"Portrait of Austin M. Purves, Jr"   Lot no. 4031

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By Jessie Willcox Smith (American- 1863-1935)

1908 (Estimated)
14" x 13"
Oil and Pencil on Canvas
Signed Lower Right

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signed Jessie Willcox Smith (lower right) and inscribed on artist's original calling card (affixed to the reverse)


Austin M. Purves Jr. (1900 - 1977) was an influential American artist and arts educator. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Austin M. Purves Sr., a financier and patron of the arts, and Betsey Preston Coleman Purves, Purves Jr. knew from an early age that he wanted to pursue a career as an artist. His parents were friends with the illustrator Maxfield Parrish, who ultimately became an important mentor to the young Purves and the two corresponded regularly until Parrish was ninety years old. Purves graduated from the Germantown Friends School in 1918 and subsequently enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Académie Julian in Paris. Following this course of study, he also received training in fresco painting at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. After returning to New York, he became a director at the Cooper Union from 1931-38 and was one of thirteen American artists invited to contribute mural paintings to the bicentennial celebration of George Washington at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Purves’ most notable contributions to the history of American Art include his mural for the World War II Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial battle monument in Draguignan, France, sculptures for luxury ocean liners and the barracks at the United States Military Academy in West Point, and for a mosaic located at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In addition to his artistic achievements, Purves also taught art at Bennington College in Vermont, was the Vice President of the Architectural League of New York, and the President of the National Society of Mural Painters. He was a member of the Century Club of New York, served on the Advisory Council of the Cooper Union Art School, and was a Trustee of the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

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See all original artwork by Jessie Willcox Smith


            Jessie Wilcox Smith never married, but throughout her long career, specialized in drawing and painting mothers, babies and children. Her training was acquired at the School of Design for Women, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins, and at the Drexel Institute under Howard Pyle.

            She had begun as a kindergarten teacher but turned to an art career with the stimulus and assistance of Howard Pyle. Some of her best-known illustrations were for books: Little Women, Heidi, A book of Old Stories and Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. She also painted a great many illustrations for magazines such as Collier's and McClure's, and did nearly 200 covers for Good Housekeeping. For several years, she shared house and studio with two other Pyle students, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley. Working in close proximity they also strongly influenced eachother's work as well as that of several other Pyle - school women. This relationship is told in The Red Rose Girls by Alice Carter. Smith painted and exhibited widely, revieving many awards, a Silver Metal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. She was also commissioned to paint many portraits of children.

            Two other biographies, Jessie Wilcox Smith by S. Michael Schnessel, and Jessie Wilcox Smith American Illustrator by Edward D. Nudelman (who also contributed A bibliography) have been published.