By Jann Haynes Gilmore, PhD, AWA Board Member
It is a delight to write about Anne Goldthwaite, a rare Southern woman artist who lived on a world stage experiencing the birth of Modernism in Paris in the early 20th century, teaching art in New York City, and becoming a suffrage and arts advocate, while remaining allegiant to her Southern heritage. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1869, her family had participated in the Confederacy and moved to Texas during her childhood. She was orphaned at age 12 and returned to Montgomery to live with her family where she was presented as a debutante and was soon recognized for her artistic talent. A beneficent uncle sent her to New York City to study at the National Academy of Design from 1903-1906. Her mentor there was a printmaker, Walter Shirlaw, who later headed the Art Students League in New York.
By 1906 Goldthwaite was living in Paris and participating in the Académie Moderne (some sources say “co-founded”), a group of young artists who were critiqued by Charles Guérin, a follower of Cezanne, at 86 Notre Dame de Champs. This loosely-knit band of artists eschewed the more classical, formal art schools in Paris at the time and mounted an exhibition each spring.1 Goldthwaite was living at the American Girls’ Art Club (1893-1914) known as Reid Hall which she described as “a chateau”.
The Art Club’s extensive history has been written by Columbia University which owns the property today. The wife of the French Ambassador, Elizabeth Mills Reid, wished to provide American women artists a safe haven in Paris where residents empowered each other and could network among themselves while seeking “serene creative moments”. Reid Hall was an elegant living experience with 150 rooms, yellow brick with a red tile roof, a large courtyard, a tea room decorated with au courant Japanese prints, a dining room showcasing silver, china and linens, a library with daily American newspapers, and a reception room where women’s art exhibitions were held. All rooms contained a coal stove where each occupant paid for her own warmth. Cezanne and Whistler earlier had studios in this Montparnasse neighborhood.2
Sources differ on how Goldthwaite met Gertrude Stein, either by chance in the Luxembourg Gardens or through a friend, but when first seeing her, Goldthwaite described Stein who: “looked like an immense dark brown egg. She wore, wrapped tight around her, a brown kimono-like garment and a large flat black hat, and stood on feet covered with wide sandals.” 3Goldthwaite learned that well-known modernist painters and writers in Paris paid homage to this important American figure who represented the epicenter of modern art which was sweeping Paris; soon Goldthwaite was visiting 27 rue de Fleurus as a regular avant-garde participant. In 1910-1911, Goldthwaite was president of the American Woman’s Art Association in Paris that was headquartered at Reid Hall. This important women’s group held annual exhibitions at the Art Club’s reception room where Goldthwaite exhibited her etchings and paintings including landscapes and portraits, the latter for which she became known.
When it became evident that war was breaking out in Europe, Goldthwaite with hundreds of her fellow American artists returned to America, especially to New York City. She sailed to America with Ethel Pennewill Brown in August, 1913 [see Endnote 1]. Goldthwaite’s work was already well-known because two of her works were exhibited at the landmark modernist exhibition, the New York Armory Show in 1913. She, along with Mary Cassatt and Marguerite Zorach (Zorach, December 2023 AWA blog), were the only women artists’ works included in this monumental show.
Goldthwaite became a political organizer and advocate for women’s suffrage and art. In 1915 she was on the organizing committee for an Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by American Women Artists for the benefit of the Suffrage campaign. This show was held at the New York’s well-known MacBeth Gallery and included many of her fellow women artists whom she had met in Paris including Ethel Mars, Alice Morgan Wright, Alice Schille and Olive Rush. The following year, 1916, Goldthwaite designed a suffrage banner that was unfurled at the New York Giants baseball game. This silk banner, sewn by fellow artist and activist, Alice Morgan Wright (1881-1975), was flown later that year at the Suffrage parade in Chicago.
In New York women began to form their own exhibition organizations because their work was ignored by many galleries. The conservative National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, established in 1928, did not accept modernism or abstraction. So with her longtime friend Marguerite Zorach and twenty-four other women artists, Goldthwaite founded the New York Society of Women Artists. Goldthwaite served as president of the Society from 1937-1938. Eighteen years younger, Zorach served as Vice President of the Society under Goldthwaite. In addition to these two modernist artists, Blanche Lazzell, Lucy L’Engle, Henrietta Shore and Agnes Weinrich were founders, among others.
Goldthwaite eventually became well-represented in the city’s galleries including the Brummer Gallery and the highly-regarded Downtown Gallery owned by Edith Halpert where she held numerous solo shows [Halpert, May 2020 AWA blog]. Her work was also frequently shown at the Berlin Photographic Gallery on Madison Avenue where a critic described her work as being a “French delight” yet not totally modern, but rather leaning toward “moderation and discretion.” Research at Columbia University reveals that Goldthwaite produced 300 etchings and lithographs, paintings and portraits from 1901-1942. Her work also won a medal at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. 4
Goldthwaite enjoyed a long-term association with the eminent Art Students League in New York where she taught for over twenty years, from 1922 to 1944. She was in good company with the likes of famous men instructors such as Kenyon Cox and William Merritt Chase. In 1934 she gave a radio interview that revealed her personal art philosophy on the status of women artists: “. . . the best praise that women have been able to command until now is to have it said that she paints like a man. But that women have a valid place as women artists is both obvious and logical. . . . We want to speak to an audience that asks simply—is it good, not—was it done by a woman.” 5
While Goldthwaite established her art and teaching career in New York, she never forgot her Deep South origins. She returned to Montgomery, AL, during summers to spend time with her family and to paint and create prints of genre scenes in a post-slavery era. Her work evinces mostly realism, yet it has a strong sense of modernist composition, fauvist brushwork and color, and paint application. Both her portraits and etchings reveal the influence of Charles Guérin. Her prolific portraiture was achieved by “working rapidly and capturing a vital mood and appearance.” 6
Like the young artists at the Atelier Moderne who fled the heat in Paris to picturesque summer idyls, Goldthwaite became an instructor with John Kelly Fitzpatrick and Lamar Dodd at the Dixie Art Colony during her summers near Montgomery at Wetumpka (1933-1948). She also received two Works Projects Administration commissions in her native state through Roosevelt’s New Deal program. They are “The Letter Box” (1937) in Atmore and “The Road to Muskegee” (1939) in Tuskegee.
Despite Goldthwaite’s oeuvre and teaching career, she is mostly unknown today. Her work is in the prestigious collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Johnson Collection, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. 7 She died in New York City where a posthumous exhibition of her work was held at the Knoedler Galleries and is buried in Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery.
To examine Goldthwaite’s artwork is to know it is good, and it was painted by a woman!
- I first learned about Anne Goldthwaite while authoring a book on another contemporary American woman artist, Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach: Delaware Artist of Time, Place and Season, The Historical Society of Delaware, Vol. XXVII, No. 2-3, 1999 [see pages 137-145]. Leach and Goldthwaite both lived at Reid Hall and remained friends throughout their lifetimes.
- Reid Hall, called the “asylum of calm” in Montparnasse operated from 1893 until it permanently closed at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Owned since 1964 by Columbia University, it has provided extensive research on the Club, its location, and its history including an index of residents and/or members such as Goldthwaite, Leach, Alice Schille, Olive Rush, Ethel Mars, Blanche Lazzell, Maud Squire, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney [later purchased the property], among others. [Goldthwaite eventually moved to her own studio in 1912 but remained a paying member [ See Goldthwaite, Reid Hall, https://reidhall.globalcenters.columbia.edu.]
- Quoted in Anne Goldthwaite, en.m.wikipedia.org. [Unfinished memoirs, Archives of American Art].
- Goldthwaite, Anne (1869-1944), The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, SC, thejohnsoncollection.org.
- Telephone interview: Jann Haynes Gilmore with Savannah Shaon, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL, January 11, 2024. The museum published the Anne Goldthwaite Catalogue Raisonné-Graphic Works, Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, 1982.