Les Grandes Dames

How many of us know the names of Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Berthe Morisot, or Johanna Bonger? All of these women were talented artists during the Impressionist Era of art. That they are little known today says something about how much of a struggle women have had in the recognition of their creative talent.

Marie never received formal art instruction but was influenced by Paul Gauguin and had some guidance from a private studio. Her husband, a printmaker, disapproved of her work and belittled her. The studio where she was trained doubted that women could ever be successful as artists. Even with his discouragement, she had paintings accepted by the state-run Salon at an early age. Then she had paintings selected for 3 of the 8 major Impressionist exhibitions. She produced 157 original works, but after being criticized by her husband for her incurable vanity, she gave up painting. You can see her work at Marie Bracquemond Artworks (wikiart.org).

Mary was born in Pennsylvania but spent much of her adult life in France. Her family discouraged her artistic talent thinking that she would be unduly influenced by the bohemian lifestyle of the male artist. Nevertheless, she persisted despite the lack of training provided to women artists. She decided to pursue her own development as an artist. She became accepted gradually and was one of only two American women to have a painting accepted for exhibition by the Salon. She became disillusioned with the art establishment in France which required women to have a “sponsor” to gain acceptance. Many of the male artists we now know as impressionists had also become disenchanted with the art establishment. She and Edgar Degas became close and she learned from him. In spite of her reluctant acceptance as an artist of note in France, she was never accepted by her family. Later in her life, she was forced to give up painting due to her near-total blindness brought on by diabetes. While her paintings often featured mothers and their children, she never married nor ever had children. You can see her work at Mary Cassatt Artworks (wikiart.org).

Eva came from a connected family. Through these connections, she met Édouard Manet who did her portrait drawing in front of her easel. The portrait gave the impression of her as nothing more than a model. Gradually her own artworks began to gain some attention, but she never was asked to participate in the Impressionist exhibitions. She died at the young age of 34 during childbirth. You can see her work at Eva Gonzales Artworks (wikiart.org).

Berthe was born into an upper-class family where she received art training from an early age. She would spend time at the Louvre copying the works of the masters. It was at this time that she met Édouard Manet and Claude Monet. She was so displeased with her own early paintings that she destroyed most of them. Once she became more confident in her artistic abilities, she began to submit her works to the government-sponsored Salon exhibitions. Later she joined in the Impressionist exhibitions. She was married to Manet’s brother but chose to use her birth surname on her work so that her work would not be confused with her brother-in-law. You can see her work at Berthe Morisot Artworks (wikiart.org).

Johanne was an artist in her own right, but it was dogged determination to see her brother-in-law Vincent Van Gogh get the credit he deserved after his death. Without her efforts, we may never have seen some of the most treasured Impressionist works. You can see her work at Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger Artworks (wikiart.org)

Why have these women received so little credit for one of the most popular periods in art history? Just imagine what might have happened should they had placed a man’s name on their paintings.

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“For an impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensations.” – Paul Cezanne

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