Marie Bashkirtseff (1858 – 1884) was one of the most outspoken and persistent advocates for a woman’s art academy in Paris. The dynamic scene on In The Studio (1881) depicts the artist (foreground, tipping her palette forward) alongside her peers at the Académie Julian as they work from a draped male model. Founded by Rodolphe Julian in 1868, the Académie originally permitted men and women to work side by side from a live nude model, but as news of assumed impropriety spread, Julian created separate studios for men and women. Julian’s school was one of a handful in Paris to provide women with rigorous artistic training. Dying of tuberculosis at the age of 25, Bashkirtseff lived just long enough to emerge as an intellectual in Paris in the 1880s.
Photographed as Part of The Exhibit Women Artists In Paris at The Clark Institute, Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Throughout the 1800s, playing the piano was considered obligatory for the educated and upper class, and many artists depicted girls and women at the piano. Although little is known about the relationship between Berthe Morisot and her subject, Lucie León spent the majority of her childhood training to be a concert pianist. Yet rather than depicting León from behind or in profile — as so many of her male peers do in their portrayals of female pianists — Morisot renders the young artist mid-recital without any visible sheet music, a virtuoso in command of both her instrument and our gaze.
Lucie León at the Piano (1892) was Photographed as Part of The Exhibit Women Artists In Paris at The Clark Institute, Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
The Gare Saint-Lazare was the largest and busiest train station in Paris. Early in 1877, with help from his friend Gustave Caillebotte, Claude Monet rented an apartment in the nearby rue Moncey and began painting the first of twelve canvases showing this icon of modernity. Monet displayed seven of them, including this one, at the third Impressionist exhibition, in April of that year. Legend has it that he arranged to have the standing locomotives stoked with extra coal, so that he could observe and paint the effects of belching steam — dull grey when trapped inside the station, but white and cloudlike when seen against the sky.
Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) was Photographed at the Institute, Chicago.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s association with the Moulin Rouge began when it opened in 1889 and the owner bought the artist’s Equestrienne (at the Cirque Fernanado) to decorate the foyer. Lautrec populated the scene depicted in At The Moulin Rouge (1892/95) with portraits of the regulars at the dance hall, including himself — the diminutive figure in the center background — accompanied by his cousin and frequent companion, the physician Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran. The woman on the right is the scandalous English singer Mary Milton. At some point, the artist or his dealer cut down the canvas to remove her from the composition, perhaps because her shocking appearance made the work hard to sell. In any case, by 1914 the cut section had been reattached to the painting.
Contrary to its title, this intriguing and enigmatic self-portrait, The Artist Looks at Nature (1943), shows the artist ignoring the brightly lit landscape in front of him. Nature, as depicted here, is surreal, with inexplicable discrepancies of scale and perspective. The fields suggest the terrain around Sheeler’s Connecticut home, while the massive walls recall Hoover Dam, which the artist photographed in 1939. In the painting, Sheeler works intently on a monochromatic drawing of an antiquated stove, which is based on a photograph he took in 1917. Yet despite these deliberate references to his own work, the painting’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps Sheeler wished to evoke the many vistas open to an artist, the literal and figurative landscapes of the mind.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) was fascinated by the animal bones, weathered and worn, that she found in the desert in New Mexico. In Red and Pink Rocks and Teeth she presented a jawbone alongside two stacked rocks that appear both monumental and indeterminate. The smooth, rounded forms of the red and pinks rocks appear in enigmatic relation to one another, as the red pebble seems to recede from the picture plane even though it must be perched on top of the pink stone. Their abstracted forms and warm colors contrast sharply with the bleached, angular teeth and hard, cracked appearance of the jawbone and together construct a tromp l’ceil that questions the nature or representation and perception.
A native of Vitebsk, Mikhail Kunin (1897 – 1972) received artist training from Yuri (Yehuda) Pen and then attended the People’s Art School from 1919 to 1921, taking classes with Marc Chagall and then Kazimir Malevich. Kunin painted this still life, with its colorful objects during Chagall’s class. Its title, Art of the Commune (1919), is inscribed on the lower left, along with the Russian words for ‘Futurists’ and ‘Leap into the future.’ Ambitious and involved, Kunin was a member of the School’s student executive committee and its Communist Counsel. Although he studied under Malevich, he continued to work in a figurative style, not hesitating to criticize Suprematism and its practitioners, notably for what he said were their nihilism and their tendency to destroy painterly culture.
In Florine Stettheimer’s frequent group portraits, her family and friends are not only clearly identifiable, but represented in attitudes that express their inner selves — an idea with roots in Symbolist painting of the late nineteenth century. In Family Portrait I (1915), she shares an elegant afternoon outdoors wither sisters and mother. Ettie, at left with a Japanese parasol is turned away, conversing with Carrie, who gazes at the viewer. Florine, too, looks outward, presiding over each bouquet of flowers and a dish of fruit that pays homage to the apples of Paul Cezanne. Their mother, Rosetta, the proper Victorian in black, is reading a novel by Ettie, the family intellectual.
Thick brushwork, deep jewel-tone colors, shallow perspective, and wealth of surface pattern all suggest Stettheimer’s familiarity with Post-Impressionist painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Paul Gauguin, infused with her own brand of social perceptiveness
Morris Hirshfield (1872 – 1946) began to paint at the age of 65, after retiring from a career making women’s coats, suits and slippers. The flattened, decorative forms of Inseparable Friends (1941) echo his garment-making work. Without distinguishing between the floor and the wall, Hirshfield creates a room through thee planes of shapes and patterns: the women at their mirror, the tasseled curtain above them, and the plant and shoes at their feet. While Hirshfield’s compositions are simplified and stylized, he aimed for meticulous, realistic detail and believed that his figures represented the human body “better than the camera can do.”
Pablo Picasso created this work, Woman Dressing Her Hair (1940) in the months prior to the German occupation of Royan, France, where he fled from Paris as the Nazis advanced across Europe. He depicted a woman inside a boxlike room barley bigger than her body; her massive figure is awkwardly compressed and her contorted body juts this way and that. Transforming a familiar and typically serene subject in art history — a woman grooming herself — into a powerful grotesque, Picasso lent expression to the anxiety and confinement that attended this dark period.