Women artists and French impressionism


Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872

Now, back to the series in this blog about women artists in history.

At the time of the French revolution, there had been a link between classicists in art and political revolutionaries: in the sense that artists expressed the ideals of simplicity of the ancient Roman republic, example for the new French republic, in contrast to the opulence of the royal court.

As the nineteenth century progressed, there were changes in both politics and art.

The bourgeoisie progressed from being a class in opposition to a ruling class.

In revolutionary movements, there was a shift from the bourgeoisie to the working class, as seen in the Paris Commune of 1871.

At the same time, the role of classicism in art changed.

More and more, it became a conservative pro establishment set of rules, seen as stifling by artists who wanted to innovate.

The second half of the nineteenth century brought new artistic movements to France, rebelling against the rules of classicism and the Academy of Arts.

Two important ones of those were the realism of Gustave Courbet and others, and the impressionism of Edouard Manet and others.

Like Russian painter Ilya Repin, Courbet and Manet were sympathizers of the Paris Commune.

In the days of the Commune, Courbet was chair of a commission on art which abolished the Academy.

Then, the classicist style monument of Emperor Napoleon III, the Vendôme column, was destroyed.

After the bloody suppression of the Commune, Courbet’s Rightist enemies accused him of personal responsibility for this, with faked photographs as ‘evidence’; and he had to flee to Switzerland.

The nineteenth century saw also the rise of the women’s movement.

The number of women artists increased, compared to previous centuries.

However, progress was uneven: when the British Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1769, Angelica Kaufmann, and Mary Moser, both of Swiss ancestry, were co-founders.

After these two, this Academy admitted no women members until 1923, according to Elke Linda Buchholz; or until 1936, according to Wikipedia.

Only in 1897, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris admitted women.

What did (male) supporters of innovation in art think of this innovation by women in society?

Some were sympathetic. Some, not all.

According to Joan Altabe:

Edgar Degas, a known male supremacist, saw women as “animals” with an “absence of all feeling in the presence of art.”

However, the Impressionist movement did include women.

Even Degas made an exception to his rules when he invited US American artist living in Paris, Mary Cassatt, to join the Impressionists.

Of course, the movement had also French women members.

Including Berthe Morisot, Edouard Manet’s sister-in-law, who contributed nine works to the first Impressionists’ exhibition in 1874.

One of those was The Cradle, a portrait of her older sister Edma, also a painter; who, however, had stopped working since her marriage.

Eva Gonzalès, A Box at the Théâtre des Italiens, 1874

Another woman Impressionist was Eva Gonzalès.

Of a younger generation was Suzanne Valadon, born in 1865 into the working class.

She never had painting lessons, but learned about art as an Impressionist painters‘ model.

One year older than Valadon was sculptor Camille Claudel.

Her involvement with colleague Auguste Rodin helped her at first, but ultimately brought her tragedy.

Exhibition about women impressionists: here.

Later: The New York Times on feminist art: here.

Pre Raphaelite British artist Evelyn De Morgan: here.

NEW YORK— “Luminous Modernism: Scandinavian Art Comes to America 1912,” at New York City’s Scandinavia House, may at first look uninspiring to eyes accustomed to the fireworks of Abstract Expressionism and the conceptual ravishments of contemporary art. But 100 years ago, this very same exhibition of quiet, shining landscapes and Post-Impressionist portraits dazzled American audiences and impressed artists from Marsden Hartley to Alfred Stieglitz. Given the chance to reveal itself, “Luminous Modernism” may just move today’s viewers in the same way: here.

41 thoughts on “Women artists and French impressionism

  1. 2008-07-11 12:31

    Impressionists’ secrets revealed

    Florence show looks at best- loved masterpieces

    (ANSA) – Florence, July 11 – An exhibition opening in Florence on Friday will help unlock the secrets of Impressionism, providing a step-by-step guide to how the movement’s stars created some of their best-loved masterpieces. The show will look at the revolutionary innovations introduced by artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh. Entitled Impressionismo: Dipingere la Luce (Impressionism: Painting The Light), it features around 60 important works, a number of which are rare loans from Cologne’s Wallraf-Richartz Museum. The exhibit will introduce visitors to the sophisticated diagnostic techniques used by art historians, which allow them to analyze the different marks left by paintbrush, pencils and spatulas.

    Step by step, they uncover original sketches or earlier versions of the work, gradually creating an outline of how the painting was pieced together.

    The exhibit therefore seeks to encourage visitors to look beyond the surface beauty of the painting and appreciate the thought and effort that went into creating it. One of the clearest points to emerge from research in this field is the fact that, despite their spontaneous appearance, most Impressionist works were the result of painstaking preparation. For example, infrared reflectography, which is used to study the layers under a final painting, has revealed a preparatory drawing and series of perspective lines beneath Vincent Van Gogh’s Pont de Clichy.

    Similar underlayers have been revealed in Paul Gauguin’s Young Breton Woman and his unfinished Tahitian Women, as well as in Edouard Manet’s Bunch Of Asparagus. Meanwhile, analysing the paint content of various paintings has confirmed they really were produced outside, rather than merely sketched outdoors and later transposed in a studio. For example, the paint in Armand Guillaumin’s Low Tide At Saint-Palais contains grains of sand, while Gustave Caillebotte’s Laundry Drying Along The Seine contains poplar pollen.

    The show will also explain some of the practical developments that allowed Impressionists to escape the restrictions of studios and move outdoors, such as tubes of paint, new brushes, and artist’s cases, which they used to carry their materials around. One section of the exhibit looks at the unfinished appearance of many Impressionist works, which in addition to their rapid style, often lacked a final layer of varnish, as well as the artist’s signature. This practice, in sharp contrast with tradition, has created problems for critics and buyers but was typical of the Impressionists’ determination to break with academic convention. The exhibition runs in Palazzo Strozzi from July 11 until September 28.

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  2. There were also other factors that figured into not only female artists, but also the explosion of male artists. No longer did artists have to grind their own pigments, nor were people forced to devote the better part of their lives working to earn a living. Instead they were now free to pursue other more creative pursuits like music, poetry and art.

    The newly expanded bougeoir class of artists were not forced to adhere to the old rules of art which would be required if they were actually pursuing painting as an occupation. These early experimental artists were usually mocked and derided by the art critics. In France their paintings were not accepted in the Salon competition. This led Edouard Manet to organize Le Salon de Refuse or the Salon for the rejected.

    Like with all great movements, it was the first in, like Manet, Monet, Pissarro and Degas that got the greatest recognition followed by the Post Impressionists van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne.

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  3. Re #3: Degas was inconsistent in his sexism; as the blog post already noted re Mary Cassatt.

    There were quite some sexist men in the 19th century (and still are today) who think women are beautiful (eg, beautiful enough to be subjects for painting), but who at the same time think shey should not have equality.

    Also on sexism in art about 1900: see here.

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