I have never heard of Elizabeth Nourse and came upon her quite by accident while doing research for the Newburyport Interactive History Map, I stumbled on a name mentioned in an 1848 deed – who would have thought. The deed mentions Caleb E. Nourse (1808 -1880) and Elizabeth L. B. Nourse (1816-1880), which turns out to be Elizabeth Lebretton Rogers Nourse, from Cincinnati, Ohio, on a Newburyport 1848 deed. And “Googling” Elizabeth Nourse, it turns out that the Elizabeth Nourse on the deed is mother of a famous painter, Elizabeth Nourse (1859 – 1938). If her mother is on a Newburyport deed, even living in Cincinnati, Ohio, there must be Newburyport roots, right? I couldn’t find any.
1848 Newburyport deed with Elizabeth L. B. Nourse (1816-1880), which turns out to be Elizabeth Lebretton Rogers Nourse, from Cincinnati, Ohio.
I emailed the Cincinnati Art Museum’s library and archival center with a portion of the deed, hoping that they might have some biographical information on the Newburyport side of the family. In my experience usually museums politely, maybe get back to me, but the Cincinnati Art Museum got back to me with a treasure trove of information, including the Newburyport missing link, in a handwritten genealogy of the family. Elizabeth Lebretton Rogers Nourse’s parents were David Rogers (1789-1823) and Eunice Sawyer Couch (1790-1823), and Eunice Sawyer Couch Rogers has major Newburyport roots, her father was Captain John Couch (1747 – 1794) and her mother was Abigail Sawyer Couch (1750-1826). After her parent’s death it appears that Elizabeth Rogers eventually moved to Cincinnati and was brought up by her guardian, Samuel Rogers, her father’s half brother.*
Handwritten Nourse genealogy from the Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives, the Cincinnati Art Museum
In the material that the Cincinnati Art Museum sent me and written material on Elizabeth Nourse, her connection to Rebecca Nurse of the Salem Witch Trials on her father’s side is sometimes emphasized, no mention of seafaring mariners from Newburyport on her mother’s side.
In the information from the museum there is an account of her father Caleb, who became a banker in Boston. In 1829 he left Boston for Cincinnati and put the “o” back in the Nurse name. The account talks about how he had planned to go to New Orleans, but he met his wife Elizabeth Rogers while fighting a fire via a bucket brigade and decided to stay in Ohio. They were married in Cincinnati in 1833.*
At the age of 15 Elizabeth was already attending the the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) and studied there for 7 years. Elizabeth was the youngest of 10 children and her parents died in 1880* when she was 21. She made a courageous choice, an unheard of choice in 1882, and decided to make her living as a professional artist. She first went to New York City and then in 1887 to Paris, France at the age of 28. With her talent and determination she became a painter equal to the much more well known artist Mary Cassatt, with whom she was a contemporary and a friend.
Elizabeth Nourse appears to have been rediscovered in 1983 by the Cincinnati Art Museum where she is well represented, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.** Well known and loved in her hometown of Cincinnati, she does not appear to be recognized by major museums in this country like the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City) or the MFA (Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts). It is time that a person of such talent and success in her own lifetime, who was so intrepid in her artist career, becomes more widely known and appreciated now in the 21st Century – if not a household name.
Just Google “Elizabeth Nourse” to know more about this remarkable artist.
~ Mary Baker Eaton 2023 for the Newburyport Interactive Map – Keeping the Story Alive
Elizabeth Nourse, Fisher Girl of Picardy, 1889, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Elizabeth Nourse, Meditation, 1902, oil on canvas, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska
Elizabeth Nourse, Woman with a Bundle of Sticks, 1899 oil on canvas, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon
Elizabeth Nourse, The Kiss, 1906, pastel and charcoal on paper, mounted on board, Clark Art Institute
Elizabeth Nourse, Venice, watercolor over traces of pencil, 1891, Cincinnati Art Museum
Elizabeth Nourse, Self-Portrait at the Easel,1892, oil on canvas, Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, West Virginia
Footnotes and References:
* Material from the Cincinnati Museum of Art
** Elizabeth Nourse, 1859–1938: A Salon Career, by Mary Alice Heekin Burke and Lois Marie Fink, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum, 1983
Artist Elizabeth Nourse, born Mount Healthy, OH, 1859 – died Paris, France 1938, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Our History: ‘Premier woman artiste’ Elizabeth Nourse from Mount Healthy, Jeff Suess, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 2017
Elizabeth Nourse, 1860 – 1938, Reid Hall, Columbia University in the City of New York
Elizabeth Nourse, Woman with a Bundle of Sticks, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon
Elizabeth Nourse, Wikipedia
A huge “thank you” to Jennifer Hardin at the Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives, the Cincinnati Art Museum, who sent me the treasure trove of information on Elizabeth Nourse.
A huge “thank you” to Jane Wallace Wild, a professional title examiner with a focus on historic research, who graciously helped me on puzzling deeds that led to this discovery.
A big “thank you” to Emma Crowley at the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center, with weeks of help that ended up leading to the discovery of Elizabeth Nourse.