The village of Middleburg and its surrounding beautiful Virginia hunt country boast numerous famous residents and visitors, both past and present. The portrait painter Ellen Gertrude Emmet Rand (1876-1941) can now officially be added to this list.
Rand was among the first females in the United States to succeed as a professional portrait artist. She was a contemporary of Mary Foote who painted Rand’s portrait.
Rand was formally trained, having attended classes at Cowles Art School in Boston and the Art Student League in New York City. She received instruction from some of the greats of her generation, studying at William Merritt Chase’s school in Shinnecock, New York, and with Frederick MacMonnies in Paris.
Rand is perhaps best known for painting the official presidential portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934, among the hundreds of portraits which she completed of politicians, captains of industry, socialites, artists, and scholars throughout her over forty-year career.
In 1936, the Sporting Gallery in New York City held an exhibition titled Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand, N.A., featuring twenty of her hunt paintings. Among these, seven were of Virginia-based sitters. I have been researching this exhibition for an essay I am contributing to a book being developed for the University of Connecticut/William Benton Museum’s upcoming retrospective exhibition, The Business of Bodies: Ellen Emmet Rand (1875-1941) and the Persuasion of Portraiture, on view in Connecticut from October 2018 through March 2019.
In exploring Ellen Emmet Rand’s densely-written diaries (years 1918 and 1926-1941) which are housed in the Ellen Emmet Rand archives held at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut, I am beginning to discover entries about Rand’s travels to Middleburg and the surrounding region to paint. Some of these portraits were in the 1936 exhibition.
Rand stayed at the Red Fox Inn in Middleburg in 1929 to paint the portrait of Foxcroft School founder and jt-MFH of the Middleburg Hunt, Miss Charlotte Noland (#7 in the Sporting Gallery pamphlet). Rand received what would become one of her favorite mares, Gandora, in lieu of payment for the painting. She wrote on March 8, 1929:
The deal for this portrait is a very good mare of Miss Charlotte’s thoroughly broken + a fine jumper + a good size + a good horse quite nice looking. That is Miss Charlotte’s return for the portrait + I am well satisfied. (1929 Diary, Ellen Emmet Rand Archive, Box 6, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut)
Considering Rand was making between $3,000 and $4,500 per painting that year, it must have been quite a horse!
In April and October of 1930, Rand stayed at the Orange County Hunt Club in The Plains to paint Mrs. Harriet Harper and her husband Mr. Fletcher Harper, MFH of the Orange County (and an NSLM founder) respectively, #1 and 2 in the 1936 exhibition. (Read more about the couple here: Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher Harper by John Connolly) Rand only drew two sketches in her 1930 Diary; both were of Fletcher Harper. She made what she called “a fake start” of Mr. Harper’s portrait on October 1,1930:
I started F. this p.m. Made a fake start, the position + lights were not quite right! I will make a fresh start tomorrow. He is awfully good fun to paint. (1930 Diary, Ellen Emmet Rand Archive, Box 6, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut)
The passage most likely refers to the incomplete painting in the NSLM’s permanent collection.
The artist, however, did not only come to Virginia hunt country to work. She and her husband William Blanchard Rand were both accomplished equestrians and sometimes made trips to The Plains on and around Thanksgiving to ride, shop for horses, attend the Warrenton Point-to-Point, visit with friends and acquaintances, foxhunt, and hilltop. Rand’s portrait completed in January 1936 of her husband, who was MFH of Old Chatham and a polo player, depicts him in his hunt attire. It was #12 in the 1936 Sporting Gallery exhibition.
It is not surprising that Ellen Emmet Rand as a portrait painter who loved horses would be drawn to the Middleburg area. I look forward to discovering other local places she may have rested her head as I continue to delve into her first-person account to research the 1936 Sporting Gallery exhibition.
If you are willing to share information about any Ellen Emmet Rand works, especially the whereabouts of any of the Sporting Gallery exhibition paintings listed above, please contact me. It is an opportunity to flesh out scholarship with nine specialists who are focusing on the life and times of Ellen Emmet Rand. Not only will the research support this project, but we are developing an exhibition for the National Sporting Library & Museum as well.
Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org