Violet Oakley (1874-1961) built her career in illustration, a field dominated by men. Born into an artistic family in New Jersey, she showed talent early and pursued a course in fine art.
She attended the Art Students League in New york for a year, 1892, before embarking for Paris and London for two years further study.
In 1896 she moved to Philadelphia and joined
illustration class at the Drexel Institute where she met fellow students
Jessie Willcox Smith,
Elizabeth Shippen Green,
and Katherine Pyle.
Her use of bold color and stained glass effects in her mixed-media drawings led to illustration assignments for Woman's Home Companion, Colliers, The Century Magazine, and others.
Her successful illustration career is noted for her close association with Green and Smith and their shared residences and studios, the “Red Rose Inn” in Villanova, Pennsylvania and “Cogslea” in Philadelphia.
A commission in 1902 to paint fourteen large murals for the Pennsylvania governor's reception room provided a breakthrough for her to enter the specialized field of mural painting.
After the sudden death of
Edwin Austin Abbey
in 1911, she was commissioned to complete his mural project for the Pennsylvania Senate and Supreme Court chambers.
A noted feminist, she was also a pacifist who became in the 1920s a self-appointed ambassador to the League of Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, where she lived for three years. In 1948 she received an honorary law degree from Drexel Institute.
Many examples of her work can be found today on-line at various Websites.
See the Image Galleries for more examples of the work of
Above: Magazine story illustration by Oakley, 1904.
Above: Cover illustration for Colliers, 1903. The three women strongly resemble Violet Oakley, right, and fellow illustrators Jessie Wilcox Smith, center, and Elizabeth Shippen Green, left.
Above: Madonna and Magi sketch for stained glass panel, 1902.
Above: Mural design for a lunette in the main hall
of a Philadelphia private residence, 1905.
Above: Study in red chalk for “The Divine Comedy,”
painted glass window design, 1912.
Above: Red chalk study For Dante Alighieri's “The Divine Comedy,”
painted glass window, 1912.
Above: Violet Oakley's self portrait
at the time of her father's death, 1900.
Above: Oakley's sketch of Dr. Tait McKensie
at work on the “Discus Thrower,” 1926.
Above: Cover illustration for Everybody's Magazine, 1902.
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