Painter of portraits and still lifes, Ella S. Hergesheimer was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Elamanda Ritter and Charles Patterson Hergesheimer. Hergesheimer was the direct descendant of Charles Willson Peale, artist and founder of Peale’s Museum, part of whose collections later became the Smithsonian Institution. She attended the Philadelphia School of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, studying with Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase, including one summer at Shinnecock on Long Island in 1900. She also studied in Europe for three years.
After her work was included in a 1905 traveling exhibit by the Nashville Art Association, Hergesheimer received a 1907 commission to paint the portrait of Methodist Bishop Holland N. McTyeire of Vanderbilt University. She remained in Nashville for the rest of her life, establishing her studio in the downtown area on Church Street and later at Eighth Avenue and Broadway.
Hergesheimer’s two most notable portraits are that of former Speaker of the House Joseph W. Byrns, on view at the U.S. Capitol, and that of Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, which hangs in the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Among her numerous Tennessee subjects are Nashvillians Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Keith, Mr. and Mrs. Percy Maddin, and Joseph H. Thompson. The Cheekwood Museum of Art owns her 1931 self-portrait, painted when she was fifty-eight.
Hergesheimer was also known for her still lifes, landscapes, and printmaking. Her early subdued palette was replaced in the works from the 1930s with her better known bright coloration. She exhibited extensively throughout the South, winning numerous awards, including the gold medal at the 1910 Appalachian Exposition in Knoxville.