Still Lifes of Gold: The Work of M. Elizabeth Price

Still Lifes of Gold: The Work of M. Elizabeth Price

Vase With White Poppies

Image One: M. Elizabeth Price (1877-1965), “Vase With White Poppies”, n.d., mixed media and gold leaf on panel, H. 23.75 x W. 19.25 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Michener Art Endowment Challenge Gift of D. Kenneth Leiby; Image Two: M. Elizabeth Price (1877-1965), “Flower Border I; Flower Border II,” n.d., oil and metal leaf on masonite, frame: H. 57.25 x W. 27.5 inches; painting (each panel): H. 49.25 x W. 19 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Museum purchase.

About the Artwork

As you view this work by M. Elizabeth Price, what immediately captures your attention? M. Elizabeth Price was best known for her compositions of flowers on canvas and on decorative screens. She created close up images of peonies, poppies, hollyhocks, and delphiniums, set in backgrounds of silver and gold leaf.

Does Price’s work remind you of art from a particular period? The artist made numerous trips to Europe, during which she gained inspiration from her surroundings and the art she encountered. She was particularly influenced by the Sienese School of Italian Renaissance painters. These artists were known for depicting scenes of Christian miracles in dreamlike colors and otherworldly settings. Price adopted their characteristic gold backgrounds and vivid colors, to create her own magical interpretation of her natural subjects.

Price didn’t just draw inspiration from foreign artists, however. The floral compositions for which she became well-known were often based on flowers from her own garden at her Bucks County home she nicknamed “Pumpkinseed Cottage”, which was located along the Delaware Canal and Towpath. Do you recognize any of the flower depicted here?

Looking Questions

  • Describe the details you see in this painting.
  • Describe the colors, shapes and textures that you can find in this work.
  • What kind of effect do you think Price was trying to convey in using gold leaf? How would the work be different if she didn’t include it?
  • Does the gold leaf add or take away from the floral composition? Why or why not?
  • Does the subject matter remind you of anything?
  • If you could create a floral still-life of your own, what types of flowers would you include?
  • How do you feel when you look at this work? Why?

Art Advocate and Educator

M. Elizabeth Price’s career was not solely focused on producing works of art. Rather, Price devoted herself to numerous art-related causes throughout her lifetime. She joined The Philadelphia Ten, a group of women artists who came together in 1917 to promote their work in a male-dominated field. The group advocated for women’s involvement in the arts and acted as both a space for professional development and personal support. Price participated in the group’s annual exhibitions from 1921 to 1945. She also served as the Chairwoman of Exhibits for the National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors between 1920 and 1927, organizing numerous shows of works by female artists that traveled across the US and South America.

Price also felt passionately about making art accessible to the general public, both through exhibitions and educational programs. Early on in her career Price founded an innovative children’s art school in New York City, which brought instruction in painting, drawing, and ceramics to public school students. She continued her efforts to cultivate appreciation for the arts among the general public by organizing exhibitions and lecturing across the country throughout her life.

Gold Leaf: Explorations in Art and Craft

How has gold leaf been used in art? Not only has it been used in paintings over centuries, but it has also been used with decorative objects, such as frames. Examine works done during the Medieval and Renaissance periods and compare them to the work of Price. Then, look further to discover how gold leaf was used by local framemakers, Ben Badura and Frederick Harer. Learn more about the detailed process of gilding.

Create a Still Life Activity: Looking at Details

A still life is a drawing or painting of inanimate objects such as fruit, flowers or household items. They are usually arranged on a shelf or a table. This type of subject matter in art has existed in one form or another for thousands of years, beginning with the Ancient Romans and Greeks. Artists create still lifes for various reasons. Sometimes they are made to capture the beauty of the objects or sometimes they can be created to tell a hidden story. Like Price, look around your backyard, garden, or your home for objects that inspire you. Set them up in an arrangement on a table and take some time to look at them at various angles. Select a viewpoint that interests you and create a drawing or painting of what you see. Look to other still lifes in the Michener’s collection for inspiration including Anne Goodell Lathrop, Paulette Van Roekens, and Arthur Meltzer. After you are done your work, write a paragraph about your still life. Why did you select your objects? Is there a story behind them? If so, share it with your viewer!

Self-Portrait Still-Life Activity

Create a still-life that represents you, your interests, your personality, and the time period in which you live. Think about what your still life will include, the arrangement of the objects, the point of view of the artist, and the medium you plan to use. All of these decisions will affect your final result! After you complete your work, share it with a family member or friend. Ask them what they can learn about you just by looking at your work. Have they made any new discoveries?

Related Resources

  • Activity Sheet: Still Lifes of Gold by M. Elizabeth Price (.pdf)
  • Learn more about M. Elizabeth Price on the Museum’s Bucks County Artists’ Database.
  • Listen to the Museum’s audio stop on Flower Border I and II by Price.
  • See the work of Price on Google Arts and Culture.
  • Learn more about M. Elizabeth Price in the online exhibition, The Painterly Voice.
  • Previous Post: The Wine Shop, Quimperle, Brittany by M. Elizabeth Price
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