Josephine Miles Lewis

Josephine Miles Lewis (1865-1959) was an American Impressionist painter best known for her expressive portraits of women and children. Born on March 10, 1865, Josephine Miles Lewis was the daughter of Henry Gould Lewis, a multi-term mayor of New Haven, and Julia Coley Lewis. Lewis studied at the Yale School of Fine Art, which was the first professional art school established at an American university when it was founded in 1864, and, also, the first department at Yale to grant degrees to women. Lewis earned a certificate from the Yale School of Fine Art in 1897, followed by her bachelor of arts in 1891. Lewis holds the distinction of earning the first undergraduate degree awarded by Yale to a woman, and also the first time that Yale awarded a bachelor’s degree to a student from the School of Fine Art, as opposed to the lesser certificates granted to prior art students.

From 1892 to 1897, Josephine Miles Lewis, along with her sister Matilda, continued her studies in Paris at the Academie Julian, where she trained with professors Frederick MacMonnies and Edmond Aman-Jean. The Lewis sisters spent their summers during these years as members of the artist colony at Giverny, where both French and American artists were drawn to the circle of Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Josephine Miles Lewis concluded her studies in France by exhibiting at the Paris Salon of 1897, before returning home to the United States to establish her studio at Carnegie Hall in New York City, one of 170 built as live-work spaces for artists added shortly after Carnegie Hall was built in 1891.

From 1897 until 1943, Lewis divided her time between her New York studio, her family home in New Haven, and summers at Scituate, where she was a member of a robust artist colony that included fellow artists who had studied in Paris and Giverny such as Theodora Thayer, Mabel Stuart, Alice Beckington, Thomas B. Meteyard, and Cyrus Dallin.

From 1910 on, Lewis focused her work on portraits of women and children. Lewis’s works in the Scituate Historical Society collection reflects the loose brushwork, informal posing, and expressive features that characterize many of Lewis’s portraits of children. In 1943, Lewis moved to Scituate permanently, where she continued to paint until the end of her life. Lewis was known to paint portraits of local Scituate children, some of which are in the collection of the Scituate Historical Society and shown above.

In 1955, at the age of 90, Josephine Miles Lewis held a solo exhibition at the Childs Gallery in Boston, which would be her last exhibition. Her work can be found in several museum collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Farnsworth Art Museum. In
1916, the National Academy of Design awarded Josephine Miles Lewis the Julia A. Shaw award for her painting A Rainy Day, praising Lewis’s portrait of two young women as among, “the most meritorious art produced by an American woman.”

Fahlman, Betsy. Women Art Students at Yale, 1869-1913: Never True Sons of the University, Woman’s Art Journal, Spring-Summer, 1991, Vol. 12, No.1, pp. 15-23.

Schiff, Judith, The First Female Students at Yale, Yale Alumni Magazine, September/October, 2009.

Obituary: Josephine Lewis, 95, Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, May 12, 1959, p.19.

See also:
Ridgway Hall research material on Josephine Miles Lewis, 1887-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Curriculum Connections

This Scituate Historical Society Collections Highlight connects with the following Massachusetts State Curriculum Frameworks:


 5-6.V.R.07 Perceive and analyze artistic work. Analyze how an artwork’s form (e.g., portrait, sculpture, installation, textile art) compares and contrasts with others of the same type or period.

7-8.V.R.07 Perceive and analyze artistic work. Analyze elements of a work that are indicative of the historical or cultural context in which it was created.

7-8.V.R.08 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Explain how an artistic work was influenced by the culture or historical context in which it was created.

7-8.V.R.11 Relate artistic ideas and works to societal, cultural and historical contexts to deepen understanding. Identify visual ideas from a variety of cultures connected to different historical populations.

P.V.R.07 Perceive and analyze artistic work. Use contextual and aesthetic information to construct interpretations of an artwork or collection of works.

P.V.R.08 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Compare and contrast the artistic elements that make art unique (e.g., compare and contrast how contemporary installation art is different from contemporary realistic portraits).

A.V.R.08 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Analyze the ways one’s own cultural and personal perspectives and biases affect understanding of a visual work.

A.V.Co.11 Relate artistic ideas and works to societal, cultural and historical contexts to deepen understanding. Identify the historical and cultural contexts that caused shifting of stylistic elements between artistic movements.