Bessie Collins Pease Gutmann
(1876–1960)
Perhaps best known for her heartwarming art prints featuring innocent children during the early part of the twentieth century, Bessie Pease Gutmann achieved worldwide fame. Through licensing, she is still greatly admired today by collectors everywhere.

Childhood

Born on April 8, 1876 in Philadelphia, PA to Horace Collins Pease, a tobacco salesman, and Margaretta Darrach Young, a young Bessie Collins Pease Gutmann showed an early interest in art. She was encouraged to formally study art by her parents and her teachers.

Education

After graduating from high school at the age of sixteen, she attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women from 1893 to 1894, where the emphasis was on both professional and fine art education. It is interesting to note that Jessie Willcox Smith had also attended the School of Design for Women ten years earlier. Gutmann later attended the New York School of Art from 1896 to 1898 and the Art Students League from 1899 to 1901.

Professional Career

Gutmann ‘s career started slowing with commissions for portrait sketches, illustrating local newspaper advertisements, etc. Not content with these small jobs or with the opportunities available to a woman of the day, she persisted. It was not until 1903, when the Gutmann brothers, Hellmuth and Bernhard, hired her as a commercial artist, that she found her niche. They had started the art print firm, Gutmann and Gutmann, the previous year, and found their relationship with the ambitious artist to be financially and personally satisfying. So much so, that on July 14, 1906 Hellmuth and Bessie married, putting an end to the predictions of spinsterhood for Bessie.

Her first children’s book was A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1905. More books followed, including an especially lovely 1907 version of Carroll Lewis’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but by 1912, destiny was calling.

Children soon followed after the Gutmann’s marriage and, in them, Alice, Lucille and John, Gutmann found her inspiration. The critics and the public soon took notice and art prints of her endearing children soon graced the walls of many nurseries. Her work also appeared on postcards, calendars, and periodicals such as Pictorial Review, McCall’s, Chicago Sunday Tribune, and the Washington Post.

Gutmann’s heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s, but the cruelties of World War II brought an age of innocence quickly to an end, and a decline to Gutmann’s popularity. A shortage of good quality paper and adequate labor during the war also hindered production. By 1947, Gutmann decided to stop producing art, after almost fifty years and over six hundred art prints to her credit, because of failing eyesight. The next year, after Hellmuth’s death, Gutmann and Gutmann was sold.

Gutmann died on September 29, 1960 in Centerport, New York. After her death, three children’s books were published which included images from her art prints and anthologies of poems or songs. Her winning art prints of endearing children are still as admired as ever and, with the recent formation of a national organization to promote her art, should be for a long time to come.

Influences & Style

Gutmann hails from what is now called the Golden Age of Illustration, the late 1800s to early 1900s. This is due in part to a booming industrialized economy, and to improved printing techniques, which allowed such lavish illustrations by the likes of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac to be produced into extravagant gift books. Stateside, there was another force behind this phenomenon, namely, Howard Pyle. Almost overnight, he changed the face of illustration when he opened the doors to his school for illustrators, training for the first time young artists to become illustrators.

While it is true that young Gutmann did not attend Pyle’s Drexel Institute, the school was based in Philadelphia and she must have been aware of what her contemporaries were producing. When comparing her early work from A Child’s Garden of Verses or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with that of Jessie Willcox Smith or Elizabeth Shippen Green, both Drexel graduates, it is clear to see a similar style—black outlines with flat shapes of color. Eventually, Gutmann was able to find her own visual voice, one as soft as her subjects. 

Raison d’Être

It would seem that Gutmann had it all, family, talent and a blossoming career. But how was she able to pull it off when her contemporary Jessie Willcox Smith felt that she had to choose between a career and a family? I’m not sure what the answer is except to say that because her client was her husband’s business, perhaps certain concessions were made to facilitate her workload.

Children’s Books Illustrated

  • Stevenson, Robert Louis, A Child's Garden of Verses, New York, Dodge, 1905.

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  • Cooke, Edmund Vance, Chronicles of the Little Tot (with Clyde O. Deland), New York, Dodge, 1905.

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  • Dalton, Agnes McClelland, From Sioux to Susan, Century, 1905.

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  • Cooke, Edmund Vance, The Biography of Our Baby, New York, Dodge, 1906.

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  • Cooke, Edmund Vance, Told to the Little Tot, New York, Dodge, 1906.

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  • Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, New York, Dodge, 1907.

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  • Dunham, Edith, The Diary of a Mouse, Dodge, 1907.

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  • Our Baby’s Early Days: A Chronicle of Many Happy Hours, Best & Co., 1908.

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  • Carroll, Lewis, Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There, New York, Dodge, 1909.

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  • Our Darling's Book of Play, R.C. Co., 1909.

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  • Childhood Days, New York, Hurst, 1912.

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  • Nursery Poems and Prayers, Putnam, 1990.

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  • Nursery Songs and Lullabies, Putnam, 1990.

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  • I Love You: Verses and Sweet Sayings, Putnam, 1991.

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  • Book of the Bride.

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  • Story Book for Boys and Girls, New York, Hurst & Company.
Art Print Images

More Images from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
(This site will open in a new window.)

Website on Bessie Pease Gutmann
(This site will open in a new window.)

Stevenson, Robert Louis,
A Child's Garden of
Verses, 1905.
Stevenson, Robert Louis,
A Child's Garden of
Verses, 1905.
Cooke, Edmund Vance,
The Biography of Our
Baby, New York, Dodge,
1906.
Cooke, Edmund Vance,
The Biography of Our
Baby, New York, Dodge,
1906.
Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland,
New York, Dodge, 1907.
Image courtesty of David Neal.
Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland,
New York, Dodge, 1907.
Image courtesty of David Neal.
Childhood Days, New York, Hurst, 1912.
Story Book for Boys and
Girls, New York, Hurst &
Company.
Nursery Songs & Lullabies, New
York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1990.

Sources

Telgen, Diane, Something About the Author Volume 73, Detroit, Gale Research, 1993.
Christie, Victor J.W., Bessie Pease Gutmann: Her Life and Works
© 2000–2002 Denise Ortakales

All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
Bessie Pease Gutmann® is a registered trademark of the Balliol Corporation.

This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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