Sunday, April 1, 2012

Alice Schille, watercolorist

Considered one of America's foremost women watercolorists, Columbus, Ohio native Alice Schille earned international recognition, including top prizes from arts institutions in San Francisco, New York, Washington and Chicago, for her fine Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings of street scenes, beaches, markets, as well as women and children.

Born with exceptional powers of observation, a nimble talent, and a mother who recognized and nurtured both, Alice was destined for greatness. In her day, Alice was considered to be one of the best American water colorists. Her work was nationally recognized, and she received many prestigious prizes including the gold medal for watercolor at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibit in San Francisco.

Graduating from the Columbus Art School (which later became the Columbus College of Art and Design) at the top of her class in 1893, Schille continued her studies in New York and Paris. In 1904, five of her paintings were accepted for exhibition at Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, and from that time on her work was included regularly in important American annual exhibitions.

Schille returned to Columbus and began what was to become a lifelong career in education, teaching watercolor and portrait painting at her alma mater for forty years. Traveling each summer to paint, her unique style expanded to reflect what she had absorbed while in England, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Yugoslavia, Russia, North Africa, Mexico, Guatemala, Norway, Turkey, Greece and Belgium. Although personally shy, Schille possessed unusual courage and strength of will. These characteristics were reflected in both her independent lifestyle and in her art, as she continually worked to master new modes of painting throughout her career.

Leaving Columbus behind in 1897 to study art in New York, she then moved on to Europe in 1902 to complete her education by absorbing all the art Europe had to offer. Paris soon became her passion. She felt more at home there than anywhere.

While she returned to Columbus in 1904 to teach, the lure of Paris continued to draw her. For more than thirty years, Alice returned to France at the end of each school term. While in Paris, she became acquainted with many of the avant-garde artists and intellectuals of the era - Piccasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Juan Gris and translated many of their ideas into her art.

Eager to absorb avant-garde ideas and to share her experiences and her art with both the public and her students, Alice became a cultural catalyst. She was one of the first artists to effectively bring many modern artistic concepts directly from France to the Midwest. As an instructor at the Columbus Art School and the doyenne of Columbus artists, Alice helped to broaden the tastes and enrich the artistic vocabulary of Columbus at a time when the community was distrustful of modern art.

Leslie Blankenship,
Columbus Historical Society

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