Biography of Edith Briscoe Stevens
By Reed Stevens, NieceEdith Briscoe Stevens was born in Philadelphia in January, 1898, and lived at 6 Regent Street in Hartford, Connecticut. She died on August 31, 1931, at her studio in East Gloucester, Massachusetts, the artists’ colony in East Gloucester called Rocky Neck.
With oils and pastels en plein aire, she painted landscapes and marine scenes, sometimes carrying her kit miles through Vermont snow, and traveling to France, Spain and Morocco as did many of her contemporaries in the 1920’s. An outgoing and gregarious personality, according to The Hartford Courant, “..crowds worry her but little. In doing a row of house on different levels on a Portuguese street (in Gloucester), she tells how the children crowded in so as hardly to give her elbow room. When she had to turn the canvas upside down, older persons feared for her sanity. One old man, not witnessing the reversal, grunted: ‘Another one of them cubists.’”
A cubist she was not: Fernand Leger’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” distant history by the time Edith’s art flowered. However, a well-trained draftsman, her work did mature into a bolder, more personal expression than illustrative realism. The details of her early waterfront scenes which showed a mastery of precise form and nuanced color grew more passionate than, for example, Rocky Neck’s most emblematic artist, Emile Gruppe, and freer in form than the highly regarded Harry Leith-Ross, with whom she studied. She loved brilliant color and rich texture and could express exquisite vibrations of reflected light on water and snow.
She studied at the Hartford Art School, now part of the University of Hartford, under Albertus E. Jones, Leith-Ross, A. N. A., and in Europe with George Elmer Browne, N.S. Her work is collected by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the William Benton Museum of Art at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and the Saint Joseph College of Art in West Hartford. At the time of her death, her father and business manager reported, her work hung in every state in the union.
Much of the following information lies in the archives of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut:
Awarded an Honorable mention at New Haven in 1930 and Clay Club Prize in 193, Edith Stevens was a member of the Connecticut Academy, Society of Women Painters and Sculptors of Hartford, National Women Painters and Sculptors, Springfield Art League, Rockport Art Society, Gloucester Art Society, and the New Haven Paint and Clay Club.
From 1927 to 1932, The Hartford Courant reported news of her exhibitions from the Wadsworth, the Toledo Art Museum, in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Buffalo and other places. Describing an artist happily at work in a wealth of subjects, critics praised her versatility, powerful compositions and technical strength. In 1929, The Hartford Times noted that The Boston Globe critic, A. J. Philpott said she gave promise of being one the best landscape painters in the country.
Despite this professional encouragement, she was depressed by the general economic conditions of the times. On August 31, 1931, in her studio, she attempted an abortion, and sent her brother a telegram asking him to come to her at once. According to the family he drove like a madman from Harford to Gloucester but arrived too late. Since his death in 1961 the details of her death were shrouded in mystery.
Many thanks to Ann Brandwein, Assistant Archivist at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, for her diligent research. The arts community is fortunate to have the Wadsworth which has supported and encouraged Connecticut artists over the years.