In the realm of women in American painting at the turn of the century, Emmet stands as one of our finest in terms of technical ability and having a serious career. We only have a handful of women artists from this time frame with Mary Cassatt being the prominent. Both Emmet and Cassatt were at their best in pastel and were highly proficient in this medium. Emmet had early instruction from William Merritt Chase at his Shinnecock Hills class. She went on to paint murals in the Women's Building at the Worlds Fair Columbian exhibition in 1893. Cassatt went on to work with the major French Impressionists in Paris and Emmet went to Giverny and worked under Frederick MacMonnies. She trained as well with Bouguereau, Robert Fleury and Collins but it was with MacMonnies that she was ensconced in that circle artists and influence.
Always much in demand, the portraits of Lydia Field Emmet brought the then princely sums of $2000-$2500 in 1912. Emmet's reputation as a portraitist of children would become her legacy.
Emmet applied herself mostly to portrait work and depictions of familial life. The Grandchild is on one of her especially prepared pastel canvases and is an early work done in a purely artistic vein. She did do commission work but this piece was done prior to her embarking on her commission work. It bears a lot of the same compositional attributes one finds in Cassatt’s work with the close in manner that creates for intimacy and the cropping of her subject. It is exemplary of the 1895 time frame where she has the freedom to abandon certain academic compositions and techniques but has not taken impressionism to a looser style. It is important as it is an exceptional glimpse at what one of our few female painters at the time progressively was working on in the late 1890’s.
Best known for her portraits of the children of the upper middle social classes, Emmet studied with Robert Reid and William Merritt Chase whose influence may be seen in our The Grandchild with its dark background and painterly highlights. This picture was painted just four years after Chase put Emmet in charge of his preparatory class at Shinnecock in 1891. Emmet had a talent for capturing her subjects both naturally and casually as seen in our example. There is a wonderful immediacy and attentiveness between the child and the woman who appears in age to be the child’s grandmother. Emmet clearly loved children and often did mother and child themes. There is a certain liveliness to the expression of the child. There is also a special sensitivity to her capturing of these two in an intimate embrace.
Private Collection, Newtown, CT