National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; bequest of Katharine Graham
Born New York City
Agnes Ernst Meyer’s remarkable contributions first began as patron of the arts before she moved on to an esteemed career in journalism and social reform. As a close adviser to caricaturist Marius de Zayas and photographer/impresario Alfred Stieglitz, Meyer co-founded the landmark visual arts journal 291, named after Stieglitz’s renowned modernist art gallery. Meyer’s husband, Eugene Meyer, bought the Washington Post in the 1930s, which paved the way for Meyer to write stories about racial segregation in the army and the plight of the laboring class during World War II. Also during this time, Meyer spearheaded efforts to establish a cabinet-level appointee in health and education.
In this charcoal, de Zayas depicts Meyer with his characteristic cubist-based stylized line. While acknowledging Meyer’s great wealth by dressing her in ermine-trimmed hat and enormous matching muff, de Zayas abstracts her beauty to a sharp, appraising profile, thus presenting her as an individual of intellect and spirited energy.