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Monday, 31 August 2009

Julie Hart Beers Kempson (1835-1913)

A New Jersey woman known for painting landscapes along the Hudson River

Julie Hart Beers Kempson, a painter of the Hudson River School, was one of very few professional women landscape painters in nineteenth-century America and the only one to achieve any renown. Born Julie Hart in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1835, she was the daughter of Scottish immigrants who had settled in Albany, N.Y., in 1831. Her two older brothers, James and William, were both painters, with James studying art in Europe, primarily Germany, from 1850 until 1853, and William studying for several years in Great Britain. Julie’s artistic education was not recorded, but it is often assumed that she was trained by her brothers and later by her first husband, painter Marion Beers. In the 1850s, William, James and Julie (with Marion) each moved separately to New York City. A year after Marion’s death in 1876, Julie married Peter Kempson and moved to Metuchen, N.J; however, she continued to use the last name “Beers” and sign her works as “Julie H. Beers.”

Beers’ first recorded exhibition was at the National Academy of Design (NAD) in 1867. Her works were included in the NAD annual exhibitions in twelve of the years between 1867 and 1885. She exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum in 1867 and 1868 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1868.

While Beers’ brothers have generally received more recognition by art historians, Mark Sullivan, in James M. and William Hart, American Landscape Painters, quotes a publication’s comment that her “few known landscapes are competent work not unlike that of her brothers.” 1 She is known for several paintings, including Lake George; Forest Interiors; Cattle Watering in a River and the 1888 still-life Oranges. William Gerdts observed in his exhibition catalog, Women Artists of America, 1707-1964, that “Mrs. Julie Hart Beers Kempson became the only woman artist of the century to specialize in landscape.” That she was a rarity is easily explained, Gerdts wrote: “It is perhaps not surprising to find so few women landscapists, since the rigors of painting outdoors and the unseemliness of women engaging in this activity during the Victorian era acted as a deterrent.”2

Julie Hart Beers Kempson demonstrated that women landscape painters were the equal of men, even given the “rigors of painting outdoors.” While largely unappreciated in her own time, her talent and dedication not only produced outstanding works of art, but also broke important ground for the female landscapists who would follow her.

1. Paul E. Sternberg, Sr., Art by American Women: Selections from the Collection of Louise and Alan Sellars. (Gainesville, Ga.: Brenau College, 1991), p.20.
2: William H. Gerdts, Women Artists of America 1707-1964 (Newark, N.J.: Newark Museum, 1965), p. 8.

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