Grace Hill Turnbull (1880 - 1976)
Dawn on a Hepplewhite Chair, n.d.
Oil on canvas
23 x 12 5/8 inches
Estate of the Artist
The Maryland Historical Society
National Association of Women Artists, New York, New York, n.d.
Grace Turnbull was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to a family of scholars and intellectuals. Her father, Lawrence Turnbull, was from the South, and served as editor of The New Eclectic magazine and The Southern Magazine. Grace's mother was an historical novelist, and her brother, Bayard, a renowned architect.
She received her first formal art training at the Maryland Institute College of Art, attending classes taught by Philadelphia artist Thomas Anschutz. She later went on to study in New York with Joseph De Camp, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase.
In 1902, Turnbull traveled to Rome and there studied informally with expatriate American sculptor Moses Ezekiel, who introduced her to the sculpture of Rodin. In 1908, back in Baltimore, she painted the human figure as well as genre scenes, including street musicians, mariners and working-class mothers. In 1913, she went to Brittany where she continued to paint and was honored by the inclusion of her painting of a mother and child in the 1914 Spring Salon des Beaux-Arts exhibition.
After returning to the United States in 1914 she went to paint for a brief time in Provincetown, Massachusetts. A religious pacifist, during World War I she joined the Red Cross, traveling to France and Germany where she served as a "Searcher" for the missing, wounded and dead in hospitals and camps. While abroad, she studied languages and eventually became fluent in French, German, Italian, Latin and Greek.
She returned home in 1919 just prior to her father's death. Her artwork after this time became focused not on her fellow man, but on flowers she encountered in travels to Bermuda and the Caribbean, majestic landscapes such as the Grand Canyon and abstract studies of form and color. Her shift in subject matter and style, conveyed through bold forms and strong color, was attributed to the difficult emotional stresses of events in her life.
She exhibited in the annual exhibitions of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York City, including their 45th and 50th shows in 1936 and 1942. Her work is represented in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Maryland Historical Society among others.
Awards include the Anna Hyatt Huntington Prize for sculpture, National Association of Women Artists, 1931 and 1944; de Forest Honorable Mention; First Prize and Silver Medal, Maryland Institute Alumni Show, 1932; First Prize, Women's Achievement Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1932; Purchase Prize in "Artists for Victory" Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1942.
A humanitarian, she donated to many Maryland charities, provided support to young artists and musicians, worked for better race relations and the rehabilitation of prisoners, and opened her home to underprivileged children.
References: Breckenridge, James D., intro., Paintings and Sculpture by Grace H. Turnbull (Belgium: Malvaux, Brussels), 1959.