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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Marie Bracquemond

Under the Lamp, 1886, Marie Bracquemond.
Her husband, Felix, peers (or sneers) at her from across the dinner table.
Marie Bracquemond Self-portrait, 1870
As the 20th century dawned in Europe, Impressionism had matured. If no longer avant-garde, (cutting edge in today's parlance), it certainly remained chic and trendy insofar as stylish collectors were concerned. It was "modern." By that time there were literally thousands of impressionist artists, mostly centered in France, but also in most of the other countries on the continent, each displaying their own nationalist brand of Impressionism. By the early 1900s, there was even a vibrant school of American Impressionism. As might be expected, most of these thousands were men. "Most" means more than half. In this case, way more than half, but having said that, there were still a significant number of female impressionist painters. It was a style which appealed to women, and by that time, sex bias, while still holding strong, was, nonetheless, beginning to show some cracks--especially in the fine arts.

Self-portraits by two of but a handful
 of well-remembered female
Why is it, then, that only two names come to mind when we discuss female impressionist--Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot (left)? Certainly Eva Gonzales, Edouard Manet's favorite pupil, stands out as being well above most male impressionists. The same can be said for Marie Bracquemond. To rephrase the question, why do the names of these two exceptional painting ladies not "ring a bell?" In the case of Eva Gonzales, the answer is simple--she died (age 34). For any artist, that tends to hurt their career. Ironically, her death, in giving birth, occurred just six days after that of her teacher. The reasoning with regard to Marie Bracquemond's relative obscurity is not so simple.
Pierre Bracquemond Painting a Bouquet, 1897, Marie Bracquemond
Marie Bracquemond was born in the Brittany area of northern France in 1840. Her father, a sea captain, died shortly after her birth. Her childhood was spent moving all about Europe with her mother and stepfather. As a teen, she studied under a succession of aging, unimportant local artists, honing her skills to the point she had a painting accepted in the 1857 Salon (and several others thereafter). As a result, she met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, just about the most important painter in France at the time. This association enabled her to set up her easel in the Louvre where she might copy great works of art from the past. Perhaps more important however, this privilege allowed her to meet her future husband, Felix Bracquemond, who was artistic director for Havilland Studios, the forerunner of today's Haviland China. After a two-year engagement they were married. Their only child, Pierre (above), was born in 1870. As any Francophile would tell you, that was a bad time to get born (the Franco-Prussian War). Unlike Eva Gonzales, Marie Bracquemond did not die in childbirth. But already being of frail health, giving birth amid the privation and chaos of war; neither did the blessed event do her any good.
Marie Bracquemond at her easel.
Marie's new husband was "old school." It might be expected that her marriage would have been a boon to here career--and for a time, it was. Felix attempted, with only modest success, to teach her etching while introducing her to all his artistic establishment friends and the work of past artists such as Jean-Simone Chardin, whom he admired greatly. He even got her a job where he worked. However, Marie found designing dinner plates "constraining." She came to admire the work of the Belgian painter, Alfred Stevens. And from there, it was just a short hop and a short time before she made friends with the likes of Monet and Renoir. From that point, she was "hooked" on Impressionism and her husband was outraged. He hated the style and everything about it.

Felix Bracquemond became resentful of his wife's new painting methods, her large, loosely handled canvases, her brash use of color, not to mention her insistence upon painting out-of-doors. Perhaps most of all, he hated the fact that she was having some degree of success with them, displaying with other Impressionists and actually selling her work. In a word, he did everything he could to scuttle her career. Today, such a personal and professional marital conflict would likely end in divorce. In the 1890s, it was quite the opposite. When she could no longer take her husband's outrageous outrage, she gave up her palette and brushes. From that point on, she painted little, and mostly only small works for herself of family members. One of Marie's final large-scale efforts was The Artist's Son and Sister in the Garden of Sevres, (bottom) dating from 1890. She died in 1916. And if you've never heard of Marie Bracquemond, blame her husband.
The Artist's Son and Sister in the Garden at Sevres, 1890, Marie Bracquemond.

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