National Museum of Women in the Arts
Elizabeth Nourse
October 26 1859 - October 08 1938
Elizabeth Nourse, Self-Portrait, 1892. Oil on canvas. 39 x 29 1/2 inches (99 x 75 cm). Private collection.
Place of Birth:
Mount Healthy
Phonetic Spelling:
ee-LIHZ-ah-behth nohrss
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Genre Painter, Oil Painter, Pastelist, Portraitist, Watercolorist
Artist's Biography:
American expatriate artist Elizabeth Nourse became widely known for her paintings of women and children during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Born in Mount Healthy, Ohio in 1859, she studied at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati. Shortly after her graduation in 1881, her parents died and Nourse began painting decorative panels carved by her sister to help support her family. When her twin sister married, she moved to New York where she studied at The Art Students League of New York and took life drawing classes with William Sartain. In 1885, the McMicken School of Design offered their first life drawing courses for women, and Nourse returned to Ohio to continue developing her skills in figure drawing.

In 1887, Nourse left for Paris with her older sister Louise and continued her education at the Académie Julian. She began a series of trips throughout Europe, Russia, and North Africa in 1889 where she found diverse subjects to paint. She primarily painted empathetic images of peasant women engaged in ordinary activities such as tending to housework and nursing babies. Although she enjoyed painting the folk traditions of different cultures, she also accepted commissions for portraits in order to support her sister and herself.

Nourse continued exhibiting her genre paintings and portraits of women. In 1895, she became the first woman to be elected an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and served as president of the American Women’s Art Association of Paris from 1899 to 1900. Although her work was often compared to Mary Cassatt’s paintings of wealthy Parisian mothers and children, Nourse remained committed to representing the working class women she encountered in her travels to France, Italy, Holland, and the Ukraine.

While many American artists left France during World War I, Nourse remained in Paris where she solicited funds and supplies for refugees. Her efforts were later rewarded in 1919 by the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1921 by Notre Dame University with the Laetare Medal for her charitable service to humanity.

In 1920, Nourse underwent surgery for breast cancer. She continued painting and exhibiting internationally until she retired in 1924. During her career she maintained a more traditional style, dismissing popular movements like Impressionism as passing trends. Nourse died in Paris in 1938.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
Académie Julian, Paris, France (1887) McMicken School of Design, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA (1885-1886, 1874-1881) The Art Students League of New York, New York, NY, USA (1882)
Related Visual Artists:
sister of Adelaide Nourse Pitman aunt of Mary Medline Nourse teacher of Minerva J. Chapman friend of Tolla Certowitz friend of Mary Cecilia Wheeler friend of Beulah Strong friend of Mary Cassatt student of Thomas S. Noble student of Louis Rebisso student of Gustave Boulanger student of Jules Lefebvre student of Will H. Humphreys student and sister-in-law of Benn Pitman student of Marie Eggers student of William Sartain influenced by Frank Duveneck
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Laetare Medal, Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN, USA (1921) Gold Medal, Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco, CA, USA (1915) Associate Member, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France
Earliest exhibition:
Cincinnati Industrial Exhibition, Cincinnati Art Musuem, Cincinnati, OH, USA (1879)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
American Women Artists: 1830-1930
Artist retrospective(s):
Elizabeth Nourse, 1859-1938: A Salon Career, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC, USA and Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH, USA (1983) (jointly organized)
Related places
Paris (died at)
L'Enfant, ca. 1919