Artist to Know: Jane Peterson

Liz Catalano
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Doyle Offers Flower Painting by American Impressionist

In 1925, The New York Times called Jane Peterson “one of the foremost women painters” in the city. She rose to prominence during the American Impressionist period but frequently borrowed from the other art movements brewing in the 20th century. This early recognition would gradually fade, overshadowed by Modernism. It took a generation of feminists in the 1960s and 70s to bring Peterson back to the spotlight. 

A Jane Peterson painting, titled Floral Overmantel, will be offered in Doyle’s upcoming auction. Lots will begin closing online at 10:00 AM EST on November 17th, 2020. Get to know Jane Peterson before the auction starts. 

Elsie Whitmore Southwick Clark, Portrait of Jane Peterson, c. 1914. Image from the Mattatuck Museum.
Elsie Whitmore Southwick Clark, Portrait of Jane Peterson, c. 1914. Image from the Mattatuck Museum.

Often described as “confident, independent, and immensely talented,” Peterson was strongly influenced by the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. While wandering the exhibits as a high school graduate, she stumbled across the Woman’s Building. She saw works by women from around the world hung on the walls, and Peterson committed to the two great loves of her life: painting and travel. 

Peterson fell in with a supportive group of women artists during her college days in New York. She found patrons who willingly funded her first trips to Europe and started building a social network that included the likes of Louis Comfort Tiffany. These connections, along with her association with Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, helped launch a steady career.

The increased attention did not sway the direction of her art, however. Peterson regularly stepped outside the bounds of American Impressionism to achieve her artistic vision. Some pieces bear traces of early Expressionism, while others are held together with clear lines and sharp details. Peterson’s subject matter ranged from the streets of Algiers to the flower arrangements on her kitchen table. “My great and absorbing passion is the love of beauty,” Peterson said in 1922. “Beautiful things give me pleasure.”

Jane Peterson, Floral Overmantel. Image from Doyle.
Jane Peterson, Floral Overmantel. Image from Doyle.

The Jane Peterson painting offered by Doyle this November is undated but may have been executed in the later period of her life. After marrying a wealthy retired lawyer at the age of 50, Peterson gave up travel and started focusing on elaborate flower arrangements. These would become her defining works. Floral Overmantel, offered with an estimate of USD 2,000 to $3,000, shows red, orange, and yellow flowers overflowing from a woven basket. This piece differs from most others in Peterson’s oeuvre in its dark undertones and accentuated details.

Jane Peterson paintings that more closely follow American Impressionism have historically done better at auction. One painting of a Venetian canal reached $110,000 on the Skinner auction block in 2012. Notable for its loose brushstrokes and playful lighting, the competitive bidding for this piece placed it well above the high estimate of $80,000.

Jane Peterson, Gloucester Harbor. Image from Christie’s.
Jane Peterson, Gloucester Harbor. Image from Christie’s.

Boat and river scenes command her highest prices. Gloucester Harbor, for example, achieved $365,000 at Christie’s in 2014. “Miss Jane Peterson uses strong colors and broad brush to give the facts about docks and fishing craft and harbours in a somewhat knock-you-down fashion,” one reviewer said about the painting in 1917.

In many ways, Peterson led a successful life. She never matched the fame of Berthe Morisot or Mary Cassatt but was known to the highest social circles of early 20th-century New York. A lifetime of hard work and commitment earned Peterson a pleasurable end that was filled with flowers.

Online bidding for the available Jane Peterson artwork will start to close at 10:00 AM EST on November 17th, 2020. Find more information and register to bid on Doyle’s website.

UPDATE APRIL, 2021: Jane Peterson’s Floral Overmantel sold for $6,875 in Doyle’s November auction, more than doubling the high estimate. This result reflects sustained interest in her work. Jane Peterson’s paintings also saw strong prices at auction in late 2020 and early 2021. A Venetian street scene from the artist reached $12,000 at Clarke Auction Gallery in December. This piece, likely completed during Peterson’s years of travel, depicts a crowd of women moving down a sunny street. More recently, Hindman offered Jane Peterson’s Along Water’s Edge watercolor and gouache painting with a $3,000 to $5,000 estimate. It sold for $18,000 after 19 spirited bids.

Peterson has also gained exposure at galleries and new museum exhibitions. The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas recently acquired Peterson’s The Green Dress painting in an effort to diversify its permanent collection and celebrate women artists. The museum bought this Jane Peterson artwork with support from an anonymous gift. However, the purchase comes amid a growing controversy around museum deaccessioning, which was on the rise throughout 2020. 

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