Sarah Baker (Artist/ Painter)

Brief Biography

Sarah Baker (1899-1983) is revered for her Impressionistic styles, portraits and still lifes. The American oil painter and longtime professor of art at American University in Washington, DC, dedicated much of her career to teaching, leaving an impactful legacy on the global art scene.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Baker grew up in and around her grandmother’s art studio. After her family’s move to Baltimore, Baker began taking art classes part-time at the Maryland Institute of Art. Baker studied alongside artists like Arthur Charles, Hugh Breckenridge, and Pierre Bonnard. The artist would later go on to study at both the School of Art and Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, before continuing her artistic education on two trips to Europe. The first, in 1922, involved a fully funded three-month trip to the Netherlands, France, and Italy. In 1925, Baker returned to Paris for a year to study painting under Andre L’Hote. Upon returning to America, Baker took a job teaching painting at the Bryn Mawr Preparatory School, marking the start of a lifelong career as an art educator. In 1945, Baker was invited to teach in American University’s department of Fine Art, where she remained a full-time faculty member until 1964. Throughout her career, she exhibited widely in the D.C. area, where she lived for many years. 

For over 20 years, Baker spent her summers on North Haven, painting in her studio on Southern Harbor. The artist often pulled from her coastal surroundings and found inspiration for her work in the hues of the Penobscot Bay. Also influenced by her studies in Europe, Baker’s work is characterized by Impressionistic color, composition, and brushstroke. Her works often feature ripe fruits, summertime scenes and emotive stagings of household vignettes. Because of Baker’s expert staging and eye, a viewer may feel they are privy to intimate domestic moments. An artist and educator with high and exacting standards of art, Baker’s legacy and influence are felt to this day. 

Baker’s legacy is so great, in part, because of her service as an instructor. Among Baker’s students are talented artists like Willam de Looper. Baker was awarded the fellowship gold medal in 1926 from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She earned an award from the Baltimore Museum of Fine Arts in 1945, and was later honored with a prize from the Washington Society of Independent Artists in 1953. Her work is featured in the Brooklyn Museum in New York City and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, as well as the Hopkins Wharf Gallery in North Haven, Maine. Her papers are found in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute.