Anna Catherine Wiley (Knoxville, TN, 1879-1958), “The Pea Shellers,” impressionist oil on canvas painting depicting three women seated on the porch of an East Tennessee home, Wolf Creek, shelling peas. The women are seated in ladderback chairs, filling woven baskets with green peas while pods accumulate on the floor; sunlight filters through foliage in the background. According to oral history, the three women in the scene are Helen Peck Allen, Nell Allen and “Mary,” a housekeeper. Miss Wiley was a friend of the Allen family and spent summer weeks at the Allen family estate at Wolf Creek, visiting Helen Peck Allen (in whose family this painting has descended). It was during one of these visits that Wiley painted this scene. Wolf Creek was a summer vacation community located in eastern Cocke County, alongside the French Broad River and bordering the Tennessee and North Carolina state line. The Allen house was also known as the Wolf Creek Inn. Note: This painting was exhibited at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s as part of their ongoing exhibit, “Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee”. Wolf Creek was the setting for several Wiley paintings including “Farmstead” and “Indian Woman at Wolf Creek” both illustrated in the 1990 TN State Museum exhibit catalog titled “Southern Impressionist: The Art of Catherine Wiley”, pages 15 and 34. Housed in a later gilt wood frame with egg and dart molded rabbet edge. Sight – 19 1/2″ H x 23 1/8″ W. Framed – 24 1/2″ H x 28 1/2″ W. Provenance: the collection of Helen Peck Allen, by descent to her son David Allen Dashiell, by descent to Georgia Ryan Mott Dashiell. “The art of Catherine Wiley has long been considered one of the more beautiful manifestations of Southern impressionism. Her animated broken brush work, her colorful sun splashed fields and her endearing depictions of genteel ladies and well-dressed children at rest and play seem to suggest a life lived quietly and at peace with the world. Yet her life may well have been far more turbulent, and her descent into the state of madness, which removed her from the world for the last 37 years of her life, far more apparent in her art than simple summations of her importance would imply. Large numbers of women entered the art world towards the end of the 19th century, their pathway smoothed by the arts and crafts route which saw them ushered on from sewing circles and homebased kilns into actual studios where they were taught by the male masters of the day. Catherine Wiley was one of those. She studied at the Art Students League in New York with Frank Vincent Dumond prior to returning to her native Knoxville where she became an associate of Lloyd Branson, the most important local artist of the day. She was a pioneer instructor at the University of Tennessee Art Department and a frequent winner of citations for her work at regional exhibitions, notably acclaimed for most meritorious collection at the Knoxville Appalachian Exposition in 1910. The Pea Shellers, here offered for auction, can be seen as one of the more telling revealing moments in her progress as an artist. Compositional format in her early work is largely horizontal, her decorative figures placed mid-field without any implication of depth or forced perspective. But in The Pea Shellers her subjects have moved inside a shed and are actually at work. Gone is the wide spread vista, replaced by the tri-angular projection of the roof shed over which trailing vine drops into the scene, a spontaneous insertion of nature in motion, as yet untrimmed. Her palette, though still bright, is here more tonal, an essay in the close color harmonics of blue and green which impart a slight shimmer to the otherwise mundane occupation of the inhabitants. This painting is surely mid-career. By 1923 she was painting in a far darker mood. “Under The Arbor,” (Morris Museum of Art) has a well dressed young woman standing at dazed attention beneath a canopy of black leaves, out of place with her setting, even as the setting itself is distant from lush agrarian idealism. By 1925 her mind was gone. One of her final paintings, to be seen at the East Tennessee Historical Society, is so heavily thick with paint that the actual scene itself is unclear, a swirling abstraction lost in space. The Pea Shellers importance springs from what it tells the viewer about Catherine WileyÕs potential, as it seems to indicate that she was beginning to move on from pastoral post card reveries towards an artistic expression more concerned with life than with appearance. It is a painting that can be viewed as evidence that her full potential as an artist was never to be seen by we, her subsequent viewers, for which we are all poorer.”– Estill Curtis Pennington, art historian and author, “Southern Impressionist: The Art of Catherine Wiley,” exhibit catalog for the 1990 exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum. CONDITION: Overall good condition. Two old circular repairs are visible en verso near the upper and lower edges, one measuring 1 3/8″ diameter and the other measuring 1 1/2″ H x 1 5/8″ W. UV light reveals area of touchup to post at lower left corner and to two small areas of beam, upper center, and to a few spots of foliage, upper center. One tiny area of touchup to the area where hair meets upper cheek on the woman facing the viewer and a few tiny scattered spots to background. Some fine scattered cracquelure.
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