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Eva Watson-Schütze : Byrdcliffe Photographer and Painter

Updated: Sep 11, 2020


Unknown Photographer

Eva Watson-Schutze, c. 1920

Gelatin silver print


Born in Woodbridge, New Jersey in 1867, Eva Watson-Schütze studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 1880s with Thomas Eakins and Thomas Anshutz. Her major interests at that time were in watercolor and oil painting but she soon was drawn to the

medium of photography, and she worked for seven years in a photo-reproduction business. In the mid-1890s she partnered with another Eakins student, Amelia Van Buren, in a photography business in Atlantic City, where they produced cabinet cards. While in Philadelphia she painted a portrait of Eakin''s’ brother in law Louis Kenton, the subject of Eakins’ portrait of 1900 The Thinker. In the late 1890s she began to create artistic photographs, and wrote the photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston about her belief in women’s future role in photography.

Watson-Schütze had a solo exhibition at the Camera Club in New York in 1900, and also was featured there in a group exhibition. To this she herself lent two of Eakins photographs of bathers - one of only two occasions during Eakins lifetime that his photos were featured in a public display. She also lent three photographs to the exhibition by Eakins’ wife Susan, including a portrait of her husband. The art historian Tom Wolf has pointed out she had a “unique position as a liason between Eakins’ photographic explorations and the Pictorialists’ ambitions for photography as art” ("Eva Watson-Schitze Photographer," essay in Eva Watson-Schütze: Photographer [New Paltz, New York: Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, 2009], p. 11).

In 1899, Watson-Schütze made a photographic portrait of the jurors for the 1899 Philadelphia Photographic salon, which features leading photographers Clarence H. White, Gertrude Käsebier, Henry Troth, F. Holland Day, and Frances Benjamin Johnson, that includes a sequence of heads at different heights. By 1900 her photos were showing all over the world, including in England, France, Russia and Italy. In 1901 she was elected to the Linked Ring, an important group of English art photographers. Upon her marriage that year to Martin Schütze, who taught German literature at the University of Chicago and for many years was the chairman of the department of German literature at the university, she moved from Philadelphia to Chicago. In 1929, Martin Schütze played a leading role in the formation of the Historical Society of Woodstock, and was responsible for overseeing the organization’s publications from 1930-1939 of papers that were read at the society, including several important papers on Byrdcliffe’s early years.

ln 1902 six of Watson-Schütze's works were included in the historic exhibition of the Photo-Secession, organized by the important dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She was in close correspondence with Stieglitz in New York, and helped recruit subscribers for his magazine Camera Work. She was one of the Photo-Secession’s 15 founding members. She eventually had a falling out with Stieglitz over the number of photographs of her work that he planned to feature in an issue of Camera Work.

Watson-Schütze started visiting Byrdcliffe in 1903. She and her husband Martin generally spent six months a year there up through 1925. She was drawn to the art colony as a result of her association in Chicago with Hull House, where she became close friends with Hervey White and Carl Eric Lindin. She later inspired the sculptor Alfeo Faggi to make his way from Chicago to the Woodstock art colony. Among others to come to Byrdcliffe from Chicago in 1903 were the bookbinder and co-founder of Hull House Ellen Gates Star, and writer Oliver Dunbar. In 1918 Eva and Martin acquired land at Byrdcliffe and built their house Hohenwiesen (High Meadows).

Watson-Schütze photographed many of the people who lived, worked at and visited the art colony at Byrdcliffe during its early years, among them Jane Byrd McCall Whitehead, Bolton Coit Brown, Carl Eric Lindin, Birge Harrison, Wilna Hervey and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.


Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935)

Bolton Brown, c. 1905

Platinum print

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art'


Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935)

Birge Harrison, c. 1905

Platinum print

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art


Watson-Schütze was involved with various feminist and political causes, including working for women’s right to vote. During World War I she supported Jane Addams’ peace party. She executed portrait commissions, which she appears to have undertaken into the second decade of the 20th century. Her photography covers a wide and varied range of subjects, including still life's of flowers, landscape, child life, nudes and other figure compositions. They often feature pair's of mothers and children, which she believed was a universal theme which could never be exhausted.

Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935)

Jane Byrd Whitehead and Son Peter, c. 1905

Platinum print

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art


Generally, Watson-Schütze photographed friends or people that she knew, created mostly gum or platinum prints, and favored soft focus lenses and expressive lighting effects. Her direct approach harkens back to her teacher Eakins’ work, while her soft focus style is typical of Pictorialist photography.


Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935)

May Apple Leaf, c. 1899

Platinum print


In May Maple Leaf of about 1899, Watson-Schutze pictures the kimono-clad subject in profile gazing at a leaf. During the course of her life she became friends with the Japanese scholar and curator Ernest Fenollosa, and her assymetrical compositions with their shallow space, reflect her awareness and study of 19th century Japanese prints.


Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935)

Portrait of Martin Schutze at a Quarry, 1902

Platinum print

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art


Among Watson-Schutze’s nudes is a photograph of her husband Martin exercising in a quarry. The work was inspired by Eakins’ photographs of male nudes in an outdoor setting. She made many photographs of Martin, including one of him playing violin in the midst of a Catskill forest.

After 1910, Watson-Schütze made fewer and fewer photographs. By 1920 she ceased making photographs save for images of her family. Under the inspiration of William Emile Schumacher she painted extensively from the late teens through the early 1920s, mostly executing floral still lifes and portraits. At the end of her life she regarded herself firstly as a painter.

Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935)

Yellow Callas, 1929

New York State Museum (Historic Woodstock Art Collection,

Gift of Arthur A. Anderson)

T

William Emile Schumcher (1870-1930)

Formal Arrangement, 1913-1914


The Boston-bred Schumacher was responsible for revitalizing the painting department at Byrdcliffe, bringing an avant-garde spirit to this bastion of the Arts and Crafts movement. He taught painting at Byrdcliffe from the summer of 1913 until shortly before his death, in Woodstock, in 1931. In the late 1890s, Schumacher was profoundly moved in Paris by Art Nouveau and by the work of the Post-Impressionist George Seurat and the Nabi painters Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard. Over the course of his career, he maintained his belief in the importance of the unity of color and form, and the significance of the imaginative mind. Watson-Schütze credited Schumacher’s teaching in Byrdcliffe for reawakening her “desire to find expression through form, color and design based on a visible and living world” (Watson-Schutze is quoted in Jean F. Block, Eva Watson Schütze: Photo-Secessionist [Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1985], p. 14).


In addition to Watson-Schütze, the fine and decorative artist Zulma Steele readily came under Schumacher's stylistic influence at Byrdcliffe. Although already an accomplished painter by this time, Steele took advantage of the opportunity to learn from his example and likely attended his Byrdlcliffe painting classes. Under Schumacher’s spell, she began to forge a compromise between traditional landscape painting and advanced modernist abstraction through her boldly colored palette and patchwork application of pigments.

From 1929 to her death in 1935, Eva Watson-Schütze served as the president of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. While president the organization held groundbreaking exhibitions of Matisse and Leger, and gave Alexander Calder’s his first show in the United States. She oversaw the publication of James John Sweeney’s Studies of Meaning in Art: Plastic Redirections in 20th Century Paintings, and Daniel Cotton Rich’s Seurat and the Evolution of “La Grande Jatte.” She passed away while preparing Rich’s book for press. A memorial exhibition of Watson-Schütze’s work was held at the Renaissance Society in 1935, which featured 32 paintings and two drawings but no photographs. Ironically, relatively few of Watson-Schütze's paintings have surfaced, and today she is recognized for her achievement as a pioneering American photographer, and a leading artistic figure at Byrdcliffe.

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