| Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones and her sister Margaret, circa 1904 Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones on right, circa 1911 Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones and her sister Margaret, circa 1911
STILL IN HER TEENS, ELIZABETH SPARHAWK-JONES (1885-1968) sold her paintings for the equivalent of about $50,000 today. As a student at Philadelphia’s venerable Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), she earned nearly every award possible, including a coveted scholarship for travel throughout Europe. The New York Times, having declared her painting The Porch in an exhibition in 1907, “the most unforgettable canvas in the show,” anointed her “the find of the year” in 1908.
Her works depicted light and contemporary scenes: children roller skating, women reading or shopping, mothers pushing baby carriages in the park. After she won an honorable mention in the prestigious Carnegie Institute’s International Exhibit of 1909, Harper’s Weekly published her work In Rittenhouse Square beside those of two other American winners, Bruce Crane and Edmund C. Tarbell. The magazine even suggested that her talent exceeded that of one of her teachers, the internationally renowned William Merritt Chase (1848-1916). It was the brilliance of her brushwork and objective observation that, according to reviewers and critics, “astonished the maestros of the wide brush.”
Then, in 1913, a hereditary struggle with mental illness overwhelmed her and she disappeared from of the art world. It was the year of the controversial Armory Show in New York, in which the storm of European modernism overwhelmed its American audience. It was the year her only sister married and moved away, leaving Elizabeth the sole provider of their domineering widowed mother.
Twenty years later, she emerged with an original style that sparked a second success as painter Marsden Hartley would write: she “has…come out of the fashionable past with a second, fresher and more interesting personality” and another to dub her “a phenomenon in the world of paint.”