5 Fast Facts: Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses

As part of NMWA’s #5WomenArtists campaign, impress your friends with five fast facts about Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860–1961), whose work is part of NMWA’s collection.

Grandma Moses pictured in a 1953 edition of the New York World-Telegram and Sun newspaper

Grandma Moses pictured in a 1953 edition of the New York World-Telegram and Sun newspaper; Photo by newspaper staff photographer Roger Higgins. [Public domain]

1. Make it Work

As a self-taught artist working in rural New York, Moses lacked access to high-quality art materials in the early part of her career. Without any small brushes, she used matches and pins to paint details such as eyes and mouths.

2. What’s in a Name?

When Moses first began exhibiting her work, she was simply referred to as Mrs. Moses. An art critic noted in a 1940 New York Herald Tribune review that her neighbors called her Grandma Moses, and the name stuck. Moses had nine grandchildren and over thirty great-grandchildren.

3. Winter Wonderland

In many of her winter landscape paintings, Moses sprinkled glitter over the snow. Though some critics called her amateurish for using a nontraditional material, she refused to stop, as she thought glitter captured the appearance of snow shimmering in sunlight.

4. Moses Mania

Moses’s nostalgic depictions of rural America were widely reproduced. Her paintings were licensed by Hallmark, which sold 16 million greeting cards featuring her paintings in 1947 alone. One could buy fabric and plates printed with images of her paintings, and even a record called “The Grandma Moses Suite.”

A painting of a scenic rural landscape

Grandma Moses, Calhoun, 1955; Oil on pressed wood, 16 x 24 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © Grandma Moses Properties

5. Telling Her Story

Moses published her autobiography My Life’s History in 1952 at 92 years old. In one chapter, she expressed her distaste for the restrictions placed on her because of her gender, writing, “Many a time I had to rock the cradle; I liked it, but I had rather been outdoors with my brothers.”

—Allison Burns was the summer 2018 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

On View: Salon Style in the Eulabee Dix Gallery

Like many museums, NMWA is only able to show a small portion—perhaps 3%—of its collection at any given time. Many objects stay safely tucked away in storage until curators select them for display. In an effort to place more of NMWA’s collection on view to the public, the staff recently reinstalled the Eulabee Dix Gallery, located on the museum’s fourth floor, “salon style.” Open to the public during weekday hours, this gallery now showcases an array of landscapes, interior scenes, portraits, and still lifes.

Dix-Gallery_February-2016_07

NMWA’s Eulabee Dix Gallery before (left) and after re-installation (right)

The new salon-style installation—a selection of artworks of varying sizes, with mismatched frames, arranged in a crowded manner—allows the museum to exhibit more of its smaller paintings. For years there were fewer than a dozen paintings in the gallery. The recent reinstallation enables NMWA to exhibit more than 30 works, some of which have not been seen by the public in over a decade. Visitors can rediscover treasures from the museum’s collection and encounter new favorites.

Jane Peterson, Tower Bridge, ca. 1907; NMWA, Gift of Alice D. Kaplan

Jane Peterson, Tower Bridge, ca. 1907; NMWA, Gift of Alice D. Kaplan

Landscape paintings in the gallery depict scenes as varied as Jessey Dorr’s Lone Cypress (1906), which shows a tree overlooking a waterside cliff, Grandma Moses’s Calhoun (1955), a farm scene awash in yellows, and Gabriele Münter’s view of a mountain lake, Staffelsee in Autumn (1923).

Two paintings by Jane Peterson (1876–1965) are on view, a sunny Beach Scene (ca. 1935) and a watery, shadowed Tower Bridge (ca. 1907). In Tower Bridge, Peterson evokes misty London, with a nearby dock and distant bridge rising above the water.

Two works are on view by French painter Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938). Nude Arranging Her Hair (ca. 1916) exemplifies Valadon’s style: rich colors, dark outlines, textiles, and simplified forms, with an awkwardly posed subject.

Suzanne Valadon, Nude Arranging Her Hair, ca. 1916; Oil on canvas board, 41 ¼ x 29 ⅝ in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, Nude Arranging Her Hair, ca. 1916; Oil on canvas board, 41 1/4 x 29 5/8 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Valadon had no formal training—instead, she grew up in Montmartre and modeled for painters. She learned from the artists around her, including friend and mentor Edgar Degas, and successfully transitioned from model into artist. Valadon also painted floral still lifes. Her Bouquet of Flowers in an Empire Vase (1920), also on view, features her vibrant color palette, strong outlines, and palpable brushwork.

There are more still lifes to discover in the gallery, including two by Dutch painter and botanical illustrator Alida Withoos (ca. 1661–1730). She emphasized flowers’ growth and gave them a naturalistic appearance. Arrangements of cultivated flowers appear to grow from the earth, accentuated by blades of grass and a frog near the bottom.

With the new installation of the Eulabee Dix Gallery, visitors have the opportunity to encounter more work by women artists at NMWA, exploring the abundant details of these paintings and their salon-style neighbors.

The Eulabee Dix Gallery is located on the fourth floor of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, open to visitors Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

—Catherine Bade is the registrar and Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.