Virginia studied at the Art Students League in New York City and with Howard Pyle in Philadelphia at the Drexel Institute, as well as with William Merritt Chase, and short stints with Cecilia Beaux on the east coast and Joaquin Sorolla for a summer in Spain.
She also taught classes early and late in her artistic career. She was one of the first five teachers at the John Herron Art Institute, teaching children’s classes and in her later life, she instructed convalescing WWII soldiers in beginning painting in Winter Park, Florida.
One of her cousins had an even bigger art connection–one of three founders of Museum of Modern Art, Lillie Plummer Bliss. Another relative, Thomas Godman, was a wealthy early settler of Madison, Indiana–by way of Louisiana and Maryland. Her Aunt Stella married Alexander Lanier II (of Lanier Mansion fame) and what a romantic story that is (to be told another day).
Virginia’s friends included Arthur B. Davies, Charles Prendergast and Maurice Prendergast, Walt Kuhn, Edna Woolman Chase (former editor-in-chief of VOGUE Magazine), Franklin Remington (one time mayor of Centre Island, Oyster Bay, Long Island) and life-long friend, Lucy Taggart, another local artist, and daughter of former Indianapolis mayor, Thomas Taggart.
“Gin” as friends and family called her, as a noted portraitist of the time, painted many of the eras well-to-do families. She was especially gifted in rendering children.
In Indianapolis, a portrait by Virginia of Elizabeth Harrison hangs at the President Benjamin Harrison Home. In Chicago, a portrait of Mrs. James Ward Thorne hangs at the end of the Miniatures Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. She also created portraits (yet to be located) of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (yes, as in Mrs. Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII who abdicated the crown for love) during a summer in Nassau. Famed murdered multimillionaire Sir Harry Oakes and his wife Lady Oakes also had portraits composed by Virginia, presumably also whilst in Nassau. The list goes on…
Researching the life of this little known artist has changed the way I look at the world. When I wander around the Indianapolis Museum of Art, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I am just as interested in who bequeathed the art or how the artist is connected to Virginia–because there is inevitably a connection.
Happy Birthday to Gin.
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