Oakley also studied with Cecelia Beaux, one of America's earliest professional female artists. While she admired and was influenced by the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painters, she developed her own themes of peace, equality and justice.
|The Pre-Raphaelite influence is evident in Oakley's women.|
Violet had her work cut out for her. Not only was she a woman working as a professional artist in a man's world, but, due to her father's disability she was the sole support for her family at an early age. Fortunately illustration was at its peak and not yet suffering the stigma of "mere commercialism" that denigrated this art form in later years.
|Painted for the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber.|
Oakley's creative ability and professionalism led her to seek large commissions. She was the first woman chosen to execute grand murals for civic buildings, including the Pennsylvania’s Governor’s Reception Room which she painted at age 28. Her large, historical allegories are on the scale of Sargent’s murals in the Boston Public Library and Sorolla’s paintings at the Hispanic Society in New York. Moreover, when she was asked to step in to finish an important state project upon the death of artist Edwin August Abbey, she demanded - and got! - equal pay for her work. Unheard of then, and rare even now.
Whatever the subject, she found a way to render her passion for humanity, equality and peace into the scene. At the end of World War I Oakley became interested in the League of Nations and took it upon herself to document these peacemakers by making sensitive portraits of the delegates, many of which were on exhibit at Woodmere.
|Drawings of UN delegates reflect Oakley's interest in peace|
Oakley did a lot of research and spent a great deal of time setting up varied compositions. The exhibit showed multiple iterations of some compositions - an interesting insight into her process. While mastering the power and majesty of historical allegories with such themes as Peace and Unity, Love and Wisdom, and Divine Law, Oakley also sensitively portrayed essential human attributes of tender care between individuals, especially mother and child, as in these paintings. Life, full circle.
|Part of Oakley's Youth in Art series for a private residence|
|The Pearls, 1911|
My inspiration might be to pay homage to the manner in which she stages people creating sensitive interaction. Oakley’s subjects were often renowned figures - and mine are often pottery and vegetables! But still, I hope to capture that essence just a little. Plus, observing the hierarchy of color and value in her compositions is a reminder to use those elements to move the viewer's eye through the painting to grasp the full story.
It's a good idea to figure out what it is about a particular artist that inspires and then perhaps add a touch of that aspect within the scope of your own work. Otherwise you run the risk of being a shallow version of the artist you admire. We all have our own voice. Be inspired. Don't imitate.
In addition to the work itself, I admire Violet Oakley for her conscientious commitment to being a professional artist. She made no excuses and had every expectation that she would be treated as an equal. She did a tremendous amount of research and preparation for every project she undertook – all of which added to the emotional impact of her paintings. There are no shortcuts for master work!
|Oakley's study for Youth and Art with grid overlay for transfer|
In interviews about this accomplishment Oakley said she got the work not because she was a woman, but because she could do it. It was pointed out that there is no “masculine mind” any more than there is a masculine liver.
Violet Oakley was clear on her ability as an artist and her rights as a human being. She stayed focused on what she aspired to achieve and did the work necessary to fulfill her dreams. That is what inspired me most about this incredible artist. No excuses. Just get it done. Not quite as easy as it sounds.
You can read more about Violet Oakley on the Woodmere Museum exhibit page.
Thanks for joining me on my artistic journey.
Just for fun... here's some of my research for this post -