Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond

On view at the Legion of Honor, exclusive U.S. venue

Exhibition dates: June 21–September 21, 2008

Press preview: June 19, 2008, 9:30 am; RSVP by June 12 to jrobbins@famsf.org

San Francisco, April 2008—In a day when a woman leads the House of Representatives and another campaigns for President of the United States, it might be hard to imagine a time when the work of four women painters was marginalized because of strict social rules and the artists’ gender. For many decades, the four artists celebrated in Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond were treated with critical ambivalence and lacked major public exhibitions. It is only now that their innovative styles and contributions to Impressionism are showcased in a groundbreaking exhibition this summer at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the exclusive U.S. venue. Women Impressionists is on view from June 21 to September 21, 2008. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to directly compare the work of these women artists by bringing many pieces together for the first time.

An upper class woman living in Paris in the late 19th century was subject to a strict code of social rules. An unmarried woman, for example, could not leave her home without a chaperone, nor could she frequent a café or the theater by herself without risk to her reputation. As a result, women were encouraged to develop interests in the decorative arts, music, or painting, pursuits that could be practiced in the company of other women. These endeavors were seen as ways to refine one’s self versus avenues for a career.

In 1874, the group of artists known as the Impressionists, whose painting style featured quick, visible brush strokes, bold colors, and an emphasis on the play of natural light, mounted the first of eight privately organized exhibitions to show their modern work directly to the public. Compared to previous movements of painting where canvases were large and themes were heroic, historical or religious, the Impressionist style was uniquely suited to women painters. The smaller format size made it easier to transport and paint en plein air (outdoors). The less formal subject matter, including “snapshots” of everyday life such as portraits of family, children, or friends and landscapes of the garden or countryside, was easily captured within their daily domain.

Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), Eva Gonzalès (1849–1883), and Marie Bracquemond (1840–1916) were all members of the Impressionist circle. These four women—three French artists and one American artist living in Paris—exhibited works that were as innovative as those of their male counterparts. While they have diverse biographies, each of these artists overcame daunting obstacles to contribute to the development of Impressionism. As they shaped their unique careers and artistic styles, Morisot, Cassatt, Gonzalès, and Bracquemond negotiated not only personal challenges but also those posed by the conventional ideas of acceptable behavior for women of their time.

One of the best-known women Impressionists, Berthe Morisot devoted herself to the painting of modern life. As one critic noted at the time, “Her painting has all the frankness of improvisation; it truly is the impression caught by a sincere eye and accurately rendered by a hand that does not cheat.” Morisot distinguished herself as the only woman to exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition, and continued to show in the next seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions. Married to the brother of Manet and close friends with Renoir, Morisot became one of the most prolific members of the Impressionist circle. Her love for painting outdoors continued throughout her career, and her daughter Julie remained her favorite model. Women Impressionists presents over 60 examples of Morisot’s works, including drawings, pastels, and oil paintings.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1844, Mary Cassatt stands out as the only American member of the Impressionist circle. After studying painting both at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and throughout Europe, she settled permanently in Paris in 1875, where she became close friends with Degas and exhibited in four of the Impressionist exhibitions. Cassatt rejected the idea of becoming a wife and mother and embraced her independence as she forged a profitable and successful career painting women as “Subjects, not objects.” Best known for portraits of mother and child, her work first focused on an intimate world of social interactions and later turned to the close relationships between adults and children. Women Impressionists features more than 35 works by Cassatt, including examples of her oil paintings, pastels, and prints.

Although Eva Gonzalès’ career was cut short by her sudden death at the age of 34, she became known for her characteristic style for portraiture. She included subtle emotion and richness of detail in her works, such as A Loge in the Théàtre des Italiens (1874), described as one of the most provocative paintings of its day and featured in this exhibition. Manet chose Gonzalès as his only formal pupil. Like her teacher, she never exhibited with the Impressionists but was considered a member of their circle. Approximately 15 works by Gonzalès, including the finest examples of her oil paintings and pastels, are included in Women Impressionists.

The greatest challenge in Marie Bracquemond’s career proved to be the discouragement of her husband, the artist Felix Bracquemond. Unlike the other women, Bracquemond did not enjoy the opportunities of privilege, and she was largely self-taught. She became acquainted with members of the Impressionist circle, including Degas, Renoir, and Monet, after her designs for porcelain attracted Degas’ attention. Bracquemond exhibited in three of the Impressionist exhibitions. Felix Bracquemond’s disapproval of Impressionism and his discouragement of his wife’s career led her to stop painting by 1890. Women Impressionists marks the most comprehensive exhibition of Marie Bracquemond’s work since a 1919 retrospective organized by her son Pierre at a Paris gallery. The exhibition at the Legion of Honor features approximately 40 works by Bracquemond, including watercolors, drawings, oil paintings, and porcelain.

The curator of the exhibition is Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer, curator of the Schirn Kunsthalle. For the San Francisco presentation, Krista Brugnara, director of exhibitions, and John Buchanan, director of FAMSF, serve as coordinating curators. An Antenna Audio guide and a fully illustrated catalogue including essays by nine authors accompany Women Impressionists.

Credit Line
Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond

Presented by Bank of the West

Major Patron: Diane B. Wilsey

Patrons: Penny and James George Coulter, Jeannik Méquet Littlefield

Sponsors: Dr. Kathy Nicholson Hull and Mr. Bill Gisvold, Mary and Steven Read, Susan and James R. Swartz, and Christie’s

Additional support is provided by Chubb, the Hurlbut-Johnson Charitable Trusts and the Ross Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums.

An exhibition of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Legion of Honor visitor information
The Legion of Honor displays a collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a Beaux-Arts style building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121

Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm; closed on Monday.

$10 adults; $7 seniors; $6 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D.

$5 surcharge for the special exhibition Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond applies. Members and children under 12 are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month. (Special exhibition surcharge still applies).


Media Contacts:
Jordan Robbins \ 415.750.3554 \ jrobbins@famsf.org

Robin Wander \ 415.750.2604 \ rwander@famsf.org