You might recall my recent discussion of Philip Leslie Hale (1865-1931), a leading member of the Boston School whose drawings prompted some to call him the “Boston Ingres”. Philip, however, wasn’t the only master draftsman in the Hale clan: his wife, Lilian Westcott Hale (1880-1953), was every bit his match when it came to working with charcoal, pencil and silverpoint. A successful artist who was especially praised for her drawings, Lilian drew incessantly during her student days at the Hartford Art School and the Boston Museum School, and she continued to create works on paper for the remainder of her career. In The Life in the Studio (1957), her daughter, Nancy, reminisced about the “sharp, steady sawing of charcoal . . . up and down against the sheet of Strathmore board on my mother’s easel . . . She sat, beautifully erect, on a high stool, her right arm out at full length, holding the charcoal in its French brass holder.”
For a very striking example of Lilian Westcott Hale’s expert draftsmanship, look no further than Polish Princess, which features a young woman dressed in a stylish ball gown and fancy jewelry; in her poise and quiet demeanor, she conforms to the concept of the “Boston lady,” a genteel and passive female type that populated the work of the Hales and their contemporaries, such as Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson. At the same time, Hale was obviously intrigued by her subject’s exotic, eastern European looks; according to Erica Hirshler (“Lilian Westcott Hale, 1880-1963: A Woman Painter of the Boston School,” Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1992, 115-16), Lilian found her model on the Boston subway.
Perhaps, in the course of our research, we’ll discover the name of this charming girl. In the meantime, she exists on paper as a perfect example of Hale’s aesthetic, revealing her practice of creating form by means of subtle shading and a delicate linearity––her sensitive modeling capturing her subject’s wide-set eyes, high forehead and small, pointed chin. The end result is a portrait of a beautiful princess as well as proof of Hale’s devotion to realism and consummate craftsmanship. Most of all, it’s a testament to her amazing skills as a draftsman. I agree completely with the Boston critic, William Howe Downes, who rightly declared that Lilian Hale’s drawings possessed a “distinct elegance of style” (William Howe Downes, “Mrs. Hale’s Drawings, Boston Transcript, 22 January 1908).
Note: Polish Princess is part of the upcoming exhibition American Works on Paper, 1800-Present.