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Why Did the History of Impressionism Forget It’s Women?

The French history of impressionism for some strange reason has obscured at best and obliterated at worst, some very noteworthy female impressionism painters. In this article, I hope to briefly expose some of these talented female artists whose careers were either short-lived or disregarded by art historians for so many decades.

Paris, the Art Epicenter of the 19th Century

Paris in the 19th century was progressive, sophisticated and cultured compared with other cities in the world. The French capital was also the epicenter of the art world. However progressive Paris in the 19th century wasn’t really forward-thinking for everyone. In the 1800s, Paris placed many limitations and restrictions on women in all spheres of life and certainly in the art world.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir remarked:

“The woman artist is merely ridiculous, but I am in favor of the female singer and dancer.” 

For example, it was unacceptable for women to hang out in cafes and certainly not with other men unless they had a male companion accompanying them! In the art world, the most prestigious Paris art school called École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) did not accept women at all until 1897.

“It is enough to make one cry with rage….Why cannot I go and study there?”

1878 – from the journal of Ukrainian artist Marie Bashkirtseff, who was turned away from the Ecole des Beaux Arts

A woman’s place was in the home, married and raising children. Having an art career was ludicrous, preposterous and laughable!

Degas says after viewing one of Mary Cassatt‘s paintings:
“I don’t believe a woman could draw that well.

Did you really do this?”

Some Women Resisted Social Norms To Paint!

Despite these obstacles, some women found a way to pursue their dreams of art during the 19th century. There were women who came from wealthy families and could afford private art schools or private art teachers. They certainly had an advantage, like Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Eva Gonzales.

And there were supportive families and husbands who encouraged women to pursue their creative aspirations. For example, Eugene Manet an artist himself, married Berthe Morisot and uncharacteristically for that period, gave up his own artistic career so that Morisot could pursue hers.

Some women like Mary Cassatt, decided not to marry and instead dedicated their lives to art. Suzanne Valadon, came from a working class background. In order to pursue her artistic aspirations, she defied all norms of the time. Her story is compelling & remarkable.

Other women even had the audacity to exhibit independently. Some strong-willed female painters formed their own establishments, such as the influential Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs (Union of Women Painters and Sculptors). This union, founded by women in 1881, was created for the sole purpose of promoting female artists. 

However the Art World in the 19th Century was Not Yet Ready for Female Artists

The art world, including the critics, patrons and the media scorned and ridiculed these women who dreamed of being artists. Most were unable to pursue their art careers when they married anyway. But a tiny minority of women did pursue a long and accomplished art career but the art historians omitted the female artists’ contributions to the art world. Their names and accomplishements were barely mentioned as a footnote in the history of impressionism. Women painters were ignored for way too long.

Thank god times have changed and female artists have a significant place in the art world today. But let’s remember those creative women in the 19th century who did not have that privilege & fell into obscurity!!

Mina Carlson-Bredberg – Dismissed by the Art Historians

Bredberg was born in Sweden in 1857 to wealthy parents. As a teenager she had private painting lessons. As was expected of her, Bredberg married at the age of twenty. During her married life, she relinquished her painting.

Mina Carlson-Bredberg  - Self Portrait
Mina Carlson-Bredberg – Self Portrait [Public Domain]

Bredberg unhappy in her marriage left her husband and travelled to Paris to resume her studies in a private art school and to develop her career. She received an honour­able mention for a painting at the 1889 Exposition Universelle.

However, Bredberg’, bright artistic future paled when she returned to Stockholm. She married again to an architect, Georg Carlson. Her husband did not approve of her painting. Without his approval, her art career came to an end.

Mina Carlson-Bredberg gave her nieces the following honest advice:

“Girls, remember to think how lucky you are not to be married!”

The artist Mina Carlson-Bredberg forgotten in the history of impressionism
Motive of Paris painted by Mina Carlson-Bredberg [Public Domain]

Marie Cazin – Barely a Footnote in the History of Impressionism

Marie Cazin , born Marie Clarisse Marguerite Guillet on September 19, 1844 at Paimboeuf (Loire-Inferieure) and died on March 18 , 1924 in Equihen (Pas-de-Calais). She was a French landscape painter and sculptor. Over the decades, Marie’s accomplishments have been out-shined by her artistic husband Jean-Charles Cazin.

Marie was an active painter in an interesting time in Paris. The esteemed and conservative Salon of Paris was slowly losing its influence and monopoly on what was considered art. At the same time, the new Impressionism art movement was emerging.

Marie Cazin Plein-Air Landscape, Village among Trees
Marie Cazin Plein-Air Landscape, Village among Trees [Public Domain]

Cazin was a talented painter who could capture the French countryside. She was also an accomplished sculptor, creating human figures with equal brilliance. Cazin was active only as a painter in the early part of her art career, moving on to sculpting from 1882 onward.

Marie Cazin frequented artistic “salons” together with her husband and participated in the avant-garde Paris scene. They mixed with Auguste Rodin (sculptor), Marie Bracquemond (painter), Charlotte Besnard (sculptor) and others.

Marie Cazin’s Impressive Art Career

Cazin exhibited at the Royal Academy in London 1874 and 1878; at the Salon des Artistes Français between 1876 at 1889; at the Salon de la Société Nationale between 1890 and 1914, and with Les XX in Brussels in 1887. 

Her most famous sculpture, “The Young Girls” was exhibited in 1886 and purchased by the government in 1899. This was an unprecedented accomplishment for any sculptor (male or female). This sculpture is currently on display at the Musée du Luxembourg.

The artist Marie Cazin hardly mentioned in the history of impressionism
Marie Cazin’s most famous sculpture “Young Girls”

Marie Cazin also exhibited with Les XX in Brussels in 1887 and won a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle (1889).

In 1891, Marie Cazin became a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She also exhibited her art work at the Palace of Fine Arts at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Following her husband’s death, she designed the monument for his tomb.

Other Artworks by Marie Cazin

A prevalent subject of some of her paintings are women at work. During WW1, she worked from her Paris studio in the Latin Quarter. In addition to her regular work, she created some frescoes on commission and did designs for the Gobelins Manufactory.

A few years before her death, she left Paris for Pas-de-Calais.

Can someone please explain how this accomplished artist is still so unknown????

The Historian’s of Impression dismissed Edma Morisot – Pontillon

Edma Pontillon was Berthe Morisot’s older sister. The two Morisot sisters studied art together, receiving private lessons and sharing a studio space.

In 1864, both sisters had paintings accepted into the Salon. Edma exhibited in the Salon each year until 1868. However, in 1869 she married a marine officer and subsequently moved to a small village on the Atlantic coast. Edma chose the socially acceptable lifestyle for a woman of her times. She became the dedicated, caring wife to a naval officer and a full-time devoted mother. This of course meant giving up her artistic career.

The painter Edma Morisot hardly mentioned in the history of impressionism
Painting of Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot [Public Domain]

Other talented female painters who were dismissed for decades in the history of impressionism