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.


suz said...

i remember being pretty disappointed when taking art history courses that there were very few women mentioned. cassatt was one of the few i remembered was discussed, but very briefly...then it was on to monet's haystacks and water lillies.

Mary Ann said...

Yeah, that's my art-history experience too. Do you remember any others?

Dad said...

I remember women being covered in the art history class I took centuries ago but none of them were pointed out as being a trend setter for their time. Of course, at my age I am not responsible for what I have forgotten.