Donna Norine Schuster, Impressionist Artist

Donna Norine Schuster, Sleep 1917

Sleep, oil on canvas, 1917

Donna Schuster, Nude Bathers circa 1920-30

Nude Bathers. Watercolor, pencil, and gouache, circa 1920-30

            Donna Norine Schuster was born on January 26th, 1883 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She moved to Illinois to study at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago and graduated with honors. After graduating, her persistent drive to study art did not end so she moved to Boston, Massachusetts and enrolled in School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Two skilled Impressionist artists named Edmund Tarbell and Frank Bensen taught at the School of Fine Arts and Schuster was fortunate to be trained under them. Schuster’s active years in artmaking not only showed her strong sense of withholding a firm understanding of academia on the artistic side, but it also enabled her to be adaptable and versatile with different art styles throughout her career.

Schuster’s earlier paintings closely resembled to Mary Cassatt’s where her subject matter consisted of portraits of the sitter spending leisure time outdoors or indoors, like most Impressionists artists. In 1913, Schuster moved to Carmel, California and took classes under William Merritt Chase. Then 1915, she won a silver award at the Panama Pacific International Exposition that was held in San Francisco. She continued to produce more paintings and started to gain recognition. Her 1917 oil painting, Sleep had caused such an uproar; the painting is of a female model sleeping in a hammock under the shade, breasts exposed. Sleep illustrated the model in a tranquil state as she is surrounded by nature, undisturbed but at the same time there is a sense of vulnerability that the viewer would want to cover the sleeper or rather, be the sleeper themselves.

Schuster understood the power of composition as she studied Cassatt’s technique and signature motif by bringing the figure close to the picture plane and cropping them at the torso to bring emphasis on the subject[1]. In the mid-1920s, Schuster considered different styles more seriously and her artwork in the 1930s to the 1950s reflected her adapting to the art trends that had occurred. Her paintings became “flatter, more two-dimensional forms and non-representational colors of modernism were rapidly gaining momentum…”[2]. In her later works, she was also aware of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors so she studied his style of using a looser medium compared to what she was most comfortable with. That ultimately helped Schuster develop more expressive paintings such as Nude Bathers, circa 1920-30 which was also made with pencil and gouache.

Most Southern Californian women artists would paint their subject matter safe, unconventional, representational works, and with a conservative approach but on the other hand, Schuster was an exception from the norm. Schuster’s paintings are usually applied in loose brushstrokes that are carefully meditated as she brings a balance with her choice of bright color palettes. She approached color arbitrarily rather than objectively which mirrored Impressionist artists Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. Eventually conservative art began to fade as modernism began to rise after the World War. Her body of work is also best described as being in “two more or less equal categories: archetypal impressionist scenes of figures in suburban environments on the one hand, and forceful, simplified figurative and landscape imagery on the other”[3]. Her ability to paint one way and another is largely partly due to her extensive art education she learned from her instructors. Their teachings were a huge influence to her well-rounded artistic styles that it created a strong foundation for her skills to create works of art that had strong breadth and consistency.

In 1921, Schuster moved to California and resided in Los Angeles. Her late years of her art career she taught at Otis Art Institute and was heavily involved in her organizations she participated and founded. She founded the California Watercolor Society and was Vice President of The Women’s Art Club of Southern California; she was a member of the California Art Club, the Laguna Beach Art Association, and West Coast Arts. She died on December 27th, 1953 when she was running into her burning house to rescue her dogs that were trapped inside. The fire was caused by a bush fire nearby Griffith Park.



 

Footnotes

[1] Patricia Trenton and Roberta Gittens, “Donna Schuster: afloat on currents of change,” Southwest Art 22, no. 9 (1993): 70.

[2] Patricia Trenton, editor; with essays by Sandra D’Emilio…et al. Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945. Berkeley: Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Association with the University of California Press, 1995. 71.

[3] Susan Landauer, William H. Gerdts, and Patricia Trenton, The not-so-still life: a century of California painting and sculpture (San Jose: University of California Press, Ltd., 2003), 49.

 

Bibliography

Landauer, Susan, Gerdes, William H., and Trenton, Patricia. The not-so-still life: a century of

    California painting and sculpture. San Jose: University of California Press, Ltd., 2003. 

Trenton, Patricia, editor; with D’Emilio, Sandra…et al. Independent Spirits: Women Painters of

    the American West, 1890-1945. Berkeley: Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Association  

    with the University of California Press, 1995. 

Trenton, Patricia and Gittens, Roberta. “Donna Norine Schuster: afloat on currents of change,”

   Southwest Art 22, no. 9 (1993).

Donna Norine Schuster, Impressionist Artist