Claude R. Hirst was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a family whose fortunes ebbed and flowed. She was known as a specialist of small still-life paintings and usually painted objects such as old books and pipes in the trompe-l’oeil style. Hirst has the distinction of being the first woman of note to paint in the trompe-l’oeil style, and was unusual in that she was supremely talented in painting these “trick the eye” compositions in watercolor. It was said that she alternated between oil and watercolor with such facility that one critic noted, ‘It is difficult to distinguish the oils from the watercolors, so perfect is the execution in both.’” Viewers who followed the trend at the time of antique book collecting found great joy in her paintings of crisp-looking pages and worn-leather bindings of old books.

Hirst studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy (then called the McMicken School) with John Noble, and later moved to New York to study with Agnes Abbatt, John David Smillie, and Charles Courtney Curran. During the early 1880s, she painted mostly smaller floral still-lifes. Hirst’s trompe-l’oeil style came to fruition during the late 1880s upon meeting the noted trompe still-life painter William Harnett, who set up a studio next to hers at 30 East 14th Street in New York City. His influence on her painting style is clear in her adoption of “masculine” objects such as pipes, tobacco, pouches, and matches.

Her work was often mistaken as the work of a man, because she had changed her name from Claudine to Claude in an effort to camouflage herself in the male-dominated art world.

Hirst exhibited her work at the National Academy of Design from 1882 until 1905. In 1901 she married William Crothers Fitler but continued to exhibit under her own name. By the time she died at the age of eighty-seven, she suffered from poverty and obscurity and her burial was paid for by an artist’s society.

Claude Hirst’s paintings are represented in private & museum collections throughout the United States.


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