A gifted painter, teacher, and glass designer, Virginia Evans was one of the leading artistic figures in West Virginia during the twentieth century. A native of Moundsville, she received early instruction in art at Wheeling’s Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, a Catholic all-girls school which boasted one of the finest arts education programs at the secondary level in the region. After graduating in 1914, she continued her studies at the Carnegie Institute’s School of Fine Arts in nearby Pittsburgh, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts summer school at Chester Springs, and at the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation on Long Island, New York. Evans visited Europe four times between 1926 and 1931. Her initial destination was Fontainebleau, France, where she spent a summer at the fine art conservatory for American students. Subsequent excursions included working travels through Portugal and Spain, Great Britain, and the Netherlands and Germany.
Evans exhibited her work to great acclaim both regionally and nationally during the 1920s and 1930s. Finely executed Impressionist painting entries in the annual exhibitions of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh were perennial favorites with critics, as were her plein air gouaches. In addition to solo shows at New York City’s Studio Guild and the New York Public Library, she participated regularly in the yearly expositions mounted by the Tiffany Foundation Fellows, as well as those of the Society of Women Painters and Sculptors to which she was elected in 1931.
The course of Evans’s career took a turn in 1942 when she was engaged by Imperial Glass Corporation to develop designs for a new line of glassware based on traditional Chinese motifs. Thanks to Evans’s painstaking studies and expansive aesthetic vision, what was initially intended as modest dinnerware evolved into Imperial Cathay Crystal, a distinctive selection of vases, bowls, and other functional and decorative items that included some of the finest pieces of molded crystal made in America.
Following additional ventures in glass and ceramic design, Evans moved to Florida in 1957. She spent a year in Orlando before moving south to Naples where she became a leading member and teacher at the budding Naples Art Association. Returning to painting in earnest, her output during this period was highly eclectic, ranging from abstract works to both traditional and experimental landscapes. In 1972, Evans was one of five West Virginia artists commissioned to create a work for the state’s newly created permanent art collection, to be housed at the West Virginia State Museum.
In a 1934 review, the noted Pittsburgh art critic Penelope Redd hailed Evans as one of the “best trained and most gifted painters” in her region and “in a far greater radius.” Works such as Gloucester Garden attest to the validity of such praise. A subject that lends itself so naturally to the techniques and spirit of Impressionism, flower gardens drew the attention of painters on both sides of the Atlantic. Evans first visited the New England coast during the summer of 1920 and returned many times thereafter, traveling nearly its entire length. Here, she explores the colors and contrasts of two of her favorite themes, botany and the sea. Her depiction of the foreground’s lush beauty is bright, bold, direct, and brilliant in its communication of the texture and feel of species that are easily identifiable. The muted depiction of the harbor in the painting’s background, in which wharves and vessels are merely suggested, enhances the garden’s dazzling aura. An architectural form, possibly a trellis or other structure, dissects the composition in its middle. Its geometric white lines provide an interesting counterpoint to the natural forms of this engaging picture, which is perhaps as much a still life as it is a landscape.