Note: This Artist Feature is part of an ongoing series to document the female artists whose articles were added or improved on Wikipedia during the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon I organised in March 2016.
Years: 1840 – 1916
Well, who was she?
In 1928, French art historian Henri Focillon wrote that there were three ”grande dames” of Impressionism: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond. These three artists are practically the only female Impressionists who have managed to reach long-standing fame. Of these, Marie Bracquemond is arguably the least known.
Unlike Morisot and Cassatt, whose families’ class and connections greatly helped them in overcoming sexist barriers, Bracquemond came from a more unstable upbringing. Her father died shortly after her birth. After remarrying, her mother moved her from place to place before settling south of Paris.
As an artist, Bracquemond was largely self-taught, but trained with local painter Auguste Vassort as a teenager. In 1857, despite her limited artistic education, one of Bracquemond’s paintings was accepted in the Paris Salon, the most highly regarded artistic event at the time. This led to an introduction to the famous artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and she began training with him in his studio.
She didn’t care for Ingres, however, seemingly because of his sexist views. In a letter in 1860, she wrote, “The severity of Monsieur Ingres frightened me… because he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting… He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lives, portraits and genre scenes.” She left his studio and kept getting commissions, steadily building her career.
Bracquemond is highly regarded today for her use of colour and texture. She’s recognised as being one of the first Impressionists who began painting outdoors (en plein air). She once said, of Impressionism, that it was ”as though all at once a window opens and the sun and air enter your house in torrents.”
Give me the gossip!
Marie Bracquemond was married to Félix Bracquemond, a fellow artist. Félix had an art career of his own – in many ways overshadowing that of his wife. Rather than being a marriage of creative collaboration and respect, Marie’s relationship seems to have been the reason why she largely stopped producing work after 1890.
Although Félix introduced her to famous artists who helped and influenced her art, he was also highly critical of Marie’s career. Most damningly, he disliked Impressionism as an art movement, and was for this reason very unhappy about Bracquemond’s choice of Claude Monet and Edgar Degas as her eventual mentors.
According to their son Pierre, Félix was more than just critical of Marie’s choice of style. He seemed to have actively resented her work and her success. He would, for example, refuse to show her paintings to visitors, and reject her critiques of his own work.
It was this resentment that allegedly caused Marie to abandon art almost entirely in 1890, and become a virtual recluse in her home. Despite this, however, she remained committed to Impressionism and its ideology for the rest of her life, even defending it against her husband’s opinions.
Give me a quick selection of her art!
Under the Lamp, 1887
Under the Lamp is one of Bracquemond’s most well-known works. It’s one of her many works depicting her friends and social circle. Women were barred from painting live models, and discouraged from scrutinizing and depicting other people’s bodies – especially men. This meant that many female artists, including Bracquemond, mainly painted their friends and family. Here, Bracquemond has painted her friend, the artist Alfred Sisley, and his wife as they sit at Bracquemond’s dinner table.
On the Terrace at Sèvres with Fantin-Latour, 1880
Like many female artists at the time, Bracquemond was limited in her movements in the public sphere. This meant that most of her outdoor scenes, such as On the Terrace at Sèvres, were painted in her own garden. It exemplifies the sense of colour, movement and light that she achieved by harnessing the Impressionist style. The outdoor light is reflected in her luminous choice of colour palette.
Woman with an Umbrella, 1880
There’s not much information available about this watercolour work, which is currently in a private collection. The white background suggests that it is unfinished or perhaps a preliminary sketch. It hints at the large amount of work that Bracquemond put into her paintings: they were not just spontaneous productions (even though they are supposed to look as though they are), but required meticulous planning and preparation.
Where can I look if I want more information?
- Painting in a man’s world : four stories about Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond (2008) by Ingrid Pfeiffer and Diane Broeckhoven.
- Women Impressionists (2008) by Ingrid Pfeiffer, as part of the exhibition of the same name.
- Marie Bracquemond: the artist time forgot (1983) by Elizabeth Kane.