Alice Chittenden was born in 1859 in Brockport, New York and moved with her family as an infant to San Francisco where her father became a well-to-do miner. Alice was encouraged to study art and was one of the early women in San Francisco to study at the School of Design where she was a student of Virgil Williams three years after it was established in 1877. Later she became an art instructor and taught at the School of Design for 43 years. She was married briefly to Charles Overton in 1886, had one daughter, and never remarried. Except for trips to New York, Italy and France to study and exhibit her work, she lived in San Francisco for the rest of her life until her death in 1944. She maintained a studio on the 4th floor of the Phelan Building and had a long and prolific career exhibiting her work for over 60 years.
From the very beginning women artists were studying and exhibiting art in San Francisco. The first class at the School of Design in 1874 had 46 women students out of a total of 60 (Wilson, 1983). When Alice Chittenden was appointed to the faculty in 1897 she was assigned to teach still-life drawing and painting. She became one of a few California artists who are known primarily for their work in still life paintings. Chittenden exhibited and received favorable reviews in what is thought to be the first major all-women’s art exhibition in the United States in 1885 sponsored by the San Francisco Art Association. She became the first woman juror for the Association’s art shows. Alice Chittenden and another woman artist Maren Froelich were the first to break the all-male barrier at the Bohemian Club’s annual art exhibition in 1898. Chittenden was one of the charter members to organize the Women’s Sketch Club in 1906. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the headquarters of the Sketch Club along with most artists’ studios in San Francisco.
Chittenden was known to be a prolific painter who is most famous for her paintings of over 350 varieties of California wildflowers. She also painted many landscapes, mostly of Marin County, and portraits done primarily in pastel. In 1895 an East Coast newspaper declared her the “leading flower painter of America” (Lekisch:95). She also studied botany discovering and collecting many rare species of wildflowers on her adventurous excursions by stage and horseback in the Sierras and other wilderness areas sketching and painting wildflowers. The Society of California Pioneers has three Chittenden paintings of historic buildings and one portrait, but none of her flower paintings.
AskArt – Art Appraisals, Art Value. Action Prices, Art Database. www.askart.com
Hughes, Edan Milton. 2002. Artists in California 1786-1940. Third Edition. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum.
Lekisch, Barbara 2003. Embracing Scenes about Lakes Tahoe & Donner. Great West Books.
The Redfern Gallery. Laguna Beach, CA.(www.redferngallery.com)