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Artist Feature: Who was Marie Bracquemond?

Image description: Black and white etching in a realistic style. A woman in a dress is sitting on a chair holding a paintbrush and palette. She's looking at an easel standing in front of her, which the viewer can only see the back of.

Self-portrait (19th century), Marie Bracquemond

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.

Movement/Style: Impressionism

Country: France

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.

Image description: A painting in a realistic style. With visible brushstrokes. We see a woman's shoulders and head. She's staring straight at the viewer. Her hair is up and she is wearing a large luxurious necklace with matching earrings.

Self-portrait (1870), Marie Bracquemond

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.

Image description: Impressionist painting with visible brushstrokes and light palette. A woman is sitting in a sunny garden reading a book. She's sitting by a white table with grapes and a cup of tea. The woman is dressed in a large white dress and white bonnet. She's looking slightly away from the viewer and away from the book.

Le goûter (1880), Marie Bracquemond

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!
Image description: A black and white portrait photograph of a bearded man. He's wearing a dark suit and is leaning his arms on the back of the chair he's sitting on.

Félix Bracquemond (1865), Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon)

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.

Image description: A black and white etching in a realistic style. Two women are sitting on a balcony with a nature-filled landscape below. The woman on the right is wearing dark clothes and sitting in front of an easel. She is painting the woman on the left, who is posing in a long white dress with a parasol.

Terrace of the Villa Brancas (1876), Félix Bracquemond. Marie Bracquemond is depicted on the left, and her sister on the right.

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!

Image description: Painting in an Impressionist style, with visible brushstrokes. A woman and a man are sitting at a dinner table bathed in the light of a single lit lamp that hangs over the table. The woman's back is to the viewer and she is looking towards the left. Beyond her, we see the man, facing the viewer. The table is laden with plates, vegetables, bread and wine bottles. Smoke from the food on the table rises between the people.

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.

Image description: Impressionist painting with visible brushstrokes and bright colour palette. Three people are sitting in a garden. They are all looking away from the viewer and from each other. Two women are wearing dresses and hats, while the man is wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a suit. Behind them is a nature-filled landscape.

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.

Image description: A watercolour painting in a realistic style. A woman is standing against a white unpainted background. She is wearing a full-length, ruffled but casual dress and holding an open umbrella. Her shadow is cast in front of her.

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?

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2 Comments

  1. Chris

    Thank you for introducing me to Marie Bracquemond through this posting. Her potential as a painter never fully realized, she had a long life, overcame dreadful obstacles, managed to make beauty in color and light on canvas, and certainly influenced other artists.

  2. Thank you for your lovely article on Marie Bracquemond, an artist I learned of for the first time today from a friend who shares my love of the works of Mary Cassatt. How I wish I’d known of MB sooner, and how tragic that her husband seems to have influenced her to stop painting all those years. What a loss to the world! What a loss for her heart and soul, which must have suffered greatly, while she was in the world.

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