develop the quickly sketched images into more detailed illustrations in her studio. The children’s details were her hallmark; bright eyes, rosebud mouth, Victorian era costumes, dainty hands and feet, curly tousled hair and a delicate watercolor style in four color. She worked standing up. Her artwork was known and identified as the “Humphrey Baby”, which was the artist’s personal illusion of childhood not reality.
Humphrey’s professional relations were maintained to develop and continue her career. She had few personal friendships because she concentrated daily on her art career, which left limited time for socializing. The art provided financial independence for her and her family. This drive can be seen in her varied and successful creative work. She was affectionately known as “Lady Maud”.
By the turn of the century she was one of the most recognized, well-paid and popular illustrators in America. She was meticulous in her work. Her technique was a dry watercolor similar to etching. Publishers of colored illustrations preferred the new technique. This technique increased her illustrations popularity with the publishers and in turn the public.
The oils and watercolors created by Humphrey’s prior to 1900 for illustration are rare. The publishers purchased the art, then photographed it for publication and held it in their files. The illustration original files were purged or destroyed to make more room for other illustrations. Some publishers sold or auctioned off the artist’s original artwork. Prang auctioned a collection of 46 paintings from calendars, Valentines, floral, Christmas cards, and Easter cards created by Humphrey. This makes pre-1900 originals from illustrations scare. The original works from her later years were sold or gifts to friends and family. She was not attached to the finished art because she was always creating a new project or illustration.
The illustrations of Humphrey’s little women and little men, rosy cheeked children, moppets, bright eyed babies and misses promoted many national brand products including Ivory Soap, Crosman Bro’s Flower Seeds, Mellin Baby Food Company, Wilkie & Platt’s, Elgin Watch Company, Sunshine Stoves, Ranges and Furnaces, Butterick Patterns, Equitable Insurance, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and Anheuser-Busch. The value of her work like the Anheuser-Busch 1906 Art Nouveau calendar in good condition commands thousands today. During the years of 1890-1920 the America consumers demand for printed books in four color, illustrated periodicals, calendars, postcards, advertising cards, and greeting cards provided recognition for Humphrey and increased the demand for her work. Humphrey’s color work technique is proof that timing is everything.
Humphrey’s art left a permanent imprint in American books. Some of her illustrated books are: Jingles and Rhymes, A Treasury of Stories, Babes of the Nation, Two Valentines, Make-Believe Men and Women, Rosebud Stories, Sleepy Time Stories, Little Grown-Ups, Mother Goose, Children of Spring, Old Youngsters, Gallant Little Patriots, Favorite Fairy Tales, Children of the Revolution, Bonnie Little People, Golf Girl, Little Colonial Dame, Little Soldier and Sailors, Wild Flowers of America, Cosy Time Stories/Storybook, Baby Record, The Littlest Ones, Little Princess, and Baby Sweethearts. There were illustrations created by other artist’s similar hers that today remain in dispute. The art listed here is not in dispute. The Humphrey name was sometimes the only name on the front cover of the book. Her name and art clearly drove the sales of the books not the author.
Mabel Humphrey (Green), Maud’s younger sister and only sibling wrote children’s books. Then Maud Humphrey illustrated and provided the color work. Mabel created the black and white border designs of the books, so in the illustrations you will see one sister’s name either Maud or Mabel on the works. Mabel is known as an author not an illustrator. After Maud’s death and in the obituary Mabel was listed as a writer living in New England.
Humphrey married Dr. Belmont Deforest Bogart and had children being the mother of the actor Humphrey Bogart. Dr. Bogart was her opposite providing the balance needed in the family. He was of Dutch decent and wealthy from his father’s invention of the lithography on tin. Her baby son was the model used for the Ivory Soap illustration. Both parents spent a great deal of time at home. Their careers allowed the doctor to practice in the family home and the artist’s studio was on the third floor with a nursery. The household had two maids, a laundress and a cook. Like fashionable families they had a summer cottage at Lake Canandaigua, New York, but this was a 55-acre working farm with manicured lawns and dock for sailing. The family owned the property until 1915 then sold it for a summer residence on Fire Island. This allowed Humphrey to be closer to her position as art director office at The Delineator.
Her studio was her sanctuary. The depression, the doctor’s failing health and dwindling practice the family fortune disappeared, forcing them to sell their residences and move to a converted brownstone. Maud Humphrey should not be confused with Sarah Gibson Humphreys, the author and woman suffragist. It is important to remember is this woman of the Victorian Era continued her art career during her marriage and while raising a family.
After her husband’s death, she was left with thousands in hospital bills. Humphrey Bogart was a young actor in Hollywood and moved his mother to California. She lived in an apartment on Sunset Boulevard at the Chateau Marmont. This lifestyle was hard for her to accept, but F. Scott Fitzgerald, Laurence Olivier, Hollywood dignitaries and Hollywood glamour buzzing in the lobby gradually changed her opinion. The California sunshine brought other changes in her life, like a daily walk to Schwab’s Drugstore. This daily excursion to the drugstore allowed her to socialize, talking to everyone, make purchases and walks back home. She continued to paint and draw in her apartment studio.
After only five retirement years at the Chateau Marmont, she died of pneumonia, a complication of a cancer on November 22, 1940. She rests in Forest Lawn, away from the Humphrey family burial at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. Her death certificate lists her as a “housewife” not an “artist” whose career spanned 60 years. The Victorian Era had its limitations, but Humphrey was a successful American artist. Based on 10 illustrations created per week over 30,000 illustrations are estimated. The illustrations were printed and reproduced by many publishers estimated in the millions.
Humphrey’s art has not faded away into antiquity, capitalism prevailed and in the late 1980s her children were reproduced by Hamilton Gifts LTD. These collectible gift items included figurines, plates, dolls and music boxes in limited editions. A collectors club was formed in 1991. Collectors of Maud Humphrey’s modern editions are listed in Maloney’s Antiques and Collectibles.
Humphrey’s art filled American homes and lives with delightful children created with her talent, drive and ambition. The print art of the Victorian era may have been the only art in an American home. The sweet simplicity of a child playing in a perfect and idealistic world far removed from the realities of the era.
Willard, F, A Woman of the Century, 1893.
Shepherd Gallery, The Julian Academy (Paris 1868-1939) Spring Exhibition Catalog of 1989, 1989
Choppa, K & Humphrey P, Maud Humphrey, 1993
Maloney, D, Maloney’s Antiques & Collectibles Resource Directory-6th Edition, 2001
Copyright April 2008 Janet G. Smith
Written and submitted by Janet G. Smith, ISA, Member of the International Society of Appraisers and Member of The American Institute of Conservationists, art consultant, art historian, art authenticator and independent curator