May Alcott Nieriker was a bargain shopper!

When Louisa sent May back to Europe on her own, I found it amusing to read in May’s letters (from Ticknor’s memoir) how she would bargain shop. A woman after my own heart! She often mentioned in her letters how she did this, from shopping for clothes out of fashion season, to taking free art lessons (I loved this line, ” . . . where May joined a young artist friend with whom she eagerly discussed plans for profiting by the free art schools at Milan, Naples, and Florence, a prospect which truly delighted both sisters” – bold is my emphasis). Louisa wasn’t the only one who was money conscious!

I can see how she finally came to write her book, Studying Art Abroad: and How to Do It Cheaply. I was touched by her concern that the poor be allowed to see the beautiful works of art in America for free the way they could in Europe. May’s love of beauty was not just a surface interest – she truly felt that beauty was important to enhance one’s life. Having tasted the life of the poor with her own family, she could well understand how much the introduction of something beautiful could lift a downtrodden spirit.

There is no doubt, however, that she made use of Louisa’s fame to get on the inside track. She networked with many important people in the world of art, and I’m sure her last name was a door opener. From her letters, I’m not sure she always understood that she had that advantage over the average starving artist.

I’m glad too that I understand now her passion for the noted landscape painter Turner, and why it was important that she so beautifully copied his works (apparently, according to Ticknor, many of Turner’s works faded away because of the types of paints he used. He was, however, one prolific painter, having left 21,000 works of art in his lifetime!)

Caroline Ticknor’s May Alcott A Memoir is starting to pick up steam for me now as I get into May Alcott’s head. 🙂

2 Replies to “May Alcott Nieriker was a bargain shopper!”

  1. I’m really enjoying your blog, Susan. I love May’s delight in her letters home while studying art. Her description of Mary Cassatt’s parties is so vivid, it takes you there. She wasn’t as affected by the poverty of the family being the youngest child. Things were better for her; Louisa gave her advantages from the first lessons she bought for her, and she attracted the help of relatives when Louisa could not – at least not the kind without strings attached.

    I discovered that May lied to her husband about her age. Or I should say Madelon Bedell did, but I recovered her papers. Her gravestone said she was 32 when she died, but she was just about to turn forty. Her husband was seventeen years her junior, so I can see that the one-digit nine figure was a lot easier to swallow. Her money made it even more palatable.


  2. Indeed! She must have looked really good to pass for 32, especially in those days.

    Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how Louisa might have been had her family life not been so hard. I think she still would have been very stormy and conflicted, it’s in her genes.

    I’m so glad you’re enjoy the blog. 🙂

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