Lilian Westcott Hale 1881-1963
- 22 x 14 3/4 inches (55.9 x 37.5 cm)
- Signed lower right: Lilian Westcott Hale
- c. 1916-17
Why We Love It
No other American artist worked with graphite and charcoal with the elegance and finesse of Hale. Her drawings are true American masterpieces and were regarded as such by her own peers and the art critics of her day. Beyond the technical brilliance of her work, she imbued her drawings with a subtle atmosphere of mystery. She never veered into the saccharine. Her drawings are never simply pretty, but evocative and thought provoking.
Fully developed drawings by Hale are prized by institutions and private collectors alike. We have been fortunate to find and acquire a number of them over the years. This drawing, Agnes Doggett, is slightly less developed, but it still demonstrates Hale’s extraordinary skill and style. It is museum mounted and has a lovely period frame.
1881 : Born in Hartford, Connecticut; Attended Hartford Art School, where William Merritt Chase first noticed her great talent; Attended Chase’s Shinnecock Summer School of Art; 1900-1904: Studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where Edmund Tarbell and Philip Leslie Hale were her instructors; 1902: Married Philip Leslie Hale; 1904: Traveled to Europe, began exhibiting at the annual exhibitions in Boston, received wide acclaim for her talent; 1908: Gave birth to her daughter, causing her to give up her Boston Fenway studio, which she shared with Frank Benson, Joseph De Camp, her husband, and sometimes John Singer Sargent; 1909-: Set up studio at home. Shifted the focus of her subject matter to domestic scenes; 1915: Awarded gold medal at the Pan-Pacific Exposition; 1920s: Exhibited widely and gained the attention of a great patron, Duncan Phillips, who went onto the found the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.; 1927: Was first woman awarded Altman Prize at the National Academy of Design for her portrait of Taylor Hardin; 1931: Her husband, Philip, died. Stopped painting temporarily. 1955: Had resumed working. Moved to Virginia to be near daughter and grandchildren. Summered in Rockport, Massachusetts; 1963: Died.
Lilian Westcott Hale’s mentor Edmund Tarbell exclaimed after seeing her drawings in the one-woman 1908 Boston show, “Your drawings are perfectly beautiful—as fine as anything could be. They belong with our old friends Leonardo, Holbein and Ingres, and are to me the finest modern drawings I have ever seen” (Philip Hale Papers, Box 53a, Folder 1444, SSC). Indeed, Hale’s drawings are rendered with remarkable sensitivity and demonstrate a distinctive poetic tenderness. She was one of the great draftsman of the Boston School, excelling particularly in the charcoal medium, which we see in this charcoal of Agnes Doggett. Hale also painted a beautiful portrait of Doggett as a bride, which is now in a private collection.
Hale’s choice of subject matter, gentile interiors and scenes from nature, reflect the taste of the day; the advice of her mentors, who included Edmund Tarbell, William Merritt Chase, and Phillip Leslie Hale (later her husband); and her personal preference for such themes. Her refined and delicate drawing style lent itself perfectly to her subjects. She’s able to capture an innate sense of beauty without looking cloying or sentimental.
The drawing of Agnes Doggett, according to Erica Hirshler of the MFA Boston, was executed in Hale’s home in Dedham, Massachusetts, where most of her work was completed. As in all of her drawings, the sitter is self possessed, as she looks down at something in her hands. Her facing a window turned away from the viewer and the her poised countenance create a sense of mystery in the work, drawing the viewer into the scene.