Arts Everyday Living: Celebrating Women’s History-Lilly Martin Spencer, Groundbreaker in Art





March is Women’s History Month and we will be featuring women artists through the centuries. A number of them are “famous,” but others have been overlooked and still being discovered. So enjoy our special online exhibition with fast facts highlights accompanying each image. Generally, the works of art will be presented chronologically.


Lilly Martin Spencer, We Both Must Fade (Mrs. Fithian), 1869, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum purchase, 1970, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Title: We Both Must Fade (Mrs. Fithian)

Artist: Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902)

How many of us have had a favorite drees or suit which we still remember even after the passing of many years? Brand new and shiny like the striking blue gown above, freshly unpacked from its box, indicated by the folds on the skirt. Eventually it will fade with age, like its wearer, along with the jewelry and flowers also in the painting.

FAST FACTS: Spencer is one of the first important American women artists. Born Angelique Marie Martin in Exeter, England in 1822, family immigrated to the United States when she was only 8. Known by the nickname Lilly, she mainly grew up in Ohio, demonstrating her artistic skills early. Studied in Cincinnati, with other painters.

Marries Benjamin Rush Spencer when she is 22. They move to the East, living in New York City, Newark, New Jersey, and Highland, New York. Lilly has 13 children, with seven surviving. She supports them plus her husband who remains home managing the household. Although she gains popularity, especially with her scenes of domestic life, Spencer struggles to earn a living as an artist throughout her career, working until her death at 80 in 1902. Portraits include Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leading advocate for women’s suffrage.


Sources include the website of National Museum of of Women in the Arts and the website of the National Museum of American Art.




The Smithsonian American Art Museum does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the Smithsonian American Art Museum participated in any projects utilizing the said image.

This media is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions), Smithsonian.

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