“Scott Sisters in Garden” (1918 ) by Jeannette Scott
Black & white plate of oil painting of Margaret and Mary in Skaneateles
Born in Canada, Jeannette Scott led a rich life that was a triumph over the restrictions of her father and society in the 19th century. John Scott forbade his daughter to ride a pony astride or study art. She rode as she pleased, accepted the punishments he dealt out, and went to art school almost directly from his funeral. (Her sisters were likewise discouraged from entering the professions; Mary became a doctor and Margaret a university professor.)
Scott first studied with painter and printmaker Emily Sartain (1841-1927), at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. Sartain came from a family of artists and was a friend of Mary Cassatt, an American painter whose work strongly influenced Scott.
From 1889 to 1894, Scott lived and studied in Europe, attending two private art schools in Paris, the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. (The government art school, École des Beaux-Arts, would not accept women as students.) At these private schools, women studied alongside men, and drew and painted from live models. Both schools were popular with foreign students, particularly Americans. Artists who taught and mentored Scott during this time included Gustave Courtois (1853-1923), Joseph Blanc (1846-1904) and Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).
In 1894, Scott returned to the U.S. and set up a studio in New York City, in Carnegie Hall, but commissions were slow in coming. So when she received a timely offer of a position on the faculty of Syracuse University, she accepted. In 1895, she began as a professor of painting in the College of Fine Arts. When Scott arrived, life classes were forbidden; models were modestly draped in gymnasium suits. One day, she laid bare a model’s foot, and by 1898, she had persuaded her superiors to allow male models to pose in naught but gym shorts. For the time and place, it was a triumph, and only one student was withdrawn by her parents as a result.
Jeannette Scott in her Crouse College studio
An article in the Syracuse Herald in 1899 described her workplace: “Miss Scott’s studio is one of the best equipped in the city and is certainly by far the most delightfully located, being on the second floor of the John Crouse Memorial College, having a north aspect and overlooking a wide range of hills and valleys which takes in three points of the compass. And if the outlook is a constant inspiration, the interior is equally attractive, draperies, rugs, rare old china, relics, etc., in graceful profusion are mingled among the many works of art which line the walls. An air suggestive of the Paris ateliers is evident and betokens the fact that foreign training has played an important part in her artistic career.”
“The Blue Teacup” (1915) by Jeannette Scott
By 1902, Scott was the head of the painting department. She continued to paint as well as teach, specializing in portraits. All her life, she was a champion of women’s rights, working in particular with the Inter-American Commission of Women. On one occasion, the New York State Fair said that her paintings and those of her female students would be welcome at the Fair, but only in the Women’s Building. Professor Scott informed them that they would continue to hang at Syracuse University, thank you very much.
In 1927, Jeannette Scott retired and joined her two sisters in their house in Skaneateles at 91 East Genesee Street, across from the lake. Jeannette continued to paint, in spite of physical maladies that would have discouraged a lesser spirit. She also continued to travel; in 1930, Jeannette and her sisters returned to France, and in the summer of 1937, Jeannette and her brother John visited, for the last time, her childhood home in Kincardine, Ontario.
Jeannette Scott died at home in Skaneateles in 1937. The tributes were many. Her students, women and men alike, loved her and gave her great credit for their successes. An obituary in the Skaneateles Press noted, “She looked for and found goodness and talent in everyone she met and knew.”
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Paintings & Drawing of Jeannette Scott, 1864-1937 by Doris Stevens