Anna L. Stacey (1865–1943)

Anna L. Stacey, from a photograph reproduced in Frances Cheney Bennett, History of Music and Art in Illinois (1904).

Attracted to art-making as a child, Anna Lee Dey Stacey attended the Pritchett School Institute in her native Glasgow, Missouri, before studying at the Kansas City Art Association and School of Design. There, her instructors included landscape painter and teacher John F. Stacey, whom she married in 1891. The couple settled in Chicago, where Anna enrolled at the Art Institute. By the time she graduated with honors, in 1896, she already had exhibited in the Art Institute’s annual exhibition of American art and with the Art Students’ League of Chicago and the women artists’ Palette Club. Influenced by her Art Institute instructor Leonard Ochtman, a landscape painter, Stacey specialized in figures posed out-of-doors, solidly rendered with the bright color of impressionism. Her watercolors and oil paintings found favor with critics, prize juries, and the women’s clubs that offered important patronage to local artists in turn-of-the-century Chicago. In 1905 and again in 1914, she was honored with solo exhibitions at the Art Institute, and she received numerous prizes over the course of her career.

In 1900, the Staceys visited Paris for the Exposition Universelle, and Anna studied briefly at the Académie Delecluse; they also stopped in the artists’ enclave of Auvers-sur-Oise. Thereafter, Anna’s painting style shifted toward a more tonal approach, often featuring subdued light and evening settings. Her work included landscape and marine views as well as images of women and girls posed out-of-doors; later, she gravitated toward portraits and still-life painting.

Childless, Anna and John forged equally successful careers, and they apparently enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship. From their studio-home in the Tree Studios building on Chicago’s Near North Side, they traveled together in search of subjects. They made several tours of Europe, visited Canada and the western United States, and worked for consecutive summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Mystic, Connecticut. In the 1920s, they became regulars in the community of conservative impressionist painters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Having first visited California in 1915 to see the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the Staceys moved in 1937 to Pasadena, where Anna died at age seventy-seven, two years after her husband’s death.

Anna L. Stacey, Bon Voyage, dated 1907
Oil on canvas, 20 x 18 inches

Anna L. Stacey, Bon Voyage, dated 1907

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Anna L. Stacey painted several half-length images of women or girls against landscape backdrops or framed in doorways or windows, often giving them titles that hint at narratives. As she observed in a 1903 interview, “An attractive, telling title goes a great way toward interesting people in a picture.”[i] One such work, Bon Voyage features a pretty young woman leaning out the open window of what is presumably a railway car to wave a white handkerchief in farewell to an unseen onlooker. While the painting’s title emphasizes the start of a journey, the image itself focuses on a parting from companions and the implied ending of a seaside vacation. Seen through the train window, the frame of which closely corresponds to the edges of the composition, the landscape backdrop consists of a rising bluff and a glimpse of calm ocean under a fair-weather sky, a background that Stacey used for at least one other painting, In the Doorway (1907; formerly The Friedman Collection). Against this sun-drenched scene, the young woman’s face is relatively shadowed and her expression is pensive, with perhaps a hint of melancholy. Broad, fluid brushstrokes enliven the figure’s white summer blouse, the blue scarf festooning her broad-brimmed hat, and her fluttering handkerchief.

In 1907, when she painted Bon Voyage, Stacey and her artist-husband John spent the summer in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which they first visited as early as 1905. The site of a busy artists’ community, the town and its surroundings provided numerous subjects for painting and the couple spent several consecutive summers there. Gloucester was also a venerable vacation spot, and like the woman in Stacey’s painting and probably the Staceys themselves, most tourists arrived and departed by train. Gloucester and other northeastern coastal spots attracted the well-to-do Chicagoans among whom both Staceys found patrons, making Bon Voyage something of a nostalgic souvenir of artist’s and patrons’ shared experience. The painting was among a group of Gloucester paintings that Anna exhibited in Chicago in 1908; the approving critic for the Chicago Journal saw them as evidence that Stacey “paints because she was born that way.”[ii] This work’s charmingly evocative subject demonstrates the artist’s knack for compositions that made her a favorite among the Chicago clubwomen of her day.

[i] “Pictures and Titles,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1903.

[ii] Clipping from Chicago Journal, Feb. 4, 1908, in AIC Scrapbooks, v.23.

Anna L. Stacey, Chinese Jar, circa 1924
Oil on canvas, 22 ½ x 19 ½

Anna L. Stacey, Chinese Jar, circa 1924

Anna Stacey’s Chinese Jar evokes the exotic East in its assortment of elegant objects. The elaborate ceramic jar or vase on a carved wood stand is decorated with a colorful pheasant and water-lilies on a black background. It holds an unusual mixture of plants: the dried oval seed pods of the money plant (lunaria) and shiny dark-blue berries on reddish stalks. Sharing the polished tabletop is a statuette of a kimono-clad, kneeling female figure holding a shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument with a distinctive square body. The backdrop to these objects appears to be a folding screen. Two of its panels meet in a vertical band of blue and red that gives the composition a decidedly asymmetrical emphasis. Strong contrasts of almost monochromatic darks and lights set off the bright tints of the figurine and the vase.

For much of her long career, Stacey exhibited mostly genre scenes and landscapes in the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibitions. In the early 1920s she began to also paint still life images; these dominated the works she showed in her joint exhibition with her husband, landscape painter John Stacey, at Chicago’s Carson Pirie Scott department store in 1928. Stacey’s titles typically name the floral subjects of her still life paintings, but Chinese Jar, the title of a painting she showed in the Art Institute’s 1924 Chicago and Vicinity exhibition, is an exception. With it, Stacey drew attention to the exquisite man-made vessel rather than the plants it bears, thereby partaking in an established fashion for all things “Oriental.”