Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday Inspiration: Elizabeth Cann

Elizabeth Cann, The Soldiers Wife, 1941, (source)
Elizabeth Cann, Mrs Kary Wyman Baker, (source)

Elizabeth Lovitt Cann, (1901-1977) was so well educated, it amazes me, she studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine arts, the School of Applied Design for Women in New York, and also in England and Paris (full bio here). She had money behind her, and that really seems key for women back then (funny when all we generally have nowadays is the 'starving artist' ideal). She's mostly known for her portraits of women and girls, though she did landscape as well.

I love portraits of Women by Women, they are so different from portraits of women by men. The idea of women being painted as an object to look at instead of an actual person with motives of their own is a subject much talked about- (I spoke about it a bit here- while talking about Manet's Olympia). It's much more interesting to see women when represented by women because their physicality often takes a back seat. I don't just mean no breasts and legs on display- though that's part of it, certainly, what I mean is that when men paint women often it's about the line of their bodies, the curve of a back, or jaw, or nose, just about the simple beauty of a female subject, their grace and feminine presence. When a woman paints a woman it seems as if she's just seeing her as a person, as herself, not the 'Other'.

The Soldiers Wife is just so poignant, and the expression so real, it brings you right there to where that woman is in time. I also love the floral patterns as she painted them, not too detailed, and not too loose.  I did a portrait of my Great Grandma once and there were so many floral prints, I just about lost my mind, it was a real test to try and get them just right.  


  1. On the other hand, both these women are defined by the men in their lives. The SOLDIER'S WIFE. What about her life? And MRS. Baker. The painting gives little clue as to who she is besides someone's wife.

    I'm glad you didn't lose your mind : )

  2. Oh I think I lost a little of it, anyone who stays completely sane through art school probably isn't human;)

    That is a good point about the titles of the work- though I wonder how much of that is just due to the era, a woman's identity was so wrapped up with her husbands then. And the title of Mrs was only really rejected by feminists starting in the 60's. Oddly it's still a really controversial thing to choose Ms. over Mrs. Controversial in the way that it's a choice that people will openly question you/ challenge you about. It seems so unimportant I just don't get why other people care what title you'd choose for yourself, but they really do ( I also don't get how people can call a twenty year old woman Miss, and not feel skeevy- but I digress...).

  3. Well yes, Mrs or Miss, I've never thought it was anyone's business whether you're married or not and always used Ms, which is really the same neutral indicator as Mr.

    But that aside, these are strikingly passive women. For an interesting look at the effect of societal values on portraits of women, take a look at the paintings of women in 18th century England VS France. Society allowed women more freedom in France eg. hosted salons for intellectuals, and they are often shown with books, while women in England are more likely to be shown with their husband's land, or needlework.

    On the whole, I'd rather be objectified as a sex object than as a man's possession.