JANE PETERSON (1876–1965)
The Love Letter, 1913
Gouache and charcoal on paper, 24 x 18 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): JANE PETERSON; (on the back): N.Y.C. Club. / Phil. W.C. / Travelling Ex. // 14[circled] // The Love letter / Arkville 1913
EXHIBITED: (probably) New York Water Color Club, New York, 1913, 24th Annual Exhibition // Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1913, Eleventh Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition, no. 514
From about 1912 to 1915, Peterson painted a number of garden paintings, a group to which this gouache belongs. The Love Letter is a vivacious drawing of a garden scene dappled with brilliant gouache touches, which, in their shimmering color and freely painted style, certainly suggests the recent influence of Sorolla. In 1912, while summering in Paris, Peterson met two American expatriate painters, Richard Miller and Frederick Frieseke, both of whom also proved to be influential, as they imparted their enthusiasm for plein-air painting to Peterson. It was also around this time that Peterson began to work in gouache, which allowed her to capture the fleeting effects of light quickly, without the problem of having to transport wet paintings back to her studio. Because of her propensity for making large numbers of studies and works in a single day, gouache, a faster drying medium than oil, was ideally suited to Peterson’s artistic temperament. The results of these influences can be seen in The Love Letter, an excellent example of her plein-air garden scenes.
An inscription on the back of The Love Letter identifies the locale depicted in the picture as Arkville, a hamlet of the town of Middleton in Delaware County, New York. Arkville is notable for the Pakatakan Artists Colony Historic District, a national historic district of buildings clustered around the Pakatakan Inn. The area is associated with artists who painted scenery of the Catskills Mountains, including Alexander Helwig Wyant, J. Francis Murphy, and Edward Lloyd Field. Peterson painted The Love Letter in Murphy’s garden. A related watercolor and gouache garden scene by Peterson, Garden Party and Fox Gloves (see Jane Peterson: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhib. cat. [New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 1970], no. 33 illus. in color), repeats the same female figure with white, Edwardian-style dress and bobbed hair style as seen in The Love Letter. It also bears an inscription by the artist that conclusively identifies the exact garden, which reads in part: “Arkville—Mrs. J. Francis Murphy Garden.” It is possible that the female figure is Mrs. Murphy herself.