In a 1934 radio interview, Anne Goldthwaite characterized the status of women artists by noting that “the best praise that women have been able to command until now is to have it said that she paints like a man. But that women have a valid place as women artists is both obvious and logical. . . . We want to speak to . . . an audience that asks simply—is it good, not—was it done by a woman.” The Alabama painter had come of age during an era when intrepid American women increasingly contested gendered barriers in the art world as well as in the wider socio-political realm. Her participation in these struggles belied her conservative Southern upbringing in Montgomery as the daughter of a former Confederate officer. After her parents’ untimely deaths, Goldthwaite was placed in the care of an aunt who later admonished her charge that “it is better to marry badly than not at all.” Goldthwaite recalled: “I was brought up to believe that matrimony was the desired end of a woman’s life and a woman’s career.” But her life and career would be different. At eighteen, Goldthwaite “came out” in society as a debutante, marking her eligibility as a bride. Having failed to find a husband by twenty-three, however, her family suggested she move to New York to pursue her interest in art.
Goldthwaite arrived in New York around 1898 and, for the next six years, studied at the National Academy of Design. In 1906, she moved to Paris, where she co-founded the Académie Moderne and lived at the American Girl’s Club. A fellow club member introduced her to Gertrude Stein, through whom Goldthwaite was exposed to the works of modernists like Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. Under their influence, the academicism of her earlier work loosened, and her brushwork grew more fluid. Yet Goldthwaite never fully abandoned representation; while she exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show alongside abstract modernist works, her own paintings remained in the realist mode.
On the eve of World War I, Goldthwaite returned to New York, where she would live for the rest of her life. She quickly gained a reputation for portraiture—and for activism. Goldthwaite fought adamantly for the political rights of women, producing the design for a suffrage banner unfurled at a 1916 New York Giants baseball game, and co-organizing the 1915 Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by Women Artists for the Benefit of the Woman Suffrage Campaign.
In 1922, Goldthwaite became an instructor at the Art Students League, a position she would hold for over twenty years. She also continued to teach during summer sojourns in Alabama, offering advice to students at the Dixie Art Colony. Established near Montgomery by painter John Kelly Fitzpatrick in 1933, this enclave is where Goldthwaite may have met Frances Greene Nix, who is known to have studied with both Goldthwaite and Fitzpatrick. Like Goldthwaite, Nix was a native of Montgomery and a practicing portraitist, and she later served as director of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Goldthwaite’s likeness of her shows a softly striking woman seated in a space reminiscent of Mary Cassatt’s Impressionist domestic interiors. Nix’s decorous attire, jewelry, and what appears to be a mirror or a watch dangling from her left hand are akin to the feminine accouterments frequently featured in Cassatt’s vignettes, while the limited palette, visibly fluid brushstrokes, and slightly indeterminate spatial relations also evince Goldthwaite’s absorption of Post-Impressionist painterly strategies.