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Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull

Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull

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Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull

340 pages
2 heures
Sep 28, 2015


Bright Fields is a comprehensive and deeply intimate exploration of the life and work of Mississippi-born artist Marie Hull (1890-1980). Her paintings reflect a nine-decade journey of search, thought, and growth. She produced some of the most memorable and iconic works ever created by a southern artist. This elegant and exquisitely detailed book contains over two hundred newly photographed reproductions of the artist's finest works, many never before seen by the public.

Hull was born in a small town near Jackson at a time when women were not allowed to vote and were denied many career opportunities. This did not deter Hull from a constant "search for quality" both in her life and in her art. She studied with some of the most important artists of her day, including William Merritt Chase, in Philadelphia, New York, and Europe. She won major national competitions and awards and was exhibited in some of the world's most prestigious art exhibitions and shows in the United States, Europe, and East Asia.

During the Depression, Hull created a series of paintings depicting African Americans and local sharecroppers that is considered one of the most significant contributions to regionalist art in the country's history. These important, deeply moving works place her among the forefront of the great American portraitists. Three decades later, in her seventies, Hull would reveal her remarkable ability to evolve again, this time into one of the most significant abstract painters of the South. In her powerful, brilliantly colorful late works, she combines her mastery of landscape painting with a unique, persuasive synthesis of ideas from such artists as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Hans Hofmann.

Today, Hull's works are exhibited in museums and prestigious private collections throughout the country. Bright Fields expands our knowledge of the painter's remarkable life and work, illustrating why Hull's unique vision and tremendous creativity had, and continues to have, such a profound impact on art in the South and beyond.

Sep 28, 2015

À propos de l'auteur

Bruce Levingston, Oxford, Mississippi, and New York, New York, is an acclaimed concert pianist who has given numerous world premieres at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and other international venues. The New York Times declared him one of "today's most adventurous musicians" and the New Yorker called him "a force for new music." He is founder and artistic director of the music foundation Premiere Commission, Inc., which has commissioned and premiered over fifty new works, and he is the Chancellor's Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Artist in Residence at the University of Mississippi.

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Bright Fields - Bruce Levingston

The University Press of Mississippi wishes to thank

the following individuals and families for their generous

support of the printing of this publication:

The Creekmore Family

Mr. Harold G. Corbin

Mr. Bruce Levingston

The Hon. John Palmer

Mr. Lester G. Fant III

Mr. and Mrs. Alan Perry

Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Farrington

Mr. George B. Ready

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Gresham

Mr. and Mrs. William J. Van Devender

Mrs. Ary Robinson House Knotts

Dr. and Mrs. Bob Warner, Jr.

In addition to those acknowledged in the book, the

following individuals also generously allowed their artwork

to be photographed for this publication:

Ms. Janet Hendrick Clark

Mr. Minot Tully Pratt IV

Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Farrington

Mr. George B. Ready

Mr. and Mrs. Steve Gunn

Mr. and Mrs. William J. Van Devender

Ms. Mary Ferrell Hendrick

Mrs. F. H. Walker

Mr. Bruce Levingston

Mrs. Carla Sorrells Wall

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Patrick

Dr. and Mrs. Bob Warner, Jr.

Bright Fields

The Mastery of Marie Hull

Bruce Levingston

Foreword by Michaela Merryday

With contributions from Mary Garrard, Philip Jackson, and Jon Levingston





The University Press of Mississippi is a member of the Association of American University Presses.

Copyright © 2015 by Bruce Levingston

All rights reserved

Printed in Singapore

Note on captions: Dimensions and dates of artwork are provided where available. Dimensions are in inches.

The author and the Press gratefully acknowledge The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University for their generosity in supporting the new reproductions of the artwork presented in this volume.

Page 1. Detail, Tangle of Lilies, 1968, oil on canvas, 40 × 44, private collection

Page 2. Bright Fields, 1967, oil on canvas, 42 × 36, collection Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson MS (purchase)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Levingston, Bruce, author.

Bright fields : the mastery of Marie Hull / Bruce Levingston;

Foreword by Michaela Merryday ; With contributions from

Mary Garrard, Philip Jackson, and Jon Levingston.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 978-1-62846-487-0 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-4968-0344-3 (ebook) 1. Hull, Marie Atkinson, 1890–1980. 2. Painters—United States—Biography. 3. Women painters—Mississippi—Biography. 4. Mississippi—Biography. I. Title. ND237.H89L48 2015




British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data available



Michaela Merryday


Bruce Levingston


Bruce Levingston



The Landscapes of 1929

Philip Jackson and Bruce Levingston


Faces of the Depression

Jon Levingston


A Study of the Still Lifes

Philip Jackson




The Search for the Summit

Jon Levingston


Mary Garrard








Photograph of Marie Hull and her dog Mimi, taken in 1966 just before a major retrospective exhibit sponsored by the Mississippi Art Assocation. Photo by Charles Gerald for the Clarion Ledger–Jackson Daily News. Courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Foreword: A Daring Artist


Mary D. Sheriff’s excellent book on the eighteenth-century French painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun introduces the artist as an exceptional woman—unique in her talents and unexpected in her ambitions which defied the social norms of the day.¹ Vigée-Lebrun would become Marie-Antoinette’s favored portrait painter and one of the few women artists accepted into the French Academy in the eighteenth century. Drawing on Judith Butler’s argument that identity is an act of performance or citation compelled by social sanction and taboo, Sheriff examines how the artist negotiated between her aspirations and social expectations to become the exception, a successful professional artist.²

Marie Hull is an equally exceptional woman. Like Vigée-Lebrun, she was a woman caught between sedimented social expectations and her ambitions. Coming of age in the South at the turn of the century, when women were expected to find fulfillment in marriage, Hull aspired to become an artist. Unlike the character Laurel McKelva in Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter (1972)—and unlike many Southern women artists of Hull’s generation—Marie Hull did not feel compelled to abandon her Southern roots to pursue her vocation, but was able to establish herself as an artist in Mississippi. She went on to build an artistic career that spanned seven decades and participated in all the major movements of American art of that period.

Marie Hull never publicly addressed the challenges she faced as a woman artist in Mississippi, yet the public image she crafted for herself, her artistic choices, and statements she made in various interviews considered in the broader cultural context provide insight into how the artist sought to reconcile the demands of her Southern upbringing, her social standing in Jackson, Mississippi, and her ambitions. Asked in an interview in 1969 whether her social obligations ever interfered with her artwork, Hull acknowledged that she had to work like crazy to make both parts come out even.³

By the second half of the nineteenth century, art had become an acceptable occupation for women. On the one hand, the need to create suitable employment for women in the post–Civil War era had led to the foundation of schools of design for women. In fact, the establishment of design schools actually preceded that of other professional schools for women as art was perceived better suited for women’s constitution.⁴ On the other hand, Romantic aesthetic theories, such as those of John Ruskin, presented art as an ennobling and uplifting pursuit. When art was linked to the development of moral values, it became a legitimate concern of women, considered the guardians of morality and culture by Victorian writers and reformers.⁵ As Mary Ann Stankiewicz pointed out, the leading advocates for art education were not intellectuals, but women. They became art teachers, raised funds to decorate schools with reproductions of art, and organized art study clubs and exhibitions.⁶ A 1914 article in Art and Progress holds up women’s clubs as ideally suited to promoting an interest in art.⁷

In Mississippi as elsewhere efforts to introduce art education into public schools and make art available to a broad public were spearheaded by women. In 1903, Bessie Cary Lemly (1871–1947) established the first art study club in Mississippi and in 1911 founded the Mississippi Art Association. For its first two decades the Mississippi Art Association’s officers were all women. The association sought to raise the standard of art in Mississippi and create opportunities for a broader public to experience art by organizing public exhibitions. It also played a central role in convincing the Mississippi Board of Education to make art education part of the public school curriculum.

Marie Atkinson Hull’s first forays into the Jackson art world were in keeping with her social standing as daughter of a successful businessman and, later, wife of a prominent Jackson architect, that is, as teacher, advocate for the arts, collector, and patron. After she completed her education at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she took a position teaching art at Hillman College, an all-women’s school. A year later, she secured a space where she could offer private art lessons, a practice she would continue throughout her career. Hull joined Lemly’s art study club and later the newly formed Mississippi Art Association. She assisted in the organization of the association’s annual art exhibitions at the Mississippi State Fair, which then provided a rare opportunity for local audiences to encounter art first hand. It was at Hull’s suggestion that the Mississippi Art Association began to collect works of art in 1912. This collection eventually would become the foundation for the establishment of the Mississippi Museum of Art.⁹ In addition, Hull donated paintings to schools in the Jackson area for the edification of its students. The permanent collection of the Fielding L. Wright Art Center at Delta State University was established with a generous gift of paintings by her own hand and artworks from Hull’s private collection. Hull remained passionate about educating the public about art, especially new developments in art. In 1964, she wrote to Nell Davis at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, lauding the museum’s decision to show new abstract paintings by Andrew Bucci, her former student, and offering advice on how to make the exhibition more palpable to a befuddled public.¹⁰ Her untiring efforts gained her a reputation as one of the leading art advocates in Mississippi, but tended to overshadow her own accomplishments as an artist.

Martha Harrison writing on Hull for the Jackson Daily News in the mid-1930s, describes her art as a well developed and profitable hobby of a genteel Jackson society lady—the dutiful wife of Emmett J. Hull, Jackson architect, an accomplished cook, pianist, gardener, and host, a dog lover, and, as expected of a woman of her standing, a club woman.¹¹ The photograph accompanying the article underlines the difficulty the author had in seeing Hull as a serious artist—it shows Hull wearing an elegant pillbox hat and painter’s smock, presumably over a dress suit.

Hull herself took care to dispel any suggestions of eccentricity her dedication to painting might elicit and safeguard her respectability in interviews, emphasizing that her pursuit of art has not taken the place of conventional normal living; I’ve never put art ahead of just usual living and family life.¹²While Hull downplayed her accomplishments in public statements, her choices as an artist reveal an ambitious woman in tune with the American vanguard.

When Hull decided to study art, she enrolled not at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, but at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, not only the oldest, as her biographers note,¹³ but also a distinctly progressive art school. Some of its faculty members, including Hull’s teacher, Hugh Breckenridge (1870–1937) embraced modernist styles such as postimpressionism, expressionism, and fauvism. The most modern art training was to be had at the Art Students League in New York. The Art Students League, where Hull took classes in 1922, a few years after she had married Emmett J. Hull, offered a broad selection of classes that ranged from realistic to exploration of abstraction.

The fact that Hull continued her artistic education after marrying is in itself remarkable. Many female artists of her generation had to choose between marriage and career. The demands of a traditional marriage left little time for women to pursue their art. In addition, the art world did not regard married women as serious artists.¹⁴ The Hulls’ union was a modern marriage based on mutual affection, companionship, and respect, and Emmett Hull encouraged and supported his wife’s artistic ambitions.¹⁵

Even after her formal training, Hull continued to take art courses to advance her work and explore new ideas. She spent two summers at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; participated in a study trip to Europe organized by George Elmer Browne (1871–1937), a painter and educator from Massachusetts; engaged in extended dialogues with other artists; and traveled regularly to view exhibitions in Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, DC, which allowed her to stay abreast of new developments in art. A quick glance at Hull’s work over the years reveals that despite Jackson’s distance from the major centers of art, Hull was very much in touch with the major currents of American art.

Around the time Marie Hull began studying at the Art Students League, she abandoned the conservative impressionist style that dominated the art of the South in the early twentieth century, in particular, the work of women artists.¹⁶ Hull adopted the bold, emotive colors and abbreviated brushwork of the fauvists as can be seen in Lady with a Parasol (p. 38; 1922). Around the same time Hull moved away from narrative subjects, common in Southern art, towards more symbolic representations, the hallmark of modernism.¹⁷ By the middle of the decade her work became even more abstract, and she began to paint in broad, unmodulated planes of color contained within heavy outlines. Work from that period such as Great Blue Herons (p. 48) and Red Parrots (p. 46), both from 1925, reveal the influence of Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), whose work she must have seen at her visit to the Armory Show in 1912, as well as that of the Japanese woodcut prints she had begun to collect.

The Armory Show offered a broad American public the first opportunity to see modern European paintings by artists such as Paul Cézanne (1939–1906), Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Paul Seurat (1839–1891), Maurice Denis (1870–1943), Georges Braque (1882–1963), and Henri Matisse (1869–1954). The exhibition was widely discussed in the popular press

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