Art in Small Bites: Lunchtime Enrichment

Participants learn about the life and artwork of Ellen Emmet Rand during a concise 30 minute tour of her new collection at the Benton. The tour took place during lunchtime on Wednesday. (Maggie Chafouleas/The Daily Campus)

Visitors received a warm welcome to the Benton on Wednesday afternoon as docent Nancy Silander led them through some of the most notable works in the Ellen Emmet Rand gallery for “Art in Small Bites.” The Benton chose to create this exhibit because it focuses on a female artist whose career did not gather the attention it deserved until long after her death.

Silander introduced the group to Rand’s self-portrait from 1927. What makes Rand’s self-portrait unique is that it not only captures her own skill at painting, but also who she was as a person. Rand is dressed in a rather masculine fashion or a woman of the time period with a modest look on her face. It seems Rand promoted herself in this way because she wanted to be taken seriously and she was just as much a businesswoman as an artist.

Rand supported her family from as young as 16 years old since she was originally an illustrator for “Vogue Magazine.” Later, she discovered her skills in portrait painting and went on to study with famous artists in France until she returned to the United States in 1900.

Most of Rand’s subjects were members of the upper class, as her talents drew attention from those willing to pay what was the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s world for a portrait. Without these connections Rand would have been unable to support her family with art, especially when the stock market crashed in 1929.

Silander focused on a particular painting, “In The Studio” (1910), which displayed a girl sitting in a chair and holding a cat in her lap. However, in the painting there is also a mirror behind the girl in which the viewer can see Rand paint herself into the background. Silander pointed out how this detail takes inspiration from other painters, such as Velazquez’s “Las Meninas,” who paints himself into the background of a painting through reflection.

The next two paintings Silander delved into were of a father dressed in a military uniform and his son, painted 25 years later. The father’s portrait is clearly meant to portray the power he has through his uniform as well as the white gloves he carries, commenting on his particular upbringing. Meanwhile, the son’s portrait is much more casual. He’s seated and dressed in a suit with a trench coat over it, possibly capturing his identity as a businessman.

“The way she captures people how they wanted to be perceived,” Silander said, “there’s always a dialogue between the sitter and the artist.”

When Rand died, nobody promoted her work so her husband took her art and placed them into a barn until her grandchildren saw just how important her art was. Her grandchildren brought out her work and the Benton acquired it for a collection in the late 60s.

“This exhibition is about how the women artists can get lost. They often do if you don’t have a promoter.” Silander said.


Brandon Barzola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brandon.barzola@uconn.edu.