Like her friend and colleague Lilian Westcott Hale, Gretchen Woodman Rogers studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts with Edmund Tarbell. Tarbell said that Rogers was “the best pupil I ever had … a genius.” She became an accomplished figure painter, much admired during her own time but little known today. She apparently abandoned her career during the 1930s, unable to earn her living as an artist during the Depression and unwilling to paint only as an amateur.
Something of Rogers’s professional determination might be gleaned from Woman in a Fur Hat. While it was never exhibited as such, contemporary critics noted that this image was her own self-portrait. The figure’s steady, appraising gaze is typical of such works, which are most often made by looking into a mirror. But Rogers gives the viewer no hint that the woman she depicts is an artist, for she wears the elegant winter hat and fur wrap of a well-bred lady and there are no brushes or palette to be seen. Despite her apparent modesty, Rogers’s likeness is a tour-de-force of painting. She includes a variety of textures and materials—velvet, wool, fur, and flesh—each one rendered with absolute verisimilitude. Like many of her Boston School colleagues, Rogers respected the long history and tradition of painting. Her thoughtful, unpretentious woman, surrounded by a gentle, radiant light, is reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (about 1665, Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands), one of the Dutch artist’s most mesmerizing pictures. By referring to this well-known painting in her image of a contemporary woman, Rogers links past and present, projecting an exquisite and timeless impression of strength and confidence.