Helen Corson Hovenden, Martha Hovenden and Her Dog

Martha Hovenden and Her Dog
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of Ann and Roy Wilson
54 x 44 in.

In this intimate portrait, Helen Corson Hovenden’s daughter, Martha, stands with her beautiful dog in a moment of palpable tenderness. The artist’s fluid handling of paint is evident in the soft texture of the dog’s fur, Martha’s coat and muff, the lush velvet of the sofa behind them, and the wolf skin rug.

Corson traveled alone to Paris in 1875 to study painting at the Académie Julian. She lived there for five years with family friends, and during that time met her future husband, artist Thomas Hovenden. The couple returned to the United States in 1880 and married a year later. From 1881 to 1895, they used the Corson family barn—located near Woodmere at the intersection of Germantown Pike and Butler Pike—as their studio; the barn still stands at the site, and is known as Abolition Hall since, in the days of the artist’s youth, it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad in the days of the artist’s youth. Corson and her parents (who were founding members of Plymouth Meeting’s Quaker community) were active in the anti-slavery movement.

Corson was known in Philadelphia as a painter who specialized in portraits of family pets, birds, and flowers. She may have painted the dog in her husband’s famous work, Breaking Home Ties (1890), in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Family members have described that the same much-loved, family dog is depicted in both paintings.

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  • Dear Woodmere, 


    Please know that Martha grew up to become a wonderful artist, inspired by her parents. She made a portrait of me from life when I was seven years old, and I remember sitting for her as she sketched. As a member of the artist’s family, I want to thank you for doing such a great job in telling these important stories about Philadlephia’s art and history. 


    Yours truly, 


    Skip Corson

    Skip Corson