By Tracy A. Brown

Frederick Macmonnies (American, 1863–1937), Red-Haired Student at Easel, 1898-99,
oil on canvas, 32 x 21 ¼ inches, Private Collection

Reading other people’s diaries has long been a guilty pleasure of mine. Thanks to the publishing of their private writings, I’ve painted along with Alfred Munnings, peeked at the tortured existences of John Cheever and Virginia Woolf, and ventured into Studio 54 with Andy Warhol—to name just a few. So when NSLM’s George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator Claudia Pfeiffer asked me to transcribe the portrait painter Ellen Emmet Rand’s handwritten diaries in preparation for the Leading The Field: Ellen Emmet Rand exhibition now on view through March 22, 2020, it was my dream job come true. It was not only a vicarious thrill but an honor to be part of the behind-the-scenes preparation of an NSLM exhibition.

In 2016, Claudia had painstakingly photographed Rand’s diaries held in the University of Connecticut’s Archives and Special Collections*, page by page, and for the next couple of years a few of us Visitor Services Associates attempted to decipher Rand’s handwriting—which was no easy task. As Rand probably didn’t foresee her diaries being transcribed or published, she was a bit fast and loose with the punctuation and spelling. But apparently reading my grandmother’s “chicken-scratch” letters as a child had prepared me well, and I enjoyed solving the puzzle of every sentence. It helped that much of Rand’s vocabulary was from my grandparent’s era, as well: photographs were “Kodaks,” sick people felt “punk,” odd ones were “queer,” and most children “cunning.” The artist wrote descriptively about her portrait subjects, and was often amusing:

Thursday, May 23, 1935

“I worked very hard today, + if I did not make the portraits good, at any rate I made them liked by the family – I got Mr Clay about finished, he has been too ravishing all day, with twinkling eyes + a running nose, humming Yankee doodle perfectly in tune. I’ve yet to see his equal for charm.”

History is not a topic I’ve studied with enthusiasm in the past, but through Rand’s diaries I got a personal account of the news of the day. Topics she discussed included the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and trial (at which Rand was in the audience sketching), the Hindenburg disaster and disappearance of Amelia Earhart, as well as the crash of the stock market, the Great Depression, and the events in Europe leading up to WWII. Rand was invested in not only her family, community, and church, but the happenings of the world at large:

Tuesday, December 31, 1940

 “The war news is of such a nature that just today I did not turn on the radio much – just too disheartening…how can we be cheerful with the world in such a terrible state + England most of all – humans are strange things + will dance to the bitter end + insist on happiness, until it is taken by force.”

I’d thought the diaries would be largely about art, since Rand was a hugely successful painter. But over the years painting seems to have become chiefly a business to her, means to badly-needed income to support her family. As the effects of the Great Depression were realized, her worry became palpable. She agonized over unpaid bills and overdue portrait fees and raged at income tax time. As a result, her health and spirits began to flag.

Saturday, January 7, 1933

“…life on the whole has such a precarious undertone that at times it is a bit unreal & I don’t dare to enjoy it — I realize that everything depends on me + my work is so threatened just now.”

detail of Wednesday, March 10, 1937 diary entry by Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875–1941) with income tax cartoon

Monday, November 13, 1939

“…I am ashamed that my life is so controlled by my finances my happiness + content + discontent are all trackable to whether or not I have the price, not to indulge but just to live + pay bills.”

Surprisingly, Rand was largely without ego for one so successful; even in her private diary she never bragged.

Tuesday, April 18, 1933

“…I dropped my card at the White House, it may and it may not bear fruit, at any rate it’s the best I could do.”

Wednesday, August 9, 1933

“…Today was mostly notable for the fact that I did get a real honest to god order to paint President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the White House. I had a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt in which she said that he wanted me to paint him …I may go over there tomorrow to see him, or at least see the light.” 

Friday, November 24, 1933

…I worked practically all day on F.D.R’s portrait + if I’m not greatly mistaken I improved it, but I may be greatly mistaken.”

Figure 5. “Posing for Official White House Portrait,” The Hartford Courant, September 3, 1933.
Published in 2015, Enabling Authority: Ellen Emmet Rand, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Power of Portraiture by Emily M Mazzola

It was difficult to witness Rand’s self-esteem decline over the years:

Friday, April 21, 1933

“I rose up early, with something like pessimism in my chest – feeling that my portrait was not too good…last night I made a sketch of myself at about 12.30 in the mirror, just to get my hand in, it was quite good and quite like me but so hideous that it would knock your eye out.”

Tuesday, April 10, 1934

“The first shock I got today was my picture in both Herald Tribune + Times both photos were so ugly that I could not shake it off but just felt hideous all day, in spite of which I brought a new… dress…trying to get some self respect I suppose, my looks are getting so offensive to me that I can no longer laugh it off.”

The diaries are chock full of minutiae, as Rand habitually recorded not only the comings and goings of her family and various guests, but also the more intimate ups and downs of married life. Rand’s portrait of William Blanchard Rand, her husband of 30 years, hangs at the top of the stairs in Leading The Field, and on my morning rounds through the museum I mutter a few choice words at him as I pass by—because I know intimately the pain and humiliation his dalliances and absences caused Rand, although she tried to rise above it:

Thursday, July 24, 1930 

“…I was out of sorts from early morning on account of not being able to locate Blanchard, + I am in a general sense enraged at his being at Lebanon so much of the time – Then I painted very indifferently and accomplished practically nothing.”

Thursday, February 1, 1934

“…Edith is of course going to Virginia with Blanchard. I wonder if she is planning to take my saddle as well as my husband, well I can’t do much about her taking him, or him taking her, but my saddle is still mine. “

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875–1941), William Blanchard Rand, Esq. M.F.H. The Old Chatham, 1936, The William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut [image source: University of Connecticut website, Ellen Emmet Rand Gallery, https://benton.uconn.edu/ellen-emmet-rand-gallery/ ]

Of course there are two sides to every story, but I only have access to hers: what an engrossing story it was. It pained me to reach the final entry—Thursday, May 8, 1941—when Rand abruptly announced the end of her daily record. She died a few months later. 

“I will close indefinitely writing my diary. I think I will begin again in July, my fingers are still queer + numb + though they hardly ever hurt, they are awkward when I write… It does not bother me to paint I am at it every day. Today was bad, in more ways than one. I got on poorly with M.W. Clement who posed rather spasmodically…The weather was poor…Well better luck will be reported when I take it up again. Anyway…tomorrow may be brighter – until probably July then goodbye.”

It’s my understanding that relatively few people have read Rand’s handwritten diaries in their entirety, so I consider it a privilege to have helped transcribe them. I hope she doesn’t mind. And I hope visitors will come in droves to see her amazing work at NSLM.

*All quotes are from diaries held in the Ellen Emmet Rand Papers, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, Finding Aid


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Tracy Brown is a Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts graduate and retired commercial artist-turned-fine artist. She has served the National Sporting Library & Museum as a Visitor Services Associate for nearly three years. She also rides, hikes, and raises Angus cattle on her farm in Culpeper, VA.

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.

Mary Foote (American, 1847-1938), Portrait of Ellen Emmet, c. 1907 image source: https://i1.wp.com/www.askart.com/photos2/2014/BAR20080801_6627/170.jpg
Mary Foote (American, 1847-1938), Portrait of Ellen Emmet, c. 1907 [ image source: http://www.askart.com/photos2/2014/BAR20080801_6627/170.jpg ]

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.

Ellen Emmet Rand, Frederick MacMonnies In His Studio, ca. 1898, William Benton Museum of Art Collection © University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. http://benton.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1519/2016/05/1969.17.jpg
Ellen Gertrude Emmett Rand (1875 – 1941), Frederick MacMonnies In His Studio, ca. 1898, William Benton Museum of Art Collection © University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. [image source: http://benton.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1519/2016/05/1969.17.jpg ]
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.

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Photocopy of Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand exhibition pamphlet cover from the Frick Reference Library, National Sporting Library & Museum, Ellen Emmet Rand Curatorial files
Photocopy of Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand, N.A. exhibition pamphlet cover from the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, National Sporting Library & Museum, Ellen Emmet Rand Curatorial files

Photocopy of Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand exhibition pamphlet pages 2 and 3 the Frick Reference Library, National Sporting Library & Museum, Ellen Emmet Rand Curatorial files
Photocopy of Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand, N.A. exhibition pamphlet pages 2 and 3 from the Frick Reference Library, New York, National Sporting Library & Museum, Ellen Emmet Rand Curatorial files

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!

, The Collection of Foxcroft School, Middleburg, VA [image source: http://www.foxcroft.org/podium/default.aspx?t=204&sdb=1&nid=602199
Ellen Gertrude Emmett Rand (1875 – 1941), Miss Charlotte Noland, Joint M.F.H., The Middleburg Hunt, 1929, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, Foxcroft School, Middleburg, Virginia [image source: http://www.foxcroft.org/podium/default.aspx?t=204&sdb=1&nid=602199 ]
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, Master 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:

October 1-2, 1930 diary entries by Ellen Emmet Rand
Sketch of Fletcher Harper, October 1-2, 1930 diary entries by Ellen Emmet Rand, 1930 Diary, Ellen Emmet Rand Archive, Box 6, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

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.

Ellen Gertrude Emmett Rand (American, 1875-1941) Study for Portrait of Fletcher Harper (1874-1963), c. 1931, oil on canvas, 45 x 34 ½ inches. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mrs. Fletcher Harper, 1972.
Ellen Gertrude Emmett Rand (American, 1875-1941), Study for Portrait of Fletcher Harper (1874-1963), c. 1931, oil on canvas, 45 x 34 ½ inches. National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Fletcher Harper, 1972

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.

William B. Rand, ca. 1935
Ellen Gertrude Emmett Rand (American, 1875-1941), William B. Rand, ca. 1935, William Benton Museum of Art Collection © University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. [image source: http://benton.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1519/2016/05/1969.18.jpg ]
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.

Writer's Retreat, December 1, 2016, Essay authors consult the Ellen Emmet Rand manuscript collection at UConn’s Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
Writer’s Retreat, December 1, 2016, Essay authors consult the Ellen Emmet Rand manuscript collection at UConn’s Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. Project lead and Curator: Alexis Boylan, UConn-Art & Art History; Essay Contributors: Emily Burns, Auburn University; Betsy Fahlman, Arizona State University; William Harris, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (not pictured); Elizabeth Lee, Dickinson College; Emily Mazzola, Fitchburg Art Museum; Claudia Pfeiffer, National Sporting Library & Museum (not pictured); Susan Spiggle, UConn- School of Business; Thayer Tolles, Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Christopher Vials, UConn-English (not pictured).


pfeifferClaudia 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 cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org