By: Hannah Peterson
Hanging in the LeFevre House as part of a larger exhibit entitled “An Excellent Likeness” on Historic Huguenot Street is a portrait of a young blond-haired boy, around the age of 3, dressed in a white gown and lightly holding red flowers in his hands. Realized by Alida Bevier, the portrait truly captures the youth and joy of the subject, as his expression and hand gestures seems only natural for a baby of his age. The depiction of the flowers, whose color deeply contrasts with the subtly patterned white dress and mirrors the background, are also greatly naturalistic as some are released from the boy’s grasp and fall into the boy’s lap while a few petals detach themselves from the stems.
This young boy is Louis S. Bevier, and his identity is tied to the history of New Paltz. Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1885, Louis, son of Dr. Louis Bevier – a PhD holder in language from Johns Hopkins University – is 8th in line of descent from Louis Bevier, original patentee of New Paltz. Although not born in the Hudson Valley, Louis remained attached to the area as he died in Woodstock in 1963 after a successful life, in which he was a graduate of Rutgers University – where his father Louis Bevier served as dean – and Columbia Law School, a practicing New York City lawyer for 40 years, and a World War I veteran.
Louis Bevier led an interesting life. However, my interest in the painting does not lie in its subject matter, but rather in the identity of the portraitist and Louis’ paternal aunt, Alida Bevier. Although there are not overwhelming sources concerning her life, Alida Bevier, who later became Alida Bevier Van Dyck following her marriage to Reverend Ezekiel Deyo Van Dyck in 1888, was the only one of five siblings to stay away from a teaching career. Instead, Alida followed an artistic path. As a young artist she gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century New York City art scenes, and was even included in Marquis’ publication of Who’s Who in America, an early 20th century journal series compiling short biographies of the people of the time. Alida’s success as an artist in New York City is telling of a time in which women were gaining greater and greater independence, and had begun infiltrating the art world, which had early in the 18th century been strictly reserved for men.
As the youngest child in her family, Alida must have looked up to her three older sisters and brother as she grew up. All four college graduates from various universities around the city such as Hunter College and Rutgers University, it must have felt natural for Alida to further her education. Contrary to her siblings, however, Alida had no interest in teaching, and consequently chose to deepen her knowledge of artistic practice by attending the National Academy of Design in New York City. There she learned to be a professional artist and took classes such as antique drawing and life classes – drawing from nude models – which were unofficially organized for women after 1857.
During her time in New York City, Alida won awards, such as the first prize for the “Drawing from the Antique” category of the 1881 Cooper Union Female Art School contest. Additionally, her work was discussed and exhibited in a number of locations such as the Art Chronicle, the Artist and Journal of Home Culture and exhibitions within the National Academy of Design. Alida’s involvement in the New York City art world was a new and still-developing possibility for women of the late 19th-century. Indeed, although the National Academy of Design prided itself on equal opportunity after its opening in 1825, women were not regularly admitted until 1846. The rules regarding female admission to art schools, was even stricter in Europe, however, where no women attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris or the Academy in Rome throughout the entire 19th century.
Despite the National Academy of Design’s mission to provide their students with a program based on the art, rather than a patron’s demands, there remained a strong disparity between the male and female artists. Indeed, antique classes for women only started in 1831, 6 years after the school’s initial opening, while anatomy and life drawing classes, considered foundational approaches to the instruction of art, were only available to women starting in the 1860s. In 1869, the Academy faced a severe financial crisis that “floundered the liberality go the Academicians.” Strikingly, the Academicians chose to mortgage their school’s building rather than realize the proposed merger with Cooper Union that would have allowed the Cooper Union’s 150 female art students to use the National Academy’s facilities.
Understanding this history of the National Design Academy and other art schools of the time, we realize that Alida Bevier’s career is not only impressive because she made a small name for herself in the New York art world, but also due to her career’s significance in the larger context and story of women and 19th-century art academies. Indeed, even though Alida may not have encountered as much resistance as her predecessors at the National Academy, Alida’s career, just as the careers of the Academy’s entire female student body – constituting a third of the student body by the 1870s – was the result of great social change in the US. In addition to bringing artists to work independently from the limiting demands of patrons as early as the 1830s, this social change also brought women to gain further independence by following a previously unattainable career path.
The Artist and Journal of Home Culture, Volume VII. London: Wells Gardiner, Darton and Co, 1886.
Andre, Dale. The American Beviers. 2014.
Cooper, W. A. “The National Academy of Design.” Godey’s Magazine 130 (Jan, 1895): 583-589.
“American Art Chronicle.” The American Art Review 2 (Jun, 1881): 82-90.
“History.” National Academy Museum. New York.
Whitney Museum of Art, 19th Century American Women Artists. New York: Whitney Museum of Art, 1976.