Alexandre Cabanel: Portrait of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1876).

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was a prominent American philanthropist who strongly believed in the value of education and the role museums could play in presenting art to the public. She was the only woman of the 106 founding members of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Now those would have been fun meetings to attend.)

Miss Wolfe subsequently bequeathed 140 paintings to the museum, including Weaning the Calves (1879) by Rosa Bonheur, and an endowment for their maintenance. The growing endowment later enabled the museum to acquire The Wyndham Sisters (1899) by John Singer Sargent.

The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club was established as a consequence of Miss Wolfe’s philanthropy in New York City, which began in the late 1880s. Miss Wolfe was active in Grace Church and left a substantial bequest, specifying that it be used for “some form of women’s work.” In 1896, the church established the club that bears her name, with the goal of  giving aid, counsel, and exhibition opportunities to young women artists in the city. Today, the Club remains true to its original mission, having expanded well beyond New York to include talented members from around the country and the world.

Last month, the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club presented its 115th Annual Show at the National Arts Club. As a practicing painter, I could appreciate the breadth of the show’s juried selections, which included works on paper in pencil, graphite, pastel and charcoals; oils on canvas; watercolors; multimedia works; and sculpture.

The piece that introduced the show was by the CLWAC’s honored artist for 2011, Gabriela G. Dellosso. The painting of artist Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun (left) was a beautifully rendered portrait in the style of classic realism. Recalling the play of mirrors in Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Dellosa’s work uses a strong circular composition built around powerful portraits of women studying at Vigée Le Brun’s feet as she paints her famous self portrait, which gazes back confidently at the viewer. The painting and its narrative articulated the philosophy of  Catharine Lorillard Wolfe to teach and assist women in the arts.

The show had wonderful examples of both classic techniques and modern interpretations. Some of the works were notable for their aesthetic appeal and technical accomplishment, and the exploration of such formal issues as composition, line quality, tonal variations, and paint handling. Among them were…

 

 Imata’s oil painting, Portrait of My Grandmother;
 Wight’s oil, Duck Boat Shed;
 Baker’s watercolor, Mission of Hope;
 Kurtz’s elegant charcoal, Blue Boy;
and Agron’s pastel, Winterset.

Gloria Spevacek’s three-dimensional work Cat and Mouse was a compelling, playful meditation in bronze on the relationship between curiosity and modern technology.

 

 

 

 

The Catharine Lorrillard Wolfe Art Club is doing fine work in carrying on its founder’s tradition of support and education of women in the arts.

It’s worth keeping an eye out for the 116th show next October.