Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones

Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones was born in 1885 in Baltimore to Reverend and Mrs. John Sparhawk-Jones, a Presbyterian minister who returned to Philadelphia to accept a position as pastor when Elizabeth was nine. During a formal study period between 1902 and 1909, Miss Sparhawk-Jones attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she received criticism from Thomas Anshutz, William Merritt Chase, and possibly from Cecilia Beaux. Almost a prodigy, Elizabeth created early works in which skillful brushwork, an awareness of natural light, and an inherent quality of compositional design are all evident. Sparhawk-Jones was awarded PAFA's Mary Smith Prize of 1908 for her painting entitled Roller Skates, now in the Art Institute of Chicago. The artist not only combined various technical and stylistic procedures from her American instructors but also managed to interpolate Degas' compositional methods. Sparhawk-Jones actively pursued and assimilated ideas, including French impressionist aesthetics via many sources from her vantage point in Philadelphia. The influence of Degas should not be over-emphasized, indeed, it is subtle, but not greater than her debt to various older Americans such as Anshutz, Beaux, Cassatt, Chase, and even Robert Henri.

For the most part, the impressionistic phase in Sparhawk-Jones's career was over shortly after the 1913 Armory Show.  When she once again submitted works to national exhibitions in 1926, after a prolonged illness, one of these was sufficiently distinctive to have received the Kohnstamm Prize in Chicago. In 1938, one observer accounted for two distinct trends in the oeuvre of Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones. By this time her work had changed from a forceful impressionism of her first period; as she continued, her pictures became progressively introspective, mystically symbolic with a radical departure from tradition. Henry McBride saw and referred to these paintings as "imaginative compositions of fire and smoke and drifting clouds." Sparhawk-Jones took part in the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939, and in 1956, when her first one-woman show was held at Frank Rehn Gallery, her painting concept, mood, and subject matter had been transformed considerably. Later a modern art historian referred to their style as one that "verged on expressionistic violence." Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones continued her imaginative ventures in painting, gaining the quiet admiration of Marsden Hartley and a select group of collectors who purchased her work, but it is her early impressionist style that has awakened a renewed interest in her oeuvre. She died in 1968.