Sunday, 21 April 2013

Women Artists in Paris by Imogen Robertson

An early reader of Paris Winter made the mistake this week of asking me if there really were many female artists training in Paris during the Belle Époque. Five minutes later they staggered away just as I was getting into my stride.

Women were not admitted to the École des Beaux Arts until 1897, but by that time there were already other opportunities for women to train and these independent schools continued to flourish. One of the most important studios was the Académie Julian and it is still training artists today. Rodolphe Julian (1839-1907) was an accomplished painter, but it was as the owner and manager of a number of ateliers for both men and women that he excelled. He came from a poor background, and though he became successful it seems he was always sympathetic towards the plight of the starving artist. That said, the women always paid a great deal poor than the men for their tuition. It was expected they would have a male relative to support them financially. At first Julian allowed women into the male classes, but it was 'awkward' and 'disagreeable' and soon he was operating women only classes. Men and women working from the same nude model seemed to be the cause of the problem. One of his earliest and most influential pupils, Marie Bashkirtseff, was happy to work in the women only classes because the teaching was the same and apparently the men smoked too much. Julian's wife and former pupil, Amélie Beaury-Saurel, was a successful portrait painter in her own right and helped him run his various schools. She obviously helped enhance his reputation. Lady's Realm in 1900 recommended her to English readers as 'an excellent teacher and, in addition [she] possesses a most charming personality.'

Marie Bashkirtseff - In the Studio 1881
Julian hired teachers who had excellent reputations, many were winners of the Prix de Rome, and the focus of the training was on life-drawing and figurative draughtmanship. Students had to show they were expert at drawing plaster casts before they were allowed to work in oils or with a model. There were regular competitions in which the male and female students competed on equal terms and for cash prizes and his students, again both male and female were regular fixtures in the official Salon. It seems the attitude to the work was serious. The Académie was fairly open about who was allowed to pay their fees and take a place in the studio, but if they did not produce work showing talent they would not stay. According to one woman quoted in Catherine Fehrer's 1994 article in Burlington Magazine '...everything was done to discourage her... There would come a day when she would not be in her accustomed place. No one knew what happened, but whatever it was, it was kindly done and effective.' That sounds a little frightening to me, but though there were certainly rivalries, there were also friendships and given the students were encouraged to continually draw quick caricatures of themselves and their teachers, I'm sure there was some Parisian lightness of spirit there too. His pupils came from across Europe and America, some disappeared and some excelled and their works which spanned extraordinary changes in the art world from the Victorian to the Modern are still greatly admired today.

Of course there were dozens of other female artists who were in Paris but did not study with Julian, but you had better not get me started on greats like Suzanne Valadon, or we'll never get out to enjoy the sunshine at all...
Overcoming All Obstacles: The Women of the Académie Julian is a wonderful study of the artists and their work, and you can find a partial list of the artists, male and female, who trained with Julian here.

  

5 comments:

Ms. said...

Oh do hit your stride again and post more about this, more women artists and more pictures....puleeeeease!

mefinx said...

I've just received Paris Winter from Amazon Vine and am very much looking forward to reading it, particularly after such an interesting background piece. I do love this blog!

Imogen said...

Can't resist that! More art next month then, Ms! Hope you enjoy Paris Winter, mefinx.

Theresa Breslin said...

Am echoing Ms comment - I'd like more. When I was in Paris last year I saw the I saw the Berthe Morisot exhibition. Magnifique!

Joan Lennon said...

I loved this post - thank you!