When Hoosiers think of famous Indiana artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often names come to mind like T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, and Otto Stark. In fact, all five members of the famed Hoosier Group of impressionist painters were male. Though less common and often less recognized, Indiana was also home to a number of talented female artists. Among the most successful was Marie Goth, whose portraits of Indiana’s elite earned her a national reputation.
Goth was born in Indianapolis in 1887. Both of her parents were accomplished musicians. Goth’s father was a bass violinist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Her mother was a talented vocalist. As a young child, Goth developed a love for music, eventually becoming a talented pianist. It wasn’t until she entered high school, however, that Goth’s talent for art was discovered.
At the time, high school students in Indianapolis had the choice of studying at Indianapolis High School (now Shortridge High School) or Manual Training High School. Her father’s cousin, the famed Hoosier painter Otto Stark, headed the art department at Manual Training High School, so Goth decided to enroll there. Goth quickly discovered a passion for drawing. At the age of 16, she won first prize in a city design contest.
After high school, Goth continued her studies at the John Herron Art Institute. In 1909, she was awarded a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City. There, Goth eventually focused her studies on painting. She would go on to study painting in New York City under the tutelage of Frank Vincent DuMond for the next ten years.
In 1919, Goth returned to Indianapolis and set up a studio in her parents’ home. After a visit to Brown County, however, she fell in love with the area’s picturesque scenery. In 1922, Goth’s sister, Genevieve, purchased a secluded cabin in Brown County off of SR 135 that would soon become Goth’s haven. The cabin also became a refuge for Goth’s close friend (and possibly romantic partner) Varaldo Giuseppe Cariani.
Cariani, who had immigrated to the United States from Italy at the age of three, had met Goth while studying art at New York City’s Art Students League. A veteran of World War I, Cariani had returned from the war with a severe case of shell shock. He found the peaceful surroundings of the Goth cabin to be therapeutic. In the secluded natural environment, Cariani slowly recovered from his traumatic wartime experience. His picturesque paintings of Brown County scenery soon graced the walls of many Hoosier homes.
For the first couple of years, Cariani lived in the cabin full-time, while Goth and her sister visited on weekends. Goth and Cariani made friends among Brown County’s artists’ community. Within a few years, Goth moved to the area full-time. Cariani built his own small residence elsewhere on the Goth property, and Goth took up residence in her sister’s cabin.
With Goth in residence at the cabin full-time, her sister became a frequent visitor. Genevieve eventually began to dabble in painting and made many friends among the local artist community. She later married one of these artists, Carl Graf.
Throughout the 1920s, Goth began to receive commissions as a portrait painter. The famous Hoosiers who eventually sat for a portrait with Goth included James Whitcomb Riley (author), Will Hays (motion picture executive), Paul McNutt (politician), Charles Dahlgreen (artist), John McCutcheon (cartoonist), and T.C. Steele (artist). Although Goth remained best known for her portraits, she also painted beautiful florals and lovely rustic scenes from around Brown County.
In 1952, Goth became the first woman commissioned by an Indiana governor to paint his official portrait. Governor Henry F. Schricker sat for the portrait in Goth’s Brown County studio. Goth painted the portrait with the governor seated in a classic Windsor chair. When completed, the painting was hung in the Indiana Statehouse, where it remains on display to this day.
Goth’s talent as an artist eventually earned her a national reputation. Her work was featured in art exhibitions across the country. In 1926, Goth’s portrait of Charles Dahlgreen won first prize for “Best Portrait in Oil” at the Hoosier Salon exhibition. Goth’s work would subsequently be featured in the Hoosier Salon annually until her death in 1975. A few years later, in 1931, Goth’s portrait, “Florence,” won the Julia A. Shaw Memorial Prize at New York City’s National Academy of Design. In 1975, Goth’s portrait, “Neighbor,” was posthumously awarded a Jury Prize of Distinction at the Hoosier Salon.
In addition to the attention she gave her own art, Goth was actively involved in shaping Brown County’s reputation as a center of artistry and art appreciation in Indiana. In 1926, she became a charter member of the Brown County Art Gallery Artists Association, an organization created to establish a permanent art gallery in Nashville, Indiana. The gallery featured a rotating exhibition of the work of local artists, allowing for a centralized place to display and sell local art. Today, the Brown County Art Gallery Artists Association is one of the oldest Art Associations still active in the United States.
In 1954, Goth, Cariani, the Grafs, and a handful of other Brown County artists formed the Brown County Art Guild to exhibit the work of Guild Members and cultivate an appreciation for fine art and art education. Goth remained active in the Guild’s work for the remainder of her life. Goth died at the age of 87 on January 9, 1975, after sustaining life-threatening injuries in a fall down the stairs. Goth left her estate, including many paintings created by herself and Cariani, to the Brown County Art Guild on condition that the group would maintain a museum of the artwork for public enjoyment.
Today, Goth remains one of Indiana’s most famed female portrait artists of her era. Visitors to Brown County can see many of Goth’s beautiful portraits at the Marie Goth Estate Collection display located inside the Brown County Art Guild building in Nashville. Her works can also be found in dozens of art museums and galleries across Indiana, including Newfields (formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art).