Anna Lea Merritt was an American artist born in Philadelphia, but she lived most of her life in England. She painted portraits, landscapes and religious scenes and etchings, she was recognized as a professional artist, it means that she “could live of her brush” before her marriage and after her husband’s death. Actually, she intended to end her professional career after her wedding, but with the unexpected death of her husband she returned to painting.
Love Locked Out
Her best-known work is Love Locked Out. She painted in memory of her late husband, who died in 1877, just three months after the wedding. She wanted to have the image done in bronze, as a monument but she could not afford it. During some time, she resisted allowing the painting to be copied despite many requests. She feared a misinterpretation of the subject, in her own words “I feared people liked it as a symbol of forbidden love, while my Love was waiting for the door of death to open and the reunion of the lonely pair”.
Love Locked Out was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890 and became the first painting by a woman artist acquired for the British national collection through the Chantrey Bequest.
Women in the arts and social pressure
In 1900, she wrote about the social pressures which could inhibit a female artist’s career, even though she felt she had not faced much if any discrimination because of her gender.
The chief obstacle to a woman’s success is that she can never have a wife. Just reflect what a wife does for an artist: Darns the stockings; keeps his house; writes his letters; visits for his benefit; wards off intruders; is personally suggestive of beautiful pictures; always an encouraging and partial critic. It is exceedingly difficult to be an artist without this time-saving help. A husband would be quite useless.”
In the 19th century there were a significant number of women that could become successful and educated artists, what was very unusual before that time, except for a few like Angelica Kauffman and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.
- Her major works included: Taming the bird (c.1883); Camilla (1882); Eve Overcome by Remorse and a mural decoration for the Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) both won medals.
- In 1902, she published A Hamlet in Old Hampshire, a portrait of Hurstbourne Tarrant, her home from 1890.
- Merritt continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1906. Her later years were plagued by failing eyesight.
- In 1981 Love Locked Out: The Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt was published.