Beals, Hervey, and Hewitt: Women Pioneers of Architecture and Design Photography

March 18, 2003
July 13, 2003

The exhibition focuses on the contributions of Jesse Tarbox Beals (1870–1942), Antoinette Bryant Hervey (1857–1945) and Mattie Edwards Hewitt (c. 1870–1956) to the fields of interior design, architectural, and urban photography in the early 20th century. These women were able to make their living as photographers, and they benefited from the support of their clients and from the rise of those fashion and design periodicals which published their work, including Vogue (began publishing 1892), House Beautiful (1896) Town and Country (1901), House & Garden (1901), Arts and Decoration (1910–1935), and Harper's Bazaar (1929). Most of the photographs on view have never been previously exhibited, and all are drawn the Society's vast photograph archive, housed in its Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.

Beals, Hervey and Hewitt had much in common: each began their professional career at the turn of the 20th century; each balanced the pressures of family with professional ambition; and each was successful in establishing a photography career. Beals and Hewitt ultimately left their husbands when their marriages inhibited their creative aspirations. Each photographer not only created a significant body of work reflecting a key subject—urban architecture and interior design—but also each recognized the necessity to aggressively promote herself as a specialist in her subject matter. Within their fields, these women carved for themselves a particular niche in what was, and still is, a competitive market place.

Jessie Tarbox Beals drew upon her intimate knowledge of Greenwich Village and created a body of work illustrating the neighborhood's tearooms, artist garrets and shops. Less well known are her photographs of courtyard gardens. These works, most likely done on commission for a designer or landscape architect, reveal the private green spaces that continue to flourish behind the city's marble and brownstone facades.

Like Beals, Mattie Hewitt found a distinctly New York milieu—the interiors of fashionable residences, hotels, clubs, and shops. Hewitt's camera captures the streamlined surfaces and bejeweled textures that characterize the interior design work of Elsie de Wolfe, Samuel Marx, Albert-Armand Rateau, T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Donald Deskey and William Lescaze.

While both Beals and Hewitt were self-taught, Hervey studied at the Clarence White School of Photography. She favored a romantic "Pictoralist" style over the more reportorial approach taken by her colleagues. An accomplished student of French Gothic architecture, Hervey used her trained eye to document her life-long fascination: the architecture and construction of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

This project is presented in conjunction with Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business, a concurrent exhibition organized by the Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts. Enterprising Women remains on view through June 1, 2003.

Creative: Tronvig Group