Admired by Degas & Supported by Marie Antoinette: Meet 5 Women Artists in In Bloom

Admired by Degas & Supported by Marie Antoinette: Meet 5 Women Artists in In Bloom

There are over 50 artists represented in In Bloom. As you peruse the galleries, you may not immediately notice that four of the artists whose work is on view are women.

In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, it was difficult for a woman to succeed as a professional artist. Not only were women expected to fulfill the rigidly defined roles of wife and mother, art education was not always available to them. Toward the late nineteenth century, more opportunities for education and professional recognition became available to women artists. This was especially true with the advent of impressionism. Impressionism was not only a stylistic departure from traditional painting, but the subject matter was radically different from what had been considered “high art” for centuries. Garden scenes, domestic interior scenes, still lifes and intimate portraiture (at the time considered “feminine” subjects) were the subject matter preferred by the impressionists. These subjects easily lent themselves to women—they could simply paint their everyday lives.

At this time, the art world was still dominated by male art critics, art dealers, and collectors. Still, there were actually many women artists; it is estimated that there were around 3,000 professionally active female artists in France in 1883! Many of these women have been forgotten over time, but some, including the women represented in In Bloom, are considered among the best artists of their day.

  • Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818)

A leading practitioner of still-life painting, Vallayer-Coster joined the prestigious French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1770 at the age of 26 by unanimous vote. This is especially impressive considering only four female artists were admitted to the Academy at a time! Around 1778, her work came to the attention of Queen Marie Antoinette, who granted Vallayer-Coster a studio and apartment in the Louvre. Although she also painted portraits and animals, she is best known for her still-life paintings. Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase, on view in the exhibition, is a wonderful example of her astonishing ability to capture detail. The impossibly arranged bouquet, brilliant color, and precise brushwork would have been greatly appealing to her royal patrons at the time.

  • Adèle Riché (1791-1878)

Very little is known of Adèle Riché. She was a student of Jan Frans van Dael and Gerard van Spaendonck, Dutch painters who are both also represented in this exhibition. She is known primarily for her highly detailed fruit and flower still lifes, as well as portraits. Her idealized paintings display the illusionistic and precise style favored by her Dutch teachers. Flowers with Green and Red Grapes, also on view, demonstrates her spectacularly rich palette and the sumptuous precision of the flowers and fruit. Look hard and you will even notice minute details such as water droplets and a ladybug.

  • Victoria Dubourg Fantin-Latour (1840-1926)

Victoria Dubourg Fantin-Latour was married to Henri Fantin-Latour, a celebrated portrait and still-life painter (whose works are also included in this exhibition). The couple met while they were both copying paintings at the Louvre. Although Dubourg was trained as a portrait painter, she—like Fantin-Latour—specialized in flower paintings. In Still Life With Pink and White Stock, we notice the influence of the impressionist movement, which was gaining in popularity at the time. Her loose, spontaneous brushstrokes add modernity to the subdued palette and traditional composition.

  • Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Mary Cassatt was an American painter, active in France throughout her artistic career. She became very close with fellow impressionist Edgar Degas, who admired and collected Cassatt’s work. In 1877, she was invited by Degas to join a group of avant-garde painters later known as the impressionists. Both Cassatt and Degas drew inspiration from scenes of everyday life and the human figure. Although floral still lifes were a popular subject among women painters, she actually painted very few in her career, preferring to focus on intimate scenes of mothers and children. In her Lilacs in a Window we can really appreciate her informal impressionistic sensibilities. Her lilac arrangement is wonderfully haphazard in comparison to the idealism and formality of the earlier Academy painters, such as Anne Vallayer-Coster.

Leah Gallant was a 2015 summer intern in the learning and engagement department at the Denver Art Museum. Her favorite collection on view at the museum is western American art on level 7 of the North Building.

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