Dixie Selden was the pampered daughter of a prosperous couple who indulged her interest in art, taking her on two trips to Europe before she was fifteen years old. While the Seldens had roots in Cincinnati, they favored the South and its culture, an affinity underscored by naming their daughter “Dixie” after the famous song.
Beginning in 1884, Selden enrolled at the McMicken School of Drawing and Design (later the Art Academy of Cincinnati), which was conservatively led by Thomas Satterwhite Noble. She studied there for six years and also at the Cincinnati Art Museum with Frank Duveneck, an exemplar of the Munich School who emphasized the figure, rendered with dark tonalities and ample pigment. His tenebrous approach to figure painting influenced her portraiture, which sustained her financially throughout her career. She is thought to have painted several hundred bankers, businessmen, and society women.
In many respects, Selden lived a double life. Defying convention, she was an independent, unmarried female whose paintings were exhibited at the all-male Cincinnati Art Club in 1891, and on occasion she was the sole woman represented in commercial shows. On the other hand, she was a charter member of the prototypical Woman’s Art Club, which began its exhibitions in 1893. No suffragette, Selden was basically conservative, but fully enjoyed her independence.
The year 1913 marked a stylistic turning point for the artist. As a student in William Merritt Chase’s summer course in Venice, Selden became more comfortable painting outdoor scenes, her palette lightened considerably, and her brushwork grew increasingly impressionistic. She applied this fresh approach to the many rapidly executed land- and seascapes she made on her extensive travels, both in this country and abroad. She gravitated to seaside locales such as Gloucester, Newport, and the coast of Maine, as well as Concarneau, in Brittany, and Venice.
Selden’s European scenes found an appreciative audience at home, and she enjoyed a loyal patronage among her social peers. While many of the exhibitions were local—taking place at the Woman’s Club or the Art Academy—prestigious national venues such as the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Detroit Institute of Art also showed her paintings. In addition, her work was included in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Selden maintained careful records and extensive correspondence, all of which have proved useful in reconstructing her career. Today, her work is featured in several museum collections, including the Butler Institute of American Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum.