Ellensue Kaplan Gross, 73, an artist whose female friends became the subjects for a series of oil paintings, died Monday, Feb. 10, of an autoimmune lung disorder at her Southwest Center City home.

As a child, Mrs. Gross showed promise as an artist. After graduating from Germantown High School in 1964, she worked in the jewelry, fashion, and medical technology industries before finding her niche as an oil painter in the 1990s.

She began by painting furniture and tableware, then moved to portraiture and renderings of the human figure. Her goal was to bring out the character, emotions, personality, and spirit of her subjects, she posted online.

Her most celebrated project was a series of 12 portraits of her friends, ages 65 to 73, who agreed to pose without makeup or artifice. All appeared in early morning or workout attire, some seminude.

“I wanted to show their natural beauty,” she told WHYY in a 2016 interview.

One in a series of portraits of Mrs. Gross' friends.
Courtesy of the Gross Family
One in a series of portraits of Mrs. Gross' friends.

Over her career, Mrs. Gross also painted marionettes, dolls, and dancers. She challenged herself by expanding into watercolors, and drawings in pen and ink or pencil.

Mrs. Gross’ artwork appeared in a dozen shows from 2008 to 2017 at the Muse Gallery, Wayne Art Center, and juried student exhibits at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and Fleisher Art Memorial, where she studied. She received awards from Wayne Art Center, PAFA, and Fleisher.

Jill Porter, a retired Daily News columnist and a longtime friend, said Mrs. Gross’ personal aesthetic informed every aspect of her life. A striking figure with a cascade of curly blond hair and stylish clothes, she stood out on Philadelphia streets with her black standard poodle, Cosette.

After meeting at a Mount Airy party as teenagers in the early 1960s, she and Mike Gross married in 1966. They had two children and moved numerous times before settling in Southwest Center City 13 years ago. Her family and painting were the touchstones that carried her through multiple moves across the country for her husband’s work as a developer of medical devices for the pharmaceutical industry.

Mrs. Gross had many friends with whom she stayed in touch over the years. She favored visits and phone calls over text messages and also sent birthday cards. She put others first “to a fault,” her husband said.

The couple enjoyed dancing, camping, day trips to the Jersey Shore, and traveling the world. She set such a fast pace walking along the Schuylkill that she would leave her companions “in the dust,” the family said.

An excellent cook and gracious hostess, Mrs. Gross loved experimenting with recipes for home cooking and entertaining at frequent dinner parties.

She accepted her death with dignity and grace. “Somehow Ellensue replaced fear of dying with candor and acceptance in the face of truly wishing for more,” her friend Sue Goldstein-Rubel said. “Her legacy to all lucky enough to have been in her orbit is to live with honesty, through to the end, and love the life you have.”

Besides her husband, she is survived by a son, Peter; a daughter, Mindy; three grandchildren; two nieces; and two nephews.

The family will receive visitors at home from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, and 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 15 and 16. Burial is private.

The family plans to offer some of Mrs. Gross’ paintings for sale on her website, http://www.ellensuegross.com/. The proceeds will be donated to charity in her name.