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Still Life with Apples by Nellie Smith (Hathaway) Strobridge

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In this rare, signed work, the artist supplants the formal for the informal. Instead of a highly polished tabletop produced by man, the fruit is presented in a natural setting, on a table of grass, moss, and soil.

The subject is not idealized; the apples appear as they would in nature, with blemishes intact, and fading leaves bear evidence of autumn’s kiss and insect’s bite. The still life genre often represented the bounty and material pleasures of life, but so, too, can it be viewed as an indication of the reality of life’s fleeting nature – all things must wither and die.

The painting is housed in its original frame that, interestingly, bears the pencil inscription “Bryant Chapin April 9th” on the reverse, perhaps indicating some relationship between Strobridge and the Fall River School artist Bryant Chapin (1859-1927).

Two related versions of this painting exist, both with family provenance.


  • In memory of Joan L. Borden, the gift of her husband.

Details of Painting

  • Artist : Nellie Strobridge
  • Artist Dates : 1860-1947
  • Genre : Still Life
  • Year : Undated
  • Material : Oil on Canvas
  • Dimension : 18" x 12"
  • Object ID# : 2022.12.2

About the Artist

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Nellie Strobridge

Fall River, Massachusetts

Nellie Smith (Hathaway) Strobridge (American, 1860-1947), is a little-known still life and landscape artist who was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, and moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, with her family in the early 1870s.

Virtually nothing is known about her childhood or education, but, according to family tradition, she exhibited artistic ability from a young age and was constantly sketching, a habit that continued throughout her long life. She was also a talented woodcarver.

On December 22, 1880, Nellie married Benjamin Franklin Strobridge (1848-1881), a machinist by trade, who was employed by her father as a carpenter. Frank, as he was called, was a United States Army veteran and had been discharged in 1872 due to a disability, having contracted tuberculosis while in service. The newlyweds departed on a wedding tour of Maine; their union was brief. Exactly one month later, while on their return to Fall River, Frank, whose health had never been robust, experienced a relapse and died in Boston, having suffered a hemorrhage of the lungs.

She had left Fall River in the raiment’s of a bride and returned to her parent’s house in the weeds of a widow. Nellie Strobridge never remarried.

Either by personal choice or acquiescing to the social mores of the day, Strobridge epitomized the role of the dutiful daughter, caring for her mother, who, although she lived until 1901, never fully recovered after the birth of her youngest child in 1881. Strobridge managed her parents’ household, cared for her siblings, and, after her mother’s death, tended to her aging father. Following his death in 1920, she continued to keep house for her brothers.

But there was time for Strobridge. According to family tradition, it was after her husband’s death that she began to seriously study oil painting, receiving formal instruction as a student of Robert Spear Dunning (1829-1905), Fall River’s preeminent still life specialist and founder of the Fall River School. It was in his studio that she honed her natural talent. This hypothesis, although credible, remains Hathaway family lore and has not been documented. Yet, despite her ambiguous training, the artist produced highly accomplished paintings, among them still life of fruit, arranged on tabletops in the style of Dunning and the Fall River School.

Strobridge maintained a home studio, and her output, in addition to still life, included bucolic landscape paintings in oil that she often dated and sometimes initiated, but very rarely signed. There is no evidence that she ever exhibited her work, nor did she sell it, instead preferring to give pieces to family and close friends. Proud of her talent, she would never allow anyone to see a work in progress, only allowing that privilege once she was satisfied.

She was remembered as a “great lady,” quiet, retiring, and a perfectionist, always very particular about her appearance.

For Strobridge, painting was an avocation, not a vocation, but evidence exists that she did achieve recognition in Fall River as an artist during her life. Her obituary, “Mrs. Strobridge, Artist, Is Dead,” further states: “She was a well-known artist and wood carver.” Additionally, her official death certificate lists her occupation as “Artist – Carver.” Still, if not for a body of material retained by her family and close friends, she – as countless women before and since – would be virtually unknown as an artist.

While Strobridge could have forged a career as a professional artist, she remains an enigma and her work is scarce.

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  • Due to a major infrastructure project, the FRHS Museum will be closed beginning July 22, 2023. The Musem Shop is closed until further notice.