28 March 2007

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun's Marie Antoinette and her children, 1787.

Vigée-Le Brun is yet another french woman that I really wish I had learned more about a long time ago. Unlike some of the other 'forgotten French ladies', it is easy to find information about Vigée-Le Brun. I've linked to a fantastic web-resource where you can view a copy of nearly every painting she ever made. It is nice that, while we know almost nothing about some of the marvelous lady-painters that France produced around the turn of the 19th century, there are others who have had their stories told.

Vigée-Le Brun was (as the image here indicates) a well regarded portrait painter and in the good graces of the French royal family. They and the aristocracy kept her busy until the French Revolution swept them all away. Worried that her connections with them were a bit too tight, Vigée-Le Brun left France for Italy, Russia, and Austria (later she would leave again for Switzerland). One admirer wrote that she "knew and painted the portraits of just about every prominent figure in Europe and Russia from approximately 1770 to 1835." Not bad.

She was a member of artists' acadamies and societies around Europe. First the Académie de Saint Luc in 1774, then Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783, the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, the Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg, and later the Swiss Société pour l'Avancement des Beaux-Arts. A cosmopolitan, if there ever was one.

Read more here.

27 March 2007

Marguerite Gérard

This is Marguerite Gérard's 1804 Bad News

Clearly, the lady in blue has just read a letter bearing bad tidings. Her attentive friend has produced the smelling salts, which a woman surely needs in such times as these. And even the dog, as though to prove that this isn't just some melodramatic act, looks on with great interest.

Gérard (1761-1837) is another one of those French women painters whose legacy resides at the margins of art and art history. Unlike the other French ladies we've seen this month, Gérard's work wouldn't be confused with David's. It would (and has been) confused with the work of Fragonard, her brother-in-law. The two collaborated, influenced the other's work. It is easy enough to find web references that put Gérard forward as Fragonard's very savior, the influence that saved him from his dedication to Rococo even after the style had fallen out of favor.

Many of Gérard's images are much like the one above. Bad News is a scene of women, and I'd guess it is also intended for women. After all, they attended exhibitions too. Like other painters of her day, Gérard's work centers on the world she lived in, and that world consisted of well appointed homes, loving families, and wealthy friends. With so many women painting and patronizing the arts, it is unsurprising that mundane moments of their lives ended up on canvas.

26 March 2007

Belle Kinney

Matthew got back from NY on Saturday night, and with him came a pile of books I'd specially requested. I'm in heaven, partly because new books are a rarity and partly because these particular books are so very interesting. The one I'm reading right now is G. Kurt Piehler's Remembering War the American Way, which is indeed thesis related. In the introduction (I can't understand why I always skipped the preface/introduction when I was younger. Increasingly I find these sections remarkably useful) I found a reference to yet another book, which will doubtless be added to my library some time soon. The title grabbed me at once--Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscape of Southern Memory. Women, it appears, were the ones who organized and advocated for Confederate commemoration. Eager for more information, I googled it, and found a review overflowing in details about the text (enough detail, even that I've decided I probably am ok NOT citing it in my research, which means I don't have to import it, for which my pocketbook is already heaving a sigh of relief). In one particularly useful section, the review catalogued the artists named in the book, who are responsible for many a monument to the 'Lost Cause' (ie. US Civil War). And among them, one woman was named.

Belle Kinney was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1890 and later studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She taught there for a time. Her sculptures, almost all of them in bronze, are scattered around the nation. Here's an incomplete list of her work:

Statue of Jere Baxter, Jere Baxter School Nashville
Monuments to the Women of the Confederacy, Nashville
Monuments to the Women of the Confederacy, Jackson, Mississippi
Statue of Andrew Jackson at the U.S. Capitol
Statue of John Sevier at the U.S. Capitol
Bust of Admiral Albert Gleaves at Annapolis
Bust of Andrew Jackson at the Tennessee State Capitol
Bust of James K. Polk at the Tennessee State Capitol
Bust of Alexander P. Stewart
Statue of Richard Owen in the Indiana State University (pictured here)
The Bronx County (WWI) Memorial
Pediment sculptures of the Nashville Parthenon (based on the original Greek)

She is generally remembered as Tennessee's best sculptor, and for a few decades there, anyone who was anyone in the state's past or present had their likeness rendered by her. She is one among a few women who executed the monuments that the United Daughters of the Confederacy promoted with such tenacity. Somehow, that seems fitting.

23 March 2007

Baroness Elsa : Dada Muse

We started this ill-fated week with Hannah Höch, Dada Artist, and so I suppose it is fitting that we end it with an ill-fated Dada Muse.

She's got quite a name: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. She acquired the title with her 1913 marriage to Leopold Freiherr von Freytag-Loringhoven. I suppose the foregoing description 'Dada Muse' isn't quite enough. She was a dancer, a poet, a model, a farmer. But no matter what she was up to, she did it as a complete exhibitionist, feminist, and artist. The image here is a photo of what she called a "portrait of Marcel Duchamp" in 1920. In perfect Dada style, the portrait is made up of everyday rubbish. Feathers, beads, wire, a champagne glass. Very little of her art survives, but her poetry and some of her letters have. Oh, and descriptions of her clothing, appearance, and antics can be found in the work of any author remotely connected with NY Dada. That's how outlandish she was.

The Baroness was resourceful, bold, and persistent enough to fend for herself. Even though it was certainly humiliating, she took work in a cigarette factory once, selling newspapers on the street on another occasion when the men and the money ran out. She also used her own flamboyance to cultivate as much material advantage as she could. And it worked. Ezra Pound wrote about her in his "Cantos", Frederick Philip Grove wrote a few books based on her life before abandoning her in Kentucy in 1911. She modeled her way to NY where she modeled some more for Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia. Modeling was a means to an end. It kept her close to art, and the money got her closer to being able to afford to actually do art. She eventually returned to Germany in 1923, where her life and finances got particularly bleak. Several friends (women who were all part of the first circle of American feminists and authors) came to her aid and bankrolled her relocation to Paris, where she died in 1927.

Unlike some of the other women we've seen here this month, there is no shortage of information out there about the Baroness. She's an enigma, a fascinating one. And even though 90 years have passed since her outlandish Greenwich Village escapades began, they'd still look like outlandish escapades today. Currency. Just something an artist has got to have.

22 March 2007

Love Hate

At about 3:30 this afternoon I decided to drive the kids to their favorite park, and about half way there plowed into the back of a car stopped ahead of me. It was embarrassingly stupid of me. I had taken my foot off the pedal for a split second to mess with my sock, and then couldn’t find the brake pedal in time. Quite likely the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Ever. (Which I suppose is comforting. Stupid goes downhill a long way from there, but still.) It took more than an hour and a half to sort everything out, and it was an even bigger mess that it might have been because our insurance had lapsed. Yes, it had.

Star fell asleep like a little cherub, while Dandelion played contentedly in her car seat. Karim appeared at the last minute like a deus ex machina, and prevented any further bungling of things by me, and sent me home with a wave of the hand and an “I’ll take care of it.”

I swear, I’d hate this place if I didn’t love it so much. Or maybe I’d love it if I didn’t hate it the way I do.

21 March 2007

Lebanese Mother's Day

If there has been a downside (which is not a foregone conclusion) to WHM here at Impart Art, it is that I have blogged nothing about Lebanon, and nothing about my kids, which are big parts of my world. I'm going to try to bring all that in today, since this is our Mother's Day.

Yesterday, Star's preschool had a party for all the moms. I walked in 15 minutes late, which is nothing in Lebanon. Late happens all the time. So it should bear some significance that when I arrived late, my child was the only one without at least one maternal figure sitting close by (yes, some kids had mom and Grandma). All the other moms where there. All of them. They had quite obviously already started the crafty-portion of the day's festivities. Star was totally unconcerned by my late arrival, but I got enough dirty looks from the other moms to make up for it.

It's a big deal here, Mother's Day. My husband keeps track of holidays by the banner ads online. But with only 15% of the Lebanese online, advertisers are sticking to billboards. For the past week or so, many billboards around town have been given over to suggesting anything from shoes to luxury watches for Mom. Some of these have been absolutely fascinating. Oh yes, I will elaborate.

1. There's a huge billboard on the costal highway from Exotica, the local fancy-schmancy (expensive) florist. The advert's only text is the company name and 'Mother's Day'. It shows a child's hand holding up a cut flower, and a woman's hand lazily half-inclined toward it. I swear, the positions of the hands are exactly out of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. In Michelangelo's image, God is about to give Adam life, through the touch of both beings' gently reaching fingers. How interesting, to put the mother in as God, the child in as Adam, and reverse the giving role. Are children who appreciate their mother essentially giving her life? Does a child repay the gift of his/her life by showing devotion to the mother (in the form of an annual flower)? What does it mean?!?

2. All along the road to Damascus, another billboard will greet you again and again. It shows two women seated, one on the right and the other on the left half of the image. Both are young, pretty, smiling. The one on the right is dressed in a suit with hair nicely done. She's a woman ready for the office. Her gaze is directed at the woman on the left whose clothing is comfortable, a t-shirt and knit pants, obviously not an office type. We see these two women just as the comfortably-clad one has unwrapped her mothers day gift--a lovely pair of shoes. Text running along the top reads: It's Mother's Day, Not Yours. Huh? Women who wear suits aren't moms? Or is it women in the work place aren't moms? Or moms are dowdy, so get them fancy shoes! Or what? What does it mean?

I'll get pictures when I can. Our camera is currently spending time with Matthew in NY.

20 March 2007

Art Goes to the Movies

And now, a brief, sorta-break from Women's History Month to bring you a divergence (in which women outnumber men 3-2, if that matters).

I've written about movies and art once before. It was boring, so don't bother clicking the link. Don't bother re-reading it. It was about movies that have art crammed into the background. For my second swing at the Art in Movies theme, I've decided to respond to Modern Art Notes' request for bloggers to list their five top paintings that would make a good movie all on their own. I was intrigued, but not entirely by paintings. Here are my painted-and-not selections:

1. Jeff Wall’s 1978 Destroyed Room
It's the prefect candidate for a mystery. I blogged all about it here. Some third party person could stumble on the room and try to figure out who it belonged to, why it was destroyed, and attempt to put things right. Or it could be like Suz's room meet's Groundhog's Day, where the main character works all day to tidy the room and despite all their heroic efforts they wake up the next day and the room is a disaster again. I'd like to see Jennifer Hudson play the owner of the room in either case.

2. Any one of Louise Bourgeois's Spiders (1999-2001, I think?)
The biggest of these creations are huge (30' high) sculptures designed for public spaces. They stand on spindly legs and look positively menacing, and yet Bourgeois has named them things like 'Maman', mommy in her native French. The spiders have been on a bit of a world-tour, Russia, Japan, UK, Canada, and they are totally terrifying. But I imagine a movie in which they are benevolent, as Bourgeois intends them to be, only in CGI rather than steel. HUGE terrifying-yet-benign spiders take up residence in major metropolitan centers. Conflict over what to do about them (ie. how to co-exist with them if at all) will be the movie's central theme. Disaster movies need Tommy Lee Jones, so he could be the mayor or something. And the Spiders will need a human advocate--that could be Julian Moore.

3. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard's 1799 Dublin-Tornelle
The painting itself is almost too boring, but the story behind it is nothing if not dynamic. The movie could trace the material reality of the painting. I would have the movie start in the 1950s when the debate over authorship began, and the movie could showcase the two women who have been given credit for it. This picture would be like the diamond necklace in the Titanic--central to a story that explains why it matters so much.

4. James Ensor's 1889 Christ's Entry into Brussels
Not only is this painting packed with people, details, life, all perfectly setting the stage--the painting asks the impossible. Imagine if Jesus appeared in your city, right NOW. Ensor's Christ is absolutely LOST in the crowd. You'd hardly know he was there at all but for the title. I imagine a movie of this painting going something like a cross between Dostoyevsky's hypothetical appearance of Jesus in the Brother's Karamazov and the recent movie Lady in the Water. I have no suggestions for who should play Jesus or any other role in this movie. No idea.

5. Ann Hamilton's 1993 Torpos
It seems like a long time ago that I referenced this installation, but it was just so good, and like Ensor's painting, Hamilton was able to really create a feeling, an atmosphere in this project. She clouded the windows, raked the floor, covered it in horse hair, and then in the middle of all that methodically had book after book slowly, and deliberately burned as it was being read. It makes me think of the never ending story, where the pages suddenly go blank. Tropos allows a more educated, adult contemplation of the 'nothing'.

19 March 2007

Hannah Höch, Dada Artist

I can hardly believe that there are only 10 blogging days until the end of March. I've frankly liked my Women's History Month project. It has made my whole formal education look so, well, male-centric, which, let's face it, it was/is. It took this project for me to see that for what it was: incomplete.

One other note before I devote my full attention to the next fantastic woman: my extra verses for Follow the Prophet are on view here, with (what for FMH is indeed) a tiny, bitty discussion. Chime in, if you want.

When people get bent out of shape about the 'state of art today', their issues generally go directly back to Dada, a movement that was as tied up in pre-WWI angst and post war disillusionment as a movement ever could be. Dada, as we all know from the urinal-legacy of Marcel Duchamp (read more here, and here), engaged in the presentation-as-art of common things, material things, things that were drawn right out of the nitty-gritty of every-day life.

Hannah Höch's collages, made from magazine and newspaper clippings, fit easily into the Dada framework of common things. But while Duchamp's images critiqued the art establishment and its values, Höch and other Berlin-Dada artists were engaged in (often biting) social commentary. Dada was perhaps foremost an effort to expose the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie. The vulgarity of the masses, along with a sharp criticism of it, emerged in their work again and again.

No one did this better than Höch, in part because she was a woman. The absurdity and vanity of the bourgeoisie, though clearly ripe for a good parody was nothing to the way women were thought of, constructed, limited by the customs of the day. In the image I've selected, Höch has literally constructed (collaged) a woman out of images of her--the way she has been depicted in various times and places. And she's a mutant, a freak. Höch's sense was that her own culture's view of women was no better, and she wanted to show the viewer what she saw.

Höch, unlike so many of the artistic Avant-Garde, stayed in Germany, survived the war, and died there in 1978.

16 March 2007

Olga Rozanova

Back on 7 March, I said that I'd returned to my old text books, searching for women. Same story here, but in a different book. Nearly 200 pages into Art in Theory, you'll find Olga Rozanova's 'The Bases of New Creation' from 1913. Here is one of her paintings from the same year.

In 'The Bases of New Creation', she wrote:

A servile repetition of nature's models can never express all her fullness.
It is time, at long last to acknowledge this and to delcare frankly, once and for all, that other ways, other methods of expressing the World are needed.

What is she talking about? A lot of things probably, Abstraction chief among them. Five years earlier, Picasso and Braque had begun their cubist experimentation. But even in 1913, Rozanova's was a bold proclamation. Over the years, she was associated with a number of movements and groups. She is best remembered as a Suprematist, a super-modern artistic revolution in Russian, with among other things, total abstraction as an aim. Rozanova's essay proves her committment to the main ideals of this movement well before it had taken shape. She and one other woman, Kseniya Boguslavskaya, were important enough in this movement to be mentioned by name in their earliest publication (1915) among aritists who "had led the struggle for the freedom of objects from the obligations of art".

Rozanova died in 1918. A picture that she made the year of her death shows nothing but a verticle green stripe. She was 32, and like all artists that die young there is lots of specuation about what she might have done if she had lived longer.

15 March 2007

Julia Margaret Cameron

Like Lady Hawarden of yesterday's post, Julia Margaret Cameron was a British woman who got into photography in the medium's early days. She was given a camera in 1863 as a birthday present when she turned 48. 48! Back in the mid-1800s, 48 was OLD. That ought to give hope to anyone out there. It is never, ever too late. I love it.

Anyway, Cameron was well-connected, so well in fact that she had the opportunity to make portraits of some of the notable figures of her day: A. L. Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Edward Burne-Jones, among others. And it is primarily because of these portraits that we have any record of Cameron's work. In 1926, these portraits were published under the title Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women by none other than Virginia Woolf. Cameron was her great-aunt. I admit that I was a bit surprised that the title wasn't something like J.M. Cameron's Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women. That her name wasn't included leads me to believe that in 1926, she was totally unknown, and therefore it wouldn't have helped the volume sell. Besides, in 1926 photography's status as art was still a matter of debate.

Anyway, many of Cameron's photographs were complete fantasies, Allegorical images as they are called. She posed her family, servants, neighborhood children, even Sri Lanken natives when her husband's employment took them there, and these are the images that I find most engaging. The image above is one of these, an Allegorical portrait of the Madonna and child, with Cameron's maid posed as the Madonna.

The differences between Cameron and Hawarden are slight. They both photographed their children in varyingly fantastic situations, were recognzied for their technical competence and skill, and both were very nearly forgotten entirely. Cameron's work is seen by many as a forerunner to the images Sally Mann made of her children during the late 1980s and early 90s.

science & society picture library

14 March 2007

Lady Clementina Hawarden

We’re back in Europe for the next installment of Women's History Month artists (artistresses?). Across the channel in Britain, where in 1861, Lady Clementina Hawarden was busy taking pictures of, among other things, the neat things her dog could do.

Most of her surviving photographs are in the V&A in London, where I found this image along with everything else I can report about Hawarden. I love a good, informative page.

Haraden was a respected photographer, and even won silver medals at the Photographic Society of London. Many of her photographs are of her daughters play-acting, posing in costume, or otherwise being theatrical in their home. I think photography gave Hawarden an opportunity to entertain fantasy, realize imaginations, and explore slight variations on reality. Like the dog's precarious perch, the images of her family that I find most engaging are the ones that feature uncommon moments.

Another interesting note: see how the edges of the photograph are missing? Apparently the prints held by the V&A were damaged when someone removed them from an album before the museum acquired them. Of the ripped, cut, cropped corners, the V&A text offered the general observation that, "the state of a print reveals much about a photograph's material history." I like that.

13 March 2007

Kiyohara Yukinobu

UPDATE: 15/03/07--the image is here!

Just a reminder, in case you missed the post heralding my current project, March is Women's History Month. I'll be posting about women artists all month long. After my post about Louise Nevelson, who is quite famous, I decided to focus on women who aren't so well-known (or at least those who were hitherto totally unknown to me).

So far, there has been a definite focus on France, and I don't know about you but I'm getting wanderlusty. Not that France isn't all that. It really, really is, but there's a world full of women out there and the month is already nearly half over. Today, we're leaving the continent all together and moving far, far east.

Art was every bit as much a man's pursuit in Japan as it was in Europe during the 1600s, the century in which Kiyohara Yukinobu lived. Painting was one among the "Four Accomplishments" that upper-class men cultivated (the other three were music, calligraphy, and the chess-like game go). But Yukinobu's father was a master Kano-school painter, and so she had access to a world that normally would have excluded her.

I've tried off and on for the better part of an hour to upload a good example of her paining, but alas, blogger will not comply. You can find one at the Kyoto National Museum. The link will take you to their search page. Enter Yukinobu's name, and you'll find it. I recommend that you use their picture viewer to magnify the image as much as you can. Her brushwork is amazing.

I have not been able to find much else about her life or work. I can see a trip to the library in my future. Just as soon as good reserach libraries re-enter my world of possibilities.

12 March 2007

Césarine Henriette Flore Davin-Mirvault

Ok, ok, ok. I'm sure everyone is just dying for another "Oops! It isn't a David after all" story, so here it is.

A portrait of Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni, 1804.

This time it concerns a woman (big shock) named Césarine Henriette Flore Davin-Mirvault. I've been able to find very few web references, and she is unsurprisingly absent from my library of art books. So, if you feel you can trust Time magazine ca. 1960, here are the facts:

Césarine Henriette Flore Davin-Mirvault was "the daughter of a geographer and the goddaughter of a marquise, presided over small dinner parties that artists and musicians, now long forgotten, loyally attended. She exhibited fairly often, was always listed in catalogues as a pupil of David."

Davin-Mirvault's connection with David is clear enough, so when the Frick Museum bought the portrait of the violinist Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni and it was attributed to David, no one should have been too surprised. That was in 1952, and about a decade later, they settled on Davin-Mirvault--but only after they could prove that she knew the violinist. The article continues:

"For the answer to that, [Dealer Georges] Wildenstein went to the diaries of a certain Mme. Moitte, one of Mme. Davin's cattier friends. On Feb. 3, 1806, Mme. Moitte went to Mme. Davin's for dinner. She reported that the wine was inferior, that the fried cakes were undercooked, and that the candles "reeked of grease." As a final social note, she added that Mme. Davin sang and that Signor Bruni "played the violin."

See the image at the Frick's site.

09 March 2007

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard

Yesterday we looked at one case where a Villers was mistaken for a David. Today we have another one to consider. Here's the image in question.

That's the 1799 portrait of Dublin-Tornelle.
And here is a bit about it that I found here:
In 1943, the Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, Mass.) received this portrait of actor Dublin-Tornelle through a bequest of Harvard alumnus Grenville L. Winthrop. For twenty-eight years as part of the Fogg's permanent collection, the portrait was believed to be a David.

Biggest clue that it wasn't? Scholars estimated that the name 'David' was added to the image 26 years after David died. So, they took a look at the painting under ultraviolet lights. I know very little about this process, but apparently this shows a whole bunch of things, like if the painting was ever restored, over-cleaned, over-painted, varnished, etc. Read more here. Anyway, they looked at the painting under ultraviolet lights and they saw a totally different signature: Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.

Labille-Guiard was an accomplished painter, who painted the portraits of anyone who was anyone in Paris, where she was spent most her life. She was a respected teacher and spent many years teaching others to paint. AND, if that isn't enough, she was an activist. She took part in lobbying the academy to allow women to exhibit, and she was among the first women to do it. If you'd like to read more about her, here are a few links:

08 March 2007

Marie Denise Villers

Yesterday's post found me asking myself why so few of the paintings Charpentier is known to have made are still with us. Where did they go? Well, today, we have one answer, and tomorrow, another. It concerns this painting:

It is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and when they acquired it, they attributed it to David. In 1951, their then-director, Charles Sterling, attributed it to Constance-Marie Charpentier. Evidence against Charpentier started to pile up, and finally it was decided that the painting was instead by Marie Denise Villers.

I'm sure no one will be surprised to hear that the painting lost considerable value when it no longer could be attributed to David. David, after all, was a master even in his own time. Is it then any wonder that collectors and dealers, eager to sell a painting with obvious technical merit and stylistic similarity would claim that it was his? It certainly is easier to sell (and for greater returns) with a famous name attached.

For a brief biography of Marie Denise Villers, click here.

07 March 2007

Constance-Marie Charpentier

Searching for women in my old text book for a 19th c. art class I took as an undergrad, I found Constance-Marie Charpentier. The text doesn't say much about her, other than that she was "one of many women artists who had studied with, among other masters, David". The link above will take you to the second edition, which is 20 years newer than the one I used. I wonder how it might have changed since then.

Melancholy, 1801
The text began by stating that this painting was exhibited at the 1801 Salon and goes on to describe this image in terms of David's painting Oath of the Horatii. The authors chose words like "prototype" and "source" for the relationship of David's image to Charpentier's. But the analysis offered in the text is most successful in cataloging the differences between the works, which leaves me wondering why they presented David as a foundation at all. Among these differences, the text noted Charpentier's drastically altered "emotional ambience", "mood of eternal sorrow", "bittersweet emotion . . . echoed in nature itself", "the weeping willow tree . . . seems virtually to grieve with her", "all the world . . . responds to this unspecified sorrow". And then it moves on to the next David-esque painter.

I've looked for more information about Charpentier, and haven't found much. This is from artnet:

She exhibited at the Salon from 1795 until 1819, when she received a gold medal. Like other female painters of her period, she specialized in sentimental genre scenes and portraits of women and children. Although she was considered by contemporary critics to be one of the finest portrait painters of the age, few works by her have been traced.

I find all of this very interesting. Carpentier doesn't seem like the kind of artist who should have just vanished from the record, or to only have her work spoken of as a derivative of David's. But that has clearly happened. Maybe some day I'll have the chance to do some research and fill the void surrounding her.

06 March 2007

Berthe Morisot

Before I write out even one more 'Women's History Month' post, I need to make something perfectly clear. While some (no, most) of my posts are taken right off the top of my head (with a dash of fact-checking), these are not. Well, I check my facts, but they're not spontaneous. Not that I couldn't easily list 3 dozen or more women artists who are just so darn knock-your-socks-right-off cool that they deserve a post all their own, because I could, and maybe in '08 I will do a month all about the women who come to my mind first. Since my interest in art is all tied up in modern/contemporary, the women I know most about tend to be recent, still living artists. But for this month, I'd really love to focus on the ones who did the dirty work 150, or 100 of 50 years ago. I want to know more about the women who set the stage for ones I've come to admire.

I think I can safely say that I never heard the name Berthe Morisot in any art class I have ever taken. Maybe I'd have learned about her if she had been American, or if my education had taken place in France. Art education gets nationalistic like that. Sad, but true. Morisot was French, and quite a good painter of landscapes.

Once Blogger decides to upload images again, I'll add one here.
Ah, here it is:

Like my Gardner post, Morisot is often compared with Cassatt. They date from the same period and were tied up in the same movement, Impressionism. The even shared quite a bit of subject matter. Women and children are prominent subjects in both painters' work, but Morisot tended more to landscape, to the out-of-doors plein-air moments that Monet and other Impressionists likewise chased.

05 March 2007

Elizabeth Jane Gardner

When you flip through most books about art and art history, you will find reference to very few women. Most of the women you
will find will be from the second half of the 20th century, and it really is very good that the second half of the 20th century has yielded so many phenomenal women. But lets talk about the 19th century for a little while longer.

Those who have ever been given even a basic overview of the history of art will have heard of Mary Cassatt. She was an American who left for Paris where she really came into her own. Cassat was not the darling of American-lady-painters of the mid 1800s though, that was Elizabeth Jane Gardner. Like Cassat, Gardner left the US for better opportunities (ie. education) in Paris. She was the first American woman to win a gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1872. The newspapers lauded her, the pubic loved her style (which is hard for me and any non-expert to tell apart from Bouguereau--not surprising. He was her instructor and eventually her husband).

Whereas Gardner was perhaps the foremost woman in art during her lifetime, Cassat was virtually unknown. The reverse is now true. Cassatt is well known today because a) the feminists have had so much fun analyzing her images of the spaces of femininity and b) her work was closely aligned with the Impressionists and they were clearly on the trajectory that produced Cezanne, Picasso, and Modernism. Gardner, though wildly successful during her life, wasn't part of the push toward abstraction. And I'm pretty sure a feminist reading of her work would tie itself in knots. Her subject matter was determined by the market--she painted what had been proven to sell well. A few decades later, her work had come to represent everything the avant garde had rejected, the style, the subject matter, all of it.

I was disapointed to find very little about Gardner online. The best resources are actually at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Anyway, Gardner is worthy of adminration. She set off for Paris to be a big success and she did just that.

02 March 2007

Louise Nevelson

I've written elsewhere that I don't have a favorite artist. But if I were to name contenders for the title, Louise Nevelson would be on the list. She died nearly 20 years ago, so I wonder if she still counts as 'recent'. Anyway, she was known for making things like this:

She built these (sometimes massive) collages usually out of scrap wood and whatever a carpenter might have discarded. And, like the one pictured here, the final product was painted all in one color--usually black, but she also used white or the occasional gold. The gold ones look like a kind of schizophrenic altar. Anyway, the first time I saw one of these sculptures in real life was in the art museum in Mannheim. Pictures of her work aren't nearly as much fun to look at as the real thing.

There are lots of completely subjective reasons why I like her work. I like that she went monochrome. I like that she made use of found objects. I like that she put things in boxes, and I find her arrangement of those filled-boxes pleasing. I like that her work challenges what it is to be 'sculpture'.

01 March 2007

Women's History Month

I'm not sure where this idea came from, but as soon as it arrived in my head I knew it was the kind of idea that was going to eventually take shape. The title of this post has done some of the explaining for me. I was reminded a few weeks ago that March is Women's History month (FYI Feb. was Black History month). As I understand it, the concept of Women's History is to educate us all about what women were doing, how they lived, what their lives were like etc. and also to write women into the histories that have overlooked them. A big job. Yeah.

So, anyway, about a year ago, Katie bequeathed me all of her books from a college feminism course. I hadn't read them before, nor had I read anything feminist that wasn't directly related to art history. But I recently picked one up: "Gender, Power, & Promise: The Subject of the Bible's First Story". I have no time to do justice to the book or my experience of reading it. No TIME. So I won't even tell you if I thought it was good, or interesting, or anything. But I read it, and reading it got me thinking about the old testament and the lessons I learned about it during all those years of childhood Sunday school.

There's a song that kids sing at church "Follow the Prophet", and you can read the whole text here. Its got a zippy, middle-eastern-sounding melody (well, what I really mean is Jewish sounding, but my brother in law will call me racist if I write that, but really, it could be in the background while tevia dances. I mean, come on people.) and kids love to sing it. Problem is, all the OT prophetesses have been left out. Enter Women's History month, give me a few weeks for my subconscious to chew on the idea, and Poof! In my free time between waking up and lunch you've got three new verses. Enjoy.

(Judges 4)
Deborah was a prophet—she judged Israel.
Led them into battle, triumphed with Jael.
God will guide our leaders, women can lead too.
They will show the way to God for me and you.

(2 Kings 22 & 23)
Huldah was a prophet—she warned Judah’s king
“keep the law, repent! or evil I will bring”
Humbled by the word, the king changed Judah’s ways
Huldah’s counsel lengthened out the city’s days.

(Luke 2:36-38)
Anna was a prophet in Jerusalem.
Recognized redemption’d come to all of them.
Anna testified that Jesus was the one,
just as all the prophets ’fore and since have done.

Happy Women's History Month, everyone. I've decided to have a women-centric month at Impart Art. Women are too often overlooked and left out, even on this blog.