artists in 19th Century France faced several challenges in
their work: they were not allowed to study at the Academy (Ecole
des Beaux Arts) and the duties of marriage and children took away
from their time for painting.
Despite these challenges, a handful of women were persistent
enough to be trained independently and to enter the Paris Salon, only
to choose thereafter to break away and join the Impressionists.
don't ever think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as
an equal, and that's all I would have asked for, for I know I'm worth
as much as they". Berthe Morisot
(from Clement, Houze, Erbolato-Ramsey; The Women Impressionists,
preface p 1)
of Sister as Artist c1869/83
In the following two pictures see two women artists.
In Portrait of Sister as Artist we see
Jeanne Gonzales, Eva Gonzales' sister.
Although Eva achieved renown among the Impressionists, very
little is known about her sister's work.
Perhaps she desisted when she ran against the obstacles of
being a woman artist at the time.
Perhaps she never dared exhibit at the Salon.
Although we see her half lit in the painting, we do not see
her work. This is more a portrait of a woman rather than a celebration
of the artist and her work.
Eva Gonzales (1849-83), who is considered one of the four
major women Impressionists painters (Bracquemond, Cassatt, Gonzales,
Morisot) died at the age of 34 from complications in childbirth.
Mary Cassatt c1880-84
we see a portrait by Degas of Mary Cassatt, who was a true professional
artist. She not only studied with masters all over Europe (despite
the fact that women at the time were not being allowed into the Academy),
but exhibited at the Salon, and then chose to break away and join
the Impressionists. In this portrait
of Cassat by Degas, we see nothing that would give us a clue that
Cassatt is an artist. On the other hand, Degas' portraits of his painter
friend Tissot show him at his studio, surrounded by his paintings.
In a portrait of the writer and critic Duranty, Degas shows a library
of books behind him. Cassatt herself was not particularly fond of
this portrait and requested that the agent who was selling it for
her not mention it was her portrait.
is perhaps ironic that we see a portrait of a great artist holding
what could be cards or small photographs, rather than surrounded by
her paintings. On the other hand, the portrait of Jeanne Gonzales
is a document of a woman at an easel whose art was never recognized.
Mary Cassatt at the Etruscan Gallery
print, created by Degas--as a series of studies in printmaking-- provides
a rather unusual theme for French male artists at the time: an American
woman artist, Cassatt, is portrayed as genuinely studying and analyzing
a work of ancient art at the Louvre . Sitting next to her is Lydia,
Cassatt's older sister, reading from a catalog.
What is new about the theme is that a male colleague is depicting
a woman artist conducting research for her artwork. She is being acknowledged and honored as a professional artist.
Degas met Cassatt in 1877, although he was familiar with a painting
Ida she had submitted to the Salon in 1874, which he admired. In
1879, Degas was planning on publishing a journal Le Jour et la Nuit (Day and Night) that would feature the works
of Independents. Cassatt
was one of the handpicked artists whom Degas had chosen for this project--implying
that Degas trusted Cassatt not only as an artist, but as someone who
could influence people's perception of the Impressionists through writing. It is thought that this print--or one
of the several variations that Degas worked on with Cassatt at the Louvre--was
made to advertise Le Jour et la
Nuit. The publication, intended to disseminate
the principles on which Impressionism was based, never got off the ground
due to lack of funds. Even
though the journal was not successful, these prints were one of Degas'
first experimentation with printmaking. This work shows the influence
of Japonisme on Degas--the use of
printmaking as well as the flattened perspective and stylized figures
that were used by Japanese artists at the time.