American Impressionist artist, Anna Huntington Stanley (1864–1907), dedicated her career to depicting the human experience in oil and watercolor. After studying art in Philadelphia and Paris, under esteemed tutors, her work experienced a significant lightening in the color palette and the influences of Impressionism became more evident in her work. Anna's pictures, in which she encountered and depicted the everyday activity of common rural women and children, present attractive and yet intimate scenes of the life around her - regardless of location. Her extraordinary ability to record and honor the subjects and places represented in her work earns her a permanent seat in the annals of American art history.
Anna Stanley was born in a small village in Greene County, Ohio. She arrived during the fourth year of the American Civil War; that same year Abraham Lincoln was completing his first term as president, General William Tecumseh Sherman launched his campaign, March to the Sea, and Anna’s father, U.S. Army Brigadier-general David Sloan Stanley was wounded at the Battle of Franklin. Anna was cared for by her mother, Anna Maria, among six other siblings. Her father’s military career moved the Stanley family several times in the years following the Civil War, taking them to South Dakota, Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington, DC. In spite of this transient life, the commitment of David and Anna Maria Stanley to foster an environment that valued God, education, distinctive accomplishment and culture, the family remained intimate and resilient. It was this environment that nurtured Anna's ability to interpret the world around her through her art.
Anna Stanley spent her high school years in New York where she attended the Buffalo Female Academy and was lauded for her skills in drawing and painting. Anna received instruction under Ammi Merchant Farnham (American, 1845-1922), who studied at the Royal Academy of Bavaria and the Munich Academy under Frank Duveneck. An accomplished artist and curator of the Buffalo Academy of Fine Arts (renamed in 1962, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), Farnham's oeuvre includes atmospheric landscapes, often painted in late afternoon, depicting luminous twilight scenes, which lend much influence to many of Anna’s later paintings. Her achievements were recognized when one of her pen and ink drawings was selected for the cover illustration on The Magnet, which was published by the ladies of the Academy.
In the fall of 1882 Anna moved to Philadelphia to continue her education at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and improve her mastery of the human figure. She attended anatomy lectures and studied life drawing and sculpture under Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) and Thomas Anshutz (American, 1851-1912) until the spring 1885. During this time, she also met Chicago artist Pauline “Lena” Dohn, a former students of the School of Art Institute of Chicago, who would later accompany Anna to Europe.
A privileged young woman, in 1887 Anna accompanied by her mother and friend, Lena, traveled to Venice and then on to Paris, where she enrolled in the Académie Julian. Renting a space on the top floor of the Hotel Oxford and Cambridge, Anna’s accommodation was connected to an adjoining room occupied by Lena. They were situated in the 1st arrondissement of Paris in close proximity to the Tuileries Garden and the Musée du Louvre, Surviving family correspondence, including illustrations, describes the experiences they had while they were there. These letters include descriptions of artists’ materials, subject matter in included in works of art, and comments about critiques received from their instructors.
Under the training of Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger (French, 1824–1888) and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (French, 1836–1912), Anna produced figurative charcoal drawings rather than paintings; both were revered artists. Lefebvre was known for his meticulously executed portraits and nudes, and during his long career, he earned three Salon medals, was appointed to the French Academy of Fine Arts, attained the rank of Commander in the Legion of Honor, and won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1861. Gustave Boulanger, also a figure painter, was best-known for his classical and Orientalist subjects. Some of his other students included Childe Hassam (1859-1935), George Hitchcock (1850-1913), Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937), Gari Melchers (1860-1932), Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925), Elizabeth Nourse (1860-1938), Robert Reid (1862-1929), and Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938) - Anna's work was in good company. Likely her awareness of the reputations of her mentors resulted in welcomed reception of their instruction. In one letter, she wrote that she received "stern criticisms" and yet recounted that they were “fair and instructive.”
Several other artist and friends from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts also studied at the Académie Julian. One such student was Ida Haskell, whose mother came to Paris to look after the young women. While there, Mrs. Hanna Haskell wrote to an art teacher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, John H. Vanderpoel, to inquire about where she and the students might summer in 1888. (It was not uncommon for artist students to paint en plein aire during summers, to take advantage of the out-of-doors after a cold damp Paris winter.) Vanderpoel responded by suggesting they consider spending their summer in Rijsoord in the Netherlands, where his parents lived before they immigrated to America. He advised that the cost of living in Rijsoord would be affordable, the scenery excellent, and his cousins - a family named Noorlander, would be good companions. Having previously taught at the Académie Julian, Vanderpoel also decided to accompany the students to Rijsoord where he could paint and teach. Julian friends, Page Scott and Alice Kellogg from Chicago, and Page’s sister Gertrude, joined the expedition.
Anna’s experience in Holland would forever influence her work as an artist. Rijsoord was so isolated from the outside world that strangers were cause for great attention. In a letter to her parents, Anna wrote of a large crowd of more than 100 local children that followed Anna and Mrs. Haskell, almost causing a riot because they had never seen artists before. Her affection for these citizens ensued in picturesque portrayals of Dutch farmers and laborers, predominantly women and children, and gorgeous views of river scenes, dikes, and wide-open landscapes.
In the fall of 1888, Anna returned to Paris along with her friends. Rather than returning to the Académie Julian, they registered at the Académie Colarossi where the fees were more reasonable, and the classes were less structured and more progressive. There they received instruction from artists Jean-André Rixens (1846-1925) and Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois (1852-1923). Anna moved to an apartment house with Page Scott, Ida C. Haskell, her mother Hannah, Alice Kellogg, Amy Atkinson from York, England, the Jordain sisters [first names unknown] and Adele . Anna, along with her friends, also rented artists’ studios. Anna shared hers with another Colarossi student, Beulah Strong.  In a letter from Alice Kellogg, she wrote, “Nan has it one half day, Beulah the other [half] so practically they have the studio alone.” (It was also noted by Alice that during this fall and winter period evening painting classes were taken with nude subjects.)
The Noorlander family established a pension fund for the artists and travelers. “According to the plaque on the facade [of their house], the first corner stone was laid by a certain A. H. Stanley, presumably one of the American artists.” In May 1889, Anna’s painting, Au commencement et à al fin, was selected for exhibit at the Paris Salon, and in June she, along with many of the student artists, returned to Rijsoord. (Both summers [1888 and 1889] in Risjoord lasted from May or June to November, and Anna produced substantial works as reflected in later American exhibitions.
Later American Years and travel to Asia
In November 1889, Anna sailed from Rotterdam for New York, accompanied by Page Scott. A month later, she was in San Antonio, TX and, by 1890, she had executed a formal portrait of her father in uniform. Nearly twenty-six years old, her career was well established; in April she exhibited two paintings at the National Academy of Design in New York. Now recognized as a professional artist, her works were exhibited in numerous nationally prominent exhibits over the next few years, which were accompanied by price increases.
By June of 1891 Anna had three paintings included in the First Annual Exhibition of American Art at the Detroit Museum of Fine Arts in Michigan (along with her former teacher John H. Vanderpoel). Her work was exhibited annually in the Northern and Eastern parts of the U.S., with exception of 1893, when the only thing known of her activities comes from a photograph taken in the summer at an artist colony of Napanoch, New York. [She can be seen carrying the incomplete painting of Girl Reading.] It was this same year that she painted her brother David’s full-length portrait, Cadet, while he was on a short vacation from West Point.
Anna continued to produce works over the next several years and exhibited at the National Academy of Design, The Boston Art Club, and with the Society of Washington Artists. Her work was also included in an important exhibition in Washington, DC, for the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ group that formed after the Civil War.
In 1895, Anna’s mother died in April and her brother, David, graduated from West Point Military Academy in June. It was here that she met Lieutenant Willard Ames Holbrook, the former Aide-de-Camp to General Stanley at Fort Sam Houston (1891 to 1892), and they began corresponding. Within days of her brother’s graduation, Anna and Ida C. Haskell, boarded a ship in New York and sailed for Rotterdam. Anna remained in Rijsoord for five months, and there she produced The Sand Sifter, Harvest , The Windmill and Girl Carrying Sheaves. This would be her last trip to the Netherlands. When Anna returned to New York that November, Willard, (as noted in his memoir) missed meeting her ship.
In April 1896, Anna’s work was exhibited three times, and Veerhoff Galleries in Washington, DC presented five of her paintings in a solo show. In October 1896 Anna and Willard Holbrook were married in Washington, DC, with a large reception at Quarters Number 1, General Stanley’s residence at the Old Soldiers’ Home. In December, Anna moved with Willard to his post at Fort Grant, AZ.
In 1887, Anna exhibited The Spinning Wheel at the Society of Washington Artists, Cosmos Club, Washington, DC; this is the last known exhibition of Anna’s work during her lifetime, although she continued to paint.
May 1889, Willard Ames Holbrook, Jr. was born and two weeks later, Willard Sr. was sent to Georgia and then assigned to the war in Cuba. April 1900, David Stanley Holbrook (known as Stanley) was born at Angel Island, San Francisco, CA. That same year Willard was sent to the Philippines and they were separated for over a year. During these two separations Anna lived in Washington with her father and sisters. During this time, her painting slowed but did not cease entirely and Spring House was painted during this period at Blackwell Farm in Warrenton, VA.
In 1901, Willard became a civil governor of Panay, an island in the Philippines, and Anna and the boys joined him. This position provided for a fully staffed house, and with the help of an American nanny, Anna was able to return to her painting. During this time, she completed many paintings, which are now included in family collections; other works are only known from black and white photographs from the governor’s house. During their stay in the in the Philippines, Willard took Anna to Korea and Japan and she created the watercolors Pagoda and Buddha Nikko, Japan.
The family returned to America and lived at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and then at Fort Prescott from 1903 to 1905, when Willard received orders to teach at the Pennsylvania Military College, Chester, PA.
Anna died of pneumonia, Monday, February 25, 1907 at home in Chester and was buried at the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery in Washington, DC. She was 42 years of age and left behind her husband and two young sons.
(Based on edited text originally supplied by Olivia Nagel)
1. The catalogue for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts outlines 200 students and four teachers in 1882.
2. The Anna H. Stanley Letters From Paris & Holland 1887-1889 private collection.
4. Alice Kellogg Letters, (Smithsonian American Art Museum Archives), Letter # 290.
5. Possibly Adele Fay based on the PAFA student registry. Adele Fay often sighed up for classes with Anna and her friends.
6.Beulah Strong was a lifelong friend of Elizabeth Nourse and later “joined the art department at Smith College.” Mary Alice Heekin Burke, Elizabeth Nourse, 1859 – 1938 A Salon Career, (Smithsonian Institution, 1983), 38.
7. Alice Kellogg Letters, (Smithsonian American Art Museum Archives), Letter # 370.
8.Alexandra Gaba-Van Dongen, Dreaming of Rijsoord, Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley 1960 – 1958, (Bussum: Thoth, 2005) 100 – 101.
9. See Anna H. Stanley Lifetime Exhibition History, 2008.
10. Harvest possibly Girl Carrying Sheaves.
In This Academy, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805 – 1976. Designed by Weiner, Kurt. Museum Press, Inc., Washington, D.C. 1976
Overcoming All Obstacles: The Women of the Académie Julian. Gabriel P. Weisberg and Jane R. Becker, editors. Rutgers University Press, NJ, 1999 for the Dahesh Museum.
The Anna H. Stanley Letters from Paris & Holland 1887 – 1889. Unpublished, private collection, Joanne Holbrook Patton.
The Diaries of Maj. Gen Francis Henry French (USMA 1879) Abandonment of Fort Concho and service at Fort Sam Houston June 5, 1889 – May 13, 1890. Copyright of the Vinton Trust, Fort Sam Houston Archive.
US Military Academy at West Point, Special Collections. The Holbrook History.
Bell, Raymond, (Ret. General U.S. Army) Unpublished.
Smithsonian, Archives of American Art, The Alice Kellogg Tyler Papers. Letters 1887 – 1889 Unpublished
Stott, Annette, Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art and Culture. Overlook Press, Woodstock, New York. 1998
Gaba-van Dongen, Alexandra, Dreaming of Rijsoord, Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley 1860 – 1958. Bussum, Thoth, Netherlands. 2006
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National Academy of Design Exhibition Record 1861 – 1900, Volume II M through Z. Tombstone Epitaph, Tombstone, A-Z for Kennedy Galleries. 1973
Clark, Eliot, N. A., History of The National Academy of Design 1825 – 1953. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 1954
The Julian Academy: Paris 1868 – 1939; Spring Exhibition 1989. Essays by Catherine Rehrer. Organized by Robert and Elisabeth Kashey for the Shepherd Gallery New York. 1989
Weinberg, Helene Barbara, The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers. Abbeville Press Publishers, New York. 1991
Americans in Paris 1860-1900. To accompany the exhibition of the same name, Kathleen Adler, Erica E. Hirshler, H. Barbara Weinberg, with contributions from David Park Curry, Rodolphe Rapetti and Christopher Riopelle and assistance of Megan Holloway Fort and Kathleen Mrachek. National Gallery Company Limited. London, England. 2006
Davies, Maria Thompson, Seven Times Seven, An Autobiography, NY: Dodd, Mead. 1924
Fink, Lois Marie, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, National Museum of American Art Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Cambridge University Press New York. 1990
Burk, Mary Alice Heekin, with a contribution by Louis Marie Fink. Elizabeth Nourse, 1859 – 1938 A Salon Career, Published on the occasion of an exhibition jointly organized by the National Museum of American Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 1983