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Peterson at Work, 1920
Zinnias in Rooster Vase, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 25, Signed
Red Canna's topped $55,000 at Christie's
Zinnia's topped $50,000 at Shannon's
CURATOR'S COMMENT: Nothing could stop Jane Peterson (1876-1965), and among early modern
American woman painters she now ranks just below Georgia O'Keeffee, who followed her by little
more than a decade. O'Keeffee had Steiglitz, but Peterson had many more mentors. Though she
changed her name to Jane from Jennie Christine—she was anything but plain.  She left her birthplace
in small town Elgin, Illinois after high school and moved to New York to study at Pratt Institute (where
women art students still proudly call themselves "Prattstitutes") with Arthur Wesley Dow himself and
then continued under DuMond at the Art Students League. Then, using a $300 graduation present,
Peterson sailed for Europe, where between 1908 and 1909 she was a pupil of Frank Brangwyn in
London and Venice--a long way from her birthplace. From Venice, in the summer of 1909, she went to
Madrid to paint alongside Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, the Spanish painter known for his high-keyed
colors, dazzling whites, and flowing brushwork. Then it was Paris, where she enrolled under Jacques
Blanche and Andre L'Hote. She quickly introduced herself to Gertrude and Leo Stein, becoming a
regular at their famous artist gatherings, where she met both Picasso and Matisse.
She was impressed with Picasso, but in 1910, she went on to travel and paint with fellow American
Maurice Prendergast. His watercolors helped liberate her absolute fascination with color. In 1916,
Peterson exhibited work featuring scenes from the Pacific Northwest where she had painted while
traveling with Louis Comfort Tiffany, and in 1919 she embarked on an American painting expedition in
Tiffany's private railroad car. The artistic excursion began in the exquisite gardens of Tiffany's estate
at Laurelton Hall, Oyster Bay, New York, whose plantings were frequently likened to Monet's garden at
Giverny but were more on the scale of those of Louis Aston Knight in Belleville. Peterson's paintings
of the gardens were impressionistic, echoing Monet's technique. And one of Peterson's most highly
regarded masterpieces is in New York's Metropolitan Museum, which owns "Turkish Fountain with
Garden (from Louis C. Tiffany Estate, Oyster Bay)." More recently, her "Floats" was appraised on
Antiques Roadshow in 2014. In 1925, Peterson married Moritz Bernard Philipp, a lawyer and art patron,
who was twenty-five years her senior. At Rocky Hill, the couple's summer house on the north shore in
Ipswich, Massachusetts (the long-term home of A.W. Dow), Peterson completed shore side and pier
scenes but concentrated on her floral studies. After her husband's death, she resumed her studies
and overseas travel. In 1939, she married, James S. McCarthy, a prominent New Haven physician. They
separated within a year, and then divorced.
Peterson was also known to both John Singer Sargent and Childe Hassam--she could paint with the best
of the male painters of her day and that impressed the art world. In 1924, Peterson's “Toilette” received
rave reviews at the New York Society of Painters exhibition and her one-woman show on Fifth Avenue
sold out. In 1925, the New York Times called Jane Peterson, “one of the foremost woman painters in
New York.” After 1925, she focused almost exclusively on what she called her “flower portraits,” vibrant
floral still lifes, which frequently included opulent backgrounds and rare antique vases. Our painting of
“Zinnia's in Rooster Vase” dates from this time. In 1938 Peterson was named the “most outstanding
individual of the year” by the American Historical Society. She was only the second woman to receive
the honor. By this time, she had won numerous awards, was a member of the National Academy of
Design and a member of the American Watercolor Society, the Audubon Artists, Pen & Brush, and the
National Association of Women Artists. Her oeuvre includes colorful post -Impressionist landscapes set
in Gloucester and on Cape Ann, as well as palm trees on the Florida coast, and her European street
scenes in Paris, Istanbul and especially Venice canal scenes. But Peterson's major works are
increasingly being recognized as her flamboyantly executed floral subjects and dynamic figural
portraits. She was given over 80 one-woman exhibitions and was recognized as a uniquely talented
painter of distinction before her death on August 14, 1965. Her style has been called Impressionist,
Fauvist, and post-Impressionist. But her increasingly sought-after floral works illustrate her continual
focus on a dynamic colorism that went after an intensity of hue that is hard to match. From about 1907,
her style began to develop “a pitch of purity and clarity of color more abstracted in relation to the
observed world,” as her biographer John Joseph writes. That is her genius.