Following in the footsteps of other great American women painters of the time, such as Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, Rosina Emmet Sherwood attempted the delicate balancing act required of a 19th century woman artist. Female artists were among the first true career women in a time when popular opinion and tradition both assertively placed women in the domestic realm. Women artists were expected to remain feminine and discreet while simultaneously attempting to challenge, if not surpass, their male peers in artistic accomplishment. Many women reacted to these constraints with compromise. Both Cassatt and Beaux primarily painted subjects that were considered acceptable for women, domestic scenes full of children and mothers, yet ironically, in order to maintain their artistic careers, they denied themselves participation in the very world they depicted. Unlike Cassatt and Beaux, Sherwood attempted to push social boundaries even further, juggling motherhood with her career. Although she did not achieve the same fame as her forebears Cassatt and Beaux, she can be considered the next link in the evolution of the female artist, one who can be both a mother and an artist.
Sherwood was very familiar with the struggles required to be a woman painter. She was born into a family of artists that included several female painters, such as her sisters, Lydia Emmet and Jane Emmet De Glehn, and her cousin, Ellen Emmet Rand. She was one of William Merritt Chase’s first students at his Tenth Street Studio in New York City, and also studied for a year under T. Robert-Fleury at the Académie Julian. The Académie Julian had by that time established a reputation as a safe haven for women artists. While the Ecole De Beaux-Arts did not begin accepting women until 1897, the Académie Julian began accepting women into some of its first classes in 1868. There, women had access to the same training as men and could even compete in the same artistic competitions as their male peers. Because this new freedom for women flourished at the Académie, it became a center for the feminist movement in France. Women who before were relegated to merely painting fans and ceramics, could now create full scale portraits and landscapes. They could have real careers as artists. Surrounded by this strong sorority of ambitious artists from all corners of Europe and the United States, Sherwood’s ambition and dedication to her art must have been bolstered and encouraged.
After her time at the Académie, Rosina returned to New York in 1887 and married Arthur Sherwood, with whom she had the five children that would become the constant subjects of her paintings. Her new motherhood, however, did not spell the end of her career. She continued to work as a professional artist for the rest of her life. As an illustrator, her work was included in Harper’s Magazine and won several awards. In 1893, she was commissioned to paint a mural for the Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and created a six-figure allegorical composition, The Republic’s Welcome to Her Daughters.
This painting can also be considered an allegory for both Sherwood’s career and the fate of the female artist. The Republic’s Welcome to Her Daughters was Sherwood welcoming a new generation of women artists, one that could finally embrace motherhood and an artistic career. Women artists were no longer forced to choose between the two. In many ways, Sherwood’s artistry extended into her motherhood. Many of her children went on to be successful artists and athletes themselves. Her son Robert was a famous playwright and her daughter Rosamond (depicted as the baby in the above painting), a championship golfer. Sherwood found in her domestic life a wellspring of inspiration and motivation for her talents as a painter.