JANE PETERSON (1876–1965)
The Engagement Ring, about 1908–09
Oil on canvas, 50 x 30 in.
Signed (at upper right): Jane Peterson
RECORDED: “Peterson at Knoedler’s,” in American Art News VII (April 17, 1909), p. 6 // “In the Art Galleries. Miss Jane Peterson’s Fine Exhibition of Oil Paintings at Knoedler’s, in Manhattan,” in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1909, p. 17
EXHIBITED: M. Knoedler & Co., New York, April 12–17, 1909, Oil Paintings by Jane Peterson, no. 5
EX COLL.: the artist; to her nephew, Francis Peterson, Beacon, New York, by descent; to his family, by descent, until 2022
In 1908, Jane Peterson, sketching on the streets of Venice, met Francis Hopkinson Smith (1838–1915), a similarly engaged New York artist. Smith was a well-known figure in the New York art world. The elder artist admired the young woman’s work, and a friendship was born. The two artists sketched together, and Smith became a mentor to Peterson. He recommended her as a student to the internationally acclaimed Spanish impressionist, Joaquìn Sorolla (1863–1923). And he urged her to keep in touch with him when she returned home. When, soon after, Peterson arrived in the United States for her first major American show at the St. Botolph Club in Boston in January 1909, Smith helped her select canvases. Then, as Peterson recorded in her third-person voice handwritten journal, Smith asked:
Why don’t you have an exhibition in NY?” She answered, “I should like to but I don’t know anyone there.” He asked “Where should you like to have a show?” “I’ve heard that Knoedler’s is a good place”—she replied. Smith gave her an introduction to Mr. Knoedler (Jane Peterson Papers, 1907–1981, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; as quoted in Cynthia Roznoy and Arlene Katz Nichols, Jane Peterson: At Home and Abroad, exhib. cat. [Waterbury, Connecticut: Mattatuck Museum, 2017], p. 80).
Peterson’s April 1909 show at Knoedler’s proved a success. Among the more than 40 pictures exhibited, two reviews took special note of the present canvas, The Engagement Ring. American Art News found the picture “particularly effective.” Describing Peterson as “a good figure painter” in a show overwhelmingly devoted to landscape painting, the reviewer sagely opined that “she had better devote more attention to her figure painting, for along this line she will more surely reach pronounced success.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle gave The Engagement Ring pride of place in its own enthusiastic review of the Knoedler show:
There is a picture, probably a portrait, entitled “The Engagement Ring” showing a young woman sitting opposite a mirror, gazing at the ring on a hand lying in her lap. The artist has not hesitated to paint brown dress against a brown carpet, nor a red wrap adjacent to a red wall, while the whole is doubled in the mirror; yet, so subtly are the rich tones handled that the general result works for harmony.