Blog post#2: Illustration’s Early Masters – Virginia Frances Sterrett

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Virginia portrait

Virginia Frances Sterrett was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1900. She is known to be an introverted child which means she would rather be in her own world of imagination and drawing than interaction with other children in school. When her father passed away, she and her family moved to Missouri where their relatives were. Later on, when she was 13, she won several awards at Kansas State Fair that event had encouraged Virginia to focus even more on Drawing. Two years later, her family moved back to Chicago where she went to high school with the goal to study art but she soon attended the Art Institute of Chicago and she also received a full scholarship. Unfortunately, Virginia mom became ill one year later which forced her to quit studying to get a job and support her family.

old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
One page of Virginia’s illustration in the Old French Fairytales

It was not long before her own health began to fail; she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Her first commission came in 1919. She was commissioned by Penn Publishing Company to illustrate the Comptesse de Ségur’s Old French Fairy Tales. She was 19 and received $500 for the eight watercolors and 16 pen and ink drawings, with a supplemental $250 for a colored drawing for the cover and ink drawings for the end papers and boards. This was quickly followed by another commission for Tanglewood Tales from the same publisher, Penn Publishing Company.

Illustration from Tanglewood Tales by Virginia Frances Sterrett (1920)
Illustration from Tanglewood Tales by Virginia Frances Sterrett

Illustration from Tanglewood Tales by Virginia Frances Sterrett (1920)
Illustration from Tanglewood Tales by Virginia Frances Sterrett 

In 1923, the family moved to the warmer climate of southern California, making their home in Altadena, nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains just north of Pasadena. There was a slight improvement in her health, but it didn’t last, and she entered Compton Sanitorium. Her health was now curtailing her work, and she could only draw for a short time each day. She started a new series of illustrations for Arabian Nights but the declining state of her health, it took three years to complete. The Arabian Nights, her last published works, are considered her masterpiece. 

Aladdin Greeted the Princess with Joy by Virginia
Aladdin Made His Way to the Sultan’s Palace by Virginia

In 1930, Virginia began work on her last commission, a series of illustration for Myths and Legends. This commission was never completed; her health took a turn for the worse and she died on June 8, 1931. She was 31 years old. 

Kết quả hình ảnh cho Virginia Frances Sterrett
Illustration from Old French Fairy Tales by Virginia Frances Sterrett 

  My personal opinion:

I can see that Virginia artworks somewhat reflect her personality, the mood in her artwork is always calm and mystery. Everything she drew is style like from human figure to natural elements such as the ocean wave, trees. She has a unique way of seeing a world and to see that in her art is incredible. I love the way she used cool tone for the background warm tone in her illustration series for the Old French Fairy Tales. Moreover, most details in the background often rendered with one specific curve which made the figure stand out more. In addition, I admired the fact that Virginia has gone through so may hardship but she still able to produce such amazing work until the end of her life.


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