Mary Curtis Richardson (American, 1848-1931)
Portrait of Mary Blanche Hubbard, 1889
Oil on canvas 41 in. x 61 in. (104.14 cm x 154.94 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Elizabeth Hubbard King Hoblit and Frederick G. King, conserved and framed with funds provided by Gerald D. Gordon1970.44
One of California’s foremost early women artists, Mary Curtis came to California with her family during the Gold Rush and settled in San Francisco. She received initial training from her father, an engraver, and then she and her sister studied drawing and engraving in New York. The two women opened an engraving business in San Francisco in the late 1860s.
In 1869, twenty-one-year-old Mary wed Thomas Richardson. The couple lived in Oakland, but she maintained her business in San Francisco. Wishing to perfect her fine-art skills, she enrolled at the newly opened California School of Design in 1874 and then returned to New York to train at the Art Students League.
Richardson ultimately settled in San Francisco and specialized in painting portraits of mothers and children. Her peers dubbed her the Mary Cassatt of the West, after the famous American-Impressionist painter. Her paintings were strongly influenced by the Impressionists, in this case by James Whistler, who was known for “symphonies” of women in white.
An important early work, this portrait of Mary Blanche Hubbard was included in the 1892 exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association. The press attributed the subject’s Grecian gown and hairstyle to Richardson, but the sitter was an adventurous and willing model. The second wife of Cyrus Hayden Hubbard, former Mayor of Sacramento, Hubbard no doubt encouraged Richardson to move beyond the parameters of traditional portraiture to daringly portray her as a classical goddess. Fascinated by ancient Greece, Hubbard was proud of her Grecian profile and designed her own clothes, including the gown she wears here.