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Portrait of Mary Jane Allen-Lock

August Cook
SMA 2008.04.20

oil on canvas

ca. 1959 - 1963

33 x 40 inches

84 x 102 centimeters

Gift of Katherine & Howard A. Cook

about the work

Woman in Red Plaid Jacket is a portrait Cook painted of one of his students, whom the museum has identified as Mary Jane Allen-Lock, while she attended Converse College between 1959 and 1963. 

An exhibition label affixed to the painting’s back stretcher, presumably by Cook himself, notes that the work is “not for sale” but that “prices are available upon inquiry”. The small label is handwritten with stick-and-ink in a finely-crafted, delicate calligraphic script, reminiscent of the care with which small details, such as the sitter’s eyebrows, have been  rendered in the painting itself. The handwritten exhibition label and  contradictory information about the work’s availability for purchase seem to indicate that the work was one which Cook was either especially proud of, or which held some sentimental value for him. 

Cook was known to hand-carve frames for his work, and although not pictured here, this  piece’s mount is no exception. Taken together, al l these seemingly  insignificant details reveal the careful, thorough, and considered character of Cook himself.

about the artist

August Cook entered the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art, now known as  PAFA, in 1917, a year after the death of Ashcan School artist Thomas Eakins. The college’s  curriculum echoed that of traditional atelier training; students drew from plaster casts, then from live models and still lives – only moving  on to the traditionally more serious disciplines of portraiture,  landscape, and figure painting after a long process of refinement and  technical development. Cook may have acquired his taste for approaching  the art process with discipline and rigor at PAFA, or his experiences  there may have merely strengthened a pre-existing commitment to those  values; but discipline, rigor, and deliberation characterized his  life-long approach to both art education and art-making.

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