Louisville Artist Marguerite Gifford

Marguerite Peters Gifford was a fixture on the art scene in Louisville from the early 1940s through the 1960s.  Born in 1877, Gifford was educated in the Louisville public school system and at the prestigious Semple Collegiate School. Early on she became an active member of community organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, and served as president of the Woman’s Club of Louisville. At this point, Gifford’s life was typical of a woman of her class.  Then, in 1937,  about two years after the death of her husband, she took a trip that changed her life.

Gifford set off in the summer of 1937 for a two-month tour sponsored by the International School of Art. After visiting artists in four European countries, when her tour group was scheduled to depart, the 60 year old widow decided to remain on the continent, traveling extensively until the fall of 1941. During her 4-1/2 year, world-wide travels Gifford witnessed notable events, such as the meeting of Mussolini and Hitler in Florence.  She was close enough to see that “Hitler looked cold and ordinary and Mussolini warm and expensive.”

She also sailed to far-off locations, including New Zealand, Bombay, Hong Kong and Thailand.

 Greetings from Bangkok

These journeys allowed her to experience the different cultures of the areas and her artwork reflected that variety. In certain areas, like New Caledonia, she was so inspired by the natives that she extended her stay in order to paint them.

 Kanaka Chief from New Caledonia

Gifford’s travels also allowed her to learn about and experiment with different artistic mediums. In London she took lessons in watercolor painting and in Japan she was introduced to woodblock printing.

Woodblock Print

Upon her return to the U.S., Gifford became a well-known figure on the local art scene. She was repeatedly featured in the Louisville Courier-Journal, and often exhibited at local venues as well as in galleries outside the state. Gifford also continued to study art, working with Fritz Pfeiffer in Provincetown, Massachusetts. With her global experiences, her work in several media, her strong support of the arts and her Old Louisville community, Gifford established herself as an important force in the Kentucky art scene.

The Bridwell Art Library has the papers of Marguerite Gifford, a small collection that includes her sketchbook, drawings, photographs, her abundantly-stamped passport and the texts of lectures she delivered in Louisville.

Written with Colton Wilson, student assistant in the Art Library


3 Comments on “Louisville Artist Marguerite Gifford”

  1. Nicole Alger says:

    Hello,
    Ms. Gifford is kin to me—-she created a brilliant portrait of my mother and aunt, in watercolor, during one summer in the mid 40s when they girls were small. It is still in the possession of my aunt. I read this bio and noted that you made a significant mistake. If she was born in ’87 and travelled in ’37, that would have made her 50, not 60, when she set sail.

    Regards,
    Nicole Alger

  2. Nicole Alger says:

    I just read she was born in 1877, not 1887, as you state here. So, one of the dates is wrong!


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