An Old Sweetheart of Mine, Virginia Keep Clark

Written by on February 15, 2011 in Editorial - 10 Comments
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James Whitcomb Riley, Hoosier poet and the spark that started my life down a most rewarding path… It all started with this book and its title page. Yesterday’s holiday brought this title to mind…


Howard Chandler Christy is well known for his art, as was the Bowen-Merrill (later Bobbs-Merrill) Company was for publishing. The other name on the page, Virginia Keep, has become one of my biggest passion subjects. In fact, I’d say she will always be “an old sweetheart of mine.” She was born on 17 February 1878 and has connected me to so many fascinating characters of the past: actress Ilka Chase; Vogue’s longest reigning editor-in-chief, Edna Woolman Chase; Lillie Bliss-one of the three founders of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC; artists Charles Prendergast, Arthur Bowen Davies, Walt Kuhn; Richard Harding Davis and Cecil Clark Davis; The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as in Mrs. Wallis Simpson and formerly King Edward VIII, abdicator of the throne) and on and on.

Virginia Keep was well known in Indinapolis in the early 1900’s–one of the first five teachers at The John Herron Art Institute (when it started in T.C. Steele’s art studio, the former Tinker Homestead). She painted the portraits of many of Indianapolis notables: Taggarts, McGowans, Hollidays, Liebers and many more. Lucy Taggart was one of Virginia’s closest and life-long friends.

She became an illustrator and portraitist and studied at the Art Students League in New York at the same time as another female Hoosier artist, Julia Graydon Sharpe.

Virginia Keep married Marshall John Clark in 1906 in Indianapolis at her parents Morton Place home and the newlyweds moved to Evanston, Illinois–where his family lived. The couple later took up residence in Chicago proper, then onto Oyster Bay, Long Island; Midtown Manhattan; Mackall, Maryland; Winter Park, Florida. She traveled all over the country painting portraits of well-to-do families, and was particularly fond of painting children. This portrait of a boy named Farwell Kenly is beautifully rendered. I’ve seen a photo of the original in color and his suit is a gorgeous shade of yellow.

Over the years, I am grateful to have had many people contact me. If you know of any information, photos or artwork of Virginia’s please contact me. I am working on a book about her and would love to fill in more of the blanks. Check back on Virginia’s birthday for a couple more examples of her art and pictures of her.


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About the Author

Tiffany Benedict Browne is the founder and driving force behind She loves learning, sharing and inspiring Indy's stories.

10 Comments on "An Old Sweetheart of Mine, Virginia Keep Clark"

  1. Susan Spoto February 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm · Reply

    Hi Tiffany,

    I just found this exact book in my grandmother’s bookcase. It is a beautiful edition from Indianapolis 1902 with decorations by Virginia Keep. Do you know if this book is collectible? I think it is very charming!

    • Tiffany Benedict Berkson October 25, 2013 at 10:44 pm · Reply

      I’m so sorry I missed responding. I think most any book over 100 years old is collectible. But I got my copy for $5 and I’ve seen people trying to sell copies for hundreds of dollars. In the end, something is worth what others will pay and it’s collectible if you are willing to piece together a collection, really. Right? 🙂 Hope the brief info enhances your enjoyment of it.

  2. d mikels shea June 12, 2013 at 6:50 pm · Reply

    Are you intrigued with any of the Va. Keep material Elizabeth Eitel Miesse (niece of JWRiley) gifted my young daughter with when she closed family home–book of Living Dolls which had some connection to a project at Children’s Museum, plus a pristine copy of AThat Old Sweetheart of Mine–not sure where they are but I am packing up home of 60 plus years, sorting books , some rare to Bauman, some to share, some to sell….let me know.

    • Tiffany Benedict Berkson June 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm · Reply

      I’ve been collecting anything and everything relating to Virginia for 8+ years now and believe I have every one of the books she illustrated, save one. They aren’t all in perfect condition, but I treasure them. How wonderful you had such interesting friends, family and connections! Thanks for sharing!

      • Lee Danielson October 25, 2013 at 9:21 pm · Reply

        I have been doing some research as I have an incredible painting of my father as a young boy. It took me a long time to find the painter and it is fantastic

        • Tiffany Benedict Berkson October 25, 2013 at 10:19 pm · Reply

          Virginia is my muse and I say without hesitation I am the world expert on her–worth nothing to anyone but me, but there it is. I would love to see the a picture of the portrait! Will email you!

  3. Celia Dole January 12, 2016 at 9:49 pm · Reply

    I have 2 or 3 Pastels by Virginia Keep Clark of my late husbands’ Mother and great Aunt as children. They are beautifully rendered. The family lived west of Chicago.

  4. Pamela McShane May 26, 2016 at 2:44 pm · Reply

    Hello. I have two large pastel sitting portraits of my grandmother (Mimi) and her mother done by Virginia Keep Clark (signed and dated 1915 on the front). I have had them for years and just now thought to google the artist! Fascinating to read about her! They are beautiful.

  5. Maria March 15, 2017 at 8:59 am · Reply

    Hi Tiffany, If you are still interested I have what appears to be an autoportrait of Virginia dedicated to a friend. Would you like to see a pic of it and let me know what you think of it. Maria

    • Tiffany Benedict Browne April 6, 2017 at 6:17 pm · Reply

      I’d LOVE to see this!! I will email you now, and hopefully I won’t get stuck in your spam filter. Thanks for the message.

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