One of the lots in the previous Freeman’s auction on June 21, which interested us was a painting by Ann Crane, the second wife of Bruce Crane.
In 1904, at the age of 47 and two years after his divorce, Bruce Crane married his step-daughter of Ann Brainerd who was only half of his age. His friend, John Francis Murphy described Crane as “full of trouble” and “falling off” after the scandal.
Probably it was not only the youth of Ann that Bruce Crane felt connected to, but also her artistic inclination and talent would bless him in a marriage of mutual understanding. In fact, Bruce Crane’s career came to a stable and fruitful period after his marriage. In the first decade of the 20th century, the couple stayed in the city but summered in the Adirondacks, where he painted the mountains in a more tightly-cropped style with flattened planes and patterns. In 1914 they moved to Bronxville and Bruce Crane began to summer at Old Lyme.
According to the biography “Bruce Crane: American Tonalist”, Ann was not happy at Old Lyme because she could not establish her own identity as an artist. By the end of the second decade, Ann only visited her husband on alternate weekends.
It was not surprising that Old Lyme was not Ann’s favorite. The famous art colony was essentially a gentleman’s retreat heaven. The lack of female professionals in the artist group provided the advantage that the artists formed a brotherhood kinship without worrying about tedious social customs.
This particular painting showed another angle of how talented female artists struggled to find their own identities at the turn of the century. Ann was first the wife of Bruce Crane, and as an artist naturally a pupil of her husband. To break away from the mature style of Bruce Crane would probably be regarded as artistic infidelity. Without a signature, I would have had a difficult time figuring out the true painter of the picture at Freeman’s. Bruce Crane painted autumn and winter scenes almost exclusively after his second marriage. More importantly, unlike his mentor Alexander Wyant, Bruce Crane chose quiet subjects such as pastures, meadows, hillsides and marshes which are seldom locale-specific. Ann, in this painting, found similar intimacy with nature by recreating the silvery veils in the valley of snow. I had the opportunity to examine the painting in detail and found that she used fairly dry heavy impasto on top of a thin layer of a gray background, reminding me of the painting “A November Scene” by Bruce Crane which was exhibited at Newark Museum last year. Ann also used a variety of brush strokes and harmonized the quietude background with a glaze of ephemeral purple balanced by some slashes of toned-down warm colors.
The skills and techniques were of a master of tonalism style, but hardly would people associate such kind of solitude reflection with the females. Whether Ann was speaking of her own voice or imitating her husband is uncertain, but at the turn of the century, people expected female artists to paint miniature ivory, not rugged landscapes in New England winter. Thus Ann could only choose between artistic fidelity and an independent identity. Her aloofness to the art colony in later years probably indicated that such sacrifice, in the end, didn’t help her marriage.
The lot was sold for $2600, under the low estimation of $3000.
Bruce Crane: American Tonalist by Charles Clark and Mary Muir can be bought at the online store of the Florence Griswold Museum.