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The Impressionism Style of the German/Swiss Artist Louise Catherine Breslau

Louise Catherine Breslau was not officially part of the impressionism movement. However it is clear through her artworks, that Impressionism influenced her style.

Louise Catherine Breslau Self Portrait [Public Domain]
Louise Catherine Breslau Self Portrait [Public Domain]

Maria Luise Katharina Breslau (December 6, 1856 – May, 12 1927) was born into a secular and comfortable German Jewish family of Polish descent. However, when she was two, the family relocated to Zurich for her father’s work.

As was common in those days, girls growing up in bourgeois families studied drawing, painting and music. These skills were considered respectable. However, once married, society expected women to forgo these hobbies and place all their efforts into being attentive wives and mothers. Breslau had other dreams. She understood that in order to pursue an art career, she needed to leave Switzerland and move to Paris, the art center of Europe.

Breslau Defies the Norms for Females in the 19th Century & Moves to Paris to Pursue a Career in Art

Breslau enrolls in the Julian Academy in Paris. It was one of the best art schools that accepted females. At the Academy, Breslau’s teachers noticed her talents early on. She studied with other notable female painters including the Russian Marie Bashkirtseff, an Irish painter, Sarah Purser and two sisters  Madeleine and Jenny Zillhardt. Madeleine in fact ends up Breslau’s lifelong companion.

Marie Louise Catherine Breslau (1856-1927). Pastel On Paper
A Young Woman Asleep In A Chair. Marie Louise Catherine Breslau – Pastel On Paper [Public Domain]

Breslau Exhibits at the Paris Salon & Becomes a Sought After Portraitist

At the young age of 23, Breslau was the only female student from the Julian Academy to have a painting exhibited at the highly esteemed Paris Salon. After this incredible accomplishment, Breslau opens her own painting studio and changes her name to Louise Catherine (dropping the “Maria and changing the spelling of Louise”). She becomes a regular exhibitor at the Salon.

Following this success, Breslau receives lots of commissions from wealthy Parisian families. In fact she becomes one of the most sought after portraitists in her time.

Pastel Portrait by Marie Louise Catherine Breslau
Pastel drawing by Marie Louise Catherine Breslau [Public Domain]

In 1890, she joins the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She exhibits there and also participates in the jury committee. Breslau later receives the greatest award of all – France’s Legion of Honor. She is the third female artist and the first foreign woman to receive this honor.

Over the years, Breslau is well regarded amongst her collegues, including  Edgar Degas. Although she did not align herself with the Impressionists, she often painted using impressionism style elements. Some of her paintings show sketchy brushwork, a popular technique of the impressionists.

Madeleine Zillhardt was Breslau’s life partner. The two women studied together in the Julian Academy and lived together for over 40 years. Zillhardt was Breslau’s confidant, model, muse and supporter.  When Breslau died in 1927 at the age of 71,  Zillhardt inherited her estate.

Louise Catherine Breslau painting of Madeleine Zillhardt
Impressionism style painting of Madeleine Zillhardt by Breslau

Zillhardt later donated sixty Breslau artworks to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon. A year after her death, the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris honored Breslau with a retrospective.

Breslau is buried next to her mother in the small town of Baden, in Switzerland.

The Best Art Museums in France to View Breslau’s Artworks:

In Paris:

In France

  • Musée Carnavalet
  • Musée de Grenoble
  • Strasbourg Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
  • In Nice Musee des Beaux-Arts
  • Musee Antoine-Lécuye in Saint-Quentin (home town of her partner Madeleine Zillhardt)
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts in Troyes
  • Château de Versailles
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon
  • In Carpentras (Provence) Musée Comtadin-Duplessis’
Louise Catherine Breslau painting [Public Domain]
Louise Catherine Breslau painting [Public Domain] – Louvre Museum

For more stories about the fascinating the female impressionism painters, see the articles below: