While researching for my latest book, “Notorious San Juans,” I came across an unexpected crop of unusually accomplished women – all from the same family. The Pratt family of County Donegal, Ireland produced two remarkable women: Eliza Pratt Greatorex, a well-known artist, and her sister Matilda Pratt Despard, a writer. Eliza Greatorex later had two daughters who followed in their mother’s footsteps.
The Pratt girls moved to New York City with their family when they were in their late teens. There, Eliza studied art while her sister Matilda studied writing. At age 30, Eliza married Henry Wellington Greatorex, a composer known for hymns such as “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” With their three children – Kathleen, Eleanor and Thomas – they traveled throughout Europe and North America, while Henry performed in concerts. In 1858, Henry died suddenly. Eliza supported the family with her art work and teaching at a girl’s school. In the 1860s and 1870s, she and the family traveled around Europe and her reputation as an artist grew. She and Matilda collaborated on a book called “Old New York from the Battery to Bloomingdale’s.” Matilda also later published a novel based on their childhood, called “Kilrogen Cottage.”
In the 1870s, Eliza received a commission to travel to Colorado and create a book of etchings of the mountain scenery in the Colorado Springs area (then called the “Fountain Colony”). The result was “Summer Etchings in Colorado.” (Note: You can download this book from google books.) When she finished this project, she and her two daughters – both now becoming artists – headed back to Europe while Thomas headed further west. The daughters, Kathleen and Eleanor, soon enjoyed reputations as artists in their own right. Unfortunately, the handsome and popular Thomas met a sorry fate in the San Juans, which is why he landed in my book.
The paintings of Eliza Greatorex hang in numerous museums and appear in a number of books. In 1869, Eliza was the first woman to be elected as an associate to the National Academy of New York.
Some of Eliza’s etchings from her “Summer in Colorado” in the 1870s:
See also Tidbits from Notorious San Juans.