In 1920, at the tender age of 19, Chicago-born artist Virginia Frances Sterrett received her first commission from The Penn Publishing Company to illustrate Old French Fairy Tales — a collection of works from the nineteenth-century French author, Comtesse de Ségur (Sophie Fedorovna Rostopchine). Shortly after completing the work Sterrett was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She would manage a few other commissions, including illustrations for Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales the following year, and for a 1928 edition of Arabian Nights, but her failing health meant she could only work in short bursts. She eventually passed away in 1931, at the age of 30.
Her achievement was beauty, a delicate, fantastic beauty, created with brush and pencil. Almost unschooled in art, her life spent in prosaic places of the West and Middle West, she made pictures of haunting loveliness, suggesting Oriental lands she never saw and magical realms no one ever knew except in the dreams of childhood ...
Perhaps it was the hardships of her own life that gave the young artist's work its fanciful quality. In the imaginative scenes she set down on paper she must have escaped from the harsh actualities of existence.
August 2, 2011