Susan Catherine Moore Waters (1823–1900)
Self-taught painter of animals and vivid pastoral scenes.
By Anna J. Murphy
A woman ahead of her time, Waters painted portraits, landscapes and animals to support her family.
VI. Suggested Resources
On May 18, 1823, Susan Catherine Moore Waters was born in Binghamton, NY. A self-taught artist with little formal training, Waters did attend seminary school in Friendsville, PA, where she paid her tuition by producing drawings. At seventeen she married William Waters, whose Quaker connections determined the destinations of their frequent relocations. William, who had health problems, was unable to work enough to provide sufficient income for both of them, which left Susan in the position of provider. Her career as an artist began with commissioned portraits and lessons. Soliciting sitters as she moved between New York and Pennsylvania, Waters employed her talents to support herself and her husband.
While some of these early portraits survive, Waters herself made it clear that she had loftier artistic goals in an 1851 letter1 written to an art world connection. Waters’ early paintings were sufficient in securing moderate financial security for her family, but she was interested in expanding her range of subject matter. She stopped referring to herself as an itinerant portrait painter and instead she started producing landscapes. This shift in her practice and self-presentation stands as evidence of Waters’ ongoing artistic development. As financial security allowed her to move away from contractually constrained portraits, she had more freedom to experiment and explore other forms of expression.
In 1866, the Waters family moved to Bordentown, NJ, a final destination after years of temporary residences. It was here in Bordentown where Waters would create some of her most well-known paintings of domesticated animals in pastoral settings. Among her favorite subjects were sheep, which she conveniently had living in her own yard. The works she produced in Bordentown would garner her recognition in her own lifetime, getting attention from outside the local community. In 1876, Waters was honored with an invitation to show some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
Waters’ initiative in taking up the role of primary income earner between herself and her husband was a remarkable trait for a married woman in her time. She was also forward-thinking in her involvement with the women’s suffrage movement and animal rights activism. In the male-dominated world of painting, Waters proved to be ahead of her time by finding success and staking out a place of her own in art history.
1823 Born in Binghamton, NY on May 18
1841 Marries William Waters, a Quaker
1866 Moves to Bordentown, NJ
1876 Paintings shown in the Centennial Exhibition
1899 Leaves Bordentown for a nursing home in Trenton, NJ
1900 Dies in Trenton on July 7
Addison Gallery of American Art, MA
Arnot Art Museum, NY
Fenimore Art Museum, NY
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, VA
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
New Jersey State Museum, NJ
The Newark Museum, NJ
Smithsonian Institution Art Inventories
1876 Centennial Exhibition, PA
1979 Bedford Gallery, VA
1980 Arnot Art Museum, NY
1. Waters, Susan C. and Paul D. Schweizer. “A Letter by Susan Waters Provides New Information on her Career.” American Art Journal. Vol. 19, No. 1 (1987): 76-77.
VI. Suggested Resources
Bice, Arlene S. Bordentown. Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002. p. 61.
Heslip, Colleen C. “Susan C. Waters.” The Magazine Antiques 115 (1979): 769-77.
Gerdts, William H. Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey. Princeton, NJ: 1964. pp. 109-112.
Strass, Stephanie. “Susan Waters.” American Women Artists, 1819-1947. The Neville Strass Collection, 2003.
Waters, Susan C. and Paul D. Schweizer. “A Letter by Susan Waters Provides New Information on Her Career.” American Art Journal 19, No. 1 (1987): 76-7.