Edith Mitchill Prellwitz
A late 19th-century American painter known for her landscapes and portraits, in addition to her pioneering efforts toward advancing women’s involvement within the art world– Edith and her husband Henry Prellwitz were deeply involved in the development of both the Cornish and Peconic art colonies.
By Chelsea DeLay
VI. Suggested Resources
Edith Mitchill was born in 1864 and spent her childhood in South Orange, New Jersey. Edith left the United States for the first time when she was eighteen, traveling to Europe where she visited Germany, Italy, Paris and London. She returned stateside in 1883 and, inspired by her European travels, and enrolled in the Art Students League of New York. Edith spent six years studying at the Art Students League, where her interest in painting was cultivated by renowned professors of the day, including American painters Kenyon Cox, William Merritt Chase, and George de Forest Brush. Her talent and drive to succeed as a female artist were highly regarded among her teachers and peers—so much so that Edith was elected the Women’s Vice President of the Art Students League in March 1988. Around the same time that Edith accepted the vice-presidency, she also began a short-lived apprenticeship at Tiffany Glass Company but she left after only eight months to pursue her painting career full-time.
In 1889, Edith spent her last year at the Art Students League working along with several other female painters who were dedicated to promoting the work of female artists in America; their efforts paid off with their formation of the Woman’s Art Club, which would later evolve into the National Association of Women Artists. That same year, Mitchill returned to Europe to attend the Académie Julian, where she spent eighteen months studying figure painting under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. Upon her return to New York in 1891, Mitchill established her own studio located on 22nd Street.
Three years later Edith married fellow artist Henry Prellwitz, whom she met while both were studying at the Art Students League; in 1896 their son Edwin Prellwitz was born. At this point in her career, Edith Prellwitz had established herself with an oeuvre featuring portraits of women and children, in addition to allegorical paintings. In 1894, Edith was awarded the second Hallgarten prize, which made her the first woman to ever win a prize from the National Academy that was offered to both genders  and the next year also received the National Academy’s Norman W. Dodge prize. The Prellwitz family traveled to Cornish, New Hampshire for the first time that summer and used Edith’s $250 prize money to build a cottage that became endearingly known as the “Prellwitz Shanty.”
During their time in Cornish, the Prellwitzes emerged as integral figures in the development of the Cornish art colony, whose members included Thomas Dewing and his wife Maria, Stanford White, Charles Platt, and Augustus Saint-Gauden. However, tragedy struck in 1898 when their cottage was struck by lightning and destroyed. While the Prellwitzes never returned to Cornish after their house burned down, Edith’s time in the New Hampshire art colony undoubtedly shaped her work: the Cornish countryside became the subject of several of her impressionist landscape paintings.
Eager to continue their art colony lifestyle, the Prellwitz family was drawn to Peconic, Long Island in the summer of 1899, lured to the area by Henry’s friends and fellow artists Irving Ramsay Wiles and Edward August Bell. Edith and her family continued to summer in Peconic until they became full-time residents in 1913; During her summers in the Long Island art colony, Edith continued to integrate a tonal quality into her paintings, which were increasingly growing in size to accommodate the exhibition spaces at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Pratt Institute and the Charcoal Club in Baltimore. The pieces that were selected for exhibition garnered Edith a significant amount of attention among the American art circuits, and in 1906 Edith and seven other women were elected to the National Academy—the largest number of women offered membership since 1827. However, the admittance process followed an unconventional route because the membership of these eight women became automatic after the Academy absorbed the Society of American artists.
The 1914 trip to the American West with her son later served as Edith’s inspiration for a mural commissioned by the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Southold, Long Island, which she would complete in 1926. In 1928, after fifteen years of living in Peconic, city life beckoned the Prellwitzes to return to New York City and over the next ten years Edith’s artistic creations focused on Manhattan’s skylines. However, a decade in the city proved to be enough of the urban lifestyle for Edith and Henry and they decided to move back to Peconic, Long Island in 1938. Edith Prellwitz passed away at the age of 80 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
1864 Born in South Orange, New Jersey
1882 Travels abroad for the first time to Europe, visits Germany, Italy, Paris and London
1883–89 Studies at the Art Students League of New York
1888 The Art Students League elects the artist as the Women’s Vice President of the organization
Begins an apprenticeship in March at Tiffany Glass Company, which ends in December when the artist decides to pursue painting full-time
1889 Along with several other female artists, Prellwitz organizes the Women’s Art Club to promote women’s work within in the art world (it later evolves into the National Association of Women Artists)
1894 Marries Henry Prellwitz
Becomes the first woman recipient of the second Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy of Design for Hagar
1896 Gives birth to first son, Edwin Prellwitz
1897–98 Spends the summers in Cornish, New Hampshire with her husband and Thomas Dewing, Charles Platt and Augustus Saint-Gauden
1898 The Prellwitzes Cornish residence is struck by lightning and destroyed
1906 Accepts Associate membership to the National Academy when the organization absorbs the Society of American Artists
1913 Moves permanently to Peconic, Long Island
1914 Travels to western America with her son, Edwin
1926 Completes mural commissioned by the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Southold, Long Island
1928 Relocates from Peconic, Long Island to New York City
1929 Receives the Julia A. Shaw prize from the National Academy
1938 Returns to Peconic, Long Island permanently
1944 Passes away in East Greenwich, Rhode Island at the age of 80
1995 Museums at Stony Brook, NY organized a major exhibition entitled Henry and Edith Mitchill Prellwitz and the Peconic Art Colony, which highlighted the couple’s involvement in the Peconic art colony.
Federal Reserve Board, Fine Arts Program, Washington, D.C.
First Unitarian Universalist Church, NY; mural
National Academy of Design, NY
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, NH
Southold Historical Society, NY
1885 Atlanta Exposition, GA; medal
1888, 1892–93, 1896–97, 1930 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PA
1891–95, 1929 National Academy of Design, NY; Hallgarten Prize, 1894; Julia A. Shaw Prize, 1929
1894 Paris Salon, France; prize
1895 Society of American Artists, NY; prize
Cotton States and International Exhibition, GA; silver medal
1899 Pratt Institute, NY
Charcoal Club, MD
1901 Pan-American Exposition, NY; bronze medal
1930 Painters & Sculptors of Los Angeles, CA
1995 Museums at Stony Brook, NY
2012 Spanierman Gallery, NY
V. Memberships & Awards
Society of American Artists, 1898
National Academy of Design: Associate, 1906
New York Water Color Club
National Association of Women Artists
Cornish Art Colony, 1895–98
1. Lisa N. Peters, Painters of Peconic: Edith Prellwitz & Henry Prellwitz, (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2002), 3.
2. Ibid, 4.
3. Bob Mueller, “Painters of Peconic: Edith and Henry Prellwitz,” American Art Review, (February 2006): 141.
4. Peters, 10.
6. Ronald G. Pisano, Long Island Landscape Painting 1820-1920. (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1985), 128.
7. David Dearinger and Isabelle Dervaux. “Challenging Tradition: Women of the Academy,” American Art Review (August 2003), 165.
VII. Suggested Resources
Falk, Peter H. “Edith Mitchill Prellwitz” In Who Was Who in American Art, p. 2659. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
Gerdts, William H., Painters of Peconic: Edith Prellwitz & Henry Prellwitz, New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2002.
Pisano, Ronald G. Long Island Landscape Painting 1820-1920. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1985.