Violet Oakley, Profile of a Woman
This lovely portrait was made while Oakley was living in Paris in 1895. Oakley beautifully captures the curve of her neck, shape of her tousled hair and bun, and the profile of her face with eyes looking down. Even the soft thickness of her eyelashes is conveyed. A single line gracefully suggests the volume of her shoulder. She is enclosed by the curve of the background's translucent wash.
In early 1895, twenty-year-old Violet Oakley traveled to Paris with her family and immersed herself in the city's vital art scene. She studied at the Académie Montparnasse, sketched in the Louvre and visited internationally renowned galleries, salons, and museums. Returning to the states, Oakley enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in a course on portraiture taught by the Academy's first woman instructor, Cecilia Beaux.
Oakley studied at the Academy for only one semester, but she would continue her education at the Drexel Institute with the great American artist, writer, and illustrator Howard Pyle. Oakley would remain a sensitive portraitist throughout her career. She would lead the artist collective known as the Red Rose Girls in Wayne, Pennsylvania, until circumstances led to its relocation to the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia in 1906.
Oakley's accomplishments are unparalleled. She was the second woman ever hired to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the first American woman to receive a public mural commission for the Pennsylvania State Capitol. She was one of the great citizen-artists of Philadelphia, a supporter of other local artists, a popular and well-spoken civic leader, an internationally known pacifist, and a cofounder of numerous arts organizations including the Plastic Club, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Play & Players Theatre. She was also a driving force in the life of Woodmere Art Museum and a constant support to her life partner, Edith Emerson, who was the Museum's director from 1940 through 1978.