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 Isabella Vaill Waldo  (1842 - 1929)

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Lived/Active: New York/Ohio/Missouri / Mexico      Known for: portrait, landscape and floral motif painting, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Isabella Vaille Waldo
from Auction House Records.
OLD CANAL SAILOR
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biographical information was submitted by Brian W. Johnson, 7/30/2012.

Isabel Waldo was a professional American artist active in the latter decades of the 19th century. She grew up in the Midwest and studied abroad for five years, but for the majority of her adult life she lived and worked in New York City. She is best known as a portrait painter and for her depiction of Mexican life in the 1880’s.

Isabella Vaill Waldo was born October 28, 1842 in Bates County, Missouri, the third of five children of William and Elizabeth (Vaill) Waldo [1]. As a young girl, she moved with her family to Minnesota where she developed a love of nature and art, which was encouraged by her mother. At the age of 17 she began a career as a school teacher, first in Minnesota public schools, then in Young Ladies’ Seminaries, and finally opening her own private school in Connecticut where she taught young men and women as well as children. Although she reported her school was very successful, she longed for a career in art, and by the early 1870’s she had abandoned teaching and moved to New York where she studied art “from nature” under an unnamed but “unusually wise and able master.” [2]

Her professional career as an artist began in Toledo, Ohio where from about 1876 to 1880 she lived and had a studio. There she specialized in oil painting including “portraits, landscapes and flowers,” with “special attention given to the painting of old homestead views.” She also gave lessons in drawing, painting, and in “sketching from nature, and in accordance with the ‘English system of instruction,’ the best of all systems.” [3]

In 1880 she decided to advance her art education by studying in Europe, where she lived for most of the next five years [2]. She first spent over a year studying art in Italy, then more than two years in Paris, where she studied under Carolus-Duran [4, 5] and Charles Camino [6, 7], both well known portrait painters, and exhibited her work in the Paris Salon [8, 9]. Finally, she spent over a year studying art in England, Wales and Scotland where “a seasonal design by myself was ‘hung on the line’ in a high-class exhibition in London” [2].

After returning briefly to New York, in the mid-1880’s Waldo spent almost a year in Mexico City “engaged in making original portrait-studies of the picturesque PUEBLO, or lower class of people, and also of the native fruits, flowers and landscapes” [4].  In addition to portraits and nature studies, her Mexican artwork includes illustrations of everyday Mexican life, some of which are included in the over 100 illustrations she made for the book Face to Face with the Mexicans [10].

In October, 1886 she made the permanent move back to New York City and opened a studio as a professional portrait painter [2]. In addition to portraits, painted both from life and photographs, she also painted landscapes on commission and sold copies she made of famous paintings. Prices ranged from $25 to $250. During frequent periods of little or no income she began to correspond with relatives and acquaintances across the country and in that way obtained many additional commissions. [11]

Her active art career spanned at least the period from the mid-1870’s to the mid-1890’s [3, 9, 12], but by 1907 she had stopped painting, in part for health reasons, but primarily to devote herself to Christian charity work. In a letter dated March 30, 1907 Waldo writes: “Lately I have had my fifth return of inflammatory rheumatism. I am much better now, however, & hope for constant improvement now that the pleasant weather seems to be really here. My mission work continues to be very interesting. I have three children’s classes weekly & this month the attendance at the three has amounted to 300 or more. I thank God that He gives me such blessed work now that I have no more impulses for art work. Outside of my classes, I visit the poor & read aloud to aged shut-ins.” [11]

Waldo’s abandonment of art as a career also corresponded roughly with a change in her mental state.  In her autobiography she reports: “I remember my childhood as a very happy time – as I was exceedingly fond of play – all kinds of it! After the age of 14 or 15, however, I suffered very often from melancholy, often wishing like Job, that I had never been born. This was a trait – inherited from my dear temperamental father who suffered from melancholy most of his life.  But as the years rolled by I learned to live ‘one day at a time,’ and besides this in 1893, I had a blessed spiritual uplift which drove away all melancholy and all pessimism.  My friends and associates rejoiced over the manifest change and the final absence of lowering moods.” [2]

Isabel Waldo spent her final years living with her older sister in New York where she continued her Christian charity work and wrote family history. She died in New York City in 1929 and is buried in Hopkinton, Iowa [13, 14]. She never married.

Information on most of the known paintings by Isabel Waldo can be found at the Smithsonian Inventories of American Paintings and Sculpture web site: http://americanart.si.edu/research/programs/inventory/

Paintings by Isabel Waldo can be found in the following museums [9]:
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland
Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon
Jackson County Historical Society, Independence, Missouri

In addition to the book Face to Face with the Mexicans [10], printed material containing art work by Isabel Waldo includes a small 36 page book (probably self published) of family stories containing three of her sketches of family homesteads [15].

Major exhibitions showing works of Isabel Waldo during her lifetime include [6]:
Brooklyn Art Association – 1874, 1875, 1877 & 1884
Paris Salon – 1883
National Academy of Design (NYC) – 1888 & 1889
Exposition of North Pacific Industrial Association of Portland, Oregon – 1889 [16]

(NOTE: Some sources have reported Isabel Waldo was a student at the École des Beaux-Arts while in Paris during the 1880’s, but since the Beaux-Arts did not admit female students until 1897 [17], this is unlikely).

REFERENCES

1 Genealogy of the Waldo Family by Waldo Lincoln, 1902, page 444.

2 An Outline of My Long Life as School Teacher, Artist, and Christian Worker by Isabella Vaill Waldo; printed in New York, 1927; 8 pages [self-published].

3 1876-1880 Toledo, Ohio City Directories (www.Ancestry.com database).

4 From an 1886 New York Exhibition advertisement: “Miss Isabel V. Waldo, a pupil of Carolus-Duran, and exhibitor in the Paris Salon, will give an exhibition of her Original Studies in Oil recently made in old Mexico at the Art Rooms, 817 Broadway beginning Nov. 17th and continuing until Dec. 4th.” Includes a brief description of her time in Mexico with excerpts from reviews of the Exhibition by the New York Herald, New York Tribune and Home Journal.

5 (From Wikipedia) Carolus-Duran (1837-1917) “… became best known as a portrait painter, and, as the head of one of the principal ateliers in Paris, a teacher of some of the most brilliant artists of the next generation who were his pupils.”

6 Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975 by Peter Hastings Falk, editor, 1999.

7 The Essence of Line: French Drawings from Ingres to Degas by Jay M. Fisher, Kimberly Schenck and Cheryl K. Snay, 2005. “Charles Camino [1824-1888] is not well known today, but his works were much sought after in the nineteenth century by wealthy Parisian and American collectors. Little is known of his artistic training, but his production focused on two areas: portrait miniatures and watercolors of Oriental scenes.”

8 American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons by Lois Marie Fink, 1990 (page 401).

9 Smithsonian Inventories of American Paintings and Sculpture web site http://americanart.si.edu/research/programs/inventory/ (includes a picture of a painting by Isabel Waldo exhibited at the 1883 Paris Salon).

10 Face to Face with the Mexicans by Fanny Chambers Gooch; 1887; 584 pages. The complete book can be viewed online at the University of North Carolina, University Library site: http://www.archive.org/details/facetofacewithme00igle

11 Eight letters from Isabel Waldo to her cousins John and Clara Waldo and their daughter Edith, currently in the possession of Edith’s grandson, Brian W. Johnson.

12 1888-1894 New York City Directories (www.Ancestry.com database).

13 Missouri, St. Clair County Democrat, June 27, 1940; article on her father reporting Isabel Waldo died in New York City.

14 Hopkinton Cemetery, Hopkinton, Iowa; Isabel Waldo’s gravestone: “Isabel V. Waldo 1842-1929.” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgipage=gr&GRid=77076884

15 Some Family Annals of Long Ago, compiled by Asenath Porter Waldo, with Historical Appendixes, etc. by Isabella Vaill Waldo, editor (it contains no printed publication date or location, but a hand written date on the cover reads, “Jan 1928” and it was probably printed in New York).

16 Catalogue of the First Annual Exposition of the North Pacific Industrial Association of Portland, September 26th to October 26, 1889.  Included among the artworks displayed in the General Exhibit Hall were three of Isabel Waldo’s oil paintings: Old Mexican at Prayer, Panchito  and A Capri Sailor.

17 Wikipedia article “École des Beaux-Arts”.

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