Food For Your Soul
Born in Mount Healthy, near Cincinnati, Ohio, at age 15, Elizabeth Nourse began her studies at the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) where she studied for seven years. She was even offered a teaching position there, but declined in order to focus on her painting. She studied briefly in New York, and in 1887 moved to Paris. There she attended the Académie Julian, and opened her own studio. In 1888 her work was featured in her first major exhibition at the Societé Nationale des Artistes Français.
Nourse was a social realist who specialized in portraits and landscapes. Her subjects were often women, mostly peasants, and depictions of France’s rural countryside. A convert to Catholicism, the artist chose to paint ordinary people saying that “she had no interest in painting pretty faces.” Many of her paintings are of religious themes including a number of mother and child portrayals that evoke “Madonna and child” images. She often became personally involved with her subjects, offering them support and material assistance. She became a member of the Third Order Franciscans, and during World War I she worked to assist the war’s refugees and solicited donations from her friends for the benefit of those whose lives had been disrupted by the war. In 1921 the artist was awarded the Laetare Medal for “distinguished service to humanity” by a Catholic layperson by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Described by her contemporaries as the “first woman painter of America” and the “dean of the American woman painters in France and one of the most eminent contemporary artists of her sex,” she was the first American woman to be voted into the Société Nationale des Beaux-Art. 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.The Cincinnati Art Museum holds a number of her works. One of their current exhibitions (until March 2) “Elizabeth Nourse: Rites of Passage” features paintings exploring one of her signature themes: the spiritual lives of women and their participation in religious rituals. The Sisters of Charity art collection holds one painting by the artist – the head of a peasant girl in native costume. It is housed in the Art Room.