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Ellen Emmet Rand, Artist and Villager

Ellen Emmet Rand was an American painter and illustrator during the first half of the 20th century who specialized in portraits.  Over the course of her career, she painted over 500 works, including the official portrait of Franklin Roosevelt. Apparently, she attempted to paint his cousin Teddy as well, but gave up because “he couldn’t sit still, especially with children [his] going in and out of the studio with snakes and spiders.”

Portrait of Ellen Emmet Rand by Mary Foote

She started her career in New York City in a studio at 62 Washington Square South, and would go on to earn recognition and awards for her works. She also received attention for a certain Bohemian fete she threw in 1908, but more on that to come.

Ellen Gertrude Emmet was born on March 4, 1875, in San Francisco, California. A cousin of Henry James who called her “Bay,” Ellen and her family moved to New York City following the death of her father in 1884. Her artistic talent was apparent at an early age and she studied at the Cowles Art School in Boston, with William Merritt Chase, and at the Art Students League in New York City from 1889 to 1893. During this time she also contributed fashion sketches to Vogue magazine.

While traveling abroad with her family at age 21, Emmet met portrait painter John Singer Sargent, facilitated by a letter of introduction by the architect Charles McKim.  She also studied with sculptor Frederick MacMonnies for three years in Paris. During her time in Paris, she also became acquainted with the artist Mary Foote who was responsible for the portrait of Ellen seen above. She moved back to New York in 1900 and set up her studio at 62 Washington Square South, where Cecilia Beaux was an upstairs neighbor. 62 Washington Square South, since demolished, was a Federal style row house that by the end of the 19th century had been converted into artist studios.

62 Washington Square South (center), which has since been demolished, c. 1940. Photo via Municipal Archives.


1904 Sanborn Map. NYPL

Here at No. 62, Emmet began her painting career in earnest. Her focus was on portraits, and over the course of her career she captured the images of countless political figures, societal figures, artists, and more. Some of those included Franklin Roosevelt (as mentioned),  New York Governor William H. Vanderbilt III, and sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens. Solo artist shows were unusual at this time. However, Rand had one in 1902 at the Durand-Ruel Galleries on Fifth Avenue, and in 1906 she had a one-woman exhibition of 90 paintings at Copley Hall in Boston, where the only previous solo shows had been dedicated to Sargent, Monet, and Whistler.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (ca.1904), Metropolitan Museum of Art

While at 62 Washington Square, Ellen threw a party in January of 1908 that was celebrated by the New York Time as a “Gay Frolic in Bohemia.” According to the article entitled “Costume Carnival in Artist’s Studio…Bewigged and Powdered Guests to Cakewalks in Gowns of Ancient Days” The Times reported that “For once society threw aside its reserve, and many professional entertainers helped along the Bohemian atmosphere of the occasion.” The party started at midnight, and among the 150 costumed guests were Mrs. Payne Whitney, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph McCormick, and John Alsop.

Shortly thereafter, Ellen married William Blanchard Rand, a state legislator and Connecticut farmer, and they had three children. Ellen split her time between Connecticut and New York City, and continued to paint commissioned portraits. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has her portraits of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Benjamin Altman (founder of Altman’s department store). Her portrait of Franklin Roosevelt became his official portrait as did the one for Elihu Root (U.S. secretary of war, secretary of state and a senator from New York). She received much recognition for her art and many awards including a gold medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific  Exposition and the Beck Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1922. She was also elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1926 and an Academician in 1934. She died in 1941 and is buried in Salisbury, Connecticut.

NYU’s Kimmel Center, the former site of 62 Washington Square South

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