This article examines the attitude of the nineteenth-century artist May Alcott Nieriker toward the concepts of talent and genius, two terms that were subject to debate and controversy among the Transcendentalists of her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, especially as they applied to women. Her attitude differed from that of her elder sister, the writer, Louisa May Alcott, who had some reservations about the use of the word as applied to her literary efforts.
Nieriker (the model for the character of “Amy” in Little Women) embraced the term genius for women and eventually achieved success at the Paris Salon in 1877 and 1879. Nieriker’s last picture, La Négresse, is a rare, respectful treatment of a black subject. Nieriker’s choices in her life and work are evidence of her belief that women could reach creative fulfillment, even genius.