ELEANOR NORCROSS, 1854-1923
An artist, collector and philanthropist, Eleanor Norcross supported the establishment of the Museum of Art in Fitchburg, where she was born and to which, despite her many travels, she maintained close ties.
Born into a comfortable family, Eleanor was, from earliest childhood, afforded a privileged education not available to many young women of her generation. After graduating from Fitchburg High School she attended Wheaton Seminary (College) and Boston’s Massachusetts Normal Art School (Massachusetts College of Art and Design). After teaching art in Fitchburg, Norcross studied art in New York City under William Merritt Chase, moving to Paris in 1883 to study with Alfred Stevens. With her father’s financial support, she lived in Paris for 40 years returning to Fitchburg during the summer months.
During her lifetime Norcross exhibited her paintings at the Champ de Mars' Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts as well as in Boston, Chicago and New York. She did not, however, sell any of her work as her father believed that women should not enter into the male-oriented business world of fine art. He did agree to pay to handsomely frame any work of art that she gave away.
With a goal of providing exposure to people that could not, like she, travel to Europe to experience fine art, Norcross purchased fine art objects including furniture, textiles, porcelain, and paintings to send to America with a goal of establishing a cultural center in Fitchburg. Upon her death in 1923, Norcross provided $10,000 in her will with the provision that the town raise an equal amount as an endowment, otherwise the monies would go to Wheaton Seminary. Six years later, the Fitchburg Art Center, which became the Fitchburg Art Museum opened, “for the joy and inspiration of art” fulfilling her dream.
The year after her death, Norcross’s works were shown posthumously in Paris at the Louvre and Salon d'Automne, where Norcross was the first American to have had a retrospective. Her works were also shown the following year at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Fitchburg Art Museum maintains a collection of Norcross's work, along with works of John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and other American and European artists.