Westchester County is well known for being home to many things of beauty. Former White Plains resident Louise Altson and her art were two of those things.
Louise Altson died in 2010, at age 99. In addition to a legacy of timeless artistic beauty, she left behind three children, who, along with daughter-in-law Carol Altson, collaborated on a newly released book about her life and art, titled Louise Altson: A Gifted Artist Who Captured the Person, Not Just the Image, which is available in hardcover on Amazon.com.
Altson immigrated to the US with her husband, Ralph, from Antwerp, Belgium, in 1939, when she was 29 years old. Having put down stakes initially in Elmhurst, Queens, Louise and Ralph were joined by Louise’s parents and Ralph’s father, Abbey Altson, who’d already achieved international acclaim as a classical portrait painter. Unthinkable as it may seem today, her father-in-law’s status was actually a source of oppression for Louise, who had already demonstrated eminent ability as a painter herself.
Altson’s circa 1953 portrait of Robin Bush hangs in the Houston home of President George H.W. & First Lady Barbara Bush to this day.
“My father had decreed that there could only be one painter in the house, so my mother was forbidden to paint portraits until my grandfather died,” shared John Altson, Louise’s eldest child. “So, for the next 11 years, my mother did comics, billboards, and the like.”
During that time, Louise was paid $18 per illustration for clients that included the New York Daily News and Toronto Star, Little Golden Books, Red Circle Books, and Timely Comics, among several others, at a time when there were few women doing such work.
When Abbey Altson died in 1948, Louise was finally permitted to delve into portraiture. She was taken on by the esteemed Portraits, Inc., in Manhattan, and as John puts it: “She never looked back after that.”
Louise relocated to Westchester after she and Ralph divorced in 1957, on Winfield Avenue in Harrison, where she remained for approximately eight years. She moved to White Plains in 1966, leasing a penthouse unit on South Broadway.
During her career, Louise was commissioned to paint portraits for some of America’s most iconic families, including the du Ponts, Vanderbilts and Graces. Her circa 1953 portrait of Robin Bush — daughter of First Lady Barbara and President George H.W. Bush — who died in 1954 at age 3 from pediatric leukemia, still hangs in the former First Family’s Houston home. It remains a sentimental tribute to not only a beautiful child but also to a Westchester woman whose work made an impact on every level of American society.
View a gallery of Louise Altson’s work below: