Rediscovering Caroline: Becoming An Artist

The Becoming an Artist Chapter of the Exhibition starts here.

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DCHS CMCE Rediscovering Becoming

This chapter covers the period of Caroline’s life from her relocation to her late mother’s brother and his family at the farm affectionately known as Heartsease in LaGrange. It was a talented, energetic and supportive home whose ambition including building a very successful international apple business, complimented by a citrus business from lands purchased in Florida.


Family of Mentors & Advocates, Apple Farm, Studio

There is a story passed down through the Hart-Hubbard family that Heartsease, Caroline’s new home, was given a blessing by the boss carpenter when construction was completed in 1839 – “Peace and Plenty: Always full and never empty.“  And so it was.  Generation after generation of family members came to live at Heartsease, some for a short time, and others, like Caroline, for their entire lives.  Caroline joined a household already bursting at the seams that included her late mother’s brother, uncle Benjamin, his wife Elizabeth Nichols Hart. They would come to have six children that would serve effectively as siblings to Caroline, especially Mary who was born the same year as Caroline. Also living at Heartsease was the mother of “Aunt Elizabeth,” Elizabeth (Smyth) Nichols (1780-1858). Caroline had, of course, been to the house many times. When the extended family learned that Caroline’s sister Lydia was to go to Virginia and Caroline to LaGrange, Julia Evans wrote to Elizabeth Hart expressing her wish that “I hope, dear aunt, you will find in her (Caroline) another daughter and that she will be happy in your house.”  After years of uncertainty Caroline was finally settled, surrounded by supportive family members who emphasized the value of education and personal expression.

Letters from Caroline to her father in the first few years after her arrival at Heartsease reveal how quickly her new life in LaGrange exposed her to new worlds of adventure, excitement and her rapid growth as an artist. A July 4th 1852 letter describes visits to museums in New York City and Poughkeepsie. On January 1, 1853 she shares with her father that she is drawing an hour a day and in June 1853 she proudly announces that “I can now shade and my pictures are said to be the best in school.”  Her aesthetic sensibilities are also growing and on November 4th, 1853, at the age of 15,  she recounts a visit to the recently opened Crystal Palace and comments that “the giraffes are not pretty or graceful” and that the picture gallery is too narrow for pictures to be seen at an advantage.  By February of the following year she announces “I have begun to paint and like it better than drawing.”  At the tender age of 16 she seems to have discovered that she would be an artist.

Whereas the Christmas season might previously have been a reminder of her mother’s death, Christmas 1851 found Caroline in a whole new world.  One of her gifts that year were five drawing books from her aunt Adelia Nichols, a skilled artist herself.  Caroline wrote about the books to her sister Lydia shortly after (image at right). It seems such a small gift but in a way it was also Caroline’s rebirth in a loving household where her talent was already recognized and nurtured.

CMCE 5 drawing books

Above: Caroline wrote to her sister just after her first Christmas at Heartsease referencing the gift of drawing books that would be the commencement of a lifelong passion. The background image was sketched by her surrogate mother’s sister, Louisa Adelia Nichols, the donor of the book and first art teacher for Caroline, show in photo at right. Photo of Miss Nichols courtesy of Hofstra University Library, Hart Nichols Collection.

Louisa Adelia Nichols CMCE

Above: The first drawing below, with large green leaves and small blue flowers, has a notation in light pencil that suggests making certain features of the drawing larger. This may be a drawing done by Caroline while taking lessons from her aunt Adelia Nichols. The drawing of stems with red and orange/yellow blossoms is dated 1855 and could be Caroline’s. The stem with blue flowers is dated 1850 and therefore likely done by Adelia Nichols, as is the case with the butterfly drawings.

April 1853 Drawings

Below are details of two pencil sketches she signed and dated in April of 1853. Clearly, Caroline’s 1851 wish was being realized, she was indeed learning to draw well.

Caroline’s Family at Heartsease

Living at “Heartsease” also opened up new worlds of adventure. Caroline writes of a July 4, 1852 visit to museums in New York City and Poughkeepsie. In November of 1853 she writes to her father about a visit to the Crystal Palace exhibition in New York City.

Heartsease Studio: then and now

CMC Studio Compare Final Return to Becoming an Artist Index II. CITY OF SCHOOLS

Caroline’s more formal training began at the Poughkeepsie Female Academy, located at 12 Cannon Street.  Opened in 1837 the school was considered “a first-class school in every sense.”  The course of study there included all the basics of the time – Latin and French, geology, algebra, penmanship and elocution:  and others maybe not so basic – Evidences of Christianity, Etymology of words with their prefixes and suffixes and mental philosophy.  Among the optional courses that would have attracted Caroline drawing, pencil, crayon, painting in water colors or oils and sketching from nature.  The walk from Overlook Road, depending on the route was at least five miles one way and would easily have taken her and hour and a quarter to get there.  Family oral history suggests she may have taken lessons with Samuel F.B. Morse but that has not been verified at this time.

Below: Poughkeepsie Female Academy on Cannon Street

Early print of the Female Academy

Above: Early rendering of the Poughkeepsie Female Academy on Cannon Street. Right: Why Poughkeepsie was referred to as the City of Schools at the time.

Right, anatomy of an invoice: Costs related to Caroline’s education from the Poughkeepsie Female Academy dated May 1857. Although Caroline had written to her sister that she walked each day to and from  the Cannon Street school, a 45 minute walk each way, by 1857 it appears she stays onsite based on charges for “board…room and lights.” Charges include: Board, English Tuition, Furnished Room and Lights for spring and fall quarters, 1857. Painting in oil, $12. Easel, $1.25. Palette, 38 cents. Rest stick (used to steady the hand with paint brush), $13. Meteorology 75 cents. Enlarged at the bottom is the note, “purchased from Mr. Morse, which may, or may not refer to the famous artist turned telegraph inventor. It is signed by the principal at the time, Dr. Charles H. P. McClellan.


Frederic Rondel

Click here for a profile of Mr. Rondel

What has been verified is that Caroline studied for at least three years under Frederick Rondel.  Paris born and trained, Rondel was lured to Poughkeepsie by Matthew Vassar to paint documentary pictures of his three ancestral homes.  On February 10th, 1862 Rondel took out a newspaper ad announcing the opening of his studio for ladies at his residence on Mansion Square, the corner of Clinton Street.  He was also a professor of painting at the Cottage Hills Academy.  Beyond his role as an art instructor, Rondel became a friend and a mentor to Caroline, advising her not only on her art but also on the business side of her career.  An 1865 entry in her cousin Edmund Hart’s diary recounts a chance meeting with Mr. Rondel in Farnum’s drug store where Rondel was “profuse in his expression of admiration of Carrie’s artistic efforts.  He predicts a brilliant reputation for her in a very few years if she only labors as assiduously in the cultivation of her talents as she has done”  Hart also records that Rondel brought his students to painting parties along the Wappingers Creek at Heartsease.

Image at right: Excerpts from one of Caroline’s cousin’s diary shows the casual family relationship with Rondel:

Wednesday, 12th. Early in the morning Walter went down to Poughkeepsie and bought out Mr. and Mrs. Rondel and Rosa and Freddy [presumable their children]. Mr. Louis Rondel, Mr. Hatfield, Mr. Gray, and Mr. and Mrs. Nelig, we spent the day at the creek and had a very pleasant time. I rowed Annie and myself around the creek in the canoe. Saturday 18th. And a short time after Mr Rondel and Mr. Louis, Mr. Gay Mr. Nelig and Mr. Hatfield came to sketch the oxen. In the afternoon Mary, Walter, Eddie Duryea went to a picnic in Cheeseman’s woods near Salt Point. Hammonds Band furnished us with music…On the way home We sang songs and had a real nice ride. Rondel Birthplace MVassar

Above, top: Frederic Rondel appears to have become a family friend, his photograph is in  an album belonging to Louisa Adelia Nichols. In addition to teaching art to young ladies, Rondel was working on a commission from Matthew Vassar to portray his ancestral homes in England and Poughkeepsie. Rondel paintings courtesy of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.

Return to Becoming an Artist Index III. EMERGENCE OF VASSAR COLLEGE

Another great influence on her development as an artist was a group of people brought to Poughkeepsie by Matthew Vassar for his “great experiment,” a college dedicated to the higher education of women.  Although Caroline was never formally enrolled as a student at the college she somehow became enmeshed in the culture of the institution and formed a close circle of friends, teachers and mentors from those associated with Vassar and attended dozens of college programs and events as evidenced by invitations and programs.

Dutchman Henry Van Ingen was hired as the college’s first professor of art and art history.  Educated in the Hague, he had specialized in landscape painting.  Van Ingen was known for leading students out of the classroom to sketch nature.   How Caroline came to know him is unknown but they became friends and he encouraged her, advised her and in 1878 purchased her painting “Contentment”  for the art collection being developed at the College, promising his students to meet Miss Clowes, the artist.  Frequently his letters to Caroline were addressed to “Miss C.M. Clowes, artist-painter.”

One of the more unusual friendships that Caroline formed at Vassar College was the one she established with Maria Mitchell.  Appointed in 1865 to be included in the original nine-member faculty, Maria and her widowed father took up residence in the Observatory, the first building completed on campus.  Again, there is no documentation as to how the two women came to know each other but they were close enough that the unmarried Mitchell felt comfortable encouraging Caroline to meet Chester Arthur.  “He was well born, is well trained, sufficiently educated and very efficient.  He is remarkably handsome.  I think your domestic happiness will be perfect, as his tastes are aristocratic.  It will be best for you to come for him with a carriage.  Feed him well and make much of him and he will not stray.”  One presumes it wasn’t the Chester Arthur, but in any event, the match making didn’t work out as Caroline, like Maria, remained unmarried throughout her life.

Image at right: Maria Mitchell, seated left, in her observatory at Vassar College.

Return to Becoming an Artist Index IV. NATIONAL ACADEMY OF DESIGN

One of the most important platforms Caroline used to raise her profile and engage with other artists and the general public was the National Academy of Design in New York City. It was founded in 1826 to be a membership of artists, in a very broad, democratic and inclusive manner. It succeeded by contrast, the American (originally New York) Academy of Fine Arts which was an earlier, exclusive institution founded more by collectors. Robert Livingston, former Chancellor of NY State, was an original founder of the earlier organization. Among the founders of the National Academy of Design was Samuel F. B. Morse, whose career as a well known artist was eclipsed by his reputation as the inventor of the telegraph. In 1824, two years prior to the founding of the National Academy of Design, Morse won a competition to paint the official portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited New York and Dutchess County as part of an heroic national tour. Morse moved to his Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie in 1850.

BDE NAD CMC Clowes CMC NAD 1865 Clowes CMC NAD 1868 Clowes CMC NAD 1868 to 1869 CMC NAD 1872 4Curtis Clowes CMC NAD 1875 Return to Becoming an Artist Index V. AN ARTIST IN BUSINESS & SOCIETY

New York City

Caroline also formed a close relationship with James Henry Wright (1813-1883), a popular 19th century New York City artist who specialized in portraiture, still life and landscapes.  Between 1842 and 1860 he exhibited in New York City at the National Academy and the American Art Union.  Matthew Vassar personally commissioned Wright to paint a full length portrait that was completed in 1861,  the  year of the founding of the college.  It was exhibited for the first time in the autumn of that year at the Central Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie where the portrait had been painted.  Numerous letters in the Hart-Hubbard Collection attest to the role Wright played as a promoter of Caroline’s career as a working artist.  In one of the letters dated January 7, 1872 he writes from the Morgan House informing Caroline that her picture will be on display at Goupil’s the coming week and noticed in the Home Journal asking $1,200.

Goupil & Cie was formed in Paris in 1829 and opened an office in New York in 1848. Initially in the business of making high quality prints from oil paintings, to reach a broader public, they evolved into being important dealer in art and oil paintings. By the 1860s Goupil was located at 772 Broadway, just south of the Grace Church, as this 1860 photo from NYPL shows. We know that in addition to have a studio in Brooklyn for some time, Caroline had a studio at Crayon Galleries just south of Goupil’s.

Goupils Crayon CMCE

“They suppose that you are a gentleman and I did not correct them.”

The artist J.H. Wright was literally Caroline’s front-man. Representing her work to Goupil’s, the largest international art dealer and publishers of reproductions in engravings and prints. Never actively mis-representing her as a man, but passively letting the presumption stand, we can hear the delight in his anticipation of the day this famous dealer comes to understand that Caroline is a woman.

New York
February 7, 1870
Miss C. M. Clowes

I [saw] your picture and was much pleased with the sentiment as well as the painting. I thought perhaps that the shadows on the light colored horse were a little weak, but is a charming picture. And I succeeded in getting it in [at] Goupil’s. The frame will cost $32. I told him you wanted $150 clear. So he will charge $200, which less frame and commission will give you $150. Pictures are not selling now. But it will be in good time for the spring. They suppose that you are a gentleman and I did not undeceive them. They predict a brilliant future for you. When your reputation is thoroughly established, I shall claim the pleasure to introduce you to them. And enjoy the fun to see them open their astonished eyes.  You are on the right path to fame and fortune, be faithful as you always have been and [? ] for a very small amount. give my kindest regards to all the folks & believe me [?]

J.H. Wright

Morgan House, Poughkeepsie
January 7, 1872 Miss Clowes
I arrived here yesterday and have to leave today at 1o’clock,  and regret that I could not see you at your house. Your picture will be on exhibition at Goupil’s this coming week when I will have it noticed in the Home Journal. They ask $1,200 for it. I think you should not be so particular about chromos [lithographs or prints]. It seems to me that it might do you good at this particular time to have some of your pictures published. I will drop you a line as soon as it is on exhibition and send you a copy of the paper. Yours very respectfully, J.H. Wright 835 Broadway
September 12, 1872 Miss C. M. Clowes
I am home at last in my studio and ready to do any business for you that you may desire. I have had a nice time. I am in love with the beauty of Lake George. Mr A. B. Durand and Mr. Sands landscape painters were there. And I went with them and made three sketches. They were very poor in comparison with theirs. But very good maps of the place. I wish you could see the country about the lake. Please let me hear from you and give my best regards to all the folks. J.H. Wright


Below is April 1883 correspondence from the prestigious Earle’s Galleries in Philadelphia regarding a sale of Caroline’s paintings reveals the financials. Her painting sold for $175. After taking a 10% commission, she received $157.50. Among Earle’s customers was Frederick Church who had his paintings framed there.


Caroline’s work was exhibited in London at Royal Albert Hall in 1879. The work of hers that was featured appears to have been smaller work, “paintings on china, plaques,” and were for sale. The sale price is shown in British Pounds and Pence in the catalogue.


Caroline with involved with the opening of the Vassar Brothers Institute, Art Section, in 1881 . The building is today part of the Cunneen-Hackett Art center. She was obviously close to George Bissell, the well known sculptor. Among Bissell’s more well known works is the fireman’s memorial at Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, shown below. Below, correspondece from Bissell dated September 6, 1881 advising Caroline that she was elected to membership in the Art Section of Vassar Brothers Institute. And correspondence related to the exhibition opening.

Return to Becoming an Artist Index Go to Next Chapter: Her Work