In Apron Strings, 1911
Oil on canvas
30 x 32 inches
Signed lower right
Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones was born in Baltimore in 1885, and later spent her childhood in Philadelphia. Her parents, Reverend John Sparhawk Jones, D.D., and Harriet Sterett Winchester, encouraged her interest in art, a talent for which she demonstrated as early as seven years of age. At only 15 years old, she left school to attend the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).
The present work, In Apron Strings,debuted at the 106th Annual Exhibition at PAFA, where it was praised by critics for its vibrant palette and superb brushwork. Bathed in a wash of bright morning light, a mother, her three children and nursemaid sit on a bench in a verdant park. Sparhawk-Jones effectively captured the spring atmosphere using quick, loose brushstrokes to reveal the pink floral buds and numerous shades of green on the blossoming trees. The young child at left leans indifferently on the lap of his mother, catching the viewer’s gaze from underneath his cap. The affluent mother wears a navy dress and an elaborate hat decorated with small white flowers evocative of the season. Two blue-eyed, cherubic babies at the center of the composition wear ethereal white gowns and caps and appear to glow in the sunlight. The nursemaid at the right gazes back at the viewer with a knowing look. The two women anchor the scene, acting as pedestals for the young children. The title both references the useful attire, as well as a symbolic reference to the important roles of the mother and nursemaid in raising and protecting children.