Jessie Willcox Smith
Influences, Style and Techniques
Jessie, no doubt, was influenced by the other women students at Drexel. As a group, they had a decorative style that was different than the menís realistic style. They were a close group, all from Philadelphia and remained friendly throughout their lives. This closeness contributed to their common characteristics like the striking outlines and flat shapes, inspired by Art Nouveau and Japanese prints.  Whitney, Helen Hay, The
Bed-Time Book, Duffield,
.Jessie shared these characteristics with Oakley and Green as well as a studio. They were all excellent draftsmen with an affinity for the decorative, they all used a similar technique and generally their subjects exuded a nostalgic charm. They all used a defining line to depict large flat shapes with little modeling done in charcoal. Smith used this technique to draw attention to a central figure and is probably the most recognizable feature of her work. For color reproduction they would add a layer of fixative and washes of transparent watercolor. Often times, a few final touches and highlights would be added in gouache.  Sometimes Jessie would varnish over the drawing to add highlights in oil. Images from The Bed-Time Book show clearly the use of this technique. Wells, Carolyn, The Seven
Ages of Childhood, Moffat,
Yard and Company, 1909
(Green Tiger Press, 1989)
Jessie admired the work of Mary Cassatt whose work also exhibited large flat poster like shapes. Even her subject matter seemed to mirror that of Jessieís, maternal love. Later, Jessie relied less and less on the dark outlines and her images took on a more painterly quality. Two books that were done in this style were Water Babies by Charles Kingsley in 1916 and The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald in 1920. She felt that The Water Babies was her best work. So much so that she bequeathed the twelve original oil paintings to the Library of Congress.
Kingsley, Charles, The
Water Babies, Dodd, 1916.
"Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater" from
The Jessie Willcox Smith Mother Goose, Dodd, 1914.
"Mother Goose" from The Jessie Willcox
Smith Mother Goose, Dodd, 1914.
Biography of Jessie Willcox Smith

Books Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith

© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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