permission to wear pants

The exhibition organizers of the Women Artists in Paris (1850-1900) at the Clark Art Institute most likely are not prescient.  They could not have known that this show would open during the height of The Me Too Movement

Kitty Kielland (Norwegian, 1843-1914). She was an active participant in the fight for women’s rights in the art world.

I made it to the show the day before it closed.  Included in the exhibition, were mostly women painters I had never heard of. This blog is a snapshot of some of the women and their work.  Best represented by their own words, I have nothing to add.
(The digital images presented here do not do justice to the beauty of the painting.)

Marie Bashkirtseff, Ukainiian (1858-1884), The Meeting, 1884

“Do you think I benefit from what I see when, in order to go to the Louvre, I must wait for my carriage, my lady companion, or my family? This is one of the reasons why there have been no great women artists. . . . But if we were raised in the same manner as men, this inequality which I deplore would disappear, and what remains would be inherent in nature itself. Oh well, no matter what I say, we must cry out and make ourselves ridiculous (I will leave this to others) to obtain this equality in a hundred years. As for me, I will stick it to society by showing them a woman who has become something, despite all the disadvantages it heaped on her.” Marie Bashirtseff

Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899) Plowing in Nivernais

Rosa Bonheur doll, popular in the US during the mid-1800s.

Rosa Bonheur rejected female attire and instead applied for a police permit in 1852 to wear men’s clothes whilst she worked.  She was an openly lesbian women. “My whole life has been devoted to improving m work and keeping alive the Creator’s spark in my soul.  Each of us has a spark, and we’ve all got to account for what we do with it.”  Rosa  Bonheur

“Why shouldn’t I be proud to be a woman?  My father, that enthusiastic apostle of humanity, told me again and again that it was woman’s mission to improve the human race… To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong, whose independence I’ll defend till my dying day.  Besides, I’m convinced the future is ours.”  Rosa Bonheeur

Rosa Bonheur and her lioness Fathma

Amelie Beaury-Saurel (French 1848-1924) detail of Into the Blue, pastel on canvas.  In this painting, the woman is smoking, hence the title.

Cecilia Beaux (American, 1855-1942) Woman with a Cat (Sita and Sarita)

Beaux arrived in Paris at the age of 32. Her Aunt Eliza warned her “Remember you are first of all a Christian – then a woman and last of all an Artist.”  In 1895 Beaux became the first woman to have a regular teaching position at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine arts. In an interview she stated “I can say this: When I attempt anything, I have a passionate determination to overcome every obstacle…And I do my own work with a refusal to accept defeat that might almost be called painful.”

Mina Carlson-Bredberg, Swedish (1857-1943)self-portrait

At the age of twenty Mina Carlson-Bredberg was obliged by social convention to marry a family friend, Vilhelm Swalin, whom she had been observed kissing.  For the seven years, she was married Swalin, she stopped painting.
“Girls remember to think about how lucky you are not to be married.”

Fanny Churberg, Finnish ( 1845-1892) ) Waterfall

It’s easy to forget that many of these woman did  not live long lives.  Childbirth was often the cause of death.  In Fanny’s case, her mother died when she was 12; Her father died when was she was 20 and her brother died of tuberculosis later in life.  She abandoned art after painting this work and turned to publishing articles on feminism and Finnish art.

Eva Gonzales, French (1849-1883) The Pink Slippers

A crucial element of a woman’s wardrobe, footwear as often fetishized because shoes and slippers were not meant to be seen, hidden as they were under voluminous dresses.  Gonzales emphasizes the intimate nature of these accessories by isolating them within a dramatic play of light and shadow.” –from the show  Gonzales died in childbirth at the age of thirty-four, five days after the death of her teacher, Edouard Manet.

Helene Schjerfbeck, Finnish (1862-1946) The Door (1884)

The Door was the most unusual painting in the exhibition.

“The woman artist is an ignored, little-understood force delayed in its rise! A social prejudice of sorts weighs upon her; and yet every year, the number of women who dedicate themselves to art is swelling with fearsome speed.” Helene Bertaux 1881





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