Painting of the Week: Masks, c. 1936

Mar 25, 2023 | Articles & Exhibits, Photo

Every week during the exhibit “Aurora’s Own Ruth Van Sickle Ford,” we will feature one of the more than two dozen watercolor and oil paintings on display from March 3-May 13, 2023, at the Pierce Art and History Center. Accompanying the images will be commentary by art conservator and Aurora Historical Society museum assistant Scott Sherwood. We hope you will be engaged and enlightened by this feature and that you will come to the Pierce Center to see the paintings up close and personal. Exhibit hours are listed below.

Masks, c. 1936

Beauty contrasted with … something else. There is no shortage of that theme in western art. Beautiful young men and women have posed for centuries, full of confidence and self-satisfaction and seemingly oblivious to real life. See the c1530 oil portrait by Agnolo Bronzino for a famous example.

This oil painting by Ruth Ford, c. 1936, is part of that tradition. By using the title “Masks”, she might be saying that the woman and the object on the chest of drawers are both masked. If so, this is a somewhat trenchant commentary on vanity which shouldn’t surprise too much given how famously outspoken Mrs. Ford was. Earlier in this series, we saw how a question mark inserted into a title (“Progress?”) can add the opinion of the artist to the work of art.

Scott Sherwood, Art Conservator and Museum Assistant

Contrary to the belief of some, this is not a self-portrait of Ruth; the woman depicted is unidentified. Ruth painted it as she was becoming the owner/director of the Chicago Academy of the Fine Arts. At the time, she made a trip to New York where several oils were on display at the Grand Central Galleries. “Masks” was selected in 1939 to be part of a traveling exhibition of women artists, including Georgia O’Keefe and Mary Cassatt. This is one of those works in which the eyes of the subject seem to follow you.

Cleaned and restored by art conservator Scott Sherwood in 2012.

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