Born in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania in 1877, Anne Estelle Rice grew up in Pottstown, an industrial community on the Pennsylvania Reading Railroad line. In 1894, she enrolled in the School of Industrial Art of the Pennsylvania Museum and studied there for three years. The school awarded her the second place Crozer prize for work in sculpture and modeling.
In 1899 and 1902 Rice studied sculpture and life drawing with Charles Grafly and William Merritt Chase, respectively, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She also attended an evening drawing class conducted by Thomas Anshutz. In these years, Rice contributed illustrations to Collier’s, Harper’s, and the Saturday Evening Post, as many of the Academy students did. Her characteristic style relied heavily upon contour lines with simple interior detail and shading.
In 1905 Rice was sent to Paris by Philadelphia’s North American to illustrate the latest fashions. She met the Scottish painter John Fergusson during the summer of 1907 at Paris-Plage, a resort, and Fergusson encouraged her to become a painter. Initially she created planar compositions with a palette and brushwork recalling Manet and the Impressionists. Increasingly exposed to Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, she adopted a more vivid palette and “drew” on the canvas with red or blue lines of contour. From 1910 her work took a different turn. Working with color rhythms, she emphasized pure primary and secondary colors and employed fewer, larger shapes relying on “the value of line to give energy and force . . . the value of doing juxtapositions to create life and movement in masses of color,” a clear exposition of Fauvist principles.
Between 1900 and 1912 Rice frequently painted the nude. Her nudes have an exotic character and reflect the impact of Les Ballets Russes’ romantic productions, which most of the modernists in Paris attended. Her drawing Schéhérazade (1911) was inspired by the ballet of that name and echoed its repetitive circular drive. The thin and sketchy paint application, vibrant palette, and decorative nuances constitute a direct homage to Matisse. For her harmonious, angular shapes in The Egyptian Dancers (1910), she was heralded in the American press as the leader of a new school of art. Critic Huntly Carter extolled the painting as the only thing of importance done at the time from Les Ballets Russes.
In 1909, Rice was one of three artists invited by American merchant John Wannamaker to provide decorative murals for the new store he planned for Philadelphia. The commission made it necessary for Rice to take a very large studio, which she did at 87 rue Denfert-Rochereau, and it occupied her until the end of 1913. What resulted were seven panels depicting figures, mostly women, in classical garden settings. The figures are clothed in 18th century dress with Modernist overtones. Even though she would render the cut of a dress in an 18th-century style, the fabric offered Rice areas for painting big, bold, colorful patterns. Rice’s murals, removed when the store was remodeled in the mid-1950s, are lost and presumed destroyed today.
Rice was one of the chief illustrators for the British periodical Rhythm, edited by John Middleton Murry and Michael Sadler from 1911 to 1913. She established a close bond with Katherine Mansfield, a writer and fellow contributor to Rhythm, and painted her portrait at Looe in Cornwall.
Theodore Dreiser, famed American author, arrived in Paris in 1912 with the intention of acquainting himself with the Parisian vanguard. A British publisher introduced him to Rice and Fergusson; thus began, for Rice, an intimate friendship and close correspondence which lasted through 1921.
In 1912 Rice met her future husband, the English art and theater critic Raymond Drey, when he came to Paris to learn more about Modernism. They wed in 1913 and Rice began to make her home in England. In 1913 Rice wrote Dreiser urging him to arrange for a one-person exhibition of her work in New York; unfortunately, she did not get to America until the winter of 1914. The war had adversely affected the market, and although many of the progressive American art dealers and collectors showed an interest in her work, they were not buying. Disillusioned, she returned to England in 1915, leaving numerous paintings with Dreiser, and art dealers Charles Daniel and Horace Holley.
By the late 1910s, Rice had turned away from Cubism, which she considered a “joyless” way of working. She was intensely interested in the theater, often making theatrical costumes and sets the subjects of her drawings, and in the 1930s she designed the sets and costumes of several London operatic and dramatic productions. From the 1920s on Rice painted still lifes with warm, rich colors. She exhibited her still lifes at the Leicester Galleries and the Wildenstein Gallery in England. She kept up her visits to Brittany, and sold paintings to collectors in Holland, Denmark, France, and Germany.
Rice’s exhibition record through the 1910’s was impressive. Together with Fergusson, S. J. Peploe, and other members of the Fergusson circle, she exhibited at the Ashnur Gallery in Paris. She showed at the Salon d’Automne from 1908 through 1913, and at the Salon des Independents in 1911 and 1912. London’s progressive Baillie Gallery gave Rice major exhibitions in 1911 and 1913. Her work was also included in salons of the Allied Artists Association, England’s equivalent of the Salon des Independents.
Rice’s work is represented in numerous private collections in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as in the following public collections: the University of Hull Art Collection, Hull, England; Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand; and the Government Art Collection, England.
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