Mary Elizabeth Price 1877–1965
Pioneering American Impressionist painter Mary Elizabeth Price played a key role in the New Hope School of painting in the early twentieth century and enjoyed a long career marked by critical and commercial success.
Born into a Quaker family in West Virginia, her family moved to their ancestral farm in Solebury, Pennsylvania when she was a child. Her family had a predisposition to the arts: one of her brothers became a well-known author, art critic, and owner of Ferargil Galleries in New York City, the other a respected art dealer and frame-maker. After studying at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Price studied privately in New Hope with William Bredin and then lived in New York City for a couple of years where she conducted a successful children’s painting school with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.
By the late 1920s she settled permanently in the New Hope area, purchasing a small cottage she had been renting and dubbing it Pumpkin Seed because of its small size and vivid yellow color. She would remain there for the rest of her life. Price was influenced greatly by local New Hope impressionist artists like Daniel Garber and developed her own reputation producing decorative panels featuring flowers on gold or silver leaf backgrounds. The lilies, delphiniums, hollyhocks, mallows, irises, peonies, gladioli, and poppies that she grew in her cottage garden frequently became subjects for her paintings. She also painted landscapes and scenes of village and farm life, and her work garnered praise for its modern use of color and subtle delicacy of line and form.
Beginning in the 1910s and throughout the remainder of her career, Price exhibited constantly. In 1914 she exhibited at the Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C., for the first of seven times. That same year also marked her first exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy, where she showed for more than twenty years. She also exhibited her work at the National Academy of Design, New York, sixteen times between 1921 and 1943, and with The Philadelphia Ten—a progressive and influential group of female artists—from 1921 until 1945. Price held countless solo exhibitions in New York City as well, and she won the 1927 Carnegie Prize for best oil painting by an American artist. In addition to her artistic endeavors, she was chairman of exhibits for the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors from 1920 through 1927, and one of the founders of the Phillips Mill Art Association.
Price died at the age of eighty-seven, leaving behind an important legacy of advocacy for women’s art and education. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of Swarthmore, Smith, and Dickenson colleges, as well as the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, and other museums and institutions.