|Dates: ||1871, 19 February - 1942, 6 June|
|Born: ||US, PA, Philadelphia|
|Died: ||US, PA, Philadelphia|
Approved biography for Mathilde Weil
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)
Mathilde Weil was born in Pennsylvania in January 1872. She was interested in art from an early age, and studied drawing and painting in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Decorative Art League, and the Museum of Industrial Art, and at a summer school in Annisquam, Massachusetts.
In 1892, Weil obtained a bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr College and almost immediately secured literary positions. Between 1893 and 1896, she read manuscripts for the publisher Macmillan and she served as an editor for Book Review and American Historical Review.
Weil acquired her first camera in the winter of 1896-97 and established a portrait studio within a few months. Her only photographic training entailed six lessons at the young firm of Pancoast and Hand and generous help from members of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia. Locating her studio in Philadelphia’s main business district, Weil soon became one of the city’s most well-known portraitists. She charged the highest fees and avoided the excess retouching that was routine in photographic portraits. Her specialties were children and home and outdoor portraiture. On the latter, she wrote two articles; one made up an entire issue of Photo-Miniature (January 1904) and the other appeared in the May 1906 issue of Country Life in America.
Reportedly, most of the photographs she entered in artistic exhibitions and competitions were produced as professional work. Between 1897 and 1904, she exhibited regularly in this country and abroad. Her work was accepted by salon juries in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and London. She also exhibited at London’s Royal Photographic Society, New York’s American Institute, and camera clubs in New York, Detroit, Toronto, and Newark, Ohio. In 1900, her pictures appeared in two important shows in Europe. The first was American Women Photographers, organized by Frances Benjamin Johnston for the Paris world exposition, and the second was F. Holland Day’s New School of American Photography, seen at London’s Royal Photographic Society and in Paris the next year. Though she never officially joined the ranks of Alfred Stieglitz’s exclusive Photo-Secession group, he nonetheless included pictures by Weil in its 1902 show at the National Arts Club (New York), and in two 1904 shows, at the Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh) and the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.).
The photographic press gave Weil ink for about fifteen years, commencing in 1899 with two articles on her work. These appeared in the June issue of Photo Era and the March issue of Wilson’s Photographic Monthly. Other magazines and annuals that reproduced her pictures included American Amateur Photographer, American Photography, Photograms of the Year (London), and the Photographic Times. The January 1900 issue of Camera Notes, edited by Alfred Stieglitz, featured one of her portraits as a photogravure, the same image that had appeared the previous year in the Camera Club of New York’s portfolio, American Pictorial Photography, Series I. And, Frances Benjamin Johnston included Weil in her series "The Foremost Women Photographers in America" for the Ladies’ Home Journal, the one on Weil appearing in June 1901.
Weil was less active among pictorialists during the 1910s. Her last known show was the Portrait and Figure Exhibition, of 1911 in Hamburg, documented by her image in the December 1911 issue of American Photography. The last known reproduction of her work appeared in the American Annual of Photography 1916, a child portrait.
Weil left Philadelphia for New York in about 1920. In 1939, she relocated to Oakland, where she worked as a literary agent for two years. Mathilde Weil died in Philadelphia in June 1942, shortly after returning there.
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 1 June 2013.
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