Artistic Endeavors – A Woman Artist, Circa 1916

Many commenters have noted how women have been shut out of mainstream art networks, and their work ignored or overlooked. Thanks to Barbara Brackman’s blog Women’s Work I learned about Annie Traquair Lang, whose work wasn’t just ignored but falsely attributed to William Merritt Chase – her teacher and possible lover.

Chase’s portrait of Lang, above, was removed from the Met by Chase’s widow and later purchased by Lang.

Chase is renowned as the teacher of just about anybody who was an artist in the 19th century through his work at the The Art Students League (1878–1896 and 1907–1911), Brooklyn Art School (1887–1895), Art Institute of Chicago (1894; 1897–98), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1896–1909), and Hartford Art School (1900–1905). Chase even established the Chase School of Art, later renamed the New York School of Art (1896–1907). For 12 years, he directed the Shinnecock Summer School of Art (1891–1902), the largest plein-air art school in America.

Lang was a talented student of Chase who had the misfortune of dying young and poor, at 33, and having her family sell off her possessions and artwork.

For many, you can’t talk about art without mentioned its imputed economic worth. From a dollars and cents perspective, a painting by William Merritt Chase is worth more than one by Annie Lang. In the 1970s Ronald Pisano, a Chase scholar, discovered a major portrait of Chase (below), long thought to be a self-portrait, was actually painted by Lang. Her signature had been cut off and his forged in its place. In 1973 it sold for $47,500 at Sotheby’s in New York, setting a Chase auction record. But then Pisano brought out 1910s published images of Lang’s original. The auctioneer took back the adulterated canvas and reattributed and reoffered it. Raymond and Margaret Horowitz bought it for $3,240 (note the huge price reduction) and donated it to the Met. It wasn’t the only one of her works to suffer such treatment.

Where does this leave Annie Lang? Obscure and underappreciated, at best. She was considered Chase’s most representative student in the 1910s, and had a solo show. Yet by the 1930s her work was being passed off as Chase’s. Recently scholars such as Eve M. Kahn have been trying to find more information about Lang.

The two above paintings by Lang depict plein-air summer art classes.


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4 responses to “Artistic Endeavors – A Woman Artist, Circa 1916

  1. We saw an exhibition of Chase’s work at the Boston MFA a couple years ago–I really like his work and I wonder if Lang was a model for any of the pieces we saw. As I recall, he painted women looking quite forthrightly out of the canvas and that was considered unusual. I had ever heard of Lang, though, and that seems wrong–her work is wonderful. Love the colors and the loose brush work.

    • As far as I know, the only Chase portrait specifically linked to Lang is the one at the beginning of my post. I gather one of the problems with Lang is her work has been so scattered and there’s no catalog raisonne.

  2. How Typical and isn’t her work lovely.

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