Sartain, Emily (1841–1927)

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Sartain, Emily (1841–1927)

American mezzotint artist and influential art educator. Born on March 17, 1841, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died on June 17, 1927; daughter of John Sartain (a painter) and Susannah (Longmate) Sartain; studied in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1864–70.

La Piece de Conviction (also known as The Reproof ) won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition (1876); employed as art editor of Our Continent magazine (1881–83); served as principal of Philadelphia School of Design for Women (1886–1920).

Emily Sartain was born in 1841 into a family of artists. Her mother Susannah Sartain was the descendant of Edward Longmate and John Swaine, both respected English engravers. Emily's father John Sartain was a highly regarded engraver, artist, and publisher who encouraged Emily and three of her brothers in their artistic careers. For six years, she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, then continued her artistic education in Europe, studying under noted painter Evariste Luminais in Paris and painting copies of famous works in Spain and Italy. In 1878, the Paris Salon accepted two of her paintings, one of which, La Piece de Conviction (The Reproof), won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. She was awarded another prize for best picture by a woman at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Upon her return to the United States, Sartain concentrated on mezzotint engravings. She had learned the technique from her father, and was the only woman to work in the genre. Mezzotints are soft, velvety prints and are made by burning copper or steel plates to produce a very even grain.

Sartain was art editor of Our Continent from 1881 to 1883. In 1886, she was encouraged by her friend, the renowned painter Thomas Eakins, to take the position of principal of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore School of Art), the first industrial arts school for women in the United States. Sartain, who strongly believed that commercial artists should be trained as much as fine artists, and that commercial and fine arts should be held to the same standards, used her position to make sweeping changes to the curriculum. She instituted training in the French technique, which concentrates on perspective and on working from live models, and hired Robert Henri and other avant-garde artists as teachers. As an educator, she was instrumental in furthering industrial-design training for women.

Her innovations were soon noted throughout the art world, and Sartain was invited to be a U.S. delegate for several prestigious congresses on commercial art education in Europe. At the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, she was selected to be a judge of art and chaired the Pennsylvania women's art committee, which decorated the interior of the Pennsylvania Building.

Sartain was also active civically: she was a founder of the New Century Club, president and one of the founders of the women artists' Plastic Club, and president of the Browning Society of Philadelphia. She also founded a summer art school in Virginia. After her retirement in 1920, she spent her summers in Europe and winters in California. Emily Sartain died on June 17, 1927, while visiting relatives in Philadelphia.


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

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Avon, 1982.

Ruth Savitz , freelance writer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania