May Alcott Nieriker was a nineteenth-century American painter who lived as a single woman in Paris between the years of 1870-1879. At a time when women were not admitted to the beaux arts and were forced to pay double in tuition at the private ateliers, May daringly travelled alone to pursue a career at the age of thirty. She made a great impact on the Parisian art scene: being exhibited at the Paris Salon twice (1877, 1879), and publishing a book, Studying Art Abroad and How to Do It Cheaply (Roberts Brothers 1879), providing practical advice for other young American women who wished to pursue careers in painting in Europe. Beyond Paris, her career began with a book of sketches of the homes of famous authors from her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts (Concord Sketches, 1869), and she also lived for a short period in London—being exhibited at the Dudley Museum (1877), where she was also allegedly hailed by Ruskin as ‘the only artist worthy to copy Turner’.
However, May continues to remain in the shadow of her more famous sister, Louisa May Alcott, and, as Judy Bullington has observed, her life and achievements are consistently ‘enmeshed’ with the fictional character of Amy March of Little Women (‘Inscriptions of Identity,’ 2007). Recovering May Alcott Nieriker’s Life and Work is a one-day conference, opportunely held in Paris, that aims to gather new interest for, and invite new perspectives on, any aspect of the life and work of this forgotten transatlantic artist, a painter and a writer and a figure of the troubled Parisian scene of the 1870s. Of particular interest are the new contexts of reception of her oeuvre, both her painting and her writing, new archival work, the question of co-authorship (notably with her sister Louisa) and creditation, the mapping of (transatlantic and European) artistic networks in the 1870s.
The symposium will feature the work of postgraduate students of the AHRC CHASE consortium. It is open to academics, independent researchers and international postgraduates from a variety of disciplines: Americanists, nineteenth-century historians, biographers, literary scholars, art historians and artists with an interest in the Alcott family from across the world.
About the Keynote Speaker:
John Matteson is Distinguished Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York. His first book, Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Biography. Professor Matteson is also the editor of The Annotated Little Women, published by W.W. Norton and Company in 2015. He serves on the board of directors of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.
We now have a provisional programme for the conference
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