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.


22 responses to “An Old Sweetheart of Mine, Virginia Keep Clark”

  1. Susan Spoto says:

    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!

  2. d mikels shea says:

    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.

  3. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    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!

  4. Lee Danielson says:

    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

  5. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    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!

  6. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    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.

  7. Celia Dole says:

    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.

  8. Pamela McShane says:

    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.

  9. Maria says:

    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

  10. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    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.

  11. Jennifer M Stanley says:

    Tiffany, Did you ever get your book finished on Virginia Keep Clark? I have a friend that found a portrait of a small boy with an orange painted by Virginia Keep Clark in 1914. The painting was in her mother in law’s attic and since her mother in law passed away no one else in the family can identify who the boy is. I would like to purchase your book on the artist if you completed it. Thank you, Jen S

  12. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    I emailed you back. Hopefully I don’t get caught in your spam filter! Thank you for the message. Best Wishes. Long live the art of VKC.

  13. liz McNeill says:

    I was just at a consignment store today and came across a painting by one Virginia Clark, and I am trying to determine if it is by this same artist. Presumably it would have been painted around 1911 when she was abroad because it is of Piazzale San Marco in Venice, and I was wondering if you had any further information about her travels. Additionally, the style is quite impressionistic – common for plain air paintings around this time but it seems to stray from the painting style she usually employs and I wanted to know if you have come across any paintings of hers that could be described this way / know of any of her landscapes. Any information that you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

  14. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    I’ll email you, Liz. Thanks for your message!

  15. Kathy Hughes says:

    Tiffany, I just came across your article. I have a picture painted by Virginia of my grandmother as a child. She was born in 1902 in Ohio, and moved to Indianapolis shortly after that. My mother remembers being told that the painting was used on the cover of a popular magazine at the time, although I have been unable to find evidence of that. Grandma was a red head, and I remember her telling me when I was in high school that Virginia was fascinated by the color of her hair, and asked permission to paint her. Grandma’s father was a minister, and was reluctant to have one of his children singled out and made to feel “too important.” But eventually he agreed. I have always treasured the picture – a brief glimpse of my grandma as a child. Kathy

  16. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    I’d love to see this portrait! I’m not sure if you signed up to get alerts of follow up comments, but I’d love to email you. I’ve now been researching Virginia for about 15 years and know that people who have any secondary knowledge of her are starting to disappear, I’d love to connect. Thanks for this message!

  17. Oliver Grace says:

    I have a childhood portrait of a cousin of mine, Michael Grace at about 6 years of age which was painted by Virginia Keep Clark in 1922. I could send you a picture of the pastel painting.

  18. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Oh, I would love that. Virginia is my angel, and I love her! I’ll shoot you an email! Thank you!

  19. Stephen Gregory Kahler says:

    She did a pastel portrait of my grandmother in 1915. My GM, Jean Stirling, married Stephen Gregory the following year. Both lived in Chicago—my grandmother on Prairie Avenue, where there were many cousins related through her grandfather William Gold Hibbard.
    If you are interested in seeing the portrait I can send you a photo.
    I went to Indianapolis about 13 years ago for a meeting. My wife had told me about the Indiana connection. The only day I had free was a Sunday, when the museum was closed.

    Steve Kahler

  20. Ilene Hochberg Wood says:

    Hello Tiffany!
    I just received a pastel portrait on canvas of a young child dressed in white and clutching a small figure of Santa Claus. I do not know much about it yet but will ask my friend for any information. Are you familiar with this image? It might have appeared in a book or magazine, or was commissioned by the child’s parents. I am not certain if it is a boy or girl, as the hair is short and curly.

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