Rand, Ellen (1875–1941)

views updated

Rand, Ellen (1875–1941)

American portrait painter. Name variations: Bay Rand. Born Ellen Gertrude Emmet on March 4, 1875, in San Francisco, California; died on December 18, 1941, in New York City; daughter of Christopher Temple Emmet (a lawyer) and Ellen James (Temple) Emmet; educated by tutors and studied art under Dennis Bunker, at the Art Students League, 1889–93, and with sculptor Frederick MacMonnies; married William Blanchard Rand (a gentleman farmer and legislator), on May 6, 1911; children: Christopher Temple Emmet (b. 1912); William Blanchard, Jr. (b. 1913); John Alsop (b. 1914).

Ellen Rand, who was known as "Bay" to her famous cousin Henry James and the rest of her family, was born on March 4, 1875, in San Francisco, California. Her father Christopher Temple Emmet had joined the gold rush in 1849, and though he held a medical degree he subsequently became a lawyer. Her mother Ellen James Temple Emmet was related to the celebrated James family (William, Henry and Alice James ), and several of Ellen's relatives were painters, including her first cousins Rosina Emmet Sherwood and Lydia Field Emmet . Rand grew up in San Francisco and San Rafael, California, moving to the New York City area after her father's death around 1884, and from an early age showed marked skill at drawing and sketching. She was educated by tutors, but art was always her primary interest. She studied under Dennis Bunker in Boston and with William Merritt Chase from 1889 to 1893 at the Art Students League in New York City; by the end of that period, she was already contributing fashion sketches to Vogue magazine. While traveling abroad with her family when she was 21, she met famous portrait painter John Singer Sargent in London and sculptor Frederick MacMonnies in Paris. She remained in Paris as a painting student of MacMonnies' for three years. In 1900, Rand returned to New York City and set up a studio in Washington Square South, where Cecilia Beaux was an upstairs neighbor. At a time when solo shows were unusual, Rand had one in 1902 at the Durand-Ruel Galleries on Fifth Avenue. In 1906, she had a one-woman exhibition of 90 paintings at Copley Hall in Boston, where the only previous solo shows had been dedicated to Sargent, Monet and Whistler.

In 1911, at the age of 36, Ellen married William Blanchard Rand, a state legislator and farmer who lived in Salisbury, Connecticut. The couple had three sons over the next three years, and she divided her time between the farm, where the family spent summers hunting and horseback riding, and New York City, where she lived with the children the remainder of the year and worked on commissioned portraits. Although most of her work was done for a wealthy clientele, including public officials, heads of industry, society women and admired intellectuals, she was more than simply a society portraitist. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York holds her portraits of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Benjamin Altman, and those she painted of Elihu Root and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have become their official portraits. Her artwork brought much recognition, and she won many awards, including a gold medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and the Beck Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1922. She was also elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1926 and an Academician in 1934.

Rand's family finances were devastated by the stock-market crash in 1929, and thereafter she devoted herself to seeing her sons through college by doing as many commissions as possible. Her fees rose to the level of $5,000 per painting, and during the Depression years she painted up to 12 to 15 portraits a year, allowing her to earn what was then a prodigious income. It required an equally prodigious amount of work, however, and Rand died of a heart attack on December 18, 1941. She was buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Salisbury, Connecticut.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont