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Ellen Day Hale

Post #820 • June 28, 2006, 12:28 PM • 33 Comments

From Americans in Paris: Ellen Day Hale, Self Portrait.

Self Portrait (1885), Ellen Day Hale (American, 1855-1940), oil on canvas 72.39 x 99.06 cm (28 1/2 x 39 in.), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Nancy Hale Bowers. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The label reads:

The flâneur - a detached pedestrian or "gentleman stroller of city streets" - was a popular Parisian type first identified by poet Charles Baudelaire. Interestingly, Ellen Day Hale, in her Self Portrait[,] depicts herself in this manner - a confident and forthright pose rarely used for women.

First, hotness. Second, while poking around for biographical information on Hale, which is scant, an 1889 remark from an art critic turned up: "There is nothing that men do that is not done by women now in Boston." With self-assured characters like this one, it's not hard to see why. In addition to the realness of execution, this work has a realness of presence that dominates the wall. The attitude is part of it, reinforced by the off-center composition and brooding coloration. I think in Hale we have the Joan Jett of the Francophile Victorian expat milieu.

Next: Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux, Elizabeth Nourse.




June 28, 2006, 12:39 PM

She looks remarkably like Aubrey Beardsley, and the resemblance may not have been purely physical.



June 28, 2006, 12:53 PM


[Aside from thinking she looks a little bit like Ali Prosch, I think she and I have the same ear genes.]



June 28, 2006, 1:15 PM

Imagine the last Hernan Bas show at Snitzer. Imagine putting this painting in the same space. Imagine a game of Pac Man, or some cute little lambs in the same cage with a hungry carnivore. And we haven't even gotten to Cecilia Beaux yet, but putting her in there would just be too cruel.



June 28, 2006, 1:31 PM

Well, if I can turn on my computer and see a picture that sweet by an artist I know nothing about I can consider it a good day.



June 28, 2006, 1:48 PM

Franklin, the best way to get info on an artist is to do Google images and keep opening what comes up. Most of it is junk of course but if you cruise around you will find riches galore about Boston in the late 19th C, women artists of the time, many of whom were damn good, and Ellen Day and the Hale family, who were a remarkable bunch indeed. Interesting stuff. I'm beginning to wish I lived in Boston in 1885.



June 28, 2006, 2:08 PM

A bit more info, from the site:

Painter, etcher, writer Ellen Day Hale, worked initially in a broadly-brushed, Barbizon-influenced style that evolved to Impressionism, later becoming more carefully modeled under the influence of photography. She was a painter of landscapes, portraits and genre paintings of figures in nature.



June 28, 2006, 2:41 PM

Clan Hale biography. It looks like Jack's initial impression of the sitter was correct. (You've got gaydar, Jack!) What's fun is that Roxbury and Brookline are all places right around where I live. Even more fun - this is the same tribe that produced Robert Beverly Hale, the greatest art anatomist of the 20th Century.



June 28, 2006, 2:44 PM

And Edward Everett Hale


Marc Country

June 28, 2006, 2:53 PM

"... and singing I LOVE PUSHING PAINT,

What do you figure the background depicts? Some kind of studio tapestry backdrop?



June 28, 2006, 3:01 PM

Waitasec - that's actually a different Robert Beverly Hale in the bio.

Marc, that song has been in my head all morning.



June 28, 2006, 3:08 PM

And yeah, I think it's some kind of Orientalist wall hanging.


Marc Country

June 28, 2006, 3:10 PM

Wait... you're saying there's more than one Bob Hale out there with the middle name "Beverly"?
What are these parents trying to do to these kids?

Poor Joan Jett... I'm sure she's got many songs she's proud of, but for some reason, never quite caught on like that one... damned culturally contexted preferences!


Marc Country

June 28, 2006, 3:34 PM

Yeah, it definitely seems to be a wall hanging, and I'm beginning to think it depicts a fish pond... some of those orange daubs might be goldfish, and there's a distinctly koi-ish shape in the top right quadrant.

Or, maybe she's posing as a tourist at the Paris Aquarium...



June 28, 2006, 4:03 PM

Joan Jett does a great cover of Crimson and Clover. Much better than that other song.



June 28, 2006, 4:19 PM

it might be wallpaper. Marc. I was wondering the same thing myself. The Victorians had to fuss with every inch of any surface.



June 28, 2006, 6:08 PM

I don't know Hale's work, but it'd be interesting to see more. However, this may well be an example of what I'd call the "self-portrait boost." That can be especially noticeable with less-than-great figurative painters but is also true of a Rembrandt, for instance. I've long noticed that artists in general tend to surpass themselves when they paint themselves; there's just an extra dimension there somehow.



June 29, 2006, 3:36 AM

Bravo Jack that is a great point you make in comment number 3. I felt the same way and yet something still pulls me to examine myself and other artist around me. Couldn't we if we so trained ourselves, make such beuatiful paintings? We don't have that calling to do it. Why? Is it because of something in our culture? I am a fan of Hernan Bas's work and I also love these 19th century works. No I am not blind, I do see a huge difference in skill, but HB's work, Elizabeth Peyton, Willam Sasnel etc.. are still doing something relevant that reflects my, yours everyone's life today. I can appreciate that, even knowing full well the lack of skill and or seriousness in their work. I am puzzled though, I am really trying to figure out why? Any suggestions, or am I the only one that (used to) secretly like these modern works along with those from this Americans in Paris show? How can I like both? Does anybody feel the same way?



June 29, 2006, 3:39 AM

Let me clarify that I only feel this way about painting, not the cute conceptual toys being made all over the place today.



June 29, 2006, 7:23 AM

I agree with JS that it is possible to see the merit in these 19th Century paintings and the work of contemporary painters both locally and internationally....why not? I disagree that all of these recent painters "lack skill and seriousness" For example there is alot of skill and seriousness in Hernan's work...he would not be as productive as he is without seriousness and I know he is a skillfull painter...perhaps unorthodox and not on the same skill level as Ingres, but he is young, confident and devoted to his craft. So is Franklin, and many others who have the need to dip a brush into paint and move it around on a canvas...I believe that this is a need in the brain and psyche that cannot be satisfied with computers, pencils or eating...the need to paint is special and should be nurtured. Oh and the hand of Ellen Day Hale is must have been beautiful in person....translucent and alive.



June 29, 2006, 8:45 AM

JS and Perfecta, you sound like the same person.

Skill and seriousness are matters one takes up after the experience of the work is done. Skill, or the lack of it, is in evidence more than seriousness. I have been critical of Bas's skills on this blog and I remain so. However I also remain aware that excessive attention to skill can blind one to the quality of the work. Pollock's skills, in the traditional sense, were deficient, but his talent, and certainly his "seriousness", (Clem Greenberg said on more than one occasion that Pollock was the most 'serious" artist he knew) were extreme. In the case of Bas, I simply think that his deficient painting skills are limiting the quality of his work. But I acknowledge that his skills may improve and the work can still remain second rate.

In an atmosphere of deficient skill and quality, when things that never should even see the light of day bring millions at auction, it is possible to go overboard with delight at seeing something simply well painted. I don't think Hale is a great artist, ultimately, but it is a refreshing joy simply to see something so beautifully done when all around us we see a virtual garbage heap. When you love art you grab any straw.

You are able to like art that is very different when you become sophisticted enough to implicitly understand that what you "like" is not evident characteristics but the underlying organization of the characteristics. All good art is the same in this way, not matter how radically different it presents.



June 29, 2006, 9:39 AM

Oldpro unfortunately you sound like the same always.

Here is classic example of the oldpro mumbo jumbo....

"Skill and seriousness are matters one takes up after the experience of the work is done. Skill, or the lack of it, is in evidence more than seriousness. "

First rate, second rate who makes this rating system?...your opinion is valuble to you alone....Mr. Bas CAN handle paint with confidence and he CAN create an atmosphere and tell a may not personally "like it" but you cannot deny he has devotion to his craft and IS falling into line with a long lineage of successful "painters".

You even invoke the great Pollock when discussing Bas, so put that in pipe an smoke it.

Words of encouragment ring longer and louder that the dull thud of yr constant negative and condesending words.



June 29, 2006, 9:42 AM

On second thought please don't respond to my last post.

Ellen Day Hale is the topic and not Hernan.

The hand is still wonderful...translucent and addition to the black feathery muppet character she is posing with, it's very ominous, and even a little menacing.


Bunny Smedley

June 29, 2006, 10:07 AM

your opinion is valuble to you alone

Perfecta, Oldpro's 'opinions' (actually to me they often look like 'arguments' rather than 'opinions) but suit yourself) are demonstrably 'valuable' to at least some of us here - and what's wrong with the fact he expresses a consistent view-point? Basically, your post seems to be telling him to shut up because you don't agree with him. There may well be better strategies for defending your own point of view in general discussion.

Having seen a few of Hernan Bas's works in the Saatchi collection, they didn't strike me as having any positive qualities whatsoever. I very much doubt that his reputation will survive the next few decades, let alone the next century. In contrast, not everything in 'Americans in Paris' was a masterpiece, but there was enough beauty, skill and genuine freshness in the painting there to excite me, and to make me see the world a bit more intensely for a little while afterwards.

That, of course, is my 'opinion', but at least it may have the merit of showing that Oldpro isn't alone in his.



June 29, 2006, 10:19 AM

Thanks, Bunny. When ever the question of judgement and value comes up it raises the hackles. People seem to enjoy doing it but don't want to talk about it, as if it were a dirty secret.

We all make the rating system, Perfecta. The art world and art lovers work tirelessly to sort art out, to separate the good from the mediocre, to isolate the best. The best is the glory of our culture and the process is interminable.

It is customary on this blog to support accusations the best you can. You are free to say that I talk "mumbo-jumbo" but you should say why it is mumbo-jumbo



June 29, 2006, 10:37 AM

Words of encouragment ring longer and louder that the dull thud of yr constant negative and condesending words.

I never hear constructive criticism on this blog...the words are almost always condsending and the tone is that of a "sore loser" especially when young Miami artists are ripped open.

re: oldpro, I don't even know what this statement means....

"Skill and seriousness are matters one takes up after the experience of the work is done."

....or how it applies to the dialogue. It merely reeks of pretension.

I've seen Mr. Bas's work in person, and I've watched him paint in person...and again I will reitterate he has SKILLS and Dedication...who among the artists of the past fifty years will be remembered and studied in 100 years? probobly not you, me or Mr. Bas...but who knows for sure?

The winners write the history books.

Back to those hands...I'll bet in person you can see the blood coursing through the veins in her lily white hands....



June 29, 2006, 10:45 AM

That's my point Oldpro. I completely realize the difference in quality from these folks, but I still like them both just the same. I am trying to figure out why? Maybe ten years ago I would have thought any Pollack painting was an obvious mumbo jumbo. I didn't get it, especially as compared to the skill level in say a 19ths century standard like Bouguereau. Thanks to education and study (actually you sort of had a hand in my eductation through those that taught me) I realize his relevance and the why for that sort of work. Maybe I am beginning to answer my own question about Bas and company.



June 29, 2006, 11:02 AM

JS you are answering your own question, as you say. You are working on it, and if you are an art lover you will always be working on it. In practice It doesn't really matter what you like and don't like. Just keep looking.

Perfecta - sorry if my statement was unclear. "Skill and seriousness are matters one takes up after the experience of the work is done." means that first you experience the work and then you speculate on the other things.

I can understand why you get the "sore loser" feeling from what I and others say. All I can do is respond that there is no such feeling on my part; I have had a long and very successful career in art and my responses are based only on the confidence in the critidcal facility I feel I have acquired over that time and a consitutional relish for debate.

By the way, if you would like to engage in discussions here I would suggest not making characterizations unless you have examples and articulated responses to them.



June 29, 2006, 11:12 AM

JS, if you would like to engage in discussions here, please do.

FWIW, I finally saw an exhibition of paintings by Hernan Bas here in NYC, I thought they were pretty good.



June 29, 2006, 11:36 AM

Bas is one of these cases where extant skill looks remarkable in a setting in which zero skill is normal. I have written about him here. JS, if you like his work, like it. By all means. Your liking of it can coexist with your liking of the Hale above. It is even possible to do so while recognizing that the Hale is much better. If you're serious about your tastes, and I know you are, you keep checking in with them, and things sort themselves out over time.

Perfecta, it really was something else in person. You're right about that hand, too. The question about seriousness is an important one, because it doesn't just mean more hard work or more belief in what you're doing. Seriousness is willingness to do anything in your art in order to make it better. That's what has become rare, in my opinion. I see more people trying to arrive at something that differentiates them stylistically, which is a very different problem, though perhaps a necessary one. Who makes the rating system? You do! Welcome to the club. You get to pick your favorites. We get to agree and disagree with you about them. It's fun.


Marc Country

June 29, 2006, 12:14 PM

Franklin, you're a paragon.

So, are you gonna start knifin' up something more 'realist' anytime soon, Franklin? Or perhaps even use a brush?
Maybe take advantage of that 'self-portrait boost' Jack mentioned, paint yourself as the 21st c. Boston Flanner ('cuz sayin' it the French way's for pussies), and test the accuracy of his 'gaydar'...



June 29, 2006, 12:27 PM

Then it is a judgement made on relevance. I have been after the what if. What if some of those painters were around today? What with all of this technology and speed, would they paint and more important How would they paint it. I think after averaging and inflation of our culture is worked out, they would be what is already hot today. I personally feel that skill should have still been pushed a little further, that way I don't get annoyed at some of the technical goofs in todays hot artist, but then again that is my angle in my own work.



June 29, 2006, 6:37 PM

Well, OP, I don't think Hale was a great artist, but she was obviously very accomplished and certainly more than respectable, especially in subject matter that strongly engaged her. Cecilia Beaux, the post on whom I'm looking forward to, was a kind of female Sargent, and could absolutely blow any number of current "wonders" out of the water. I don't know Nourse, but Franklin sounds very impressed with her, so she should also prove rewarding.

Of course it's not just a technical skill game, but I won't put up with people with poor skills pooh-poohing those who can paint rings around them. It's fine if you can offer an alternative that works, like Pollock, but the point is it has to work at least as well in its own way. Even then, if a Pollock came out and dismissed an Ingres as a mere technician, I would find that both unacceptable and suspect.



July 2, 2006, 2:44 AM

JS makes much better paintings than HB could ever create. Ever!



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