Elizabeth Nourse

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Elizabeth Nourse
A self-portrait of Elisabeth Nourse, painting
self-portrait from 1892
Born (1859-10-26)October 26, 1859
Mount Healthy, Ohio
Died October 8, 1938(1938-10-08) (aged 78)
Paris, France
Nationality American
Education McMicken School of Design, Académie Julian, Gustave Boulanger, Art Students League of New York
Known for Painting
Movement Realist[1]
Awards 1921 Laetare Medal (Notre Dame University);
Gold Medal, Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco (1915) [2]
Elected Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts

Elizabeth Nourse (b. (1859-10-26)October 26, 1859 – October 8, 1938(1938-10-08) (aged 78)) was a realist-style[1] genre, portrait, and landscape painter born in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, in the Cincinnati area. She also worked in decorative painting and sculpture. Described by her contemporaries as "the first woman painter of America" and "the dean of American woman painters in France and one of the most eminent contemporary artists of her sex,"[3] Nourse was the first American woman to be voted into the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She also had the honor of having one of her paintings purchased by the French government and adopted into the Luxembourg Museum's permanent collection.[2][4] Nourse's style was described by Los Angeles critic Henry J. Seldis as a "forerunner of social realist painting."[5] Some of Nourse's works are displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum.


Early life

A portrait by Nourse of Benn Pitman, under whom she studied woodcarving and decorative crafts in Cincinnati. He also married Nourse's sister.

Born to the Catholic household of Caleb Elijah Nourse and Elizabeth LeBreton Rogers Nourse on October 26, 1859, Elizabeth and her twin sister were the youngest of ten children. She attended the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati (now the Art Academy of the Cincinnati Art Museum) at age fifteen, and was one of the first women admitted to the women's life class offered there taught by Thomas Satterwhite Noble. She also studied watercolor painting while there. She studied at the school for seven years and was even offered a teaching position, which she declined in order to focus on her painting.[3]

In 1882, both of her parents died, and with the assistance of an art patron, she went to New York to continue her studies, briefly in the Art Students League.[3] In 1883, she had returned to Cincinnati and made her living decorating home interiors and painting portraits. From 1884 – 1886, she spent most of her summers in Tennessee in the Appalachian Mountains doing watercolor landscapes.


In 1887, she moved to Paris, France along with her older sister, Louise. There, she attended Académie Julian, studying under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. Already having advanced skill when she arrived and having developed her style while in Cincinnati, she quickly finished with her studies and opened her own studio.[4][6] In 1888, her work was featured in her first major exhibition at the Societé Nationale des Artistes Français. Her subjects were often women, mostly peasants, and depictions of France's rural countryside.

Though continuing to live and work mainly in Paris, Nourse travelled extensively around Europe, Russia, and North Africa painting the people she met.[4]

New Woman

She was one of the "New Woman" of the 19th century successful, highly trained women artists who never married, like Ellen Day Hale, Mary Cassatt, Elizabeth Coffin and Cecilia Beaux.[7] Hale, Nourse, and Coffin "created compelling self-portraits in which they fearlessly presented themselves as individuals willing to flout social codes and challenge accepted ideas regarding women's place in society. Indeed, the New Women portraits of the 1880s and 1890s are unforgettable interpretations of energetic, self-confident and accomplished women."[8]

Later life and World War I activism

During the first world war, Nourse defied the tendency of most American emigres to return home and remained in Paris, where she worked to assist the war's refugees and solicited donations from her friends in the United States and Canada for the benefit of people whose lives were disrupted by the war. In 1921, she was awarded the Laetare Medal for "distinguished service to humanity" by a Catholic layperson, an annual award from Notre Dame University in Indiana.[3]

Nourse retired[when?] and when her sister died in 1927 [sic], she became ill and depressed.[3] In 1920, she was operated on for breast cancer, and, in 1937, the cancer returned. She died on October 8, 1938.[9][10]


Selected Works


  • Two Children Seated 1880, watercolor and gouache on paper, 16 3/4 x 11 1/2 in.
  • La mère (Pleasant Dreams) 1888, oil on canvas, 45 15/16 x 32 1/16 in.
  • Fisher Girl of Picardy 1889, oil on canvas, 46 3/4 x 32 3/8 in.
  • Fisher Woman and Child 1889, watercolor on paper, 19 x 12 in.
  • The Three Ages (Three Generations) 1890, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.
  • The Bargello, Florence 1890, watercolor, 12 x 8 in.
  • Italian Peasant Girl 1891, oil on wood panel, 19 3/4 x 8 11/16 in.
  • The Kiss (Mother and Child) 1892, oil on canvas, 22 5/8 x 20 3/8 in.
  • Mère et fillette hollandaise (The Sewing Lesson) 1895, oil on canvas, 46 x 30 in.
  • L'heures d' été (Summer Hours) ca. 1895, oil on canvas, 53 1/4 x 41 1/4 in.
  • L'enfant endormi ca. 1901, watercolor on paper, 24 x 18 in.
  • Meditation 1902, oil on canvas, 26 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.
  • Paysanne de Penmarc'h ca. 1903, oil on canvas 18 x 11 in.
  • Mother with Baby in Carriage ca. 1905-07, pastel on paper, 15 x 23 1/2 in.
  • L'enfant qui dort ca. 1912, oil on canvas
  • Jardin du Luxembourg, le printemps ca. 1920, watercolor on paper, 8 x 23 1/4 in.


  • Bust of Caleb Nourse ca. 1881, plaster, 3 1/4 x 7 x 3 1/4 in.
  • Louise Nourse 1899, plaster bas-relief, diameter 5 in., bronze cast, diameter 5 in.
  • Le Père et la Mère Léthias 1899, plaster bas-relief, diameter 7 1/4 in.




  • Member, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France


  • Cincinnati Industrial Exhibition, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH, (1879)
  • Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
  • American Women Artists: 1830-1930, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
  • Elizabeth Nourse, 1859-1938: A Salon Career, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, and Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH, (1983)[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Burke, Mary Alice Heekin (1983). "The rediscovery of Elizabeth Nourse" (PDF). Queen City Heritage. Cincinnati History Library and Archives (Spring). Retrieved 19 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Elizabeth Nourse". CLARA database of women artists. National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved 19 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Burke, Mary Alice Heekin (1983). Elizabeth Nourse, 1859-1938: A Salon Career. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938)". http://www.spanierman.com/. Spanierman Gallery. Retrieved July 19, 2013. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Nourse, Elizabeth (1859–1938)". Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. HighBeam Research: Gale Research Inc. 2002. Retrieved 23 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Elizabeth Nourse". Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 19, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Holly Pyne Connor; Newark Museum; Frick Art & Historical Center. Off the Pedestal: New Women in the Art of Homer, Chase, and Sargent. Rutgers University Press; 2006. ISBN 978-0-8135-3697-2. p. 25.
  8. Holly Pyne Connor; Newark Museum; Frick Art & Historical Center. Off the Pedestal: New Women in the Art of Homer, Chase, and Sargent. Rutgers University Press; 2006. ISBN 978-0-8135-3697-2. p. 27, 39.
  9. Aronson, Julie (2003). The Cincinnati Wing: The Story of Art in the Queen City. Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio University Press. pp. 78–81. ISBN 0-8214-1487-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Kelly, James C. (2000). The South on Paper: Line, Color and Light. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0-9632836-3-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Elizabeth Nourse, American Artist, 78: Cincinnati Woman Who Won Many Honors Dies in Paris". New York Times. October 10, 1938.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>