Julie Hart Beers (1835–1913)

Julie Hart Beers (1835–1913)

A New Jersey artist known for painting landscapes along the Hudson River

By Alexandra A. Jopp

Julie Hart Beers Kempson is regarded as among the best woman artist of nineteenth-century America to specialize in landscapes.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resource

I. Biography

Julie Hart Beers Kempson, a painter of the Hudson River School, was one of very few professional women landscape painters in nineteenth-century America and the only one to achieve any renown. Born Julie Hart in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1835, she was the daughter of Scottish immigrants James Hart and Marion Robertson Hart. Beers began her studies as a pupil of her two older brothers, James (1828–1901) and William (1823–1894), who were both well-known painters; James had studied art in Europe, primarily Germany, from 1850 until 1853, and William had studied for several years in Great Britain. Beers shared a studio with James in New York City and lived with William from 1860 to 1876.[1]

When she was eighteen years old, Beers met her first husband, George Washington Beers (1829-60), a journalist for the Albany Evening Journal. They had two children, Marion “Minnie” Robertson (b. 1853), and Kathryn “Kitty” Schreiber (b. 1856). George Washington Beers died in 1860, and Julie and her daughters relocated to Brooklyn, New York to live with Julie’s brother William and his family. In 1876, Beers married physician Dr. Peter Tertius Kempson (1814–1890). Beers and her daughters joined Dr. Kempson in Metuchen, New Jersey, where Beers opened a studio and continued to paint and exhibit her work.

Beers’s first recorded exhibition was at the National Academy of Design in 1867. Her works were included in the academy’s annual exhibitions in twelve of the years between 1867 and 1885. She also exhibited at the Boston Athenæum in 1867 and 1868 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1868.

While Beers’s brothers have generally received more recognition by art historians, Mark Sullivan, in James M. and William Hart, American Landscape Painters, quotes a publication’s comment that her “few known landscapes are competent work not unlike that of her brothers.”[2] She is known for several paintings, including Lake George, Forest Interiors, Cattle Watering in a River, and the 1888 still life Oranges. William Gerdts observed in his exhibition catalogue Women Artists of America, 1707–1964 that “Mrs. Julie Hart Beers Kempson became the only woman artist of the century to specialize in landscape.” That she was a rarity is easily explained, Gerdts wrote: “It is perhaps not surprising to find so few women landscapists, since the rigors of painting outdoors and the unseemliness of women engaging in this activity during the Victorian era acted as a deterrent.”[3] Julie Hart Beers Kempson demonstrated that women landscape painters were the equal of men, even given the “rigors of painting outdoors.” While largely unappreciated in her own time, her talent and dedication not only produced outstanding works of art, but also broke important ground for the female landscapists who would follow her.

II. Chronology

1835 Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
1867 Exhibited at the National Academy of Design
1867–68 Exhibited at the Boston Athenæum
1868 Exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
1888 Painted Oranges in New Orleans
1913 Died in Trenton

III. Collections

Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio
The Sellars Collection

IV. Exhibitions

1867 National Academy of Design, New York, New York
1867–8 Boston Athenæum, Massachusetts
1868 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1965 Newark Museum, New Jersey

V. Memberships

National Association of Women Artists
New York Society of Women Artists
Women Painters of Washington
Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors

VI. Notes

1. Joan N. Burstyn, Past and Promise: The Lives of New Jersey Women (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 159.
2. Paul E. Sternberg Sr., Art by American Women: Selections from the Collection of Louise and Alan Sellars (Gainesville, GA: Brenau College, 1991), 20.
3. William H. Gerdts, Women Artists of America 1707–1964 (Newark, NJ: Newark Museum, 1965), 8.

VII. Suggested Resources

Burstyn, Joan N., Past and Promise: The Lives of New Jersey Women. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996.
Gerdts, William H. Women Artists of America 1707–1964. Newark, NJ: Newark Museum, 1965.
Morgan, Ann Lee. The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Sternberg Sr., Paul E. Art by American Women: Selections from the Collection of Louise and Alan Sellars. Gainesville, GA: Brenau College, 1991.
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