Forever Seeing New Beauties: The Forgotten Impressionist Mary Rogers Williams, 1857–1907

Wesleyan Univ. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9780819578747. $35. FINE ARTS
New York Times antiques columnist and art historian Kahn has written a sympathetic and touching account of a striking artist who fought against conventions, created a large body of work, and then, essentially, disappeared from the art scene. The daughter of a Hartford, CT, baker, Williams traveled the world with a curious eye, a sketch pad, and a penchant for correspondence. She joined the Smith College art department, where she taught for two decades. Even in this women’s college, she fought the attitude that “real art” was created and understood only by men. Many of her splendid sketches are of women, and these portraits have great depth and tenderness. Her landscape pastels evoke place and mood in a singular fashion. It is hard to imagine why her work, which was exhibited in the States and abroad, fell into obscurity while the impressionist style continued to flourish.
VERDICT A portrait artist who never painted her own portrait now has one in the words of her biographer. This is a treat for anyone interested in women in the arts, the social and cultural history of the late 19th–early 20th century, and the researcher’s role in recording these.
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