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Peggy Bacon: Caricaturist, Observer & Printmaker of the Woodstock Art Colony

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

By Bruce Weber

Peter A, Juley and Son

Peggy Bacon, c. 1930

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Unknown Photographer

Elizabeth and Peggy Bacon, c. 1900

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Charles Roswell Bacon (1868-1913)

Nude, c. 1900

The artist Peggy Bacon spent extensive time in Woodstock, New York between 1919 and 1926. A vital member of the upstate art colony, she was the co-originator and creative force behind the satirical magazine The Hue and Cry (which provides a fascinating and valuable historical glimpse of local art life), and created indelible images of colony activity and people. In the coming months a profile will appear in Learning Woodstock Art Colony about Bacon’s husband, the painter and art writer Alexander Brook, who was similarly active in local artistic affairs.

Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1895, Bacon was the daughter of a well-to-do family of artists. Her mother Elizabeth painted miniatures, and her father Charles painted landscapes, figures, and murals. The couple met while studying at the Art Students League of New York. Peggy's parents often traveled in quest of inspiration, and during a stay in the art colony in Cornish, New Hampshire, the miniaturist Lucia Fairchild Fuller‘s encouragement helped stir young Bacon‘s desire to pursue her own artistic career. In February of 1913 she attended the International Exhibition of Modern Art (better known as the Armory Show) in New York City with her father, where Bacon enjoyed the work of the French Impressionists, but otherwise felt baffled by the contemporary modern European art on view.(1)

Unknown Photographer

Jonas Lie, c. 1920

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

In the autumn of 1913, Bacon entered Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She dropped out shortly after, following her father‘s suicide, spurred on by his depression over his failing career as a painter. For the next few years Bacon moved from one art class to another, mostly studying landscape painting with Jonas Lie —first in Port Jefferson, Long Island, and then in New York City. Lie was a tremendous supporter; Bacon had her first one-person show at his studio. Her gouache and tempera paintings sold out, and she used the proceeds to pay for her first year of study at the Art Students League.

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

The Academy, 1918

Drypoint on paper

From 1915-1920, Bacon studied at the League, where her teachers included Andrew Dasburg, Kenneth Hayes Miller, George Bellows, John Sloan, George Bridgeman and Max Weber. Her interest in caricature began innocently one day in 1918 when she and a group of fellow students chose to amuse themselves by satirizing classes and other aspects of the League. That year Bacon also satirized the staid school of the National Academy of Design, where she studied for all of three days, creating a comical drypoint featuring a young student creating a likeness of an old bearded model with an excess or exaggeration of academic verisimilitude.

Bacon’s print reveals her awareness and practice of modern principles of design; she utilized square and lozenge-shaped hatchings, and contrasted the dark textured striations with the simple flat white toned floor in the foreground. In her work of the period Bacon often emphasized large flat areas of light and dark, and distorted and exaggerated figures for humorous or expressive effect.

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

The George Bellows Class, 1918

Drypoint on paper

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

John Sloan’s Lecture, 1919

Drypoint on paper

Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1918, Bacon also created The George Bellows Class, which features a caricature of her league teacher, Bellows, who first inspired her to take an interest in portraiture. She related that she “started in the Bellows class making caricatures of everybody in the class. It was a wonderfully funny group of people. And Bellows himself with that egg-shaped head, that hard-boiled egg of a head. I made a great big painting of him, a caricature, which he thought was very good. And he didn’t know it was I who had done it. I did that. That’s the year – 1918 – when I got to doing the caricatures.’’(2) The next year Bacon rounded out her series of satirical schoolroom drypoints with an image of her class with John Sloan, her favorite teacher at the league. The two shared a similar sardonic sense of humor.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889-1953)

Peggy Bacon and Alexander Brook, n.d.

Gelatin silver print

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Bacon met Alexander Brook in the Art Student League’s lunchroom, and they married in 1920, Bacon abandoned painting because of a combination of a lack of confidence in herself as a painter, and Brook’s dismissive attitude. “In the beginning [when studying with Jonas Lie],” Brook once remarked, “Peggy Bacon made terrible temperas which sold rapidly.”(3) Following the couple’s divorce in 1940, Bacon felt like a failure as a wife, but she eventually realized she was much better off without Brook, who had become extremely cantankerous.

Ruth Jonas Jones (?-?)

Andrew Dasburg, 1923

Geltin silver print

In 1919, Bacon and Brook came to Woodstock to study in Andrew Dasburg’s outdoor figure painting class at the summer school of the Art Students League. Dasburg recognized Bacon’s talent, and encouraged her efforts as an artist. He brought some of her work to Marius de Zayas and Woodstocker Florence Ballin Cramer’s galleries in New York City, and suggested they show them. The couple wished to return to Woodstock in the summer of 1920, but were unable to find a suitable house to rent. Instead they chose to rent a cottage in the art colony in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Artists Working in Old Lyme, c. 1915

Everett Warner (1877-1963)

The Village Church, c. 1915

Florence Griswold Museum

Bacon wrote her Woodstock artist friend Dorothy Varian about the conservative and snooty members of the art colony she encountered there: “The Lyme artists [are] a dickering crew of stuffy, snobbish, wealthy ante-impressonists with a few super-moderns such as the impressionists Everett Warner and Guy Wiggins.”(4)

Former House of Peggy Bacon

and Alexander Brook,

Lewis Hollow Road,

Woodstock, New York

Alf Evers Papers,

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild

Unknown Photographer

Peggy Bacon, Alexander Brook

and Children at Maverick Festival,

c. 1924

Gelatin silver print

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

From May to October of 1921, Bacon, Brook and their two children lived in a farmhouse on a 56-acre farm that Bacon’s mother bought for the couple outside the village of Woodstock, on the southeastern slope of Overlook Mountain in the area known as Lewis Hollow. The property was close to the top of a steep and almost inaccessible mile-long mountain road with no easy access to the center of town. The farmhouse (located at the present day 192 Lewis Hollow Road) was purchased in 1943 by Woodstock historian Alf Evers and his wife Helen.(5)

Brook traveled daily by car from the Lewis Hollow property to his rented studio in Woodstock, while Bacon was isolated at home during the day with the sole responsibility for the couple’s young boy and girl. Bacon’s living situation improved in the late fall of 1921, when she and Brook moved to the village, and found household help with the children.

Peggy Bacon (1895-1985)

Cashdollar’s, 1919

Etching on paper

New York State Museum.

The Historic Woodstock Art Colony:

Arthur A. Anderson Collection.

Bacon and Brook became leading members of the Woodstock art colony. They frequented the restaurant Cashdollars on Tinker Street (to the immediate west of H. Houst & Son, Inc., where Shindig is currently located). Bacon created a drypoint focusing on a group of artists and art students dining and socializing at the establishment, including Brook, Bacon, Heine Druckleib, Anne Rector, Billy Grim and Henry Mattson.(6)

Unknown Photographer

Intelligencia Café, n.d.

Gelatin silver print

Historical Society of Woodstock

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

Hippolyte Havel, c. 1921-1926

Graphite on paper

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

Eugene Speicher, c. 1921-1926

Conté crayon on paper

New York State Museum. The Historic Woodstock Art Colony:

Arthur A. Anderson Collection

Bacon and Brook were also regular diners at the Intelligencia in the Maverick art colony in nearby West Hurley. The restaurant was run by anarchist Hippolyte Havel, subject of two caricatures by Bacon in the collection of the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum.

At the Intelligencia they dined with writer and Maverick founder Hervey White and Henry Mattson, as well as the artists she dubbed “the Academy” — Bellows, Robert Henri, Leon Kroll, and Eugene Speicher — all of whom were members of the National Academy of Design (though not necessarily in good standing) at a time when Woodstock was becoming inundated with fresh directions in American art.(7) Bacon was especially drawn to Hervey White, whom she described as a “writer, promoter, justice of the peace, socialist, editor, printer, wit and charmer.”(8)

Attributed to Peggy Bacon


Masthead of The Hue and Cry,

August 23, 1923

Historical Society of Woodstock

In the summer of 1923, Bacon and Brook founded the satirical magazine The Hue and Cry with the goal of filling its pages with news of Woodstock and any items of trivia that came to mind.(9) Bacon put enormous effort into the first issues of the publication. According to Hervey White, the periodical was named after a paper Bacon and Brook published during a year’s stay in London from 1920 to 1921.(10) The first public issue appeared on June 30, 1923. Issues were primarily printed in a newspaper format with linoleum cuts scattered here and there. The original masthead was probably designed by Bacon. The block print represents an allegory of Truth, in the guise of a nude model, who is chased by a beret-wearing young man with his dog. They interrupt Truth’s painting session with Art, represented by a bearded artist, who is attired in traditional clothing and carries a palette in his left hand.

Bacon and Brook quickly grew tired of the effort of putting out weekly issues of The Hue and Cry. By the end of the summer of 1923, Frank Schoonmaker had taken over as editor. By 1924 the magazine was published every two weeks during the summer months. The Hue and Cry appeared intermittently through the late 1940s.

Peggy Bacon (1885-1987)

Kenneth Hayes Miller, 1927

Pastel on paper

Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota

Unknown Photographer

Kenneth Hayes Miller, c. 1930

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

Heywood Campbell Broun, 1930

Lithograph on paper

Woodstock Artist Association

and Museum

From 1918 to 1927, Bacon’s principal medium was drypoint. She also created lithographs, etchings, chalk drawings and pastels. From the late 1920s through the end of World War II, pastel was Bacon’s medium of choice. She may have been inspired to turn to pastel after seeing caricatures in this medium by William Cotton in Vogue and Vanity Fair. Among Bacon’s pastels are those of her former teacher Kenneth Hayes Miller, and her artist friend Louis Bouché, who regularly frequented Woodstock.

Peggy Bacon (1895-1887)

Louise Hellstrom, 1927

Pastel on paper

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Peggy Bacon (1885-1987)

Louise Hellstrom and

Robert Chanler, c. 1930

Crayon on paper

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1930)

Louise Hellstrom, c. 1924

Bacon created a pastel portrait of interior decorator, fashion designer, socialite and art collector Louise Hellstrom, who resided in Woodstock and on the Maverick for many years. In 1915, she married Swedish author Gustaf Hellström. The couple briefly lived together in France, before Louise returned alone to the United States. Gustaf followed in 1918. They maintained a house in Manhattan and as well as a cottage on the Maverick, and separated about 1920. Along with Clemence Randolph, Louise became the mistress of Woodstock painter Robert Winthrop Chanler. Hellstrom and Chanler appear in a crayon sketch by Bacon. She was the subject of a comical piece in the July 23, 1925 issue of The Hue and Cry titled “Louise Hellstrom, Her Life and Quirks,” which alluded to a non-existent color plate in the issue which supposedly gave “an accurate impression to the reader of the many beautiful tints of color . . . Hellstrom has used on her hair . . . .”(11)

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

Clams and Clodhoppers, 1933

Drypoint on paper

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Among Bacon’s most humorous prints is Clams and Clodhoppers, a drypoint of 1933, which pictures an outdoor clambake in Woodstock. Among the people at the table are Rosalie Hook (wife of painter Robert Gwathmey), who sits second to left in the back row, next to Louise Hellstrom. Bacon and Brook sit opposite, at left and right, with Brook going to town on the repast. By 1933, Bacon and Brook were regularly spending summers in Cross River in Westchester County, but making periodic visits to Woodstock,

Peggy Bacon, Off With Their Heads, 1934

The publication in 1934 of Off with Their Heads! established Bacon’s reputation as a major American caricaturist. She personally defined caricature as a “comic interpretation of a person not only recognizable to those familiar with the subject but also convincing to those who are not.”(12) The following year Bacon stopped drawing caricatures because she felt the process had become arduous, a job rather than an expression of wit and artistry. She also related that she “couldn’t stand getting under people’s skins. . . . The caricatures made them smart so.”(13)

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

Afternoon Off or The House

of the Dead Witch, 1953

Mixed media

Wadsworth Atheneum

Over time Bacon became increasingly active as a book illustrator and author. From 1919-1986 she illustrated over 60 books (19 of which she wrote herself). Following her divorce from Brook in 1940, she taught extensively, and in the 1950s she returned to painting in oil, and also favored a combination of wash, gouache and ink. She authored a mystery novel, and in 1961 moved to Cape Porpoise, Maine to be closer to her son. Bacon died in Maine in 1987.

Peggy Bacon (1895-1987)

Self-Portrait, 1932

Pastel on paper

National Portrait Gallery

It is appropriate to close this discussion of Bacon’s life and art with a self-portrait in pastel of 1932. Here Bacon turned the table on her own physical appearance, portraying herself as chinless, with a prominent nose, and thin dark hair, on a dumpy body—looking like a little rodent.

1-For an important study of Peggy Bacon‘s life and art see Roberta K. Tarbell, “Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places,” essay in Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts, 1975), pp.1-55. Also see Roberta K. Tarbell, “Peggy Bacon’s Pastel and Charcoal Caricature Portraits,” Woman’s Art Journal 9 (Fall 1988): 32-37. A number of key references from these publications are specially cited below. For a recent behind the scenes look by Karen Quinn, Senior Historian/Curator, Art and Culture,New York State Museum, at works by Peggy Bacon that form part of the Historic Woodstock Colony: Arthur A. Anderson Collection see :

2- Oral History Interview with Peggy Bacon, May 8, 1973. Archives of American Art. See

3- Alexander Brook, “Young America: Peggy Bacon,” Arts 3 (January 1923): 68.

4- Letter by Peggy Bacon to Dorothy Varian, Dorothy Varian Papers, Archives of American Art. Cited in Tarbell, “Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places,” p. 27, ff. 15.

5-Ed Sanders, Alf Evers: Life of an American Genius (Woodstock, New York: Meads Mountain Press, 2021), p. 110). I would like to thank Ed Sanders for providing a photographic image of the Lewis Hollow house from the Alf Evers Papers, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. In a recent telephone conversation, Evers' son Kit related some memories of the residence.

6- Janet A. Flint, “Peggy Bacon: A Checklist of the Prints of Peggy Bacon,” Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places, p. 97.

7-Letter of Peggy Bacon to Elizabeth Bacon, Peggy Bacon Papers, Archives of American Art. Cited in Tarbell, “Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places,” p. 19, ff. 22.

8-ibid. Cited in Tarbell, “Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places,”p. 21, ff. 23.

9-Peggy Bacon to Roberta K. Tarbell, November 22, 1975. Cited in Tarbell, Peggy Bacon: Personalities and Places, p. 21, ff. 24.

10-Hervey White, “Autobiography,” manuscript in the Papers of Hervey White, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, p. 228.

11-“Louise Hellstrom, Her Life and Quirks,” The Hue and Cry 3 (July 11, 1925:. 5-6.

12-Roberta K. Tarbell, “Peggy Bacon’s Pastel and Charcoal Caricature Portraits,” p. 35.

13-“Artist Peggy Bacon Dips Her Brush in Laughter,” Wilmington Morning News, May 13, 1943, p. 11.

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Sylvia Leonard Wolf
Sylvia Leonard Wolf

Thank you, Bruce, for this wonderfully informative and entertaining work on Peggy Bacon.

I had always wanted to know more about her, and now knowing a little, I'm curious

to know even more about her. Keep up this series - it is invaluable. With appreciation, Sylvia

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