by Patricia T. Thompson

© Patricia T. Thompson, 2010


Part I: “Finding Her Own Path”

In 1957, the influential advocate of modernism Walter Pach used the term “Submerged Artists” as the title for an article in The Atlantic, one of his many articles for the popular press.1 There are artists, he wrote, who “even if they cause a stir in that time, the full significance of their work will not be evident till long afterward, and they may be forgotten, submerged under the mass of the world’s interests, for a very considerable while.” Although he did not mention her in the article, Pach’s friend Edith Branson (Edith Lanier Branson Smith, 1891-1976) is one of a legion of “submerged” Modernist women artists, some now rising to the surface but many still virtually unknown.2 (Fig. 1)


Fig. 1. Portrait of Edith Branson as a Young Woman, n.d., Photograph. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill. Gift of Jacqueline C. Branson Smith.


The modernist era (the period of Cubist and Abstract art that Alfred Barr characterized as “classic modernism”) was, perhaps, like no other in the opportunities newly gained by women artists, with burgeoning associations, supportive political movements, access to expert training in a range of traditional and new genres, and--foremost among them-- the chance to exhibit their work. Yet even a cursory glance at exhibition records reveals how comparatively few women artists exhibited, and how few, despite their talent, are remembered today. Edith Branson is one of many deserving new attention and recognition. Born in Georgia, the daughter of an aristocratic Georgian, Lottie Lanier (of the same family as the poet Sydney Lanier) and the distinguished North Carolina educator Eugene Cunningham Branson, Branson had three siblings, including a younger sister, Elizabeth.3 Although in early years they lived in a small farmhouse without electricity and water, their parents were educated, welltraveled in Europe, and of a strong liberal bent which Edith


Branson absorbed. Eugene Branson believed women should be admitted to the university and not segregated in women’s colleges, “enjoying the right of full freedom to enter the University if they choose.”4 In 1914, he left his position as president of the Georgia State Normal School for a professorship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His daughter Edith, already engaged, lived in Chapel Hill briefly, marrying fellow Georgian, Young Berryman Smith (1889-1960) in 1914. After living in Atlanta for several years, where Smith practiced law, they arrived in New York in 1918, when he joined the faculty of Columbia University as assistant professor. He served as Dean of the Law School from 1928 to 1952.5 Paradoxically Edith Branson, daughter and wife of eminent academics, attended neither college nor a formal art academy, which in later life she regretted, possibly believing that a degree would have given her work more credibility.6 Even so, well trained and devoted to art, she pursued painting in the avant-garde circles of New York over the course of more than two decades. And yet she has remained invisible, submerged, like a host of other


modernist women artists who are now slowly, sporadically, but deservedly being reintroduced.7 “Those were exciting days,” she recalled in1961 in one of only a few newspaper interviews she gave. “We were all outcasts, more or less, (as she ticked off such names as John Sloan, Walter Pach, Abram Baylinson, Morris Kantor, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Georgia O’Keeffe and others then known as ‘established progressives’)…. “Alfred Stieglitz, owner of Gallery 291 and just returned from Europe, was the only person interested in showing our work. He became Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, you know…”8 Stieglitz’s was just one of the modernist circles which surrounded the new arrival Branson, who disingenuously ascribes more importance to O’Keeffe than to him.”9 If she was not precisely a member of the circle, she was exposed to it and to the other modernist artists’ groups bracketing World War I: the Cubists, Cubist Realists, Colorists, Synchromists, Orphists, the Seven, and others who, like Arthur Dove, did not “lean on other things for meanings.”10


Regrettably, Branson left no papers or correspondence, and only a few interviews; her work, her associations, the books she owned, and the recollections of her daughter-inlaw must speak for her. Despite her regrets that she lacked formal academic training, Branson studied with some of the most important artists of the time, including Charles J. Martin, A. S. Baylinson, and one of the most influential teachers of the modernist period, Kenneth Hayes Miller. Martin, who may have been Branson’s most inspiring teacher, was born in 1886.11 Only a few years older than she, he had been one of Clarence White’s students at Columbia University and taught at White’s photography school after its first instructor, Max Weber, left in 1918.12 He taught painting, design, art appreciation and art education in the Fine and Industrial Arts Department at Teachers College between 1910 and 1951.13 Teachers College’s illustrious art program, with a Fine Arts Department established in 1897, included such luminaries as Arthur Wesley Dow who, though not a modernist, taught and published widely on art education and expanded the


curriculum, initiating a course in modernist painting in 1915.14 After Dow’s death, Martin served as department head. 15 The young Martin taught a number of other women artists, including those whose names have been mostly forgotten but also the notable, chief among them Georgia O’Keeffe, who was in his painting class at the Art Students’ League in 1914, and at Teacher’s College in 1914 and 1915, only a few years before Branson joined his classes.16 Trained as an etcher, Martin worked in other media as well, teaching perspective at the Art Students League and color and composition for the Textile Guild of the Keramic Society of Greater New York.17 He also took students on field courses to Mexico.18 Branson and her husband had a dual passport and traveled in Europe in 1926 but it is also possible she traveled alone with Martin’s group.19 Branson would have received excellent conventional training from Martin. The Teachers College program, one of the best in the country at that time, was highly attractive to and supportive of women, and --conveniently for her-- part of the Columbia milieu.20


The curriculum included drawing, painting, industrial design, house design, costume design, and art education, with courses in art history and appreciation, and field trips to the Metropolitan.21 Since Branson never formally attended college, as a faculty spouse she may have been a special student of Martin’s. And since both Dow and Martin were members of the Independents, exhibiting in its 1917 inaugural, from virtually the moment she arrived in New York City Branson would have had entrée to the Society’s activities.22 Another of Branson’s teachers and friends was A.S. (Abraham Solomon) Baylinson (1882-1950) who in 1931, the same year of the disastrous Lincoln Arcade fire, inscribed a photograph of himself to her “a fellow artist.”23 Like Branson, he had a studio at the Lincoln Arcade, and suffered the loss of virtually his life work in the fire; she did not suffer any losses.24 Pach, in “Submerged Artists,” included Baylinson who, he said, “quickly saw the validity of the Cubists’ investigation of form,” although his approach was essentially naturalistic.25


Baylinson, a student of Robert Henri, who Pach calls his “chief influence,” taught at the Art Students League, was a member and officer of the Independents, and exhibited in major venues like the Whitney Biennial, the Carnegie International and the Art Institute of Chicago.26 A realist with Cubist tendencies, he supported the work of modernists and was a courageous and driving force for the Independents, even convicted on a decency charge in 1923 while Secretary for exhibiting another artists’ controversial work.27 “Baylie,” John Sloan’s nickname for him, was also active in the WPA. Although scarcely mentioned in art literature after the 50s, he was an important figure and not only his commitment but also his brilliant palette and Cubist realism must have had some influence on Branson, the abstract colorist.28 More than any other work, her red and black chalk nudes hearken to his in medium and subject of choice.29 “Let me see an artist’s drawing or painting of the nude figure,” he said, “and I will tell you quicker than from any other test what he is worth.”30 Branson, whose work is dominated by nudes, took him at his word.


Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876-1952,) another artist with whom we know Branson trained, studied with Kenyon Cox, H. Siddons Mowbray and abroad, visiting museums and galleries as his “academy.” From 1900-1911 he was both student and instructor at William Merritt Chase’s school of art. But his major role as a teacher was at the Art Students League from 1911 to 1951, with a short hiatus in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. In Miller’s obituary, the director of the Art Students League called him “a foundation from which thousands of informed and talented young artists came to learn their profession.”31 His students included a pantheon of artists of the Modernist era: Isabel Bishop, Peggy Bacon, Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, Rockwell Kent, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and scores of others.32 Branson’s work echoes his principles of color, rhythm, forms and deconstruction.33 She may have heard, and adopted, Miller’s comment that “modern art is a dissection of the great tradition, resulting, in the best examples, in recovery of the picture plane. To build anew on that foundation is the next problem.”34 Miller exhibited in the Armory Show, but not in


the Society of Independent Artists exhibitions, although he exhibited widely, including the Corcoran and Whitney Biennials. His reputation—or at least renown-- as an artist has fared better than Baylinson and Martin’s.35 In addition to Branson’s training with these eminent artist-teachers, she recalled that (perhaps inspired by Miller) she really learned to paint by spending time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “studying, copying, and painting on my own.”36 Charcoal studies in Branson’s portfolios and pencil drawings in her small sketchpads reveal a mastery of stylized abstraction from the classical, Indian and Chinese sculpture she saw there, with studies of drapery, torsos, limbs, hands, and gestures.37 She also made meticulous copies, including one of an ink and watercolor Rajput cartoon for a mural, Head of Krishna.38(Fig. 2)


Fig. 2. Edith Branson, Head of Krishna, after Rajput cartoon in Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d., ink and watercolor, 18 x 24 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


In spite of her tendencies to abstraction and color, she was an accomplished draftsman and wanted to demonstrate it.39 The cartoon was accessioned in 1918, so may have been featured as a new acquisition and thus Branson’s attention drawn to it. The Metropolitan’s rich collections were, in effect, her “academy.” Miller, too, may have encouraged her to study Eastern art for its rich and sometimes unorthodox (to the Western eye) combinations of color.40 Branson was also an avid reader, and owned numerous art books, including books on color theory and works on Bashkirtseff, Delacroix, Doré, Gauguin, Goya, and Van Gogh, and the artists of the Renaissance. Some of them were gifts by and from Pach.41 Her library also included books on ethnological art and work by contemporary critics and theorists like Roger Fry and Faber Birren.42 But Branson did not only read to learn about artists or color theory: in a moment of whimsy or irony, she used the frontispiece of one of these books, a French portfolio of illustrations by Angelica Kauffmann, to paint a pink nude—upside down.43 Was Kauffmann one of her woman artist heroines? Or was she


happily making a statement about women artists’ ability to portray the nude, an opportunity that was usually limited to male artist until the late 19th century?44 Or was she commenting on the clash over nudes at the Independents’ 1922 exhibition?45 In any case, nudes—nudes that are female but not feminine- figure prominently in her portfolios and paintings. (Fig. 3)


Fig. 3. Edith Branson, [Nude on Angelika Kauffmann Title Page], n.d., tempera on paper, 12 1/2 x 20. Inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Although Branson destroyed much of her work, culling it once every five years or so, she left portfolios labeled “Do Not Destroy,” work she evidently prized. She framed anything she considered worthy of exhibition or retention. Sometimes she painted the frames to extend the work, blurring the line between work and the space it occupied. Numerous large figural studies in her portfolios (one dated 1919) suggest she took life-drawing classes in this year. (Fig. 4)


Fig. 4. Edith Branson, [Female Nude], ca. 1920, drawing, charcoal or graphite on paper, 18 x 22 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


The forms have been abstracted into solid masses, but small and sometimes odd (an electrical outlet) details of the studio remain in many of them. Branson’s nude studies from the late ‘teens may have been produced at the Art Students League, where Miller taught life classes. It is not certain when Branson studied at the League, but the dates would coincide with Miller’s (1911-28; 1933-36; 1944-51) and Baylinson’s (1931-33; 1937-39) activity there.46 The League probably suited Branson as a place where, as John Sloan claimed, the instruction ranged from “the conservative to the ultra-modern,” and where “a student can choose his studies much as he can choose his food at an Automat.”47 And even if she did not study with them, she would have been surrounded by the classes of artists like Robert Henri, George Bellows, George Luks, and Max Weber. A journeyman artist, Branson worked every day in her studio at the Lincoln Arcade where, she once selfdeprecatingly noted, she was tolerated because she helped pay the rent. She did not sell her work nor (with a few exceptions) did she make any effort to do so. Married to a


successful, well-off academic, she “could not bring herself to compete commercially with her friends who were forever scratching for the next meal.”48 Her husband supported and endorsed her pursuit of painting, and even after their son Charles Branson Smith was born in 1919 Edith went to work every day in her studio. The Smiths had a nanny from North Carolina and live-in male students who helped with meals and housekeeping; in return their tuition was paid and a number of them completed law school. “I have put three or four students through law school at my own purse,” Branson remarked.49 At home, Edith also taught Charles to draw—in her own portfolios she saved his tempera painting of a castle. He loved to draw, eventually became an engineer, and had great respect for his mother’s work, describing her as “a colorist.”50 In a charming portrait of her son as a child Branson repeated the style of the Rajput cartoon. Her selfportraits as a young woman are equally direct, whimsical, and accomplished, revealing a woman with strawberry blonde hair and intelligent gaze. (Fig. 5)


Fig. 5. Edith Branson, [Self-portrait], ca. 1933-4, pastel, 18 x 24 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


During the ‘20s, Branson visited family in Morehead City, North Carolina, the coastal birthplace of her father. In neighboring Beaufort, now gentrified but then still an important fishing town, she painted abstracted seascapes of the docks, watercolors which must have pleased her since she signed and dated them, 1928. These vivid watercolors invite a comparison with John Marin’s. (Fig. 6)


Fig. 6. Edith Branson, The C. P. Dey [Beaufort], 1928, watercolor, 20 x 15 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Earlier in the Twenties a columnist wrote: “Art Independents Hang Cubists High.”51 In that year, 1921, only a few years after the 1917 inaugural of what is often called the “Second Armory Show,” Branson began exhibiting and also serving as a board member and director with the Society of Independent Artists, in which she was involved almost continuously through 1941.52 Charles J. Martin had exhibited in the first Independents exhibition, and board members during her activity included Pach and Baylinson, as well as John Taylor Arms, Jose de Creeft, George Bellows, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan. The exhibitors included many other significant artists as well as the unknown and untrained and, as Pach admitted, sometimes the “grotesque riff-raff.”53 “Modernists and classicists are mingled in Salon,” commented a reviewer in 1924.54 Though occasionally castigated by reviewers like Edward Alden Jewell in The New York Times, many of the Independents eventually achieved due recognition. Others disappeared into deserved (judging by some of the catalog illustrations) or, like Branson,


undeserved obscurity.55 Until 1925, the exhibitors’ work was hung democratically, alphabetically by the artist’s last name, but in that year, by membership vote, works were categorized as representative, semi-representative, or abstract, (or, as one reviewer commented, “regular,” “futurist and cubist and other ists,” and “halfway between regular and wild.”56 In 1930, Branson exhibited two works; it was an unusual year, with fewer Cubist works, a section reserved for works by the late Robert Henri, and a record number of attendees.57 In 1931, the influence of the Depression had reached the Independents, with many works reflecting the sobering theme. Branson exhibited two Compositions. Another recordsetting year, with 12,000 visitors, it was one of the largest attendances ever for an art exhibition in the United States. Branson’s work, and that of her fellow Independents, had exceptional exposure to a broad public.58 In 1932, the alphabetical order was resumed, and Branson exhibited two works, including a nude, which Jewell dismissed just as he did the work of other artists like Alfred Maurer.59 Fewer


nudes were shown that year, so it was probably Branson’s work about which a reviewer commented, “There was one canvas labeled “Nude” but it was another abstract.”60 It was also a year when artists could barter their work for the necessities of life.61 In the 1934 exhibition, Jewell reversed himself and looked more kindly on Branson’s abstractions, including her work in a group that could be “segregated from the rank and file by virtue of definite merit or because, in a certain freshness of idea and method, they look promising.”62 From 1934 on Branson--uncharacteristically-priced the works she exhibited. It is unlikely that she needed the money but perhaps craved the validation of her work a price might suggest. It is difficult to identify many of the works Branson exhibited with the Independents as she used imprecise titles like Forms and Composition. Although most of the work in the Independents exhibitions was for sale, the catalog entries were illustrated only at the artists’ wishes and expense. Usually Branson included no illustration for her entries, but the 1938 catalog illustrated one of her works, a


painting of abstracted torsos with swirling ribbons, Forms, priced at $500, a substantial amount in those years.63 In comparison, John Sloan priced his works for that year, Goldfish Nude and Model Resting, at $500 and $900, respectively. Perhaps by 1938 Branson felt her work could command a fair value. If not sold, it was, at least, noticed; one reviewer commented noncommittally that her work would fit in at the current American Abstract Artists exhibition.64(Fig. 7)


Fig. 7. Edith Branson, Forms, before 1938, oil on board, 43 ½ x 29½ inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Branson exhibited with the Independents during the group’s heady years of “no juries, no prizes,” blue law fights, democratic hats-on policies, controversies over nudes, exhibition of spirit paintings, satirical portrayals of Christ and inventive masquerade balls, which in the Depression years gave way to the less frivolous art for barter.65 Given her independent spirit, the incongruity of being married to an eminent dean while associating with radicals did not bother Branson, the daughter of a liberal.66 Branson was also a founding member and exhibitor at Contemporary Arts, the non-profit gallery established by Emily A. Francis in 1929 in order to “bring before the public the work of the mature artist regardless of his financial, social, or racial condition.”67 Like the Independents but unlike Stieglitz, rather than building a gallery around a few people, Contemporary Arts had a democratic mission. It proposed alternative ways to own art, such as the “rent-apainting” exhibition in 1933 of one Marcus Rothkowitz, which was Rothko’s first one-man exhibition in New York.68


Christmas Exhibitions marketed works as well; Branson participated in at least one, in 1933, along with Baylinson, Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb, Louise Nevelson, Mark Tobey, and scores of other artists who desperately needed to not just exhibit but to sell their work.69 It was the depths of the Depression. Branson was “introduced,” participated in Contemporary Arts’ group exhibitions, and served as an officer from its incorporation in 1931.70 She also had a solo show in 1935.71 The announcement reads “Paintings by Edith Branson (First One-man Exhibition in New York) January 28 to February 16, 1935” at their 41 W. 54th St. Gallery.” The artist was present at the opening, and Walter Pach was the honored guest at the next Monday evening reception for members’ and exhibitors’ guests.72 The works in the exhibition included a synchromist’s array of titles: 1. Movement; 2. Mechanism; 3. Sea Fantasy; 4. Flowers; 5. Symphony in Grey and Green; 6. Orchestration; 7. Ode to Music; 8. Conspiracy; 9. Form and Space; 10. Color


Romanticism; 11. Dawn; 12. Color Forms; 13. Unity; 14. Clarity; and 15. A Lyric. [Figs. 8 and 9]


Fig. 8. Edith Branson, Conspiracy, before 1935, oil on board, 29 ½ x 36 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Fig. 9. Edith Branson, Dawn, oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches, 1932. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


The foreword to the exhibition checklist, which Branson may have written herself, offers a rare glimpse into her aesthetic and practice: “Edith Branson has been delving in color for fifteen years, chiefly studying with Charles Martin of Columbia, who gave her the courage to work by herself. This she did for five years, studying Persian and Indian Miniatures at the Metropolitan. Since then she has found her own path, working in purely abstract forms in which she feels she can best convey her joy in color. She believes that all the depth of emotion that can be experienced thru [sic] sound, can also be experienced thru color. Miss Branson has made, and intends to make the study of color her whole life work, -to express thru painting the experience of living.”73 The New York Times’ lukewarm review by Howard Devree characterized the works, including Sea Fantasy, Flowers, and Dawn, as “color experiments in abstract design…suggestive in some degree but chiefly decoratively.”

Yet a month later, Branson’s oil painting from the solo

exhibition, Dawn, was selected for in the 14th Corcoran


Biennial, where it was exhibited in its Gallery M with the work of such fellow artists as Edward Hopper and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.75 Unlike the Independents, the Corcoran was a juried exhibition. Branson’s abstract work was selected by a jury chaired by Jonas Lie, a landscape painter, but first and second prizes went to the more traditional Eugene Speicher and Frederick Frieseke. Modernist works were, nevertheless, on the upswing in the Corcoran by the 11th Biennial in 1928.76 In addition to the Corcoran, Branson may have exhibited with the Guggenheim Museum’s precursor, its traveling Exhibitions of Non-Objective Paintings (1936-1939,) which were first shown in Charleston SC, then in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York. In 1947, a Guggenheim exhibition of American “non-objective” painters, “Gegenstandlose Malerei in Amerika,” traveled to Zurich and venues in Germany, the first post-war exhibition of contemporary American artists. During the early years of the Guggenheim Museum, which opened in 1959, Branson took her daughter-in law Jacqueline there and said she had


exhibited with the Guggenheim traveling exhibitions both in the U.S. and abroad.77 She owned a copy of the 1938 catalog. A manifesto by Hilla Rebay, driving force of the NonObjective exhibitions, published in the Southern Literary Messenger, the important southern art and literary review, would have resonated profoundly with Branson. Nonobjective painting, Rebay wrote, is “simply a beautiful organization of colors and forms to be enjoyed for beauty’s sake and arranged in rhythmic order…and has the same law and counterpoint as has the musical creation…The eye of the non-objective artist has to become sensitive to the beauty of the space itself, to be able to invent new worlds…”78 Branson’s work displays many affinities with the artists in the Non-Objective exhibitions—the rhythmic works of Rebay, Rudolf Bauer, Robert Delaunay and Wassily Kandinsky, in particular. Ribbon-like forms, for example, which dominate much of Branson’s work, appear in Kandinsky’s work of the mid-‘20s and in Rebay’s work of the ‘40s and ‘50s.


In the ‘30s, Branson exhibited at least once, and possibly more frequently, with the Municipal Art Galleries, along with Baylinson, Walter and Magda Pach and other New York artists.79 She also showed her work in a series of exhibitions, “Small Paintings for the Home,” sponsored by Contemporary Arts. The exhibitions, initiated in 1938, aimed to encourage ownership by showing work “truly worthy of the attention of the public,” collaborating with museums to present “paintings suitable for the average home.”80 Of the 44 artists exhibiting with Branson in the series’ second show, February and March, 1940, only 7 were women, among them Alice Neel, a fellow Contemporary Arts exhibitor.81 Branson once again entered Dawn, the work she had exhibited with Contemporary Arts and the Corcoran Biennial.82 The modest 1940 catalog paraphrased from her 1935 solo exhibition that Branson “has made a careful study of Persian and Indian miniatures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since that period she has chosen her own path, working in purely abstract forms. It is her belief ‘that all the depth of emotion that can be experienced through sound, can also be


experienced through color.’ Miss Branson has made, and intends to make the study of color her whole life work—to express through painting the experience of living.”83 Dawn may have been exhibited at least one more time, in a 1937 exhibition arranged by Emily Francis’ other endeavor, Collectors of American Art, the non-profit association based on the model of the American Art Union, for the Centennial Club, a woman’s club in Nashville, Tennessee.84 The catalog for the 1944 Small Paintings exhibition, which included Eilshemius, Evergood, Gropper, Soyer, Stella and others and only two women, Louise Pershing and Martyl [Suzanne Schweig,] states that only two paintings from the 1938 show sold, but that seven or eight of those artists, then relatively unknown, were now included in major shows and collections.85 Although the catalogs included no prices or illustrations, they did include valuable biographical information for the artists. In addition to her activity with the Independents and Contemporary Arts, Branson was a member of the “left wing of the feminine artistic movement,” the New York Society of


Women Artists.86 Membership in the Society, founded in 1925, implied a certain legitimacy as an artist, as opposed to a Sunday painter or dilettante, yet many of the women, like Branson, juggled their artistic work with family obligations.87 Branson showed work in the 12th (1937) and 13th (1938) annual exhibitions, and possibly other years, joining other members like her friend Pach’s wife Magda and fellow Southerner Mary Tannahill. Cubists in the group, who would have been kindred spirits to Branson, included Blanche Lazzell, Lucy L’Engle and Agnes Weinrich.88 Jewell characterized the 1937 exhibition of the work of 50 artists as more conservative than its usual modernist leanings, but still showing evidence of the style in which Branson worked, “free rhythms, venturesome color schemes, and abstract designs.”

The 1938 exhibition was “one of

the largest and most effective shows” by the Society, with more than one hundred works exhibited.90 Another reviewer noted that it was “more frankly modern in sympathies than the bulk of the examples shown by the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors,” the more conservative


organization which had recently held its annual.91 Some NYSWA members were also members of the Independents, so Branson would have known them. Many of the NYSWA artists, like Branson, have been forgotten; in some cases, their work was mediocre, but others either did not promote themselves, had no connection with dealers, their work went out of fashion, or they were constrained by their domestic lives.92


Part Two: “Thru Painting the Experience of Living” Jacqueline Branson Smith characterized Branson’s work according to several themes, which are helpful keys for looking at the work, especially given their lack of distinguishing titles. In addition to the pastels, watercolors and figure studies, there are at least 80 oil paintings extant, on canvas or board, in the following categories: Figurative, including Hands (11); Stripes (9); Geometrical Forms with (8) and without (9) Ribbons, and Female Figures with (15) and without (9) Ribbons. Most are framed; many are unsigned and undated.93 Branson was intrigued by hands, and may have been inspired by the Asian works she saw in the Metropolitan, such as the gilt bronze Buddha Maitreya, Buddha of the Future, whose mudra, or gesture, indicates generosity and fearlessness.94 Her hands incorporate the recessed nails typical of Asian art. Stieglitz’s Hands series may also have been an inspiration. Or she simply might have taken the


words of her teacher, Miller, to heart: “Hands are decisive. When they are hidden in a painting, something incredibly important is lost. The raising of a finger can enliven the action of an entire body.”95 Branson’s hands, however, are often disembodied, fragments as if broken from a sculptural work, entities unto themselves. (Fig. 10)



Fig. 10. Edith Branson, [Hands], ca.1940, oil on board, 29 ½ x 23 ½ inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Sculptural influences, including classical but also African art, can be detected in much of Branson’s work, particularly the more massive human figures and forms. In 1919, the year after the Smiths moved to New York, the Mexican artist and Stieglitz circle member Marius de Zayas (1880-1961) opened a gallery on Fifth Avenue. Its second exhibition was devoted to African art.96 African art had been exhibited in New York first at the American Museum of Natural History in 1910, and at 291 in 1914, in the exhibition “Statuary in Wood by African Savages. The Root of Modern Art,” and at the Modern Gallery from 1916 until it closed in 1918.97 An exhibition of African art in January and February of 1918, the year the Smiths probably moved to New York, may have taken place before they were settled, so de Zayas’ 1919 show may have been Branson’s first exposure to African art.98 A drawing, possibly a self-portrait in profile, with columnar neck, stylized “Attic” hair and features, probably one of Branson’s works from this period, suggests an African influence. (Fig. 11)


Fig. 11. Edith Branson, [Female Head; Self-portrait], n.d., graphite on paper, 18 x 24 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Branson owned a copy of Henri Clouzot and Andre Level’s L’Art Nègre et l’Art Océanien.99 She may also have been familiar with de Zayas’ 1916 work African Negro Art, its influence on Modern art as well as his 1913 booklet/manifesto A Study of the Modern Evolution of Plastic Expression, with its illustrations of work by Francois Picabia, who came to New York in 1915. Some of her work, such as Forms in Space, which she exhibited in 1940 with the Independents, exhibits affinities with such Picabia works as Dances at the Spring (1912.)100 De Zayas’ ideas on what he called “primitive form” were complex: he exhibited African art yet at the same time criticized modern artists for appropriating it.”101 Another de Zayas idea of “primitive” art that Branson may have pursued in light of her “rhythm” paintings concerned representation expressed by the “trajectories of the thing that moves,” an idea explored earlier, to be sure, by Duchamp.102 (Fig. 12) Her own version of a nude descending a staircase is a New Woman, big and bold, emerging from yet dominating the City.


Fig. 12. Edith Branson, [City Nude on Stairs], ca. 1935, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Branson’s large nudes are sculptural but like the hands, often disembodied, as if inspired by torso fragments of the ancient sculpture she saw in the Metropolitan. A comparison of her large nude from the late 30s with MacDonald Wright’s 1930 Yin Synchromy suggests that although a colorist, if not precisely a synchromist, she was more interested in taking her work to a greater level of abstraction. In these nudes she is less interested in color than in form and rhythm. One senses that Branson’s independent spirit freed her from adhering to any one artistic theory, principle, or ‘ism.” The large sculptural nudes are essentially Cubist works, with an emphasis on massed forms. One large nude seems to be throwing off the swirling ribbons, others are entwined with red ribbons—swirling bonds, or perhaps only suggestions of rhythm, and some are simply floating in an ambiguous space.103 (Figs. 13, 14)


Fig. 13. Edith Branson, [Large Nude with Ribbons], n.d. oil on board, 39x34 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Fig. 14. Edith Branson, [Two Nudes with Black], n.d. oil on board, 35 ½ x 29 ½ inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


One of her more figurative works, possibly a selfportrait, is a large painting of a red-haired woman holding a bouquet in front of a mirror, reminiscent of a Picasso or Modigliani. (Fig. 15)


Fig. 15. Edith Branson, [Self-Portrait with Mirror], n.d., oil on canvas, 35 x 29 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Objects like these are rare in her work, which is not overtly symbolic. A red star on a broken column, however, recalling Marsden Hartley’s use of ambiguous ciphers, appears in one of her unique paintings. (Fig. 16)


Fig. 16. Edith Branson, [Red Star], n.d., oil on board, 29 ½ x 27 inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


In another, clearly a sailboat and a seagull—perhaps the Sea Fantasy exhibited in 1935, inspired by her Beaufort visits, incorporates ribbons and horizontal bands to suggest sea and sky. Branson also painted the typical Cubist still life of musical instruments and fruit, echoing Braque, and rarely but occasionally incorporated natural elements—a leaf, a bird reminiscent of Arp—into her compositions. Branson’s stripe paintings, “cityscapes” from the mid-‘30s, are abstractions painted with hard-edged vertical stripes, echoing the work of Stieglitz, such as his “From the Shelton” photographs of 1930-31, as well as the works Weber and other modernists who sought not to simply depict the City but capture its essence, its rhythms, its excitement and depth. Branson’s linear, jagged “masculine” stripes are quite different from her twisting, scrolling, “feminine” ribbon work, nor are the palette and rhythm the same. (Fig. 17) Instead of flesh and marble tones and red ribbons, the stripes are in deep blues, greens, and purples, with highlights –foregrounds—of golden or warmer tones, which give the works depth as a cityscape.


Fig. 17. Edith Branson, [Cityscape], oil on board, 25 ½ x 29 ½ inches. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Sometimes Branson combined the two genres: ribbons encroach upon stripes and geometric shapes, as in Dancing Rhythm (Fig. 18) and Conspiracy. (Fig. 8) Since Branson gave vague titles to most of her works, these two are charged with meaning, a meaning now opaque to us with the latter, with its signifying title. Other geometric—cubist— work incorporates broader swathes of color and form rather than stripes or ribbons. In all the work however, both color and rhythm are key components. Although Branson exhibited in1941, at some point in the ‘40s, when “she could no longer draw a straight line with her brush,” Branson returned to her craft, weaving, which she had studied at Columbia with Florence E. House.104 She had several large looms, and as a highly accomplished craftswoman taught weaving at the YWCA in New York.105 Ethnic patterns, openwork and unique designs are found in her work and the abstraction inherent in textiles and carpets likely appealed to Branson just as it did to other modernists like Zorach, Delaunay and Klee.106 She wove and wore


kimonos. She also decorated furniture, designed, wove, and sewed costume, and did reverse painting on glass.107


Fig. 18. Edith Branson, Dancing Rhythm, oil on board, 33 ½ x 24 inches; before 1935. Jacqueline C. Branson Smith Estate.


Part Three: The Straight Line Gone: The Late Years In her later years after her husband’s retirement in the early ‘50s, the Bransons remained in New York City on Morningside Drive, but also had a summer home, “Thunder Hill” named after a scenic location in the vacation community of Blowing Rock, not far from major art and craft centers like the influential Black Mountain and Penland.108 After her husband’s death in 1960, Branson lived in the Branson family home in Chapel Hill with her sister Elizabeth, a successful businesswoman. She obtained a passport in 1962, and she and her “Beppie” traveled abroad, by boat, to Alaska, Mexico and Spain.109 Branson kept a studio at 209 Boundary Street, below the house, and much of her framed work hung there. (Fig. 19) Her work was also shown in several Chapel Hill exhibitions, including a two-person show in 1967 with the noted UNC faculty artist (and former student of Ossip Zadkine) Robert Howard, which the gallery director called “the most exciting show we have held in the Gallery in the three years it has been in existence.”110


Branson also held a one-woman show of four paintings at the North Carolina National

Fig. 19. Edith Branson at Easel, n.d. photograph, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill, Gift of Jacqueline C. Branson Smith.


Bank, which regularly exhibited art. “Composing a painting was like composing music or a symphony,” she told the reviewer, who commented that the forms seemed to float in “organized luminosity.”111 The paintings of the artist who “never had any desire to become a professional” were enthusiastically reviewed in the local press. Exhibiting again in the key feminist decade of the 20th century, the Sixties, Branson may have felt a kinship with her younger fellows. She had been there, been through the same struggles and balancing acts. In Edith Branson’s old age she pleaded with her son to preserve her paintings, those she had not culled but kept, framed, and carefully hung on her studio walls. In order to begin the process of documenting her work, Charles Branson Smith and his wife Jacqueline made photographs and slides of her paintings, and Branson tried to sign some of them.112 They also tried to make recordings but her voice was too weak. Their efforts have been noble. Her entire oeuvre, with the exception of a few paintings she gave to Chapel Hill friends, is in the Estate of the late Jacqueline C.B. Smith, who


was committed to fulfilling the promise made to the artist years ago, to preserve and ensure a place for her work.113 Edith Branson Smith is buried in the historic Chapel Hill Cemetery, near her husband and son. Not one museum holds her work.114


Conclusion: Putting Her in Her Place Branson painted throughout most of her life, never catering to the marketplace, never even writing memoir, always focusing on her work. An exceptional woman, not content to stay in the shadow of her equally exceptional husband, she pursued art and identity as a dedicated and progressive artist. In her time, her work was exhibited, appreciated, or if not appreciated at least given the recognition of criticism, that is, work worthy of discussion. Yet little more than a quarter of a century after her death, the work of a woman who was part of the critical mass of women artists active in the modernist period has no public venue, no “room of her own.” Or, to paraphrase Linda Nochlin, “Why are there still so few supporters of women artists?” Certainly scores of women artists have been packed into the canon--Artemisia, Kauffmann, Kahlo, O’Keeffe—yet art historians and their students return again and again to the Old Mistresses or, even worse, to the Old


Masters with a new feminist gaze. Ironically, although feminist art history has been codified and a new canon has command, innumerable women artists await discourse. Perhaps in future academics or curators will follow the commendable lead of one scholar in writing about forgotten women artists, pursuing a more meaningful and equitable scholarship to redress the “peculiar and perverse destiny of so many women…whose lives were ignored and works neglected.”115 As one who pursued art history in the era of Janson and Gombrich, but who also came of age in the Sixties, I sensed early on that something was amiss. Even though women artists were never mentioned in any of my courses (with the exception, possibly, of Cassatt,) for an American art course I recklessly submitted a paper on Anna Hyatt Huntington116. I had seen a Huntington bronze on campus and it intrigued me. When I returned to the campus more than thirty years later it was gone, relegated to storage. Indeed, it is time to unpack Branson, like so many others, and put her in her place.




For “Finding her own path” see Note 73. See Pach, “Submerged Artists,” The Atlantic 199: 2 (February 1957): 68-72. In his essay, Pach cites major European and American artists, including A.S. Baylinson, one of Branson’s teachers. Pach inscribed numerous books to Edith Branson, three of which have been donated to the Sloane Art Library by Mrs. Jacqueline Branson Smith, including Masters of Modern Art (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1924); Queer Thing, Painting (New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1938); and Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890 (New York: Artbook Museum, 1936). A portrait of the young Pach (1905) by William Merritt Chase is in the North Carolina Museum of Art, reproduced in Exhibition of the Art of Walter and Magda Pach (Saint Paul, MN: Minnesota Museum of Art, 7th July-10 September, 1989), [3.] 2 I owe a great debt to the late Mrs. Jacqueline Branson Smith, (hereafter referred to as JBS), Branson’s daughter-in-law and widow of Charles Branson Smith, Edith Branson and Young B. Smith’s son, for introducing me to Branson, supplying me with essential information, and unpacking Branson’s oeuvre after contacting me upon locating Branson in the Sloane Art Library’s North Carolina Women Artists Archive. The small Archive was established by the North Carolina State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1988 and deposited with the Sloane Art Library in 1990. Mrs. Smith, an indefatigable researcher, spent years in an effort to bring Branson’s work the recognition it deserves, and to find a venue for her work. Branson’s niece, the late Barnett Branson Wood, a great admirer of her aunt’s work, assisted the Smiths in their early efforts to make Edith Branson’s work known. Although recent exhibitions such as Marian Wardle, ed. American Women Modernists: the Legacy of Robert Henri, 1910-1945 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Museum of Art; New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005) are helping to redress the lack of attention to women modernists, there is much more work to be done. A helpful recent overview is Laura R. Prieto, “Making the Modern Woman Artist,” in At Home in the Studio: the Professionalization of Women Artists in America (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.) 3 A pastel portrait of Lottie Lanier (Mrs. Eugene C. Branson) dated 1943, painted by Mary de Berniere Graves (1886-1950,) a noted North Carolina illustrator and portraitist who studied with Chase and Henri, is in the Jacqueline Branson Smith collection; Edith would have known her in Chapel Hill and/or New York. For Eugene C. Branson see Who Was Who in America I (1897-1942) (Chicago: Marquis, 1963): 132 and the Branson Papers in the Southern Historical Collection, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The collection was donated by Mrs. Young B. Smith (Edith Branson) for the Branson family; regrettably, Edith left no correspondence or papers of her own. Eugene Branson, eminent educator, author, and editor, was president of the State Normal School of Georgia, 1900-1912, head of its department of rural economics and sociology, 1912-1914, and founder and head of the rural social economics program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 4 Edith’s older brother Frank Lanier Branson published a book about his father, Eugene Cunningham Branson, Humanitarian (Charlotte: Heritage Printers and the Author, 1967). Linda Nochlin makes an interesting case for the investigation of the “benign if not outright encouraging role of fathers in the formation of women professionals” See Women Art and Power and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) 169. 5 For Young B. Smith see Who Was Who v. 4 (1961-1968), 881. The Smith’s address is listed as 88 Morningside Dr., New York City. When Dean Smith retired in 1958, notables such as President-Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower, Associate Justice William O. Douglas, and former Governor Thomas E. Dewey were in attendance at his retirement dinner. 6 From interview with JBS. 7 Branson’s name does appear in Peter Hastings Falk, ed. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975 (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, c1999), v. 1, 423; Daniel Trowbridge Mallett’s Index of Artists (New York, R.R. Bowker Co., 1948), 50. The information in Jacobsen’s Biographical Index of American Artists is incorrect. According to JBS, Branson’s earliest signed and dated work is from 1919; the latest, 1941. She was not in the habit of always signing and dating her paintings, however. When she did sign her work she used either E.B. or Edith Branson, not her married name. 8 Interview by Ola Maie Foushee, “Art in North Carolina: Painter Recalls ‘Exciting Days’ in the Big City,” Charlotte Observer 23 July 1961, p. 12A. Branson owned a copy of Waldo Frank et al., America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait (Garden City New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1934). A book that provides a near-contemporary view of the milieu, with statements by many artists and writers of the time; it also includes a catalog of the works Branson would have seen, including Stieglitz’s “city” and “hands” photographs, works by Marin, Hartley, Picasso, Dove, O’Keeffe and “Primitive Negro Sculpture.” Exhibition chronologies for 291, the Intimate Gallery and An American Place. One of the contributors to the volume was a Teachers College professor whom Branson may have known: Harold Rugg, who wrote about the forty years of change since the 1890s in “The Artist and the Great Transition,” 179-198. 9 Stieglitz’ 291 gallery closed in 1917, the year after Branson arrived in NY; she may not have exhibited there, but surely visited 291 and the other galleries or rooms opened between 1921 and 1950 (the Anderson Galleries, the Intimate Gallery and An American Place. A likely venue for Branson might have been the group show in 1922 at the Anderson Galleries, where more than 177 works by more than 50 artists were exhibited. See “Exhibitions presented by Stieglitz, 1905-1946,” in Sarah Greenough, Modern Art and America” Alfred Stieglitz and his New York Galleries. (Washington DC: National Gallery of Art and Boston: Bulfinch Press, 2000), 543-553. See also New York et l'art moderne: Alfred Stieglitz et son cercle, 1905-1930 (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux; Madrid: Museo national centro de arte reina Sofia, c2004.) One

would like to know if she met Stanton Macdonald-Wright, who exhibited at 291 before he went to California in 1919. Undoubtedly she read his 1924 Treatise on Color. See The Art of Stanton Macdonald-Wright (Washington DC: National Collection of Fine Arts by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1967). Older but still useful surveys of the era of Branson’s art development are Abraham A. Davidson, Early American Modernist Painting 1910-1935 (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), which treats the Stieglitz group, the Colorists and other circles, and William Innes Homer, ed., Avant-Garde Painting in America 1910-1925 (Wilmington DE: Delaware Art Museum, 1975), which includes a checklist of exhibitions in New York during that period. The catalog includes the work of 56 artists, including 8 women and North Carolina native and colorist James Daugherty, a contemporary who Branson may have known. His hard-edged early style of the ‘20s can be compared with her “Stripe” cityscapes. 10 Arthur Dove, “A Way to Look at Things,” quoted in Frank, America, 121. 11 Falk, Who Was Who, v. 2, 197; Mallett, Index, 276 12 Library of Congress Information Bulletin, 60:12 (Dec. 2001) http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0112/white.html. 13 Falk, Who Was Who, v. 2, 2197; Mallett, Index, 276. Martin, born in England in 1886, received certificates from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1904 and 1905, a diploma from Teachers College in 1909, and a B.S. from Columbia in 1919. He died in 1955. Jocelyn K. Wilk, Assistant Director of the Columbia University Archives and Columbiana Library kindly provided me with the key dates for Martin’s activity at Columbia. 14 For Dow and Teacher’s College, see Chapter VII: “Teacher’s College,” and bibliography in Frederick C. Moffatt, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) (Washington: Published for the National Collection of Fine Arts by the Smithsonian Institution Press: for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977), 104-11; 152-59. For Dow’s appreciation of the connections between music and the visual arts see also Nancy E. Green and Jessie Poesch, Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts (New York: American Federation of Arts in association with H.N. Abrams, 2000), 82. 15 Foster Laurance Wygant, “A History of the Department of Fine and Industrial Arts of Teachers College, Columbia University” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1959), 55, 283. 16 Other Martin students were Virginia Berresford, Careen Mary Spellman, Anita Pollitzer, Sabina Teichman, and Mary Frances Doyle. See note 12; For the latter two artists see Askart.com. Accessed 1/24/2006. See also Roxana Robinson, Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), 102 17 See Teachers College Record 22:5 (Nov. 1921): 433. I have yet to locate any examples of Martin’s work. The Smithsonian’s Inventory of American Painting lists one painting, New York Skyline ca. 1900, owned by the Macbeth Gallery, 1981. IAP 63130098. 18 John Rothschild, “The Intelligent Traveler,” The Nation 142: 3699 (May 27, 1935): 689 on Teachers College’s field courses. 19 JBS-Branson went to Mexico at some point, and her passport photo resembles a woman in a photograph of members of the S.I.A. JBS saw in the John Sloan Archives at the Delaware Museum of Art. The 1926 passport has stamps for Italy, Ireland, Austria, the UK, France, Hungary, Switzerland, etc. In Paris, they stayed at a pension in Rue Washington. 20 For a view of women at Teacher’s College in 1912, see Clarence White’s photograph Rest Hour in the virtual exhibition “American Photographs: the First Century” at http://americanart.si.edu/helios/AmericanPhotographs/obwhitc02.html 21 Wygant, “A History of the Department”, passim. 22 Martin exhibited two works, a still life and landscape. He is listed as an Art Students League associate; address as 562 W. 191St.St.; in Clark S. Marlor, The Society of Independent Artists: the exhibition record 1917-1944 (Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, c1984), 380. 23 Photograph, dated Feb.15/31. Edward Heim Photo-Maker, 67 West 6th St. NY NC. Photographic Archives, gift of Jacqueline Branson Smith. A self-portrait of the photographer, Heim, whose studio was on 67th St., appears in an advertisement in the Society of Independent Artists catalog for 1931. 24 JBS says Edith did not lose work in the fire. See “Artist lost life’s work,” New York Times 31 January 1931, 5. For a contemporary synopsis of Baylinson’s work see Helen Appleton Read, “A.S. Baylinson,” Parnassus 5: 1 (Jan. 1933): 5-7; and Pach, Queer Thing, 320-327. 25 Pach, “Submerged Artists,” 71. 26 See Pach, “The Art of A.S. Baylinson,” American Artist (1952): 24-7, 55-58; John Sharpley, ed. Index of Twentieth Century Artists 3:2, 478-9; Falk, Who Was Who, v. 1, 242. 27 Obituary, “Independent’s Baylinson Dies,” Art Digest 24 (May 15, 1950): 10. 28 Baylinson’s papers, which I have not yet examined, are in the Archives of American Art. A search of the standard indexes (Art Full Text, Art Index Retrospective and Bibliography of the History of Art yielded nothing after Walter Pach’s 1952 article in American Artist, and yet his work is in the Metropolitan, the MFA Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 29 Pach, “The Art of A.S. Baylinson,” passim. 30 Ibid., 56. 31 Editorial page obituary with testimonials in Art Digest 26 (January 15, 1952): 5. 32 Miller’s papers, which JBS has reviewed, are in the Archives of American Art; 23 of his paintings are in the Inventory of American Painting. See also Sharpley, Index of Twentieth Century Artists, 488-490.

33 34

JBS examination of Miller’s lecture notes. JBS notes from AAA, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Reels N583 and N583A. Cf. “dissection,” compare with Edward Alden Jewell’s description of Branson’s work as “ornamental disintegration.” New York Times 2 April, 1932, p. 13. 35 For major monographs by his contemporaries see Lincoln Rothschild, To Keep Art Alive: the Effort of Kenneth Hayes Miller, American Painter, 1876-1952 (Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1974); Lloyd Goodrich, Kenneth Hayes Miller (New York: The Arts Publishing Company, 1930); and Paul Rosenfeld, Port of New York (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co. 1924); see also Robert G. Pisano, The Art Students League: Selections from the Permanent Collection (Huntington, NY: Heckscher Museum, 1987), 48-9. 36 Foushee, “Art in North Carolina,” 12A. 37 Catalogues of the Metropolitan’s collections from the period when it was Branson’s "classroom” describe five rooms devoted to Indian sculpture of the classical and medieval periods, including a 12th century relief of Vishnu, Gandharan sculpture, and Mughal and Rajput miniatures. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guide to the Collections (New York: The Museum, 1919, 1922), 71-72 and the then newly accessioned (1926) Buddha Maitreya, a life-size bronze sculpture, the largest extant gilt bronze image from China, which could not but have had an impact on Branson who, perhaps, modeled some of her hand studies and paintings on it. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guide to the Collections, Part I: Ancient and oriental Art 2nd ed. (New York: The Museum, 1936), 76. See also the online record for the object, http://www.metmuseum.org/special/China/s2_obj_9.R.asp. Accessed 4/20/2006. 38 Head of Krishna, ca. 1800, attributed to Sahib Ram. Cartoon for a mural depicting the dance of Krishna and the gopis. Ink and watercolor on paper; (69.2 x 47 cm.) Rogers Fund 1918 (1918.85.2) www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/icrt/hob_1918.85.2 accessed 3/27/06. The Metropolitan image was also featured on the cover of American Artist (February 1952). Branson’s work is undated. 39 JBS 40 Marchal E. Landgren, Years of Art: the Story of the Art Students League of New York (New York: Robert M. McBride, 1940), 77. 41 See note 1. She also owned theoretical and contemporary works, such as The Color Primer, by Wilhelm Ostwald; Color in Everyday by Martin Fischer (1918); Cubistes, Futuristes, Passéistes, by Gustave Coquiot; and many Metropolitan catalogs; Pach inscribed his translation of the master colorist Eugene Delacroix’ Journal to Branson. In her Chapel Hill years, she acquired Winthrop and Frances Neilsen’s Seven Women: Great Painters (Philadelphia, Chilton Book Co. [1968, c1969]) which include her contemporary, Georgia O’Keeffe as well as Angelika Kauffmann, an artist in whom she had definite interest. See notes 43 and Fig. 3. One wonders how, in her old age, she dealt with the fact that O’Keeffe had achieved fame and she had not. 42 Birren, Creative Color; Fry, Vision and Design. 43 Possibly Angelika Kauffmann, “Trompette Romain” from Les Muses (1789) or Angelica Kauffmann by L. de Wailly (1838). 44 See Linda Nochlin, “The Question of the Nude,” in Women, Art and Power and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 158-164. 45 Six “innocuous” nudes exhibited in the 1922 Independents’ exhibition were ordered by the Waldorf-Astoria, the exhibition venue, to be “dressed or forever banned.” The SIA did take down the offending paintings and substitute them with other works by the artists. “Clash over nudes halted by artists,” New York Times 21 Mar. 1922, p. 15. 46 Landgren, “Instructors,” in Years of Art, 112-116 47 Ibid. 90-91. 48 JBS; Quoted in letter from her son, Charles Branson Smith, Dec. 7, 1987. 49 JBS. Branson’s nanny was later pensioned, and given a small house in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, NC. Two studio portraits of African-Americans in the Smith collection may be two of these students. 50 JBS. 51 New York Times, 24 February 1921, p. 12. 52 Society of Independent Artists catalogs: 1921 (5th) Nos. 82. Composition; and 83. Composition; 1924 (8th) Nos. 117, Composition, and 118 Composition; 1925 (9th) Nos. 126, Composition and 127, Composition; 1930 (14th) No. 108 Composition, and 109 Composition; 1931 (15th) Nos. 109 Composition, and 110, Composition; 1932 (16th) Nos. 117 Nude, and 118 Landscape; 1934 (18th) Nos. 106 Dancing Rhythm, and 107, Conspiracy, 108, Head (pastel), $20; 109 Nude, pastel, $20; 110, Reclining Nude, pastel; 1935 (19th) No. 87 Composition No. 1, $300; 88, Composition No. 2, $250; 1936 (20th) Nos. 107 Composition, $350; 108, Composition, $350; 1938 (22nd) Nos. 97, Forms No. 1, $500, and 98, Forms No. 2, $500, illustrated; 1940 (24th) No. 79, Forms in Space, $300; 1941 (25th) No. 81, Fragments, $500. For a concise record of Branson’s activity with the Independents, see Clark S. Marlor, The Society of Independent Artists: the exhibition record 1917-1944 (Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, c1984). I am grateful to several libraries for lending their Independents’ catalogs. 53 Pach, Queer Thing, Painting. (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1938), 235. For a more recent commentary on the Independents see Francis Naumann, “The Big Show; the First Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists; Parts

I and II” Artforum 17:8 (April 1979): 49-53. 54 “Huge Pictures Jam Independent Show” New York Times 5 March 1924, p. 16. The largest show since the 1917 inaugural, the 1924 exhibited the work of 710 artists, ranging from the “deepest dyed conservatives” like Henri, to the “most modern moderns,” like Archipenko. 55 Other artists with North Carolina connections who exhibited with the Independents during the same years as Branson included Gregory D. Ivy (1932) and Mary Tannahill (1917, 1922 and 1925). 56 “Abandon Alphabet in Independent Art,” New York Times 3 March 1925, p. 24. 57 “Cubists Now Shun Independent Art,” New York Times 1 March 1930, p. 15; “10,761 View Art Exhibit,” New York Times 21 March 1930, p. 21. 58 “Independents Set Art Show Record” New York Times 29 March 1931, p. N2 59 See note 34. A more sympathetic Times reviewer of the Independents was Elisabeth Luther Cary. 60 “Art Show This Year is ‘Very Abstract’” New York Times 31 March 1932, p. 23. 61 “Independents to Barter Art Work at Show; Dentistry or Rent Will Buy a Painting” New York Times 15 March 1932, p. 1. 62 Edward Alden Jewell, “Art Independents Open Yearly Show: New York Times 14 April 1934, p. 13. 63 See note 54. 64 Howard Devree, “A Reviewer’s Notebook” New York Times 27 February 1938, p. 156. 65 Unfortunately space prevents citation of the many other reviews in the press of the Independents’ exhibitions but they make fascinating social, not just art, commentary. 66 And perhaps the work of modernists, not to mention their friendship and camaraderie, was more interesting to her than, say, the cityscapes of a Caroline Van Hook Bean; Branson may have known Bean (1879-1980), a student of Chase and Sargent, who painted scenes at Columbia around 1918. See New York City in Wartime (1918-1919) (New York: Chapellier Galleries, 1970). 67 Emily A. Francis, quoted in Small Paintings for the Home (Springfield MA: Contemporary Arts and the George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery, 1938), 12. 68 AAA, Emily Francis Papers, 1930-1964 Nov. 20-Dec. 9, 1933. 69 AAA, Emily Francis Papers, 1930-1964 Contemporary Arts Catalog of Exhibitors Christmas 1933, Dec. 11 to January 4. 70 AAA, Emily Francis Papers, 1930-1964. A “roster of Introductions” was published with almost every catalog, 19311945. 71 “Calendar of Current Art Exhibitions In New York,” Parnassus 7:2 (Feb. 1935): 32. 72 Emily Francis Papers, D232 frame 0320 for announcement; D226 frame 547 for catalog, also in NAAA3 “Miscellaneous Exhibition Catalogs, Group 2, 1900-1945.” 73 Emily Francis Papers, D226 frame 548. 74 Howard Devree, “In the Art Galleries: a Reviewer’s Busy Week; Group Exhibitions and One-man Shows-Modernists Versus the Conventional” New York Times 3 February, 1935, Sec. 8 p. 8 75 The Fourteenth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings (March 24 to May 5, 1935) (Washington DC: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1935), “Gallery M” 109, No. 326 “Dawn”; Directory, 128: address c/o Contemporary Arts Gallery, 41 W. 54th St., New York City. See also Peter Hastings Falk, Biennial Exhibition Record of the Corcoran Gallery of Art 1907-1967 (Madison CT: Soundview Press, 1999), Branson entry, 78. 76 Falk, Biennial, 23. 77 JBS and the 1961 Foushee interview. We have not yet examined all the catalogs. See Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim. (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2005), 187, 254. Rebay also organized other small exhibitions of contemporary American artists, see Joan M. Lukach, Hilla Rebay: In Search of the Spirit in Art. (New York: George Braziller, 1983), 146. 78 Hilla Rebay, “Non-Objective Art,” Southern Literary Messenger (Dec. 1942): 473-475. 79 “New Municipal Show,” New York Times 17 February 1938, p. 19. 80 Small Paintings for the Home by Artists of Today, assembled by Contemporary Arts of New York and the George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery of Springfield Massachusetts and shown at the Gallery October 2nd to October 23rd, 1938.” (Springfield MA: The Gallery, 1938.) 81 Small Paintings for the Home…, Feb. 25 -March 24, 1940. (Springfield MA: The Gallery, 1940). Other women artists in the exhibition were: Sarah M. Baker, Bernice Cross, Eleanor de Laittre, Tekla Hoffman, and Martha Simpson. 82 Ibid., No. 21 in catalog, 6. 83 Ibid. 84 Emily Francis Papers D224 frame 058-064; Letter from Mrs. Joseph W. Byrns Jr. to Emily Francis, dated April 5, 1937; and D232 frame 362. 85 Small Paintings for the Home…, March 5-26, 1944 (Springfield MA: The Gallery, 1944). [ii-iii] 86 “Women Radicals Open Art exhibit” New York Times 3 February 1935, p. N1. 87 Amy J. Wolf, New York Society of Women Artists, 1925 (New York: ACA Galleries, 1987), 6-15. 88 Ibid., 10.


Branson exhibited in at least 1937 and 1938, as her name appears in reviews. See Edward Alden Jewell, “Exhibition Opened by Women Artists,” New York Times 12 January 1937, p. 21; Margaret Bruening, “Current Exhibitions,” Parnassus 9:2 (Feb. 1937): 35-6; “Display is Opened by Women Artists,” New York Times 1 February 1938, p. 19; “N.Y. Women’s Annual,” Art Digest 12: 9 (Feb. 1, 1938): 14. 90 Ibid., “Display.” 91 “Three New Group Shows,” New York Times, 6 February 1938, p. 160. 92 Wolf, New York Society, 13. Wolf, as do I, calls for a re-evaluation of these neglected painters. 93 JBS, photocopy. For chapter heading see note 73. 94 See note 38. 95 Miller, quoted in Rothschild 1974, p. 72. JBS says that Branson herself had plump hands and appreciated small hands and feet in a person. 96 Marius de Zayas, ed. Francis M. Naumann, How, When and Why Modern Art Came to New York (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), p. 131. The book, written in 1940, includes numerous letters and documents, and is a useful mirror of the early modernist period. 97 Greenough, 169-183; 546. 98 Appendix A, “Exhibitions at the Modern and De Zayas Galleries,” in De Zayas 1996, pp.134-155. 99 op. cit. (Paris: Devambet, 1919). 100 For Picabia’s, and other “color music” works see Kerry Brougher et al., Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and music since 1900 (Washington, D.C: Hirshhorn Museum; Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art; New York: Thames and Hudson, 2005), 40. 101 Marius de Zayas, African Negro Art (New York: Modern Gallery, 1916); ibid., A Study of the Modern Evolution of Plastic Expression (New York: Pub. By “291”, 1913), 20, Pl. [4]. See also Ileana B. Leavens, From “291” to Zurich: the Birth of Dada (Ann Arbor MI: UMI Research Press, 1983), 61-64. 102 Leavens 63-64; 165. 103 Compare with Delaunay’s Rhythme of 1938. 104 JBS. 105 JBS. 106 See, for example, Susan Day, Art Deco and Modernist Carpets (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002). 107 Branson to JBS, recalled in letter from JBS to PT, Nov. 12, 2004; reverse painting on glass at Boundary Street house. 108 One wonders too if Branson had connections with any of the avant-garde artists at Black Mountain, about 80 miles southwest, which ran from 1933 to 1957. Jose De Creeft was a member of the Black Mountain group as well as on the board of the Independents while Branson was a member. 109 Her 1962 passport indicates she was 5’ 4”, with green eyes and blonde hair. 110 Letter from Banks O. Godfrey, Jr. to Edith Branson Smith, Nov. 6, 1967. Photocopy. 111 “Artists Exhibit Work in Wesley Gallery” Chapel Hill Weekly 17 September 1967 and Ola Maie Foushee, “NC National Bank Shows Chapel Hill Artist’s Work” Chapel Hill Weekly 26 April 1967, p. 10. 112 JBS said that Branson’s grandniece Elizabeth Falvey-Stevens of Maine, who currently has custody of the work, gave them the idea to transfer their original slides on disk. 113 Jacqueline B. Smith generously allowed me to see Branson’s work, but I have only spent a few hours with the actual work. Fortunately, she diligently had all the work professionally photographed. In addition, she combed the Archives of American Art and other repositories for information on Branson, and shared information. Edith lived in Chapel Hill in the 60s, when I was a student in the Art Department (I took a course with Howard, with whom she exhibited.) I probably passed her on the street, or saw her at the Ackland Art Museum. How I regret not knowing this talented, interesting woman except though her daughter in law and her art. My thanks also go to Wildacres Retreat for its generous provision of a week’s residency, and to the University Libraries for allowing me time for the residency. 114 Her name and data, at least, is included in CLARA, the database of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 115 Gail Levin, “Writing about Forgotten Women Artists: the Rediscovery of Jo Nivison Hopper,” in Singular Women: Writing the Artist (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) 130-145. 116 On the other hand, my teachers, who were excellent, included Joseph Sloane, Philipp Fehl, John Schnorrenberg and Frances Huemer, the sole woman on the faculty at that time, to whom I dedicate this article.

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