The role of women in art has always been very controversial as society did not want a woman to prove that she could be not worse (sometimes even much better) than a man in various spheres, in particular, in painting, architecture and design. The beginning of the twentieth century brought women some freedom and independence; thus, females received a chance to show what they really cost. Bessie Pease Gutmann is considered to be the best and perhaps one of the most well-known painters of children’s book within the first half of the twentieth century.
She had been creating her masterpieces for about fifty years and got the world wide glory and popularity. The artist did not limit her art with just infants’ drawings; her brush touched grown-ups, animals and other colorful scenes as well. This wonderful woman performed about six hundred prints which were the reflections of superb and marvelous world around her. Gutmann’s drawings could be seen on numerous calendars, postcards, magazines and were extremely popular not only in the United States but abroad as well. Many of her illustrations of children are still very popular and rather expensive nowadays.
Life of Bessie Gutmann Bessie Pease Gutmann was born on the 8th of April 1876 in Philadelphia in the family of a seller of tobacco – Horace Collins Pease Gutmann. From the early childhood, the girl became interested in art and she received the support from both her parents and her teachers to study painting. As the result, Bessie started to attend the so called Philadelphia School of Design for Women after graduation from high school. She didn’t stop on it and later entered the Chase School of Art (the former name of the New York School of Art) and the Art Students League.
Having received the necessary knowledge, Gutmann was full of joy and persistence to start her career. And here she faced the first problem. The status of women at the beginning of the 20th century was very difficult and Bessie had to prove her talent. She started from small portrait sketches for local newspaper advertisements and for some time earned her living in such a way. However, her position changed in 1903 when Bessie’s cousins, Hellmuth and Bernard decided to open their own art print company under the name Gutmann and Gutmann.
They suggested Bessie to become their commercial artist and she showed her skills in the best way she could. Owing to her natural charm and due to her professional talents, she attracted the attention of Hellmuth and in 1906 she married him. Her marriage saved Bessie from rumors about her spinsterhood (Christie). The first book she made illustrations to was A Child’s Garden of Verses written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Several other books, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, were illustrated by Bessie as well.
Very soon her works slightly changed – Bessie gave birth to her three children – Alice, John and Lucille. The artist found new inspiration and depicted her children on the walls of some nursing houses, on many calendars, postcards and even on popular periodicals (the Washington Post, Chicago Sunday tribune, etc). Since that time Gutmann became the most popular woman-artist and had been on the top of her career until the World War II. Unfortunately, due to the worsening of eyesight, Bessie made up her mind to stop making illustrations, however, it was a very difficult decision.
And it is no wonder – the artist’s creative work included more than six hundred wonderful art prints. As the result, after her husband’s death, Bessie sold the Gutmann and Gutmann company (Bessie Collins Pease Gutmann). Death of her husband and impossibility to work negatively influenced Gutmann and on 29th of September, 1960 Bessie Gutmann died in New York In order to commemorate the art of this great woman, three children’s books full of her best illustrations were issued after her death. Gutmann’s art and its historical significance
The years from 1800 up to 1900 are called the Golden Age of illustration. The reason for such a name results in blooming of industry and increasing number of new printing methods and technologies. Bessie Gutmann had the chance to work during this period and she could be named the most successful woman artist of this epoch. Her works were influenced by the so called “Brandywine School” of illustrators that were very popular in Philadelphia; therefore, the artist got some necessary and outstanding pieces of advice from Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, Robert Henri and some other prominent artists.
While at first her drawing style had elements of influence of these great masters, but later she managed to elaborate her own and very soft style, not similar to others. The main peculiarity of her works was that she never simply drew portraits, she included a lot of details, like expressions, mimicry, joy, etc. She made her portraits alive, demonstrating that she could skillfully grasp and notice the true spirit and soul of a depicted person. She was more than an excellent artist, but a really good psychologist and a good mother (Choppa).
These skills helped her to create such wonderful works that differed from the works of other artists. Moreover, Bessie was not afraid of experimenting: starting from black-and-white paintings, she further moved on to luminescent oils and watercolors, using some impressionists’ technique. Except for her famous children’s pictures and prints, Bessie Gutmann was also engaged in creation another series of prints under the name Colonial Interior Series which were less known than her infants’ drawing. However, they were not worse than children’s series.
The first Colonial Series were issued in 1916 in order to compete with Wallace Nutting. In comparison with Nutting Interiors (who used photos as illustrations), Bessie’s illustrations were well-prepared prints from her own original drawings. Every illustration depicted some colonial subject, usually a mother or a daughter at home. Unfortunately, these Gutmann’s Colonial Series are valued less than her children’s series, notwithstanding their originality. Role and position of women and women-artists in the first half of the 20th century
The status of women-artists has been extremely difficult almost the whole 20th century. Females did not get the support from publicity, and were deprived of showing their real talents. Women artists suffered from such attitude greatly and had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to receive success and recognition; some were pioneers in this or that branch. Some women were successful as they co-operated with their husbands, a few had to reach their goals independently. Still, a lot of wonderful works appeared in this period.
Louisa Chase, Catherine Critcher, Bessie Vonnoh, Violet Oakley, Cecilia Beaux – these are just several of notable names, that are “responsible” for great ideas and wonderful innovations in art field. Catherine Critcher, for instance, had to “pave her way” in a man’s world by herself; as the result, she was the only woman who was provided a membership in the Taos Society of Artists (the society included men artists) and the Director of her own Critcher School of Painting. Violet Oakley is considered one of the first outstanding mural painters; her large and beautiful works adorn the walls of Pennsylvania Capitol Building.
The main theme of most works was an independent, strong and powerful woman who was able to both work and bring up children. Moreover, the issue of a woman’s place in society is depicted thoroughly: a female identity, health, morality, nationality and even her body. The strong sex discrimination began to lose its power and strong independent women appear instead. Conclusion The works of Bessie Pease Gutmann have exceeded time, nationality and age range. They are still very popular among people all over the world.
This popularity may be explained by the fact that the artist included the part of her inner soul to each of her hand-made illustrations and paintings. She wanted other people to see not just a depiction of a child or a woman, but rather, the embodiment of purity, innocence and tenderness; the artist wished to change the world to better, she wanted to open people’s eyes and to make them see and listen. Showing the usual and simple themes of family and sacred hearth, Bessie Gutmann appeals to love, friendship, hope and kindness.
Her numerous wonderful works radiate light, warmth and comfort; her paintings help people to cope with their problems and to become better. Her art and her talent shows that a woman is able to create such works of art that can be shined throughout years and centuries, causing astonishment and admiration of people. Works cited Bessie Collins Pease Gutmann. Available at: http://www. ortakales. com/illustrators/gutmann. html 17 April, 2005. Choppa Karen. Bessie Pease Gutmann: Over Fifty Years of Published Art. Schiffer Publishing, 2000. Christie, Victor. Bessie Pease Gutmann: Her Life and Works. Wallace-Homestead Company, 1990.