Anna Lea Merritt was born in Philadelphia in 1844, the daughter of Joseph Lea a manufacturer. She studied art in Italy, Germany, and Paris, ultimately settling England in the late 1860s. She married Henry Merrit, artist, and critic, who was twenty two years her senior. Tragically he died three months after the wedding. Anna Merritt edited a selection of her husband’s writings for publication. She built up a thriving practice as a portrait painter, in which artistic sphere she was highly talented - her picture of two little sisters, Jacqueline and Isura Loraine, for example is highly accomplished. In later years she often wintered in Egypt. She lived in Hampshire.
Contemporary Comment - The Magazine of Art 1895
In the front rank of our noted women-painters stands Mrs Anna Lea Merritt, who, although a native of America, has painted so much and so well in England that English art claims her for its own. Mrs Merritt was not taught in the schools, and to this fact is probably attributable the great individuality to be noted in her works. She belongs to no particular religion in art, and, indeed has attempted no school or class whatsoever, the close air of such on a single attempt, proving intolerable to her delicate chest. But she diligently attended Mr Marshall’s lectures on anatomy, a subject to which she devoted much attention and study, as she did also to drawing from the antique and from life. From Professor Legros she had a few private lessons, and from Mr Henry Merritt (whom she afterwards married) and his friends, Mr Richmond RA
, and Sir William Boxall, RA, she received severe but kindly criticism and genuine encouragement.
Much of Mrs Merritt’s work has been in portraiture. Among her best known sitters have been James Russell Lowell, Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Sir William Boxall. Paining concurrently with these, Mrs Merritt has always endeavoured to keep some ideal work on hand. One was purchased under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest. In 1892 and 1893 Mrs Merritt was unrepresented at Burlington House. In the former because ill-health compelled her to winter in Egypt; in the latter because, having undertaken some decorative pictures for the Women’s Building in Chicago, she was obliged to relinquish all other work, and devote all her energies to these, which received an award and medal.
During the last year Mrs Merritt has been engaged upon a work not hitherto usually confided to a woman-the frescoes of St Martin’s Church at Chilworth. These represent for large works from the history of Our Lord, and four single figures of angels and saints, the figures being nearly life-size. The subjects chosen are the Nativity, Raising the Widow’s Son, the Passion, and the Resurrection. Mrs Merrit was at one time a member of the Painter-Etchers’ Society, and in that capacity showed many original etchings. Her first use of the needle was to etch the portrait of her husband for the memoir which she published with his collected writings in 1879.