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Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts

Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts was born into one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia. Although her parents expected her to be a society girl, Roberts decided at the age of fifteen that she wanted to be an artist. She first began studying art in 1888. Soon afterward, she entered a painting exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and was awarded the Mary Smith Prize, which was given to a woman for a work showing “the most originality of subject, beauty of design and drawing, fineness of color, and skill of execution.” In 1889, Roberts traveled to Paris and entered the Academie Julian; she spent a total of nine years in rigorous study both in France and Italy. Studying abroad was expensive, especially for women, since they were often charged considerably more for tuition than men. Fortunately for Roberts, she had the financial means to pursue her studies for a prolonged period. The Paris Salon was one of the few venues where she could compete directly with men, and her paintings were accepted into the Salons of 1894 and 1897.

Roberts returned to the United States in 1898, and two years later, she settled in Concord, Massachusetts, with her life-long companion Grace Keyes. Roberts developed an expressive painting style and became best known for her seascapes and beach scenes. While her work could be characterized as impressionist, her paintings also showed hints of modernism. Roberts painted prolifically during this period and invested considerable time and effort in promoting her work. She developed ongoing and beneficial relationship with the Boston dealer Doll & Richards, who first began exhibiting her work in 1902. This was unusual, particularly during this time, when the gallery system was highly biased against women and few of them made it into a gallery’s “stable.” In addition to her own personal work, Roberts was extremely active in organizing exhibitions in the Concord area, and in 1917 she officially formed the Concord Art Association, which is still active today.