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Women painters: the combat self-portrait...

A woman, who paints ? Of course ! At home, nothing prevents her from making pretty watercolors of flowers that she will show to her friends while having tea...

You mean: painting and exhibiting ? Genre scenes ? Nudes ? Sell her paintings? Continue to paint after getting married? What an idea! Do you want the moral ruin of the family ? Thus, the father of Mary Cassatt, who said to her, when she told him of her desire to become a painter: "I would almost rather see you dead!"

Claude Monet Champ de coquelicots près de Vétheuil 1879  Collection Bührle. Zürich
Judith Leyster - Autoportrait - 1630 National Gallery of Art Washington DC

So, women painters, more than men, have practiced self-portraiture, a way of introspection, perhaps, where the woman not only shows how extraordinarily painter she is, but also grants herself a recognition which, she hopes, will place her work in the pictorial perspective to which she knows she belongs. Violently, sadly, passionately, these self-portraits release a power, a pride, a clarity in the gaze, something incredibly present. Thus, from the 17th century, in Holland, Judith Leyster represents herself in front of one of these characters with an almost frightening smile that she liked to represent: dances, cabarets, commedia dell'Arte... It is only 200 years later that we had to admit that she was indeed the author of this self-portrait, falsely attributed to Frans Hals, who was thought to have painted his daughter.

Gauche: Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun - Autoportrait - 1790 - Galerie des Offices - Florence

Droite: Adelaïde Labille-Giuard - Autoportrait - 1785 - Métropolitan Museum of Art New-York

It was not until the second half of the 18th century that certain women painters in France dared to assert their position. Thus, one after the other, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Adelaïde Labille-Guiard, the two competitors admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting in 1783, exhibited their self-portraits, brushes in hand.

Adelaïde represents herself with two of her students, Marie-Gabrielle Capet and Marie-Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond.

Marie Bashkirtseff - Autoportrait - 1880 - Musée des Beaux Arts Jules Chéret. Nice
Marie Bashkirtseff - Autoportrait - 1880 - Musée des Beaux Arts Jules Chéret. Nice

It is nothing to say that these artists, who look their spectators in the eye, are women of character, like Marie Bashkirtseff, painter, singer, instrumentalist (who represents a harp in her self-portrait). Died of tuberculosis in 1884 at the dawn of his 25th birthday, this meteor, as famous for her unfiltered diary as for her realistic canvases, represents himself, palette forward, with a gaze whose serenity cannot mask this youthful and naive fragility who was the companion of her short life.

Berthe Morisot - Autoportrait - 1885 - Musée Marmottan-Monet
Berthe Morisot - Autoportrait - 1885 - Musée Marmottan-Monet

We could not evoke these women painters with militant self-portraits without referring to that of Berthe Morisot. The only version of her five self-portraits in which she appears alone, this canvas is the true manifesto of a claimed position of equality in the face of men with, on her bust, the representation of a flower that is easy to associate with a decoration that the artist will never receive.

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...


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