Saturday, January 21, 2017

Two: Women of the 19th Century

Art Trends in the 1800s

In the 1800s Europe entered a totally different phase of history, and art changed radically.

Blame it on the revolutionary spirit expressed in France and America. Factor in rapid industrialization in the 1800s and consequent rise of cities. Old power structures broke down and suddenly everyone was questioning the status quo.

In France art started with a turn toward Realism. After centuries of treating religious stories, mythological stories, standard genre scenes, and artificially composed still lifes, some artists began to take an interest in the real world around them. Realism then led some artists to depict peasant life. This was a sentimental gesture; now that everyone was moving to the city, they felt nostalgic for the old ways, or for their dream of the old days.

Jules Breton
Calling in the Gleaners, 1859
Along with that went a particular interest in paintings of animals. In France, Britain, the Netherlands and America, realistic depiction of animals in realistic settings had a market of its own.

Here's an example by the foremost British animal-painter.

Edwin Henry Landseer
Favourites, the Property of H.R.H. Prince George of Cambridge
A great many artists were able to make a living painting animals, and foremost among them was a woman:

1822-1899: Rosa Bonheur

• Rosa Bonheur was one of the most famous and talented animal painters of all time.

• Although she was French, her paintings more popular in England and America than in France, and many of her most important works are in museums in those countries.

• Although Rosa's animal paintings were prized for their anatomical accuracy, their real strength is in their sympathetic portrayal. After she became a success, she kept a large and varied menagerie on her estate in Fontainebleau.

• Rosa is notorious her mannish mode of dress, her assertive behavior, and her life-long relationship with the same woman.

Animal-painting is a specialized genre. It has enduring appeal for a certain audience, but its impact on the the development of art soon waned.

Development of Impressionism

The great revolution in art was Impressionism. Artists who were born in the 1830s and 1840s, when they reached maturity in the 1850s and 1860s, they rebelled against the status quo in art. Like little kids, they just kept asking Why? Why do subjects have to be formal? Why does modeling have to be ideal? Why do brushstrokes have to be blended?

And from their questions, artists started trying other ways of doing things. Instead of sitting in their studios, they ventured outside to look at the real world. That got them interested in the play of light throughout the day. And they began to think they could convey lighting effects better if they could break up their brushstrokes and let them show; the picture would be more vibrant. Then they noticed that some types of brushstrokes felt more natural than others; brushstrokes could express feelings.

And so forth. Once painters started experimenting with all the elements involved in making a painting, a whole new energy came into art. New styles followed one right after another. Instead of trying to make products that conformed to tradition, painters were taking control of the medium and using it for their own purposes.

The men painters most closely associated with Impressionism were Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro. Two women were equally involved and equally respected at the time: Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. Two other women were working in the Impressionist mode at that time who are less known because their careers were brief: Marie Bracquemond and Eva Gonzalés.

Let's look at these artists in chronological order.

1840-1916: Marie Bracquemond

• Marie Bracquemond was a renowned Impressionist painter whose reputation was limited by her comparatively small output.

• Her favored subjects were individuals and small groups in informal settings. 

• Her special talent was romantic light effects such as the dappled light of a garden or the glow of lamplight at the dinner table. 

• Marie also won respect for her engravings and ceramic designs.

• Marie's husband Felix is notorious in art history for discouraging her painting career.

1841-1895: Berthe Morisot

• Berthe Morisot was the greatest woman painter in France in the 1800s.

• She was one of the pioneers of Impressionism, and exhibited in 7 of the 8 Impressionist exhibits.

• Her principal subject was domestic life and portraits of family and friends. Her most enduring paintings are dreamy portraits of women and girls in interior settings.

• Berthe is known for her association with the Manet family: she was a colleague of the famous painter Édouard Manet, and married to his brother, Eugene, also a painter. These two artists respected her talent and encouraged her career.

1844-1926: Mary Cassatt, American

• Mary Cassatt was the greatest woman painter of the 19th century.

• She is one of the foremost innovators of Impressionism, but she soon developed a more personal and dynamic style, and continued to experiment with different approaches.

• Almost all her work features one or two women, often in interaction with one or two children.

• Mary's compositions are intimate without being sentimental, and beautiful without being trite.

• Although she was American, she spent most of her career in Paris, and was on equal terms with the other pioneers of Impressionism, both male and female.

• Though her home was in Paris, most of her sales were in the United States. Through her influence with American collectors, Impressionism became the dominant movement in the U.S.

• Eva Gonzalès was a minor Impressionist who did not show her work in the Impressionist Exhibits.

• She was a student and follower of Edouard Manet, as well as posing for a few of his paintings.

• She died at the age of 34, from complications following childbirth, which limited both her output and her critical reputation.

• She was very talented and versatile, but it seems she died before coming to maturity as an artist.

• In recent years she has received increased critical appreciation. 

American Women of the 19th Century

It's time to turn our attention to what American women painters were doing in the 1800s.

The very first paintings by women to enter art history in America were by women in the large family of Charles Willson Peale, America's first art educator, who lived through the Revolutionary period. He named all his daughters for women artists; some of them became artists; daughters of some of his children also became artists. These pioneers didn't really push their careers, so very little of their work can be seen in museums.

The first American woman to become famous and self-supporting as an artist was:

1822-1902: Lilly Martin Spencer

• Lilly Martin Spencer was the first successful woman artist in America.

• In the 1850s, Lilly became one of the most popular and widely reproduced genre painters in the U.S.

• She achieved particular success with humorous domestic subjects.

• Her particular strength was in highly realistic and polished rendering of objects, and most of her scenes include excellent still life elements.

• As a role model, she successfully combined the roles of artist and mother, supporting a large family by her painting while her husband took over household management.

Three American women painters were working during the Impressionist period and were influenced to different degrees by the stylistic changes in Europe. However, the United States was less sophisticated than Europe, less friendly to experimentation, and less aware of women's potential. Therefore women artists tended to be more conservative and their work sometimes has less impact. Let's look at them in order.

• Maria Oakey Dewing specialized in the depiction of flowers.

• She was widely recognized in the 1890s and beyond, when there was a fad for fine gardens among the wealthy

• Most of her canvases show flowers still in the garden, from a gardener's point of view.

• Though limited in scope, her paintings are fresh and modern in technique.

• As a woman, she exemplifies the artists who curtailed their own ambitions in order to support the careers of their artist husbands. She is known for regretting that choice.

• Lilla Cabot Perry was an American Impressionist painter, whose career spanned the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.

• She specialized in portraits, and most of her famous paintings feature her own daughters, and other family members. 

• She is known for her friendship with the father of Impressionism, Claude Monet, and for her long study of his technique.

• Although she is known as an Impressionist, her society portraits tended to be realistic and formal.

• As a woman, she broke through the conventions and expectations of her privileged upbringing by taking her career seriously.

• Cecilia Beaux was the most famous and accomplished woman artist in America in the 19th century. 

• She was one of the most successful society portrait artists of her era, the late 19th and early 20th century.

• Her style was realistic, with Impressionist influence.

• Cecilia was also an important art educator, the first woman to have a permanent position at the Pennsylvania Academy.

• As a woman, she was the first artist to deliberately reject marriage and family in favor of pursuing her career as a total commitment, and to make a point about this choice.

California Women of the 19th Century

Civilization came to California in the 1850s and 1860s.

  • After the discovery of gold in 1949, and the territory was declared a state. Not all the pioneers who trekked across the vast plains, or sailed the vast ocean, to get to California were gold-miners. People who had lived in small towns in the east, who might have had small businesses, and other sorts of enterprising people, some of them quite educated, also came to try their luck in the Land of Opportunity.

The San Francisco School of Design was established in 1874.

  • The first generation of settlers produced several artists by the 1870s and 1880s, including several women.
  • The San Francisco School of Design was very influential in developing the art scene in California. It was attended by most of the prominent artists of that early period. Presently this school is called the San Francisco Art Institute, and it is located on Russian Hill. It was originally located in an elaborate Victorian mansion that had been donated for the purpose. When that building burned down in the 1906 earthquake, it was replaced with a more modest building on the same site.

The San Francisco School of Design was innovative.

  • Teachers encouraged students to paint from direct observation, rather than by copying models or other paintings. 
  • The school admitted women students from the beginning, without a lot of prejudice.

The first generation of women artists in California:

We are going to consider the work of two women from Northern California. They are about the same age, and the both trained at the San Francisco School of Design, though not at the same time. Both of them succeeded by focusing on a narrow specialty and taking a documentary attitude. These limitations also limited the scope of their achievement and their fame.

• Grace Carpenter Hudson was the first California woman to develop a national reputation, and one of the nation's earliest commercially successful women artists.

• She specialized in the depiction of the Pomo Indians who lived in the Ukiah area.

• Her style was traditional realism that showed no influence of modern trends.

• As a woman, she found an equal partner in her husband, who shared her interest in the Pomos and supported her career.

• Evelyn McCormick was a California Impressionist painter whose career started in the 1890s. 

• She was one of the earliest women in California to have a successful career as an artist.

• Evelyn lived and worked in Monterey, and most of her subjects were local scenery and historical architecture. This specialization limited the scope of her ambition.

• She enjoyed a Bohemian lifestyle and sexual liberation. 


1. Rosa Bonheur was the most popular animal painter for a short period in the middle of the 1800s.

2. The most important Impressionist painters were Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and Morisot. For awhile, the women were as famous, as well-regarded, and as successful as the men.

3. Mary Cassatt is hands down the greatest woman painter of the 1800s.

4. The greatest woman painter to make her career in the U.S. in the 1800s was Cecilia Beaux.

5. Pioneering California women limited their ambitions by limiting their subject matter. Grace Hudson painted the Pomo Indians and Evelyn McCormick painted the scenery of Monterey.