The American Illustrators Gallery’s fall 2011 exhibition Women at Sport and Leisure not only examines how women’s leisure time was represented to the public during the first half of the 20th century but also introduces how women used that time to interact with American sport. Artworks on display include paintings by John Lagatta, J.C. Leyendecker, Walter Granville Smith, Charles Dana Gibson, Jessie Willcox Smith, Clara M. Burd and Alice Barber Stephens. American illustrators captured women’s enthusiasm for sports from a variety of perspectives: as fashion statements, as a show of support for male athletes, as a natural extension of the beauty of the outdoors, and as truly competitive participation. The artworks showcasing more traditional examples of female leisure reference a diverse set of skills in which many women of the time were already proficient: quilting, dancing, gardening, singing, playing musical instruments, swimming and horseback riding for pleasure. John Lagatta (1894–1987) treated the riding accoutrements of his artwork Riding Girl as props for a pin-up in this American Magazine cover. Each detail, stripped of its functional relationship to the rider, succeeds in reinforcing an attractive environment of privilege that surrounds an attractive woman. Likewise, J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951) sets his equestrians into a starched scene bereft of distractions from their own beauty. Two horses stand ready, but make no mistake: there will be no riding today. Man and Woman with Horses was created specifically to sell clean, crisp Arrow Collar-brand shirt collars, one of which rests under each model’s strong profile. At the opposite end of the spectrum are artworks by Walter Granville Smith (1870–1938), which directly address competitive, female athleticism. One of these, Girls Rugby, captures the rowdy excitement of an all-female rugby game in which the players are running, shoving and tumbling into the grass. Also carrying the torch of the independent woman is Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), whose The Story of the Hunt is told by a woman whose jacket is open and gloves and hat have been thrown down. The rest of the room hangs on her every word as she triumphantly recalls the day’s adventure. Jessie Willcox Smith (1863–1935) was a master at capturing a certain tranquility that unites children and nature. Young Tennis Player depicts a young girl in mid-swing, and the follow-through motion of the body is so well presented that the action, though suspended, is confidently assumed. Clara M. Burd (1873–1933), also known for her depictions of children, chose for Girl Placing Basket on Door a composition that is full of fresh air and sweet feelings between two friends.
For more information on Women at Sport and Leisure telephone 212.744.5190 or visit our website at www.americanillustrators.com. American Illustrators Gallery is located at 18 East 77th Street near Madison Avenue. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., by appointment.