Anna Huntington Stanley was an exceptional yet little known American Impressionist painter, part of a great generation of artists that included Cecilia Beaux, John Twatchman and Elizabeth Nourse.
Like many other American artists of her era, Anna Stanley spent considerable time painting in Europe. She chose as her subject matter the remote Dutch village of Rijsoord, its environs and rustic inhabitants. She was schooled in the French Impressionist style in Paris for over two years. But outside of Holland and France, she painted in more unusual and exotic locales: the Southwestern United States, the Philippines and Japan.
Stanley’s body of work, taken as a whole, is a strong reflection of her time and place, without the self-conscious ‘prettiness’ of the work of other, similar artists. Hers was an unflinching painter’s eye, starkly reportorial at times, which never shied away from the reality of what she saw. One of her pieces, Iloilo Prison, depicts an ominous low, bluish-grey outline in the middle distance, the grim facility where Philippine prisoners of war were kept.
Painterly skills, artistic range and subject matter ought to be enough to secure Anna Stanley’s place in the pantheon of late 19th and 20th century American painters; but she remains little known today, even among art historians and major collectors. Her neglect in this regard has nothing to do with her talents. Her finished paintings, some thirty-four canvases catalogued to date, have been treasured and closely held in private hands for the century since her untimely death in 1907.
The mediation of the last hundred years has allowed the privileged few familiar with Anna Stanley’s work to arrive at an accurate assessment of this remarkable American artist, that clearly she is one of the more neglected painters of her era.
Celebrating her achievement before another generation passes has become paramount to a small but growing coterie of passionate Stanley collectors, art historians and curators. Since the spring of 2006, extensive research into Anna Stanley’s life and career and much curatorial activity has occurred, underwritten and guided by her grand daughters, Joanne Stanley Holbrook Patton and Marian Herr Holbrook Roberson.
Birth and Early Training
Anna Huntington Stanley was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on April 20, 1864. She was the fourth of seven children, all girls except for the youngest David. Her mother, Anna Maria Wright of the socially prominent Wrights in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was the daughter of an Assistant Surgeon General of the Army. Anna’s father, Gen. David Sloan Stanley, U.S. Army, was from Chester Cedar Valley, Ohio. A much decorated and respected West Point graduate, Gen. Stanley took a bullet through the neck at the Battle of Franklin in November 1864, and received the Medal of Honor.
The Stanleys, typical of an Army family, moved often in the years after the Civil War: Fort Sully in South Dakota, Fort Wayne in Detroit, New York, Fort Sam Houston in Texas and Washington, DC.
David and Anna Maria Stanley provided a warm and loving environment for their children. Theirs was a close-knit family. They valued education and encouraged individual accomplishment and cultural enlightenment. They also instilled an abiding belief in God.
Anna Stanley attended the prestigious Buffalo Female Academy in Buffalo, New York, for her high school years. Mrs. Elizabeth Forbes was her teacher, and they shared a life-long correspondence. The school boasted a state-of-the-art sky-lit art studio and a large collection of fine art photographs from which to copy. It was here that the German-trained painter A. M. Farnham taught painting in oils and watercolors. Anna’s talent was exhibited early with a humorous pen and ink illustration of an artist working away at an easel that was reproduced on a student periodical The Magnet; and there the drawing continued to be used for some years after she graduated in 1882.
Financially secure, but by what means undetermined, the Stanleys continued Anna’s education. From the fall of 1882 through April 1885, she studied at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under the tutelage of Thomas Eakins, the director of the school, and Thomas Anshutz. Both taught drawing and painting. At the time the Pennsylvania Academy was considered one of only two professional art schools in the country and Anna proved to be a serious student. Each of her classes lasted one month, available October through May, and sometimes June of each year. Anna studied Life Drawing and the Antique (plaster reproductions), and would have experienced Eakins famously photographing his students and in some cases posing them to model. Here she met and forged life long friendships with fellow women artists Pauline “Lena” Dohn, Anna “Page” Scott, Ida C. Haskell and Susan J. Moody, all from Chicago and former students of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1887 Anna, at age 23, traveled to Paris to further her studies at what was then considered the best school available to a woman, the Académie Julian. Anna’s mother accompanied her and Lena Dohn to Europe, and we know from one of Anna’s letters that this trip included a stop in Venice. Once in Paris, Mrs. Stanley stayed long enough to ensure Anna’s accommodation. Her friend Lena shared a connecting room at the sixth and top floor of the Hotel Oxford and Cambridge. It was steps from the Tuileries Garden and just a few blocks from the Louvre Museum in the heart of Paris. Their daily struggles were vividly described in prized illustrated letters that Anna sent to her parents back at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, where her father was the commander of the Texas Territory. She wrote of her teachers Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre, detailing their fierce but fair criticism of her work. Anna noted that the students were not yet painting, but drawing in charcoal.
Although Anna and Lena were ‘on their own’ in Paris, many of their artist friends from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts were living nearby and studying with them at the Académie Julian. They had the apparent oversight of Mrs. Hannah Haskell, the mother of Ida. Mrs. Haskell wrote to an art teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago, John H. Vanderpoel, for advice about where she and the students might summer in 1888. The common practice of artists was to paint en plein aire during the summer after a cold damp winter in Paris. Vanderpoel wrote back that they should spend their summer in Rijsoord in the Netherlands. It was the town where his parents had lived before they immigrated to America. His cousins, the Noorlanders, would take good care of them. The cost of living in Rijsoord would be very reasonable and the scenery excellent. Perhaps prompted by the letter, Vanderpoel decided to come to Paris in the spring of 1888, (he had studied and taught at the Julian previously). He traveled with the students to Rijsoord where he taught and painted for the summer. Joining them were Page Scott and Alice Kellogg of Chicago who also studied at the Julian. Her sister Gertrude, an opera student, joined them before returning to Chicago.
Working in Holland proved to be a greatly formative experience for Anna. She fell in love with Holland and its people. Her paintings mirror the age-old agrarian life of the Dutch peasantry and the beautiful views of the rivers, dikes, and wide-open landscapes of southern Holland. Her subjects were primarily women and children, although we know she painted at least one man on her last trip to Rijsoord. She captured her subjects in their natural world and invited the viewer into a place generally unknown outside of Holland. The modern viewer is transported into the heart of a proud yet humble culture. Some of the paintings from this first trip have never been found and we assume they were sold.
Rijsoord at this time was so isolated from the outside world that Anna wrote to her parents of an episode in which a mob of the local children grew to over a hundred, as they followed Anna and Mrs. Haskell and almost caused a riot, all because they had never seen artists before. Anna also related the sad departure of her dear friend Lena who had spent the summer touring the Netherlands and Germany with her sister Mary before returning to the United States.
In November of 1888, Anna returned to Paris and along with her friends attended the Académie Colarossi. The fees were more reasonable than the Julian and the classes were less structured and more progressive. They received their instruction from artists Andre Rixen and Gustave Courtois. Anna moved to an apartment house with Page Scott, Ida C. Haskell, her mother Hannah, Alice Kellogg, Amy Atkinson from York England, the Jordain sisters and Adele . Alice Kellogg wrote prolific letters to her family of life in Europe and described in detail the experiences of her friends. That fall Anna along with her friends rented artists’ studios. Anna shared hers with another Colarossi student, Beulah. Alice wrote home to Gertrude, “Nan has it one half day, Beulah the other so practically they have the studio alone.” Beulah Strong was a lifelong friend of Elizabeth Nourse and later “joined the art department at Smith College.” It was also noted by Alice that during this fall and winter period evening painting classes were taken with nude subjects.
In preparation for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in the spring of 1889, buildings rose up all over the city, most famously the Eiffel Tower. Gari Melchers and his close friend George Hitchcock were highly esteemed artists of the period, and spent the majority of their time painting in the Netherlands. They were charged with selecting paintings by Americans living in Europe to be exhibited in the Exposition. One painting chosen was Alice Kellogg’s portrait of her sister Gertrude. We do not know how Melchers and Hitchcock came to choose Alice’s work, but she may have come to their attention through her teachers Rixen and Courtois. In a letter home, Alice described the fire works that spring as four of the students from the apartment house sat on the banks of the Seine amongst some one hundred thousand revelers. There between the Place de la Concorde and the Trocadéro they had a full view of the Eiffel Tower to partake in the city’s celebration. Anna, however, was apparently not present.
In May 1889, Anna’s painting Au commencement et à al fin was exhibited at the Salon and in June she along with many of the student artists returned to Rijsoord. The Noorlander family had built a pension for the artists and travelers. “According to the plaque on the façade, the first corner stone was laid by a certain A. H. Stanley, presumably one of the American artists.” Both of these summers in Risjoord lasted from May or June to November, and Anna produced substantial works as reflected in later American exhibitions. 
Later Career: Home, Marriage and the Far East
Anna departed for New York from Rotterdam that November 1889, sharing the passage with Page Scott. Anna was home in Fort Sam Houston by the end of month and by 1890 executed an elegant formal portrait of her father in uniform. She was nearly twenty-six and her career advanced from strength to strength. She exhibited two paintings that April at the National Academy of Design in New York. She had come to consider herself a serious professional artist, as evinced by her catalogue prices in various nationally prominent exhibits over the next few years.
By June of 1891 she exhibited three paintings at the then new Detroit Museum of Fine Arts for the First Annual Exhibition of American Art. She must have been proud to have her work exhibited in the same company as her former teacher John H. Vanderpoel. Thereafter, she exhibited annually in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country except for 1893, when we cannot be sure of her movements, except for a photograph of Anna taken that summer in the artist colony of Napanoch, New York. She is seen carrying the ‘work in progress’ of Lena for Girl Reading. She also painted her brother David’s full-length portrait in his grey Cadet uniform during his short summer vacation from West Point.
Her father was retired in June 1892 at Fort Sam Houston and was appointed in September 1893 to be the Governor of the Old Soldiers’ Home, in Washington, DC, but where and how he and his family spent the intervening 15 months is unclear.
Anna continued to paint and exhibited extensively at the National Academy of Design in New York, The Boston Art Club, and with the Society of Washington Artists. She also participated in an important loan exhibition in Washington, DC, for the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ group that formed after the Civil War to care for wounded Union soldiers and their families.
In April of 1895, Anna’s mother died in Washington and was buried at the Soldiers Home National Cemetery. That June, Anna’s brother David graduated from West Point. It was here that she met Lt. Willard Ames Holbrook, and a courtship began. Willard had been the Aide-de-Camp to Gen. Stanley at Fort Sam Houston from 1891 to 1892, but he and Anna had apparently never met before. Within days of her brother’s graduation, Anna and Ida C. Haskell, boarded a ship in New York, bound for Rotterdam. Serious about her career, Anna remained in Rijsoord for five months. This was her last trip to the Netherlands and she produced some of her finest work, The Sand Sifter, Harvest , The Windmill and Girl Carry Sheaves. They are elegant, mature canvases, executed with mastery and verve. In these works her use of soft blues, rich browns and greens are predominant and reflect her distinctive pallet.
Anna returned to New York that November, but Willard, (as noted in his memoir) missed meeting her ship. Anna must have forgiven him, because they were married in a very elegant ceremony the following October in Washington, DC, with newspaper coverage and a large reception at Quarters Number 1, Gen. Stanley’s mansion at the Old Soldiers’ Home. During her engagement Anna apparently did not see her pending marriage as an end to her artistic career. Confident in her profession, she exhibited three more times before she was married and W. H. Veerhoff, the owner of the prestigious Veerhoff Galleries in Washington, DC, presented five of her paintings for her one-woman show in April of 1896.
After Anna was married, life changed considerably. After a honeymoon and a few weeks at West Point, she and Willard moved to his new and fairly remote post at Fort Grant in Arizona. She continued to paint and sent Girl Spinning to her father and her two sisters Josephine and Blanche. The painting was exhibited at the Society of Washington Artists’ April 1897 exhibit. It may have been a product of her new environment, but the architecture in the painting is suggestive of San Antonio. This was Anna’s last known exhibition during her lifetime. Nevertheless she continued painting without the benefit of gallery support, in the rough and tumble of the American Southwest, Oregon, California, Japan and the Philippines, where her husband was posted after the Spanish-American War.
Anna gave birth to two sons, Willard Ames Holbrook, Jr., born at Fort Grant in Arizona in May 1898, and David Stanley Holbrook (known as Stanley) born at Angel Island, San Francisco in April 1900. Anna’s marriage to Willard was a happy and solid one, marked by many stressful separations brought on by the exigencies of war. In June 1898 just a few weeks after her first son was born, Willard was sent to Georgia and then to Cuba. They reunited when Willard was posted to Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast. But soon Willard was sent to the Philippines and they were separated for over a year. During these two separations Anna lived in Washington with her father and sisters. Her painting, slowed by the rigors of motherhood and army life, did not cease entirely. One of her most charming works, Spring House, was painted during this period at Blackwell Farm in Warrenton, Virginia.
In the fall of 1901, Anna and the boys were reunited with Willard when he became a civil governor of Panay, an island in the Philippines. His newly elevated station provided for a fully staffed house. Anna brought an American nanny, Barbara, and was able to return to her painting unabated. She completed many paintings and this period was a real second flowering of her art. Many of these works hang in family collections. However, others can be seen only through intriguing photographs of her work that hung on the walls of the governor’s house. Unfortunately, inventory lists and sketch books of Anna’s work do not exist today. We can only surmise that these photographed works may have been sold, given away or perhaps lost in travel.
Six months after Anna arrived in the Philippines, her father died. The governor’s quarters eventually gave way to Camp Stotsenburg on the island of Luzon, which provided primitive housing by comparison to Panay. We know from Willard Sr.’s memoir that he took Anna to Korea and Japan during their time in the Philippines and she produced the watercolors Pagoda and Buddha Nikko, Japan. These delicate works were painted in a sacred and seemingly enchanted forest north of Tokyo.
The family eventually returned to America and lived at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and then at Fort Prescott from 1903 to 1905. When Willard received orders to teach at the Military College in Chester, Pennsylvania, Anna looked forward to leaving the “wild and wooly West,” which she imparted in a letter to Lena.
In honor of the United States Bicentennial in July 1976, U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, Kingdon Gould, Jr. assembled a large collection of Anna Stanley’s works and her illustrated letters for exhibition in The Hague. This show presented by the State Department as a tribute to U.S. – Dutch relations, later moved to the Singer Museum in Laren.
In April of 2006, Anna’s granddaughters, Joanne Stanley Holbrook Patton and Marian Herr Holbrook Roberson were invited to present Anna’s collected works at George Washington University, Eckles Library. Curator Ingrid Swanson penned an article outlining Anna’s career; it was published in the March 2006 issue of American Art Review.
In October 2009, The Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia, and its Chief Curator Holly Koons McCullough opened the exhibition Dutch Utopia, American Painters in Holland 1880 – 1914. The exhibition traveled to the Cincinnati Museum of Fine Art and the Grand Rapids Art Museum and then to the Netherlands at the Singer Museum in Laren. Annette Stott, PhD., Director of the School of Art and Art History at Denver University, is the head curator of the exhibition and the leading authority on American painters in Holland during this period. She is an admirer of Anna Stanley’s work and was pleased to see her receive this long overdue recognition by presenting her painting Girl Carrying Sheaves, circa 1895 in the tour. Anna’s painting is among works by Gari Melchers, long regarded the leader of Americans who painted in the Netherlands.
Although Anna died young, she left behind a treasure of paintings, a vivid document of the European, American and Asian environments she lived in or visited during the course of her brief working life. Her portrayal of the people and the landscapes she encountered remain significant in their use of color, frankness of expression and impressionism style along with the ability to invite a viewer’s attention. She painted the daily lives of people en plein aire in keeping with her French training, but with a thoroughly American candor. Her subjects gaze directly at the viewer or are captured in an activity. A comparison among her Dutch, Southwestern and Philippine paintings reveals an accurate understanding of color temperature differences in the sunlight of these locations. There is also a great sense of humanity in her work that is unsentimental and yet very personal.
Anna Stanley’s known oeuvre has been cherished and enjoyed for over a century, not on the walls of museums, but in the intimate surroundings of family homes. Ironically, this very success with these private collectors has led to her neglect as an important American painter in the larger world of museums, art dealers and moneyed collectors. Her early career and flowering in France and Holland is remarkable; that she completed so many canvasses later while enduring the pressures of domestic life as a military dependent even during wartime is a testament to her determination and talent. It is with gratitude to her granddaughters that we can now see the remarkable work that for so long was hidden from public view.
1. The catalogue for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts outlines 200 students and four teachers in 1882.
2. The Anna H. Stanley Letters From Paris & Holland 1887-1889 private collection.
3. See Lost Works, Lone Fisherman
4. See Exhibition List and Lost Works List Olivia Nagel, 2008.
5. Alice Kellogg Letters, (Smithsonian American Art Museum Archives), letter # 290.
6. This could be Adele Fay based on the PAFA student registry. Adele Fay often sighed up for classes with Anna and her friends.
7. Alice Kellogg Letters, (Smithsonian American Art Museum Archives), letter # 370.
8. Mary Alice Heekin Burke, Elizabeth Nourse, 1859 – 1938 A Salon Career, (Smithsonian Institution, 1983), 38.
9. Alice Kellogg Letters, (Smithsonian American Art Museum Archives), letter # 480.
10. Alexandra Gaba-Van Dongen, Dreaming of Rijsoord, Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley 1960 – 1958, (Bussum: Thoth, 2005) 100 – 101.
11. See Anna H. Stanley Lifetime Exhibition History by Olivia Nagel, 2008.
12. The Dairies of Maj. Gen. Francis Henry French (USMA 1879) Volumes XVI – X VIII. He notes Nov. 30 1889, … “meeting Miss Nan who has just returned from her studies in Europe. She is quite a pleasant talker and entertained us well.”
13. Harvest is probably Girl Carrying Sheaves.
14. US Military Academy at West Point, Special Collections, Anna Stanley Holbrook Letters Archive.
15. See Exhibition List by Olivia Nagel, 2008.
In This Academy, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805 – 1976. Designed byWeiner, Kurt. Museum Press, Inc., Washington, D.C. 1976
Overcoming All Obstacles: The Women of the Académie Julian. Gabriel P. Weisberg and Jane R. Becker, editors. Rutgers University Press, NJ, 1999 for the Dahesh Museum.
The Anna H. Stanley Letters from Paris & Holland 1887 – 1889. Unpublished, private collection, Joanne Holbrook Patton.
The Diaries of Maj. Gen Francis Henry French (USMA 1879) Abandonment of Fort Concho and service at Fort Sam Houston June 5, 1889 – May 13, 1890. Copyright of the Vinton Trust, Fort Sam Houston Archive.
US Military Academy at West Point, Special Collections. The Holbrook History.
Bell, Raymond, (Ret. General U.S. Army) Unpublished.
Smithsonian, Archives of American Art, The Alice Kellogg Tyler Papers. Letters 1887 – 1889 Unpublished
Stott, Annette, Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art and Culture. Overlook Press, Woodstock, New York. 1998
Gaba-van Dongen, Alexandra, Dreaming of Rijsoord, Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley 1860 – 1958. Bussum, Thoth, Netherlands. 2006
Powers, John and Deborah, Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists, A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas before 1942. Woodmont Books, Austin Texas. 2000
National Academy of Design Exhibition Record 1861 – 1900, Volume II M through Z. Tombstone Epitaph, Tombstone, A-Z for Kennedy Galleries. 1973
Clark, Eliot, N. A., History of The National Academy of Design 1825 – 1953. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 1954
The Julian Academy: Paris 1868 – 1939; Spring Exhibition 1989. Essays by Catherine Rehrer. Organized by Robert and Elisabeth Kashey for the Shepherd Gallery New York. 1989
Weinberg, Helene Barbara, The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers. Abbeville Press Publishers, New York. 1991
Americans in Paris 1860-1900. To accompany the exhibition of the same name, Kathleen Adler, Erica E. Hirshler, H. Barbara Weinberg, with contributions from David Park Curry, Rodolphe Rapetti and Christopher Riopelle and assistance of Megan Holloway Fort and Kathleen Mrachek. National Gallery Company Limited. London, England. 2006
Davies, Maria Thompson, Seven Times Seven, An Autobiography, NY: Dodd, Mead. 1924
Fink, Lois Marie, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, National Museum of American Art Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Cambridge University Press New York. 1990
Burk, Mary Alice Heekin, with a contribution by Louis Marie Fink. Elizabeth Nourse, 1859 – 1938 A Salon Career, Published on the occasion of an exhibition jointly organized by the National Museum of American Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 1983