EVERETT SHINN (1876–1953)
Julia Marlowe as Barbara Frietche, in the Play “Barbara Frietche, the Frederick Girl," about 1899–1900
Pastel on paper mounted on board, 37 3/4 x 29 3/4 in.
Signed (at lower left): Everett Shinn
RECORDED: Clyde Fitch, Barbara Frietche: The Frederick Girl: A Play in Four Acts (New York: Life Publishing Co., 1900), illus. on front board
EXHIBITED: (likely) Boussod, Valadon and Co., 303 Fifth Avenue, New York, “Exhibition of Pastels by Everett Shinn,” February 1900, no. 4 under “Portraits” as “Portrait of Miss Marlowe (Barbara Frietche) Loaned by Miss Marlowe”
EX COLL.: the artist; (likely) Julia Marlowe by February 1900; private collection(s) until 2008; to [Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, 2008]; to private collection until 2018
Shinn’s large and loving pastel of Julia Marlowe in her title role as Barbara Frietchie documents a slice of New York theater history. On a more personal note, it recalls a group of creative and flamboyant figures whose names remain familiar today, and who welcomed into their midst a clever young artist. The central figure in this group was Elsie de Wolfe (1859?–1950), soon to make her mark as a pioneer of American interior decoration. In 1899, however, de Wolfe was a moderately successful actress, welcoming her friends to the townhouse on the southwest corner of East 17th Street and Irving Place that she shared with her lover, Elizabeth Marbury (1856–1933). Marbury was a member of a long-established New York society family. Both she and de Wolfe discovered gifts for theater through the amateur theatricals that were a feature of society life. While de Wolfe became a performer, Marbury refashioned herself as a literary and theatrical agent and later producer. She facilitated the presentation in America of works of English and French playwrights including Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Victorien Sardou. Among her American clients was Clyde Fitch (1865–1909), arguably the most successful American playwright of his generation. Fitch was also a good friend of both women, a well-known and amiable dandy who was reputed to have been among Wilde’s lovers. Another frequent visitor to Irving Place was the noted architect Stanford White, who lived four blocks away on the north side of Grammercy Park. The chronology of Shinn’s introduction to this theatrical milieu is not clear. He might well have met de Wolfe first, through her public persona as an actress, and through her, Clyde Fitch and then Julia Marlow.
Clyde Fitch’s “Barbara Frietchie, The Frederick Girl,” starring Marlowe in the title role, opened in Philadelphia in early October 1899 and moved to Charles Frohman’s Criterion Theater at 44th Street and Broadway two weeks later. The reviewer for The New York Times rhapsodized that “Such a combination—a memorably worthy play and a piece of acting of rarest merit and charm—is not often the lot of the reviewer of dramatic incidents to chronicle. The picture of Julia Marlowe in this new role of Barbara Frietsche [sic] will be treasured in the minds of all who are privileged to see it” (October 24, 1899, p. 5). Fitch borrowed the name Barbara Frietchie from John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1863 poem which spun a tale of Barbara Fritchie, a real person, who may or may not have been a Union sympathizer, who may or may not have taunted Confederate Troops in Fredericksburg, Maryland, by waving the stars and stripes, and who was certainly not a young woman in 1862. (The name Fritchie has been spelled in various ways.) Fritchie, in short, was a character enshrined in myth. With no truth to traduce, Fitch freely borrowed Fritchie’s name and transformed her into a beautiful young woman, the fulcrum of a full-blown Civil War melodrama. It was a triumphant starring vehicle for Marlowe (1865–1950), already well known for her work as a Shakespearean actress. English-born and raised in America, Marlow was, by any standard, a sultry beauty and already a highly successful actress when she appeared in Fitch’s play. By that time, she had separated from her first husband, a fellow actor named Robert Taber. (In 1911, she would marry for a second time her subsequent leading man, actor E. H. Sothern.)