21 June 2016

Intertidal Life: Guzzle in Sight

I don't know what was uppermost in the mind of Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts  when she painted A Beach Afternoon, whether it was the tide going out on a summer day or the people breathing in the briny air.  But I know what I thought when I first discovered it: "Aha!   There's a guzzle."

The linguistic origins of the word guzzle are still in dispute but Massachusetts owns the word now.    In Cape Cod (1865), Henry David Thoreau described seeing a whale on the beach  "dragging in over the bars and guzzles."  Historian John R. Stilgoe includes guzzle in a category that he calls "topographical localisms," meaning a word that comes into being because it fills a need to name something that local people recognize.  Low spots on the beach, caused by the movement of wind and water,  sometimes capture enough  water that it too courses as large ocean waves do.  Sometimes a guzzle breaks through a sandbar at low tide to become a  tidal channel.

 "I can paint as well as any man." -  Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts

That confidence was hard won.   Although born into a prosperous family who could easily pay for her tuition at Academie Julian, Roberts's desire to become a p[painter was opposed by her mother.  Roberts persevered and one of her paintings  was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1892.  She became estranged from her father following his interference in her career.   Following a serious illness and an operation in1926,  Roberts was hospitalized for depression at Massachusetts General Hospital.  It was there that she hung herself on March 12, 1927.

I know I keep repeating this but -  little has been written about the work and life of Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts (1871-1927).   Some information is contained in the Archives of the Concord Art Association and in files of the Boston Public Library.  I only know this after reading "Elizabeth Roberts and the Concord Art Association" from the Massachusetts Painters Projects (Boston, Vose Archives: 1993.)

Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts  - A Beach Afternoon, c.1910, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Hels said...

What a sad end :( Roberts achieved two of my measures of success in late C19th Paris - being a student at Academie Julian and having at least one of her paintings accepted by the Paris Salon. But many women's names don't last ... they disappear into a historical blur.

Jane said...

Hels, that historical blur is caused by men blowing smoke in the air to confuse us!