Jessie Drew-Bear was fifty-nine-years-old when she received a paint set from her daughter on Christmas in 1938. With this gift, Drew-Bear began a remarkable career as a selftaught artist whose paintings would be acclaimed in Philadelphia and New York for their sincerity of expression, bold aesthetic, and playful imagination. While she was largely self-taught, Drew-Bear briefly took lessons from prominent Philadelphia artist Arthur B. Carles at the start of her career and spent a month painting in the atelier of French artist Fernand Léger in 1949.
She was born in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. Shortly after coming to Philadelphia from England in 1905, Drew-Bear opened the London Flower Shop, which she owned and operated for more than 40 years, at 18th and Chestnut Streets. She was known for her sophisticated, high-end flower arrangements and often provided flowers for gala events and parties. Drew-Bear owned her building, and for a period of time she painted in a second-floor studio above her shop.
The artist was frequently inspired by literary sources, theater experiences, firework displays, social events, and her annual visits to Venice. She was attracted to decorative patterns and her attention to observed detail, whether that of a ballerina’s costume or of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, is evident in her work. She traveled extensively in Europe, Central America, and South America and would often rent an apartment or studio for several months. She often sailed abroad with friends and her four-legged companion, Mignonne. Drew Bear also continued to embrace new experiences, and in the late 1950s— already in her seventies—she learned to scuba dive so she could paint marine life.
Although Drew-Bear did not participate in the mainstream artistic innovations of the 1940s and ’50s, namely Abstract Expressionism, she was aware of art history and did interpret traditional subject matter such as still lifes, nudes, and self-portraits in her studio. While her work is joyous and whimsical, her artistic career was a serious endeavor. She actively sought out gallery representation and exhibition opportunities, and her work was acquired by prestigious collectors and gallery owners Sidney Janis and Albert Duveen.
Jessie and her French poodle 'Mignon' were dear 'family' friends. My parents lived in Venice near the pensione where Jessie stayed. I have several photographs of her with my parents (Frank and Nicola Amey). I also own a lovely, floral painting of hers on glass and the colors are marvelous! She was my adopted 'grandmother'. So much fun to spend time with and so very wise! I keep her painting next to my bed and it's the first thing I see when I open my window curtains.Lowell Amey Van Vechten