‘Strokes Of Genius’

By Gail McCarthy
Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

In the early 19th century, aspiring American women artists who wanted to attend figure classes with a nude male model found themselves faced with the suggestion they should wear a veil so the model would not be embarrassed if they met afterward.

This was just one example of the hurdles created by the morality of the times for women who wanted to follow their creative ambitions.

In spite of such obstacles, dozens of women rose to the top ranks of their male counterparts to achieve both national and international success.

In recognition of women artists of ages past, the Rockport Art Association has curated an unprecedented exhibition, “Strokes of Genius: Women Artists of New England,” which opens Saturday, Oct. 10. It gathers together more than 90 works from private and public collections.

“These women who fought for, and won recognition should be an inspiration today for those now following in their footsteps,” said Judith Curtis, an art historian and writer whose 11-page article about the exhibition became the cover story for the latest issue of the American Art Review.

Once the Rockport Art Association envisioned the show of women artists of New England, the committee tracked down some impressive artists.

Who’s on display
“It’s interesting to see the different regions represented here, from the traditional painters of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, to the classic Boston School, from Cape Ann’s plein air artists, through the daringly avant-garde Cape Cod painters, and then all points in between,” said Curtis.

She talked about one of the earliest artists featured in the show; Ann Sophia Towne Darrah (1819-1881), born in Philadephia.

Darrah studied the harp before marrying Boston’s Robert Darrah in 1845 when she changed her focus to painting. She studied in Boston and traveled to Europe to study the great masters. She died in Manchester-by-the-Sea, having made a name for herself in the art world as a landscape artist. Her canvases include scenes of Glass Head in Manchester, one which will be in the Rockport show. That same work was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when it hosted a memorial show of her works a year after her death.

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