Arts Everyday Living: Self-Portrait of Cassatt’s Fellow Artist: Who is the Real Ellen Day Hale?



A self-portrait painted when she was thirty-five, wearing a bonnet, against a bluish background that, with its fishlike streaks of green, resembled the bottom of the sea, shows her face was not unlovely.*

Niece of Ellen Day Hale describing Self Portrait



Ellen Day Hale

Ellen Day Hale, Self-Portrait, 1885, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts. Boston


Ellen Day Hale (1855-1940) may not be as famous as her contemporary Mary Cassatt, but she is only one of a long list of talented American women artists who were active at the turn of the nineteenth century, including Cecilia Beaux, Elizabeth Nourse, and Hale’s sister-in-law Lilian Westcott Hale (whose husband Philip was a painter too).  Like Cassatt, Hale studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in Paris where Self Portrait was probably created in 1885.

In this self portrayal, Hale possesses a determination and strength apparent not only in her gaze but also in the prominence of her hand. Twenty five years later, though, in a portrait done by her friend Margaret Lesley Bush- Brown, she has been transformed by age and the circumstances of life.  Her confident, almost defiant spirit has been replaced by what seems a sense of vulnerability and sadness.

Would Hale’s interpretation of herself be different, if she had decided to create her own self-portrait at the time? For she still had a productive career that extended well into her eighties.




Ellen Day Hale

Margaret Lesley Bush-Brown, Ellen Day Hale, 1910, oil on canvas, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.


*Quote about Ellen Day Hale by her niece as well as information about her biography is from American Woman Artists 1830-1930, catalogue of exhibition, published by the International Exhibitions Foundation, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1987.

To discover more about this artist, just google Ellen Day Hale.


The above image is used solely for educational purposes.


And to enhance your daily life, try Through an Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Live Creatively.

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