The Promise of Peace: Violet Oakley's United Nations Portraits
The Oakley portraits showcase her lifelong dedication to the promotion of peace and world harmony. One of the great artists of Philadelphia, Oakley was an independent, forward-thinking, and self-described “pilgrim seeking peace” who began her career in 1895 and achieved great success in a male-dominated profession. This will be the first time many of these works have been exhibited in more than ten years, and they have never been shown in the context of interpreting their historical moment.
twisted elaborately about her head, must have created a stir in the press box. But her experiences in Geneva twenty years earlier made her uniquely qualified for the job. There she had watched the proceedings with great emotion and closely observed the League members and what she called “those countenances, indicators of the inner motions of the Mind revolving there—to maintain order, control passion, develop understanding, and preserve Life on this Planet.”17 From her notes and sketches, she made formal drawings of many of the participants and would return again during September and October in 1928 and 1929 to continue her study making. In 1932, the portraits were published in a portfolio titled “Law Triumphant.” The need for a collective body of representatives from the world’s nations was first proposed on January 8, 1918, as part of President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” message laying out the conditions to achieve world peace. Closing the list, point fourteen states, “A general association of nations should be formed on the basis of covenants designed to create mutual guarantees of the political independence and territorial integrity of States, large and small equally.”18 The first session of the Council of the League of Nations met in Paris on January 16, 1920, seven months after the Treaty of Versailles ended the war between Germany and the Allied 11 Powers. Though the United States conceived of the idea for the League of Nations and signed the covenant, it never officially joined. However, the country was an active participant in the United Nations. World War II had taught Americans an important lesson. They could no longer remain neutral bystanders in a troubled world. Oakley was delighted with her joint role as artist and documentarian and enjoyed the trappings that came with her newspaper credentials. “I have never before been a newspaper representative,” she said, “and I find my Press button and all Press privileges very impressive and important, and I am enjoying them to the full.”19 As a member of the press, she was entitled to join the other journalists in the press box, where limited seating was available on a first-come, first-served basis. Using her maturity and gender to her advantage, she was often provided with a prime location despite the box being full. On one occasion, she noted that “‘the house’ was packed, but the polite usher gave me a good seat, right in the middle bloc reserved for ‘distinguished guests’ of the different Delegations.”20 She also enjoyed sitting next to international journalists who seemed intrigued by her presence and she in theirs. The London Times reporter “proved very interesting and interested and asked many questions.” But, she noted with a note of superiority, he “had not been at Geneva.”21