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Still Lifes of Suzanne Valadon – Where No “Decent” Woman Would Tread

Much has been said on the nudes of Suzanne Valadon, and rightly so. Truly, they are wonderfully composed and naturally iconoclastic in nature.

Women. Real women portrayed in natural scenarios by other women was unheard of in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. Generally women did not tackle nudes at all; the powers that be fearing the practice would corrupt delicate souls.

Valadon, exempt from propriety due in part to humble birth and in other part her choice of tawdry career as an art model, was able to express herself in ways other women could or would not at the time. She was admitted into salons (where no “decent” woman would tread) and even found herself the first woman painter of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA), in 1894.

Here she is pictured with her son, Maurice, in 1889.

All this is quite spectacular on its own, but I would like to leave the icon smashing and feminist critique behind for a short while. I’d even like to leave the entirety of her personal life behind. Today we will look at Valadon as a genderless painter of fruit and flowers. We will examine her still lifes and perhaps see the merit the SNBA saw when they chose to add her to the pantheon of art gods.

Bouquet de Roses dans un Obus, oil on card, 1913

One of my favourites, Suzanne places roses inside an obus (cannon shell). To the roses she gives definition with her characteristic heavy lines. To the obus, however, she uses soft short strokes.

This renders an object of war nothing more than a harmless vase. The placement of the object on a kitchen sill next to feminine lilac drapes annihilates the last bit of danger to the point that the obus loses its meaning entirely.

Even knowing what cannon shells of the period look like, a viewer would be hard pressed to identify it as such. Bordering on symbolist, she keeps the colours orthodox and avoids contrivance.

It is a balanced work that evokes a timely “Frenchness”, and a little titter at the tender emasculation of a phallic object (whoops, some feminist critique slipped in).


Untitled, oil on card, 1930

Speaking of timely Frenchness, what could be more delightfully 1930s French than a blue vase stuffed with roses? Never a servant of style, Valadon takes a more post impressionist (but not quite) look at these flowers.

Her beautiful built up highlights and shadows are made somehow more realistic by the presence of clear brushwork. The flowers are lit up from within.

Her choice of perspective is ever so slightly naïve, causing the vase to float, lending extra emphasis to it as a focal point. Objects in the background are arranged firmly in reality though, grounding the whole thing on what I’m sure was a wonderfully printed tablecloth.

Valadon painted many roses, tulips, orchids and the like, but her greatest still lifes often involved the honesty of circumstance her nudes had in spades as well.

A common basket of even commoner duck eggs waits quietly for the cook, nestled in straw. The stonework is alive with colour, both in light and shadow.

Valadon does not half paint even the most simple of highlights. The way the light falls over the eggs and onto the wall brings to mind an open door; perhaps the cook has come for these blue cast beauties at last.


Basket of Duck Eggs, oil on card, 1931

Nature Morte au Lièvre, Faisan et Pomme, oil on card, 1930

Pieces like, Still life with Hare, Pheasant and Apple, convince us of Suzanne’s sense of humour. An old hare dangles almost peacefully from hind legs drained and awaiting a competent cook to relieve it of its skin in one swift pull.

The young pheasant seems to be dreaming grand, worried dreams despite its questionable life status. Apples sit pertly on a plate, as if to rub in how alive they are; not knowing they all share the same fate.

A quick laugh is had at the idea of a “nature morte” of dead animals. It’s so on the nose if it weren’t for the sombre, reverent overtones this piece would risk vulgarity. As it stands though, in characteristic Valadon style, she goes just far enough.

We feel the ambivalence of the old hare, the tragedy of the young pheasant and the haughtiness of the apples. It mirrors truth, not to mention the sanctifying warmth pervading the scene is downright Fauvist.

Given her close ties with Ganguin, this is unsurprising. Suzanne’s emotional colour vocabulary is extremely developed across her still lifes and painted portraits.

So far the emphasis has been on her later, more developed works, but what of earlier material?


Nature morte au compotier de fruits, oil on card, 1917

Again, nearly symbolist in nature, this fruit bowl is absolutely uncommon. Her slight naivete of perspective keeps a sense of stuffy refinement far away from her popular and often grossly academic subject.

Colours, simply layered, build a juicy pear and living grapes. She bothers to paint the calyx of an upside down apple though. In fact, this composition is rife with luxurious, unnecessary details.

The brocade stripes of the wall cover, blue details on the china pedestal bowl and the delicately defined wicker table stand in sharp contrast to the relatively faceless fruit.

She forces the viewer to realize detail in objects she omitted it from. Like so many excellent paintings, it is what is left unpainted that is remarkable.

Remarkable works, Valadon has many. In her time she was a immensely popular and respected artist, though time can cruelly erase that which does not fit the appropriate narrative.

Suzanne, when she is mentioned at all, is mostly talked about in terms of being a revolutionary woman (she was) or being a woman in the den of great men (Ganguin, Cezanne, Latrec…).

Her life is often cast, if cast at all, in the red glow of bawdiness thanks to the childish puritanism of our modern world. This I think, though titillating, is unfair.

Her work shows a greatness of spirit and a delicacy of soul. She mastered the concepts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’; played with humour and nuance.

Everything about her art suggests an actualized, inspired, aspiring mind. If anything, Valadon achieved in life what most artists only achieve in death.

The respect and admiration of her peers. It would be wonderful if she were appreciated in death the way she was lauded in life.

Let us quietly appreciate a grouping of more typical Valadon still lifes and see what Gauguin saw in a talented, young art model so many years ago.


Bouquet des Fleurs 1937

White Fruit Bowl undated

Roses dans une Verre 1937

Her confident lines are instantly recognizable as is her slightly off perspective. Even working with universal subjects, she manages to make every vignette intensely personal.

Her still lifes are as intimate, in my opinion, as her nudes and deserve as much notoriety in popular art critique beyond the French Riviera. Though, it must be said again, her nudes are extremely worthy of examination.


The Future Unveiled, 1912

So please, no more of this “Mistress and Muse of Montmartre” crap that appears in so much analysis of her. When it comes to Valadon there is plenty to talk about inside the frame.

Speculating on the woman more than the work does no one any favours and has constantly robbed the present of the honest presence of a brilliant artist. Suzanne Valadon; a Crown Jewel of Montmartre.

This is her rightful place and there she will live in my heart and mind forever.

Photo of Valadon, Photographer and date unknown


 

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Impressionism – Paving the Way for Modern Art

As a first distinctly modern movement in painting, Impressionism emerged in Paris in 1860s, and the end developed chiefly in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Gustave Courbet and the Realist movement first confronted the official Parisian art establishment in the middle of the nineteenth century. The French were ruled by oppressive regime and much of the people were in the throes of poverty.

The art of that time concentrated on idealized nudes and glorious depiction of the nature, and other works of realism. Courbet though that art closed its eyes on realities of life.

In his protest, he financed a bold act, an exhibition of his work, right opposite the Universal Exposition in Paris of 1855, which led to the emergence of future artists.

Salon de Refusés

The same year, 1855, Salon de Refusés / Salon of the Refused was formed in order to allow the exhibition of works by artists who had previously been refused entrance to the official Parisian Salon, the annual, state-sponsored exhibition juried by members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

The 1863 Salon de Refusés exhibition caused a scandal, due to the unconventional styles and themes of works such as Manet’s Le déjouner sur l’herbe (1863).

The painting depicts the picnic of two fully clothed men and two nude women, defies the tradition of the idealized female subject of Neoclassicism in the positioning of the woman on the left who gazes frankly out at the viewer.

Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet was one of the first and most important innovators who emerged in the art scene in Paris.

By the late 1860s, Manet’s art reflected a new aesthetic – which was to be a guiding force in Impressionist work- in which the importance of the traditional subject matters was downgraded and attention was shifted to the artist’s manipulation of color, tone and texture as ends in themselves.

He incorporated an innovative, looser painting style and brighter palette focusing on images of everyday life, such as scenes in cafés, boudoirs and out in the street.

His anti-academic style and modern subject matters attracted the attention of the artists on the fringes and influenced a new type of painting that would diverge from the standards of the official salon.

Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveurs etc.

In 1874, a group of artists known as the “Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveurs etc.”/ the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers etc., mounted an alternative exhibition in Paris that would bring about radical break from artistic conventions and launch one of the most popular movement in the history of art.

All the artists had very limited success financially and had few works accepted in the salon exhibitions in Parisian art scene.

Displaying their works in a vacant former artist’s studio, outside the confines of the famous Salon, the Impressionists presented canvases depicting quiet landscapes, scenes of everyday life, full of loose, expressive brushwork to represent fleeting effects of atmosphere and light.
 
In that time, these paintings represented something akin to a revolution in the art world.

 

Radical Shifts

Eschewing both the subject matters and technique of their predecessors, the Impressionists demonstrated that contemporary life required a new language to represent the radical shifts taking place in Parisian society.

The critics responded with both awe and horror; conservative critics denounced the unfinished, sketch-like quality of their paintings, while more progressive ones welcomed their innovative depictions of modern life.

The movement gained its name after the hostile French critic Louise Leroy reviewing the first major exhibition of 1874, seized on the title of Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1873), and accused the group of painting nothing but impressions.

The moniker was embraced by the group, but they also referred to themselves as the ‘’Independents’’, referring to the submissive principles of the Société des Artistes Indépendents’’ and the group’s efforts to detach itself from academic artistic conventions.

Age of the Impressionists

At that time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity. Scientific thought was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things.

The Impressionists sought to capture the optical effects of light to convey the passage of time, changes in weather and shifts in atmosphere; a split second of life, a sensory effect of a scene – the impression, an ephemeral moment in time on canvas.
 
Their art did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions.

 

Monet

Probably the most celebrated of the Impressionists, Claude Monet, was renowned for his mastery of natural light, painted at different times of day in order to capture changing conditions.

He tended to paint simple impressions or subtle hints of his subjects using very soft brushstrokes and pure, unmixed colors to create a natural vibrating effect.

His ‘’wet on wet’ technique produced softer edges and blurred boundaries that merely suggested a three-dimensional plain, rather than depicting it realistically.

His Vetheuil in the Fog from 1879 is among his finest works, offering a subtle and distinct impression of a figural form. He applied his brush rather quickly to the canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether.

This emphasis on the fleeting changes in the natural world was a central aspect of his oeuvre that captures the ephemerality of nature and preserves it within the picture plane.

Monet’s technique of painting outdoors, known as plein air painting, inherited from the landscape painters of the Barbizon School, was practiced widely among impressionists, leading to innovations in the representation of sunlight and the passage of time, which were two central motifs of Impressionism.

Degas

As a highly skilled draftsman and portraitist, Edgar Degas preferred indoor scenes of modern life such as musicians in an orchestra pit, people sitting in cafés, ballet dancers, delineating his forms with greater clarity using harder lines and thicker brush strokes.

L’Absinthe from 1876, by Degas represents a dour scene of two lonely individuals sitting in a café communicates a sense of isolation, even degradation, as they have nothing better to do in the middle of the day.

Degas heavily handled paint further communicates the emotional burden or intense boredom of his subjects. This painting, as well as his other works, alludes to the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the psychological ennui of its inhabitants.

Renoir

Other artists focused on the figure and the internal psychology of the individual.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicted the daily activities of individuals from his neighborhood of Montmartre and portrayed the social pastimes of Parisian life, emphasizing the emotional attributes of his subjects, using vibrant, saturated colors, light and loose brushwork to highlight the human form.

In Girl with a Hoop from 1885, Renoir developed a new style he dubbed ‘’aigre’’ (sour), in which he applied thick, elongated brushstrokes complemented by hard lines to portray the young girl in the foreground.

This painting evokes the distinctly carefree mood of much of his work; he focused on representation of leisure activities and female beauty, asserting his disregard for subjects of an overtly critical nature.

Morisot

Berthe Morisot was the first woman to exhibit with the Impressionists. She made rich compositions that highlighted the internal, personal sphere of feminine society, emphasizing the maternal bond between mother and child in her paintings.

Her work, “In a Park”, from 1874, Morisot combines the elements of figurations with representation of nature in this serene family portrait set in a bucolic garden.

In this quiet image of family life, she centered on the maternal bond between child and mother; her loose handling of pastels, a medium embraced by the Impressionists, and visible application of color and form were central characteristic of her oeuvre.

Together with Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzales, she was considered one of the four central female figures of the movement.

Cassatt

Mary Cassatt depicted a private sphere of the home, but also represented the woman in the public spaces of the newly modernized city.

Her work features a number of innovations, including reduction of three-dimensional space and the application of bright, even garish colors in her painting both of which heralded later developments in modern art.

In her work, “At the Opera” from 1880, she depicts the Palais Garnier of the Paris Opera, which was opened in 1875, and served as a focal point for the city’s social life.

The opera, as the painting demonstrates, was not only a site for culture and entertainment, but also for seeing and being seen. The woman’s binoculars are echoed in the man’s binoculars, across the concert hall, directed at her.

Read our in depth article, “Mary Cassatt – Famous Women Artists in History”

Caillebotte

The themes of urbanity are depicted in the work of Gustave Caillebotte, a later proponent of the movement, who focused on panoramic views of the city and the psychology of its citizens.

More realistic in style than other impressionists, Caillebotte’s images depict the artist’s reaction to the changing nature of modern society, showing a flaneur – an idler or lounger who roamed the public spaces of the city in order observe, yet remaining detached from the crowd, in his characteristic black coat and top hat, strolling through the open space of the boulevard while gazing at passersby.

“Paris Street, Rainy Day” from 1877, shows this tendency within his work, through the depiction of the typical urban scene; the panoramic view of the rain-drizzled boulevard presents the newly renovated metropolis, while the anonymous figures in the background emphasize the alienation of the individual within the city.

The painting centers on the apathetic gaze of the male figure, who epitomizes the cool detachment of the flaneur.

Also, his work, as well as the works by Pissaro, emphasized the geometrical arrangement of public space through the careful delineation of trees, buildings, and streets.

By applying crude brushstrokes and impressionistic streaks of color, they evoke the rapid tempo of modern life as a central facet of the late-nineteenth- century urban society.

Unravelling

The Impressionists proved to be a diverse group, but they came together regularly to discuss their work and exhibit. Between 1874 and 1886 the group collaborated on eight exhibitions while slowly beginning to unravel.

Many of the artists felt they had mastered the early, experimental styles that had won them attention and wanted to move on to explore other avenues. Others, anxious about the commercial failure of their works, changed course.

Although the last Impressionist exhibition was held in 1886, the movement remains one of the most popular in the history of Western art.

Considered by many to be the first avant-garde movement of the Modernism, Impressionism served as a springboard for many artistic movements of the twenty century.

Cézanne

If Manet bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism, then Paul Cézanne was the first artist who bridged the gap between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.

Cézanne learned much from Impressionist technique, but he evolved a more deliberate style of paint handling and a closer attention to the structure of the forms that his broad, repetitive brushstrokes depicted.

He wished to break down objects into their basic geometric constituents and depict their essential building blocks, and this experiment would prove to be highly influential for the development of Cubism and Fauvism.

Conclusion

As Philip Guston once described Abstract Expressionism as a latter-day ‘American Impressionism’; the surface quality, suggestion of light and ‘’all-over’’ treatment of form in Jackson Pollock’s work, all point to the work of Claude Monet.

Although there are many avant-garde movements that did not take stylistic inspiration from the Impressionists, the group’s rejection of an established, state-sponsored style served as a model for similarly independent exhibition groups throughout Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Wienna Secession or Die Brücke in Germany.

 

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Lyrical Metaphora by Marc Chagall

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.

Marc Chagall never aligned himself with any single movement, but his influence is as vast as the number of styles he assimilated to create his work.

Many of his peers pursued ambitious experiments that often led to abstraction, but Chagall’s distinction lies in his steady faith in power in figurative art, one that he maintained despite absorbing ideas from many different avant-garde movements.

As a prime example of a modern artist, Chagall mastered multiple media including oil painting, gouache painting, murals, watercolors, etching, ceramics, theater, drawing, stained-glass work and costume design.

Background

He was born on July, 7, 1887 to Feige-Ite and Khatskl Shagal in Liozna, near Vitebsk, in Russian Empire, today Belarus. He was raised in a Hasidic family and attended local Jewish religious school where he studied the Old Testament and Hebrew.

During this time, it was obligatory for Russian Jews since discrimination policies prohibited mixing of different racial and religious groups.

During his early schooling, Chagall adopted the habit of copying and drawing images from book, which developed into an emotional relationship with art, and eventually the choice to pursue it as a life career.

He began to learn the fundamentals of drawing, but more importantly, he absorbed the world around him, storing away the imagery and themes that would feature largely in most of his work.

To continue his studies, in 1906, he moved in St Petersburg and enrolled at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting. There, he briefly apprenticed under the artist and set designer, a devout Jew himself, Leon Bakst.

He is believed to have encouraged Marc Chagall to introduce Jewish themes and imagery in his work, a practice that was pretty unpopular at this time in the Russian Empire.

Paris

At the impressionable age of 23, speaking no French, Chagall moved in Paris in 1910. It was the time when Cubism was emerging as the leading avant-garde movement, and young artist aligned himself with the new movement.

Chagall responded to the stimulus by rapidly developing the poetics and seemingly irrational tendencies he had begun to display in Russia.

Under the influence of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauvist pictures, he gave up the usually somber palette he had employed at home.

In his early work, Chagall is obviously adopting dynamic composition and the abstract forms that characterized much of Cubism; yet, he came to reject the movement’s academic leanings infusing his work with touches of emotions and cheerful colours.

In the Paris Through the Window (1913) the figure in the bottom right looks both ways, the couple bellow the Eiffel Tower seems to be split apart.

On first glance, the picture may recall one of Robert Delaunay’s many fractured portraits of the Eiffel Tower rendered in the Orphic Cubism style.

But, Chagall has no intention to dissect the view or the subject. Instead, he searches for beauty in details, creating ‘ sur-naturalist’ elements, such as two-faced head and floating human.

The end result is a balanced and visually appealing snapshot of Paris.

In his Parisian period, Chagall often used subject matters from memory in his paintings; subjects included weddings, pastoral village scenes, fiddlers playing on rooftops.

He kept close to his heart his home town of Vitebsk; the figures seem to float freely in the sky- Chagall’s lyrical and melancholic signatures of his far-away home.

Fusing his own personal, a dreamlike imagery with hints of the fauvism and cubism, Chagall created his most lasting work. The four years of his stay in Paris are often considered Chagall’s best phase.

In the piece I and the Village (1911), abstraction is at the heart of this piece, it exists to decorate the picture rather than invite analysis of the image.

This very approach: a blend of the figurative and modern, with a light, whimsical tone, would make the artist influential and famous.

Bella

During one of his visits to Russia Chagall fell in love and became engaged to the writer Bella Rosenfeld. Chagall met Bella, the daughter of a wealthy Russian jeweler, in 1909 in St Petersburg when she was 19 and he, seven years her senior, was attending art school.

In 1914, Chagall enjoyed a well-received exhibition of some 200 works in Berlin, all of which he would never recover. After the show, he returned to Vitebsk with plans to marry Bella.

The same year, the two did marry, but the outbreak of the World War I stopped their plan to move back to Paris. For the next nine years The Chagalls would remain in Russia.

Her wife came to be a subject of many of his paintings. For instance, in the Belle with White Collar (1917) woman figure and her demure face stand over a lush pastoral landscape, larger than life, may have been inspired by the traditional subject, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

This piece, while vibrant and expressive, stands as a lasting example of Chagall’s mastery of more traditional subjects and forms, yet he no less maintains the faintest of sur-naturalist elements throughout.

Few years after the war’s outbreak the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) occurred, an event that obliged Chagall to remain in Russia. He was given the political post of Commissar of Arts for Vitebsk.

In his new post Chagall undertook various projects in the region, including the founding of the Academy of the Fine Arts in 1919. Despite these endeavors, differences among his colleagues eventually disillusioned Chagall.

This teaching position conflicted with his nonpolitical nature; his overall work ethic and pace lessened due to the tense climate. In 1920, he relinquished the position and moved his family to Moscow, the post-revolution capital of Russia.

In Moscow, he was commissioned to create costumes and sets for various productions at the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre, where he would paint a series of murals titled Introduction to the Jewish Theater.

Paris Pt. 2

By the 1922, however, Chagall found that his art had fallen out of favor, and seeking new horizons he left Russia for good. And, the next year, after years of scraping by in Moscow, Vitebsk and other towns, Chagall and Bella moved back to Paris.

In the heart of the Green Violinist (1923-24) is nostalgia for the artist’s rustic village. Fiddlers on rooftops were a popular motif of Chagall’s, stemming from his memories of Vitebsk.

This very motif also reflects the artist’s deep devotion to his Jewish cultural roots; his subject who may represent the prophet Elijah is an extension of the rooftop, indicated by geometric shapes in his pant legs and by windows.

In the coming years of World War II, Europe was occupied; Hitler’s Third Reich reigned over a large portion of the continent, including Vichy France where Chagall and his family were living.

It is said that Joseph Goebbels personally ordered the artist’s paintings to be burned. Singled out during the cultural ‘’cleansing’’, undertaken by the Nazis, Chagall’s work was ordered removed from museums throughout the country.

Several pieces were subsequently burned, and others were featured in a 1937 exhibition of ‘’degenerate art’’ held in Munich.

Chagall is well known for his religious and Biblical motifs and subjects, but Christian symbolism present in White Crucifixion (1938) is surprising given Chagall’s devout Orthodox Jewish background.

In this piece, Jesus wears a Jewish prayer shawl, and whilst he suffers on the cross, Jewish figures on all sides of him suffer as well fleeing from marauding invaders who burn a synagogue.

This work is a clear indication of Chagall’s faith and his response to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe at this time.

In that difficult time in which many artists were forced to seek refuge in the United States, in 1941, thanks to Chagall’s daughter Ida and some people from the art world, Chagall’s name was added to a list of European artists whose lives were at risk and in need of asylum.

In June, 1941 Bella and Chagall arrived in United States.

Just before the war in Europe was about to close, Bella Chagall died from a viral infection, and Chagall’s hometown Vitebsk had been razed during the German invasion of Russia.

Devastated and crippled with grief, Chagall’s work lessened dramatically.

The Real Notebook

After his wife’s death, Chagall kept her notebook, which he illustrated for the next 20 years, sketching on the blank pages and surrounding Bella’s writings with colourful posthumous portraits of her and the two of them together.

In one sketch Bella is depicted in a patterned dress with a bowl of fruit, while another drawing shows her with dark circles around her eyes, possibly depicting her final illness.

In probably the most moving image, Chagall, with a blue face and melancholy expression, is settled at his easel, contemplating a red painting of himself and Bella, on hand reaching out to touch the canvas with his other hand to his heart.

The 85-page notebook, which Chagall illustrated between 1944 and 1965 while he spent time living in New York and the south of France, also includes several self-portraits.

Described as ‘’unique’’ by art experts, the intact collection is extremely rare as Chagall dismantled most of his sketchbooks and sold drawings individually.

Chagall never truly made New York his home, consequently, in 1947 the widower returned to France and settled in the southern city of Vence. After few years, he remarried to Valentine ‘Vava’ Brodsky in 1952.

Later Life

He continued making artworks, but his later canvases are remarkably different than his better-known earlier works.

His subjects and colors appear more melancholy, his brushwork became increasingly lyrical and abstract, almost reverting back in time to Post-Impressionist motifs.

The crowning achievements of the last two decades of his life were a series of large-scale commissions; in 1960, it was stained-glass windows that represented twelve tribes of Israel, these were installed at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, than memorial window Piece for the United Nations in 1964, The America Windows installed at the Chicago Institute for Art, 1977.

Chagall’s commissions for murals also defined his late career; ceiling of the Paris Opera House in 1963, as well as The Sources of Music and The Triumphs of Music for the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1966.

Marc Chagall passed away on March, 28, 1985 in Saint-Paul, France, at the age of 97.

Chagall’s legacy reveals an artistic style that is both entirely his own and a rich amalgam of prevailing Modern art disciplines.

His repertory of images, including melancholy, clowns, massive bouquets, flying lovers, biblical prophets, fantastic animals and fiddlers on roofs, helped to make him on of the most popular major innovators of the 20th century School of Paris.

He presented dreamlike subject matter in rich colors and in a fluent, painterly style that, while reflecting an awareness of artistic movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and even abstraction, remained invariably personal.

Although critics sometimes complained of facile sentiments, uneven quality, and an excessive repetition of motifs in the artist’s total output, there is agreement that at its best it reached a level of visual metaphor seldom attempted in modern art.

 

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Mary Cassatt – Famous Women Artists In History

the childs bath

I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.

One of the leading artists in the Impressionist movement, Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. She was born and growing up in a comfortably upper-middle-class family: her mother belonged to a prosperous banking family, and her father was well-to-do real estate and stockbroker.
 
Her elementary schooling prepared her to be a proper wife and mother, included such classes like embroidery, music, homemaking, painting and sketching.

what did mary cassatt look like

Not For Girls

Her upbringing reflected her family’s high social standing; Cassatts lived in Germany and France, from 1851 to 1855, giving the young girl an early exposure to European culture and art history. As a child she had learned French and German, and these language skills served her well in her later career.
 
She may also have visited the Paris World’s Fair at 1855, at which she would have viewed the art of Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Auguste-Dominic Ingres among other French artists.

At the age of 16, Mary started studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Not surprisingly, she found the male faculty and her fellow students to be patronizing and resentful of her attendance.
 
She also became frustrated by the inadequate course offerings and curriculum’s slow pace. However, she decided to leave the program and move to Europe, where she could study the works of the Old Masters, firsthand, on her own.

Despite her family strong objections and their initial misgivings; her father declared that he would rather see his daughter dead than living abroad as a ‘bohemian’, Mary Cassatt left for Paris, in 1866.
 
In Paris, she studied with Jean-Leon Gérôme and had the private art lessons in the Louvre, where she copied the great masterpieces of art. This, of course, greatly influenced her own skills as a painter.

cassatt-mary-stevenson-2566

Discovery

Mary continued to paint and study in relative obscurity until 1868, when one of her portraits was selected for the annual exhibition at the prestigious Paris Salon. The well-received piece of her was submitted under the name Mary Stevenson.

In 1870, after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Mary Cassatt returned home to live with her family. Upon her return to the outskirts of Philadelphia, the artistic freedom she enjoyed in Paris, immediately extinguished; she was pretty much frustrated by a lack of artistic resources and opportunities.
 
Not only did she have trouble finding proper supplies, but her father refused to pay for anything connected with her art. In order to raise funds, she tried to sell some of her paintings in New York, but to no avail.
 
She tried to sell them once again, through a dealer in Chicago, but her paintings were tragically destroyed in a fire, in 1871.

mary-stevenson-cassatt-american-1844-1926-family-group-reading-philadelphia-museum-of-art-painting

In the midst of these difficult circumstances, Mary was contacted by the archbishop of Pittsburgh, who wanted to commission her to paint copies of two works by Correggio, an Italian master. She accepted the assignment and left immediately for Europe, where the originals were, in Parma, Italy.
 
With the money she earned from the commission, she was able to sit out again for Paris and resume her career in Europe. In this period, the early 1870s, she also traveled to Spain and Holland, where she familiarized herself with the work of the most famous masters, such as Diego Velásquez, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt van Rijn.

The Paris Salon accepted her paintings for exhibitions in 1872, 1873 and 1874, which helped secure her status as an established artist; she continued to paint and study in Rome, Belgium, and Spain and eventually settling permanently in Paris.

a-goodnight-hug-mary-stevenson-cassatt

Paris

By 1874, she had established herself in a studio in Paris. Three years later, her parents and her sister Lydia joined her in France. They frequently served as models for her work of the late 1870s and 1880s, which included many images of contemporary women at the opera and theatre, in parlors and gardens.
 
Self-reliant and single-minded, Mary had the opportunity to concentrate on her art in a city where, ‘’women did not have to fight for recognition if they did serious work’’.

Though she felt indebted to the Salon for building her career, Mary Cassatt began to feel increasingly constrained by the inflexible guidelines and traditional tastes of Paris’s official art scene. She began to experiment artistically, no longer concerned with what was commercial or fashionable.
 
During this time, she drew courage from painter Edgar Degas, whose pastels inspired her to press on in her own direction; her new work drew criticism for its bright colors and unflattering accuracy of its subjects.

cassatt_mary_4

When Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artist, known as Impressionists, in 1879, she was delighted. The impressionists’ show was a huge success, commercially and critically, and her admiration for Degas and Impressionists would soon blossom into a strong friendship.

Cassatt exhibited her work with the Impressionists in Paris from 1879 onwards; in 1886 she was included in the first major exhibition of Impressionist art in the United States at the Durand-Ruel Galleries in New York.

Honest Portraiture

While many of her fellow Impressionists were focused on landscapes and street scenes, Mary became famous for her portraits. She continued to specialize in scenes of women in domestic interiors, especially mothers and their children, with an Impressionist emphasis on quickly captured moments of contemporary life.
 
Also, she shared with the Impressionists a general conviction that academic art was outdated and a commitment to explore fresh new means of everyday modern life.

mary_cassatt_-the-cup-of-tea

Cassatt’s portraits were unconventional in their direct and honest nature, and her constant objective was to achieve force, not sweetness, truth, but not sentimentality and romance. These works, like all her portrayals of women, may have achieved such a popular success for a specific reason: they filled a societal need to idealize women’s domestic roles at a time when many women were, in fact, beginning to take an interest in voting rights, higher education, dress reform and social equality.
 
Yet, Cassatt’s depictions of her fellow upper-middle-class and upper-class women were never simplistic; they contained layers of meaning behind the airy brushwork and fresh colors of her impressionistic technique.

In her piece The Child’s Bath, from 1893, an intimately observed vignette of a woman bathing her child, Mary combines certain stylistic influences of Japanese art with the subject matter of her own milieu.

the childs bath

The variety of patterns in this composition, including several floral designs and the bold stripes of the woman’s dress is united by a restrained palette of greys and mauves. The soft coloration allows the viewer to concentrate on the subject of the scene- the close relationship between mother and child.
 
Their intimacy is demonstrated by their closely positioned faces and by the circle of touch that extends from the woman’s hand on the child’s foot to the child’s hand to the woman’s knee. In this work, Cassatt evoked the traditional artistic subject matter of the Madonna and Child, making her imagery rather secular then religious.

Regarding her artistic style, she expanded her technique from oil painting and drawing to pastels and printmaking. Japanese wooden prints had been very popular in Paris since it was featured at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, and Cassatt, like many other Impressionist, incorporated its visual devices into her own work.

Experimentation

Mary Cassatt’s painting style continued to evolve away from Impressionism in favor of a simpler, more straightforward approach. Her final exhibition with the Impressionists was in 1886, and she subsequently stopped identifying herself with a particular movement or school.

Her experimentation with a variety of techniques often led her to unexpected places. For instance, her Letter, from 1890/91, shows a woman sealing a letter she has just written at her desk.
 
The composition balances patterns- the wallpaper and the woman dress, against solid areas of color, the vertical back of the desk, the paper of the letter and envelope; brings the viewer close to the room’s shallow space, where forced perspective is evident in the oddly skewed writing panel of the desk.
 
These stylistic choices were influenced by traditional Japanese printmaking- the direct reference to Bijinga Ukiyo-e , the wooden prints of Kitagawa Utamara; yet, the woman’s garments and the other objects are all contemporary details of Cassatt’s world.

the_letter

After 1890, Mary suffered from failing health and deteriorating eyesight, but she maintained close relationship with her artist friends and important art world figures in France and America. Although she and Degas suffered a rift in their friendship during the infamous Dreyfus affair, of the late 1890s, they later made amends.

In 1904, Cassatt was recognized for her cultural contributions by the French government, which awarded her the order of Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

Egypt

A 1910 trip to Egypt with her brother, Gardner, and his family, would prove to be a turning point in Mary Cassatt’s life. The Egyptian magnificent ancient art made her question her own talent as an artist.
 
Soon after their return home, Gardner died unexpectedly from an illness he contracted during the journey. These two events deeply affected Cassatt’s physical and emotional health and she was unable to paint again until around 1912.

Three years later, she was forced to give up painting altogether as diabetes slowly stole her vision. For the next 11 years, until her death- on June, 14, 1926, in her country home a chateau located in Le Mesnil- Théribus, fifty miles northwest of Paris- Marry Cassat lived in almost total blindness, bitterly unhappy to be robbed of her greatest source of pleasure.

woman reading and blue armchair

Mary Cassatt had never married nor had children, choosing instead to dedicate her entire life to her artistic profession. By her late years, she was able to witness the emergence of modernism in Europe and the United States, but her signature style remained consistent.
 
The waning critical taste for Impressionism after her death meant that her influence on other artists was limited.

 

Legacy

She is considered one of the most important American expatriate artists of the late 1800s, along with James Mc Neill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. She has also been the focus of influential scholarship on female artists and her work has been discussed by key feminist art historians including Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock.

However, Cassatt’s status in art history has been significant and influential in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She became a key figure in the fin de siècle art world and helped to establish the taste for impressionist art in her native United States.