The portrait of Mary Ellen Hale Lovett looks calmly out over the reading room of the Woodson Research Center. Educated at West Kentucky College and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she married Edgar Odell Lovett, the first President of the Rice Institute, in 1897. After E. O. Lovett’s career at Princeton the couple spent a year taking a world tour of leading colleges and universities, developing ideas for the Institute.
Mary Ellen Lovett actively worked supporting cultural and artistic projects in Houston. In 1914 she was elected to the board of directors of the Houston Art League, an organization of women supporting the arts that eventually became the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In 1928 she received a medal from the Central Federation of the Alliance Française in Paris, given to the president of the local organization which has been the most active, for her work in French-American relations. She was also a member of the group which founded the Houston Symphony and the Faculty Women’s Club of the Rice Institute.
The portrait is oil on canvas, by Auguste Leroux (1871-1954), a French painter, illustrator, and professor at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was offered in 2002 to the Woodson Research Center by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Mrs. Lovett is dressed in a black lace-edged gown, and wears two ropes of pearls and a ring. The background is a landscape reminiscent of Renaissance paintings, and near her left elbow is a bird (Mrs. Lovett was very fond of birds).