Making a Difference in the World

Portraits of Women at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Portrait of Miss Cornelia Lyman Warren, Trustee of Wellesley College (1871 - 1871) by Alexandre CabanelThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Making a Difference in the World:
Portraits of Women at the Davis Museum

The Davis Museum serves as a vital resource in support of the mission of Wellesley College: To provide an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. These portraits from the collections of the Davis tell stories about women—including Wellesley alumnae and faculty—who impacted the world around them in both big and small ways. A portrait, or an artwork that represents a particular person, interprets the identity of its subject for viewers. Curated by the Davis Museum Summer Interns in 2019, this exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and photographs from different time periods and places demonstrates how diverse artists have used portraiture to honor women and their contributions to their societies.

Standing Woman with headdress (Gandhara period, Kushan Dynasty, 3rd-5th century C.E.) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Excavated at the Buddhist site of Hadda in the Gandharan region of Afghanistan, this sculpture portrays a female patron. Her heavy earrings and bracelets indicate her wealth and the diverse cultural influences on Gandhara: gold was imported from the Mediterranean, while her headdress is Kashmiri. The flower she holds represents an offering for the Buddha. Patronage of shrines like Hadda, where the Buddha was believed to have walked, offered patrons a chance of a better reincarnation.

Alexander the Great conquered Gandhara in
the 4th century BCE, and his successors introduced
Hellenistic artistic styles, which artists combined
with Indian influences, especially under the Central
Asian Kushan dynasty. This woman’s drapery evokes
Greek marbles, while her idealized form echoes
classical Hindu depictions of women and goddesses.
The sculptor used stucco, a combination of clay,
straw, and gravel that is faster to work with than
stone, because of the high demand for devotional
sculptures at the time.

Portrait of Woman on Balcony by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

During the Amber period of the Mughal Empire, members of the royal court commissioned realistic portraits of themselves and their families. Most likely a member of the ruling family, the subject is heavily decorated with opulent jewelry, displaying her wealth and privilege. She wears a robe of vibrant yellow, a color reserved for royalty. The full profile depiction of her face and three-quarters view of her body reflects a standard formalized pose. Characteristic of Mughal paintings, her features are delicately and precisely depicted. Her half-opened eyes and arched eyebrows reveal a pensive expression as she gazes out into the distance.

Both Mughal artists and their subjects were
predominantly male: only women connected to
powerful families were formally painted, and
unlike male subjects, they were not often painted
from life. In contrast to the naturalism and
accuracy that Mughal emperors prized in male
portraiture, all representations of women are of
ideal types.

Santa Teresa of Avila (ca. 1750) by Francisco Salzillo y AlcarazThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Francisco Salzillo y Alcaraz created this portrait of fellow Spaniard Saint Teresa just under two hundred years after her death. The artist’s Saint Teresa of Ávila has her arms spread and her separately carved heart exposed. Inscribed on the heart are words from John 1:14: “verbum caro factum est,” or “The word was made flesh.” In her mystical writings, Saint Teresa described rapturous encounters with God and promoted contemplative prayer as part of her reforms to the Carmelite orders for both men and women.

A prolific author, Saint Theresa described how in one vision, an angel pierced her heart with “a long spear of gold... to leave me all on fire with a great love of God."

Portrait of Mrs. Roland Cotton (ca. 1763) by John Singleton CopleyThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

As was customary during the eighteenth century, Mrs. Roland Cotton, formerly Deborah Mason, was tied to her husband’s identity and she was expected to uphold the image of a chaste wife. Her garment, soft facial expression, and flushed cheeks indicate fertility and piety. Copley depicts her as wealthy and reserved.

Cotton wears an extravagant blue dress and holds a delicate fan. Her hand placement and position signify a poised and dainty quality that would have been well-regarded in women during the time. Like other Copley portraits, this work emulates the British style prized by American colonists. Copley was the most popular and successful portrait painter in the British North American colonies, well known for his ability to capture a person’s likeness.

Portrait of Miss Anne Dutton (mid-18th century - mid-18th century) by Francis CotesThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

For this portrait, Anne Dutton dressed in a gown tied with a gold-embroidered blue sash, the sleeves adorned with pearl ornaments. Looking towards to the side with her hand under her chin, she sits outdoors against a terrace, the foliage taking up most of the background. The daughter of the prominent Lord Sherborne, she married Samuel Blackwell in 1760.

Francis Cotes was a pioneer of English pastel painting and a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768. Although Cotes was originally a trained pastellist, he frequently painted in oil, which was more profitable, during his last decade. Dutton’s elegant gown was most likely painted by Peter Toms, who specialized in painting drapery and was also a founding member of the Royal Academy.

Portrait of a Young Woman (1795 - 1810) by Pedro José DíazThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

During the colonial period in Lima, the white upper and new merchant classes commissioned portraits of their family members to convey wealth and social standing. Female portraits, which were rare until after 1700, modeled ideal female behavior. The young woman in this portrait wears the finest clothing and accessories, including a richly embroidered dress with a high hemline (a faldallín), a stylized apron (delantera), and silk shoes. Silver and pearl jewelry from the Andean mines—which provided great wealth for Peru—adorn her. She holds a rose in one hand, representing delicacy and femininity, a closed ivory fan in the other, likely imported from Asia and indicating chastity. A cross hangs around her neck, denoting the conservative Catholic culture that produced this portrait.

Rosa de Salazar y Gabiño, Countess of Monteblanco and Montemar, Att. to Cristóbal Lozano, 1764/1771, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

A text identifying the sitter and possibly the artist was probably cut from the lower margin of the canvas, making it impossible to ever make a positive identification. Scholars have speculated that the subject was the daughter of the Count and Countess of Montemar and Monteblanco, and that the artist was Pedro José Díaz, the premier portraitist in Lima at the time.

Image: Att. to Cristóbal Lozano, Rosa de Salazar y Gabiño, Countess of Monteblanco and Montemar, 1764–1771. Roberta and Richard Huber Collection.

Portrait Of A Woman (ca. 1800) by Jean-Urbain GuérinThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

In this portrait by Jean Urbain Guérin, the subject is wearing a low-cut dress in a style now known as the “Empire silhouette,” named for the First French Empire (1804–1814) and popularized by Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. After the end of the French Revolution in 1799, women rejected the ornate royal fashions. The high-waisted dresses with flowing skirts freed women from constricting corsets, echoing the country’s freedom from its overthrown aristocracy.

This small artwork by Guérin, a French artist known for his miniature paintings, comprises one of a pair with a portrait of a man in a military uniform. During his career, Guerin painted many subjects from the royal and military classes.

Portrait of Man, Jean-Urbain Guérin, ca. 1800, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Ideal Portrait of a Woman Named Cecchina (ca. 1565-80) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

This sixteenth century Italian mezzo rilievo, a sculpture carved in medium relief, depicts a woman named Cecchina in profile. Scholars have debated who the idealized figure represents, but a lack of distinguishing features makes identification difficult. Some believe the sculpture depicts the famous Florentine singer and composer “La Cacchina,” and others believe it is an unknown woman named Francesca, because “Cecchina” has long been a popular nickname for Francesca. The beautiful young woman presents challenges for researchers interested in knowing more about her centuries later.

The pendant of the necklace, a delicate carving of Cupid, the Roman god of love and fertility, may have been added in the nineteenth century to underscore the seductive beauty of Cecchina.

Wakamatsuya uchi Midorigi (Midorigi of the Wakamatsuya) (ca. 1805) by Kitagawa UtamaroThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Ukiyo-e, translating to “picture[s] of the floating world,” refers to Japanese woodblock prints and paintings that romanticized daily life of Edo-period Japan (1603-1868), and often depict scenes in the city's licensed pleasure quarters. In this woodblock print, one of the movement’s most highly regarded artists, Kitagawa Utamaro, depicts the courtesan Midorigi arranging a vase of ominaeshi, one of the traditional seven flowers of autumn and used to identify beautiful women, in the teahouse of Wakematsuya.

Utamaro draws the courtesan in typical ukiyo-e bijin-ga fashion (“pictures of beautiful women”). He depicts Midorigi’s features as beautiful yet generic, in order to abide by Japan’s art censorship laws. Midorigi’s layered kimonos, hairstyle (datehyougo), and hair ornaments (kanzashi), indicate that she is an oiran, a high-ranking and often well-known courtesan skilled in the arts, beauty, and entertainment, including tea ceremonies (sadō), flower arrangement (ikebana), calligraphy, and musical instruments.

La Capresse des colonies (1861) by Charles-Henri-Joseph CordierThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Commissioned by the French government to demonstrate ethnographic types through sculpture, Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier intended for his artworks to educate the French public about non-French people. Like many Europeans of the time, he believed that people’s appearances could convey inherent physical and cultural differences.

A derogatory term referring to a Caribbean woman of African and European descent, “La Capresse” reflects the racist system in which it was first displayed. In this sculpture, Cordier emphasizes qualities associated with people of African descent. The coils of her perfectly coiffed hair frame her face, exposing her arched eyebrows, defined brow ridge, high-cheekbones, almond shaped eyes, button nose, and full lips. With a pretense of science, this sculpture was crafted to fulfill expectations of blackness in contrast with European ideas of white racial purity.

The Laundress by Edgar DegasThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Edgar Degas portrays The Laundress in a moment of exhaustion. Like most Parisian laundresses, his subject would have worked in oppressive conditions for fifteen to eighteen hours per day. With an open face, she looks up hazily. As she presses down the iron, her blouse slips slightly off her meager frame, alluding to her occupation’s lascivious reputation, also depicted in Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir. 

La Repasseuse, Edgar Degas, 1869, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

She may be the same laundress who Degas depicted in two earlier sketches. He frequently portrayed working women, including ten images of laundresses. As active participants in the industrial economy, they symbolized a commodified and therefore, modern society. In his portraits of working class women, Degas explored both hard physical labor and sexuality.

Image: Edgar Degas. La Repasseuse. 1869. Musée d’Orsay.

The Laundress, Edgar Degas, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Portrait of Miss Cornelia Lyman Warren, Trustee of Wellesley College (1871 - 1871) by Alexandre CabanelThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Cornelia Lyman Warren, in her almost life-size, full-length portrait, grasps a fashionable riding hat, habit, gloves, and a crop, as if she has stopped briefly before dashing off for a horse ride. She was fourteen years old in 1871 when she sat for Alexandre Cabanel while visiting Paris with her mother. The Warrens were a powerful Boston family who had residences on Beacon Hill and in the countryside in Waltham, Massachusetts. A great philanthropist and strong supporter of education throughout her life, Cornelia Warren served as a trustee of Wellesley College from 1900 until 1913. Her brother, Edward Perry Warren, bequeathed the portrait to Wellesley College in 1929.

By the 1860s, Cabanel, an academy-trained painter who lived and worked in Paris, had received prestigious commissions for history paintings, and distinguished himself as a portraitist who was sought after among French and American aristocrats, particularly among women. Adept in depicting personalities, Cabanel portrayed his female sitters with an aura of chastity, dignity, cool detachment, and intellect expected of upper-class American women of the time, as seen in Warren’s portrait.

Self Portrait, Alexandre Cabanel, 1852, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Image: Alexandre Cabanel, Self-portrait, 1852, Musée Fabre

Empress Haruko (1872) by Kuichi UchidaThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Dressed in formal attire with her hair done in osuberakashi style and crowned, Empress Haruko gently folds her arms in front of her body to hold an open fan. She wears a self-possessed expression and twelve layers of kimono garments, reflecting an emphasis on the concept of ryosai kenbo, or “good wife, wise mother.” Taken in black and white, the photograph was colored by hand. It was purchased by a Wellesley professor of history, Mary Alice Knox, who traveled to Japan in 1886 specifically to gather images from which she would be able to teach Asian history.

Mutsuhito, The Meiji Emperor, Uchida Kuichi, 1872, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Uchida Kuichi was invited to the palace to photograph the imperial couple in 1872, four years after the Meiji Restoration reinstated the emperor to political authority. The new regime embraced photography as part of a nationwide modernization project, and Kuichi’s photographs were intended for distribution in Europe during a diplomatic trip. Although the imperial photographs were banned from public use, they inspired countless reproductions in woodblock and lithographic prints.

Image: Uchida Kuichi, Emperor Meiji: Mutsuhito, The Meiji Emperor, 1872, Metropolitan Museum

The Emperor Meiji and Empress, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Image: Hatakeyama (Publisher), The Emperor Meiji and Empress, 1906, Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Portret van Sarah Bernhardt (1870 - 1880) by Nadar, PaulRijksmuseum

Celebrity portraitist Nadar first photographed actress Sarah Bernhardt around 1864. The “Divine” Bernhardt got her big break ten years later and quickly became a legend. Glamorous and eccentric, she slept in a coffin and kept a pet tiger. Bernhardt preferred masculine roles for their complexity, but carefully crafted a feminine public image. For this photograph in 1878, she wears a ruffled gown and gazes demurely aside.

Sarah Bernhardt by Helen LohmannThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Of Bernhardt’s longevity, a friend wrote that she had lived “the existences of twenty women.” In 1900, aged fifty-six, she played Napoléon’s teenage son in L’Aiglon. Photographer Helen Lohmann may have met met her at the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris, where Bernhardt starred as Hamlet on film. Lohmann jumped enthusiastically into photography, an acceptable occupation for women. American representative Frances Benjamin Johnston brought works by twenty-eight female photographers to show in Paris concurrently with the Exposition. 

Ndoma (Portrait Mask) (19th Century) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Created by a Baule artist in the Ivory Coast, this ndoma mask offers an idealized portrait of a woman. The smooth, lustrous glow of the wood indicates health and wellness, and the prominent forehead symbolizes intellectual enlightenment. Commissioned by a male relative of its subject, this ndoma, meaning “namesake” or “double,” would have portrayed a living counterpart respected for her talents and contributions to her family. The Baule regarded these objects as spiritually powerful and kept them under a cloth in the household for protection; they believed that looking directly at these masks during non-ritual ceremonies was dangerous.

Scarifications (ngole) line the sides of the mouth and the cheekbones of the mask and mark the space between the eyebrows. Although the practice is not as common today, Baule people long used scarification as a “mark of civilization” that enhanced human beauty and made it distinct from nature.

Portrait of Harriet Sears Amory (1902-03) by Cecilia BeauxThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Cecilia Beaux, one of the most successful American portrait painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, painted subjects of all ages from upper-class families. In this portrait, Beaux depicts five-year-old Harriet Sears Amory standing in the center of the painting wearing a yellow kimono.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Japanese ports reopened trade to the West, allowing for the introduction of Japanese products into Europe and the United States. The fashion for Japanese aesthetics became a phenomenon known as Japonism. Intrigue with Japanese culture remained strong at the turn of the twentieth century, and luxury items, such as the kimono and the bonsai tree seen in this portrait, were markers of wealth and taste among privileged upper-class American families. The wealthy Amory family included prominent political figures and formed part of the Boston elite, often referred to as the Boston Brahmins.

Portrait of Evelyn Beatrice Longman (1904) by Daniel Chester FrenchThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

American monumental sculptor Daniel Chester French sculpted this marble portrait of fellow sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman in 1904. At this stage in his career, French’s portraits were conceived in clay and cut into marble by the Piccirilli family of Italian craftspeople in New York. Unlike his monumental projects, his portraits and representations women are often classically draped, idealized, and sensually posed.

Profile Photograph of Evelyn Longman, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Image: Profile Photograph of Evelyn Longman. Photograph from the collection of the Loomis Chaffee School Archives, Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, CT

Longman in front of the Horsford Memorial Bronze Doors, 1911, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

French employed Longman as an assistant in his studio before she moved on to individual projects. Wellesley College students know Longman best for the bronze doors of Clapp Library. As Longman became a rare woman to build her career in monumental sculpture, her relationship with French changed from pupil to trusted colleague. Given their bond, French most likely chose to sculpt this unusually small work for personal and emotional motivations. Nathaniel Batchelder Jr., Longman’s stepson, donated the sculpture in memory of his wife, Elizabeth Burnquist Batchelder (Class of 1939), in the hopes that his stepmother’s persistence, talent, and path-making would inspire future Wellesley students.

Letter from Nathaniel Batchelder Jr, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Portrait--Mrs. Philip Lydig, published in "Camera Work" (1905) by Gertrude KŠsebierThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Rita de Acosta Lydig, an American socialite and suffragette known as “the most picturesque woman in America,” modeled for many famous artists. This photograph accentuates Lydig’s clothing as much as her face. Her famously stylish wardrobe would become the basis for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Camera Works Journal (1905) by Alfred StieglitzThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

The most respected female photographer of her time, Gertrude Käsebier helped pioneer pictorialism, a movement that encouraged a subjective outlook and painterly approach to photography. Lydig turns her body and gaze away from the camera, as if she was unaware of the camera’s presence. Alfred Stieglitz, who considered Käsebier a “leading portrait photographer” in the United States, published this portrait in his journal Camera Work in 1905.

Storyville Portrrait by E.J. BellocqThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

American photographer E.J. Bellocq took this portrait in 1912, but the photograph was not developed until after his death, when it was found with many similar portraits. The subject is an unknown sex worker from the New Orleans red-light district, Storyville.

Bellocq’s Storyville portraits have been studied extensively, and even inspired novels and films. However, these studies focus almost entirely on the artist, and many questions remain about the subjects, about whom we know little.

Self-Portrait in Profile (1927) by KŠthe KollwitzThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Käthe Kollwitz, a prolific German artist during the first and second World Wars, created self-portraits throughout her life. Always somber, her self-portraits demonstrated the emotional strain of the wars. This portrait was completed several years after the death of her son, who died in combat at the start of WWI, and the worry and sorrow are visible in her brow, eyes, and mouth.

Krieg (War), Käthe Kollwitz, 1922, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

In her powerful posters, artworks that were easily replicated and distributed, she portrayed the struggles of women and working class people in Berlin. Scholars often note the striking resemblance between Kollwitz and the women she depicts, suggesting that she used her own form as a universal figure of motherhood and mourning during the world wars.

The Widow I (Die Witwe I), plate 4 from War (Krieg), Käthe Kollwitz, 1922, From the collection of: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Show lessRead more

Alice Van Vechten Brown (1935) by Artemis TravshanjianThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Three women created this portrait: Artemis Tavshanjian, the artist; Alice Van Vechten Brown, the sitter; and Sirarpie Der Nersessian, the patron. Brown revolutionized the study of art history by creating hands-on laboratory classes at Wellesley to complement lectures. While director of the Farnsworth Museum, as Wellesley’s art museum was then called, Brown improved its operations and reputation. When Nersessian, a prominent Armenian-American scholar of Byzantine and Armenian art became director, she commissioned portraits of her predecessors, Brown and Myrtilla Avery.

Armenian-American artist Artemis Tavshanjian painted
this portrait of Brown after the Farnsworth exhibited her miniatures. Like
historic American and British miniaturists, Tavshanjian worked with watercolor
on ivory, a intricate process considered appropriate for female artists.
Miniatures had become obsolete after the invention of photography, but were
revived during the Colonial Revival movement, inspired by the 1876 Centennial.
Tavshanjian’s work won awards for it’s delicate brushstrokes and realistic
appearance.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was curated by the 2019 Davis Museum Summer Interns:

Maddy Allan-Rahill
Karina Alvarado
Elana Bridges
Nancy Chu
Kate Davies
Stephanie Fan
Irene Galarneau
Sarah Kain
Juna Lee
Megan McNally
Aviv Shimoni

We gratefully acknowledge the following for allowing the digital reproduction of works in their collections:

Att. to Cristóbal Lozano, Rosa de Salazar y Gabiño, Countess of Monteblanco and Montemar,1764–1771. Roberta and Richard Huber Collection.

Edgar Degas, La Repasseuse, 1869. Musée d’Orsay.

Alexandre Cabanel, Self-portrait, 1852. Musée Fabre.

Uchida Kuichi, Emperor Meiji: Mutsuhito, The Meiji Emperor, 1872. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hatakeyama (Publisher), The Emperor Meiji and Empress, 1906. Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Asian Pacific American Cultures
Explore stories and artworks across Asian Pacific American Cultures
View theme
Google apps