Photos from Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Without Women Artists, the Denver Art Museum Wouldn’t Exist

Photos from Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

One evening in 1893, artist Emma Richardson Cherry (1859–1954) invited a group of peers to her downtown Denver studio to discuss how to advance the art interests of the city.

Founded in 1858 as a gold camp, Denver had grown rapidly during the post-Civil War years, particularly after the Denver Pacific Railroad connected the town to the transcontinental Union Pacific route through Cheyenne in 1870. By the 1890s, it was the state capital and, with a population of over 100,000, second only in size in the West to San Francisco. Although rough and tumble during its early days, a local art scene developed, and nationally recognized artists including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Ralph Albert Blakelock, and Hamilton Hamilton made repeated visits on their way to sketch the Colorado plains and Rockies. Unlike these men, however, many other artists called Denver their permanent home and sought to promote its art and culture. To that end, Cherry’s evening soirée resulted in the formation of the Denver Artists Club. The group would go on to organize annual exhibitions and, by the 1920s, had evolved into the Denver Art Museum.

Cherry—an internationally trained artist who moved to Denver with her husband in the late 1880s—was not the only female founding member of the Denver Artists Club. Others included Elisabeth Spalding, Anne Evans, and Marion Hendrie. Although Cherry moved to Houston soon after the formation of the group, her legacy, and those of the other women present, continue to enhance the Denver Art Museum in large part because of their contributions to its collections.

painting of orange poppies

Elisabeth Spalding, Poppies in Albert Olson’s Garden, 1928. Watercolor; 20 x 24 in. Denver Art Museum: Bequest of Elisabeth Spalding, 1988.283

Elisabeth Spalding (1868–1954) grew up in Denver before studying in New York City and traveling abroad. In 1890, she was a founding member of the LeBrun Art Club—Denver’s first all-female artist group named after the French artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and the precursor to the Denver Artists Club. Spalding was also a member of the Denver Fortnightly Club, a women’s society formed in 1881 that still exists today. A number of works by Spalding are in the collection of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art, including this vibrant watercolor of poppies in the artist Albert Olson’s garden.

Three men riding horses in a rodeo

Frank Mechau, Rodeo-Pickup Man, about 1930. Oil on canvas: 31 3/4 x 39 3/10 in. Gift of Anne Evans, 1935.9

Anne Evans (1871–1941) was trained as an artist, though her legacy of philanthropy and collecting overshadows her art career. Daughter of territorial governor John Evans, Anne grew up in Denver and was educated abroad and at the Art Students League in New York City. She devoted much of her life to the development of the arts in Denver, serving on a litany of arts commissions, participating in numerous women’s clubs, and serving as a charter member and the executive secretary of the Denver Art Museum. In the 1930s, she gave her collections of Native American, Hispanic, and western American art to the museum. (See some of the objects she donated in our online collection.)

still life painting of a pear and a glass on a table

Pablo Picasso, Nature Morte, 1914 Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Francis Hendrie Memorial, 1966.177

Marion Hendrie (1876–1968), born in Central City and raised in Denver, also played a prominent role as a patron of the arts. She studied art in Boston and New York City, and like Anne Evans, she served on multiple arts commissions. She brought the first Cézanne exhibition to Denver in 1920 and the first Matisse exhibition in 1923. A collector of twentieth-century European and American art, she ultimately donated much of her collection to the Denver Art Museum. Thanks to her gifts, the museum has works on paper by Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, and Winslow Homer, as well as oil paintings by Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, and Amedeo Modigliani. (See some of the objects she donated in our online collection.)

For more on the history of the Denver Artists Club and the Denver Art Museum, see:

Harris, Neil. The First Hundred Years: The Denver Art Museum. Denver: The Denver Art Museum, 1996.

Cuba, Stan. The Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members, an Illustrated History. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2015.