Saturday, July 28, 2018

Exhibition: Women Artists in Paris

Yesterday we visited the exhibition "Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900" at the Clark Art Institute. The exhibit presents 70 paintings by women who studied at the 19th-century French academies.

Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), Ernesta (Child with Nurse)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
The show includes some standout works by Cecilia Beaux. William Merritt Chase reportedly remarked of her: "Miss Beaux is not only the greatest living woman-painter, but the best woman-painter that has ever lived." (Source: The Independent, 1899

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), Plowing at Nivernais, Ringling Museum of Art 
Rosa Bonheur is represented by a single large work showing oxen plowing. Although the entire scene is painted with incredible fidelity, and it was widely praised in its time, we wondered about how the oxen were attached to the plow. Oddly enough, we couldn't see any yokes on them. Oxen require a formidable wooden beam and individual bows around their necks in order for the oxen to transfer their energy to the plow.

Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938) A Mother, 
Cincinnati Art Museum 
Elizabeth Nourse was already so well trained before she arrived at the Académie Julian that her teacher said she didn't need any further instruction. Her first entry to the Salon "A Mother," was hung "on the line," an achievement for any first-time artist.

Emma Löwstädt-Chadwick (1855-1932) Beach Parasol,
Brittany (Portrait of Amanda Sidwall)
The Scandinavians are well represented. Swedish painter Emma Löwstädt-Chadwick portrayed her friend Amanda Sidwall during one of their painting excursions to the Brittany coast. 

Hanna (Hirsch) Pauli (1864-1940)
The Artist Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, 1886–87
Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden
Some of the paintings celebrated female friendships and alliances. Hanna Pauli painted her friend Venny Soldan-Brofeldt in the studio they shared in Paris. The curators say:
"Pauli builds this vignette of creativity from items strewn about the studio, including paint-splattered drop cloths, a sketch of a female nude, and tools for clay working, placing Soldan-Brofeldt at the center of it all, with mouth open and legs outstretched, fingering a lump of clay. The subject’s unselfconscious manner—an intentional provocation on Pauli’s part, considering the era’s rigid rules concerning proper conduct—and the directness of the sitter’s gaze make a powerful statement on the validity of the woman artist."
Mina Carlson-Bredberg (1857–1943) Self Portrait
Marriage represented a death knell to some women's careers. Mina Carlson-Bredberg had to give up her career after she was married and told her young nieces that they were lucky they were single.

A minor gripe: it was difficult to read the object labels because most of them were vague, wordy, and written in small sans-serif white type on a dark background, requiring a lot of fumbling with reading glasses and navigating back and forth. I believe a label should be clearly readable from a normal viewing distance for the painting, and it should be short and to the point, focused on enhancing the experience of the artwork itself, not discussing wider sociological issues. That's best left for the catalog.

I would also have liked to see fewer Mary Cassatts and more Rosa Bonheurs. Also, the curators overlooked other worthy women artists who lived and worked in Paris, such as Ellen Day HaleAnna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, Jeanna Bauck, Bertha Wegmann and Juana Romani, but you can't do it all in one exhibition, and let's hope this show opens the doors to more exhibitions featuring women artists.
Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900 is at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts through September 3. You can get the catalog on Amazon.

Incidentally, there's a museum called National Museum of Women in the Arts in Denmark

Previously on GurneyJourney:
Thesleff's Echo (cover image of the catalog)
Studying Art in Paris, 1902
The Ups and Downs of Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz


Rich Polinski said...

The oxen in Ploughing in the Nivernais are in fact wearing yokes. If you look very closely at the front of their horns you will see one style of what is called a head yoke. These are used in conjunction with what are called tug poles that are connected with chains. These tug poles and chains are more clearly seen in the painting. The purpose of the style of yoke we're more familiar with is to force a pair of oxen to work in unison as well as to allow them to exert pulling force.

Susan Krzywicki said...

Fascinating - you always bring something fresh to your readers. And your readers are so knowledgeable, as in the comment by Rich Polinski - I am constantly learning something new!

Dave Brasgalla said...

I remember having the pleasure of walking with Justin Gerard through the National Museum here in Stockholm, and we stopped in in front of one of my favourites, "Breakfast-Time" by Hanna Pauli. We just grooved on it for a while, and then Justin grinned and said, "Hey, you know who would love this? Gurney!"

Heather Dubreuil said...

Just returned from a visit to Copenhagen, and was intrigued by your mention of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Denmark. But the link you've provided brought me to a museum I've already enjoyed, in Washington DC. What's up with that?

So pleased to see more exposure for women artists in so many venues. There's a wonderful show on now at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts in Quebec City of Berthe Morisot. Ending September 23, then traveling to the Barnes, to the Dallas Museum of Art, and to the Musée d'Orsay.

Petr Stranik said...

I would also love to read something about another very prolific woman artist and her backgrounds - Jeanette Gurney! What about a series about that topic :-)

E. Bancroft said...

Thank you, James, for making this such a rich blog -- not just sharing your own work, but that of others. Truly educational! I have read the question, "How many women painters can you name?" You are providing us with plenty more to discover and appreciate. Sincere thanks!