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.