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 Constance Coleman Richardson  (1905 - 2002)

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Lived/Active: Michigan/Indiana      Known for: landscape, portrait and genre painting

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Ad Code: 3
Constance Coleman (Mrs. E. P.) Richardson
from Auction House Records.
Lilly's Dog on a Bed, 1978
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Constance Coleman Richardson, born in 1905, painted in realist style American- Scene landscapes of whatever environment and locale she happened to be in at any given time, including rural Vermont and New York State, along the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, Duluth and Hastings, Minnesota, or in Lusk, Wyoming.  Her emphasis was on the grandeur of the country and not on industrial ugliness, and many of her works had luminous effects.  She also painted portrait and genre scenes.

Richardson sometimes worked directly from nature, alla prima, with canvases completed on the spot, or from oil sketches she later translated into finished paintings in the studio.  She used technical methods she learned from museum conservationists, and had many opportunities to associate with museum professionals and be around Old Master paintings because her husband, Edgar Richardson, was Director of the Detroit Museum and "one of America's important American art historians and museum directors" (Rubinstein 239).  For the ground of her paintings later in her career, she prepared gesso, a chalky liquid, from an ancient rabbit glue recipe given to her by William Sur, the curator of the Frick Museum.  She applied five coats of this mixture to masonite, allowing long drying periods in between.  She allowed the finished paintings to dry for a year, and then she rubbed them with bread to remove the shiny parts.

As a young woman, Constance was remembered as being strikingly pretty with bright red hair.  She grew up in Irvington, Indiana, a suburb on the east side of Indianapolis, where her father beginning 1924, was director of the Indiana State Historical Commission.  She was very close to her father from whom she developed a great love for history.   After graduation from Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, she wanted to go to art school, but her parents insisted on a more liberal arts education.  The compromise resulted in her studying at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, for two years, and then at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia from 1925 to 1928.  There she met her soon-to-be husband, Edgar Preston Richardson (1902-1985),  marrying him in 1931, when they moved to Detroit for the next seventeen years where her husband served as the Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts for the first seventeen years.  He eventually wrote more than twenty books on art history and as editor of the Art Quarterly, did many critical reviews.  The couple left Detroit in 1962 to move to Delaware where Edgar Richardson became director of the Winterthur Museum.  From 1966 to 1977, they were in Philadelphia where he served on the Board of the Pennsylvania Academy and was President from 1968 to 1969.

As the wife of a prominent art professional, Constance Richardson performed many social duties, but according to a nephew "was often impatient with time-consuming proprieties, and could be direct and uncompromising when it came to safeguarding her working time." (Newton 114)  She created a highly organized studio for herself in a spare bedroom, and painted on a regular schedule, shifting her initial focus from portraiture to genre and landscapes, especially rivers and prairie scenes.   Of painting landscapes, she said that she had to learn that herself because academies did not teach landscape painting.   Much of her work was done from sketches she made from travels during the many summers she and her husband spent working quietly in many rural locations across America. 

Richardson was a prize-winning artist who exhibited widely in galleries and museums including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, New York City's Macbeth Gallery, the Kennedy Galleries, New York City and Detroit Institute of Arts.

Her painting Streetlight, based on an Indianapolis summer night street scene in front of her parent's home on Central Avenue, brought her the most lasting attention during her career.  Ironically it was one of her earliest paintings.  Completed in 1930, while she was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy, it became the cover illustration of the opening exhibition catalogue for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1987.

Constance Richardson died in 2002 after a long illness.  She had given up painting in the 1960s and had a widowhood of seventeen years, which left her very lonely and sad as she and her husband had a very close, compatible-seeming marriage and gave each other plenty of space and encouragement for professional development.


Sources:
Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century
Judith Vale Newton and Carole Ann Weiss, Skirting the Issue: Stories of Indiana's Historical Women Artists
Charlotte Rubinstein, American Women Artists

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