George Laurence Nelson

Portrait of My Wife an Beatrice“Laurence’s mother, Alice Kerr-Nelson Hirschberg, often referred to in American circles as THE Woman of the Century, was the one person who had the greatest influence upon him. By coincidence the day of Laurence’s funeral was his mother’s one hundred and twenty-eighth birthday.

She was the daughter of George William Kerr-Nelson, Lord of Chaddleworth Manor in Northcutt, Middlesex, England – an estate going back to 1068 when it was conferred by William the Conqueror. It was lived in by Eleanor, Queen of Edward I, who in 1283 gave it to the Priory of Ambresbury in whose custody it remained until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1544. In 1576 the Manor passed to William Nelson, Chief Prothonotary of the Court of England, and it stayed in Laurence’s family until his mother’s time.”

“Among the ancestors of Alice Hirschberg was Elizabeth Kerr, England’s most noted painter of flowers, an artist who startled England with an art exhibit in London in 1763, daring to become a professional artist in a man’s world. John Henry Nelson was another member of this family, still hailed today in England for his portraits of the nobility in the nascent years of the last century. Alice’s grandfather, not a direct descendant but a nephew, to qualify for inheritance of the Manor, had to change, or rather add, the name Nelson to his original name, Richard Walter Kerr.

Hence the name Alice Kerr-Nelson. It was into this background of artists, rich in history, talented in artistic ability, that George Laurence Hirschberg was born. By the age of four he was drawing animals, and at five sketching portraits, generally of his mother. In 1897 when he was ten, as a vehicle for his drawing and writing, Laurence began a magazine, written in pencil on tablet paper, first calling it The American Monthly Paper, changed to The American Weekly Paper as the issues became more numerous, and then to The Weekly Duet when his brother Edgar joined as assistant editor.”exhibit1-small

“By this time the family had moved to Buffalo and there Laurence attended local schools, being an editor of the high school review. In 1904 his crayon sketch of a cow won first prize, a pair of skates, still at Seven Hearths, in a contest sponsored by Crayola Crayons.

It would be the first in a legion of awards and prizes that he would gather during the long years ahead. After high school graduation, he returned to New York City to enter the Art Students League to begin his formal study of art.

It was at this point in time that the three Hirschberg brothers changed their name to Nelson because of the anti-German sentiment in New York, and because of the discrimination Carl Hirschberg had suffered as an artist, one German-born but an American citizen. Four years later at the age of twenty-one Laurence began teaching at the National Academy of Design, and he opened his studio at 10 W. 61st Street.”

“In, 1911, he sailed for London; he would remain in Europe – France, Spain, Italy – for two years, studying under Laurens, Gerome and Constance at the Beaux Arts and Academie Julian. His reputation had grown quickly. Before leaving for Europe he had been commissioned by Mrs. Henry Clay Frick to copy twenty paintings in the Metropolitan Museum for her home, now known as the Frick Museum. She and her friends sat for him for portraits and by the time he left for Europe his was an international acclaim.”

“He spent his time well in Europe, going to museums where he copied famous Masters, studying technique, color and design. He loved the region of Normandy best, and he spent much of his time in the area about Douarnenez, as his father had before him.

Many of his paintings of this early period are those depicting the people and the landscape of this area, including the monumental Washerwomen, still at Seven Hearths (an award winning work).

Because of the illness of his mother, he ended his foreign studies, returning to the United States in 1913, shortly before her death.

He established his studio first at 15 W. 67th Street, and then at 33 on the same street, remaining there until he and his father moved to Good Hill and then to Seven Hearths, in Kent, CT, where they began their summer school for painting (room and board being twenty-five cents per week).”
mrs-nelson“Late in 1915 a young critic from The New York Globe, a leading fashion model of New York society, came to his studio for an interview for a feature article on his work. Her name was Helen Charlotta Redgrave.

But instead of her doing an interview with him, Laurence painted her portrait, a profile of one whom he called the most beautiful girl in the world. Judging from the painting, she was indeed all that he claimed.

On August 21, 1916, they were married, and for fifty-six years Helen and Laurence complemented one another in writing and painting, in ink and in pigment, in theatre and opera, flowers and people, city and country, doting on their daughter Beatrice, affectionately known as Bunny, and their grandchild Bonny.”
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