by Laurence Madeline. American Federation of Arts; Yale University Press, October 2017. 288 p. ill. ISBN 9780300223934 (h/c), $65.00.
Reviewed January 2018
Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900 was published to accompany the traveling exhibition of the same name, organized by the American Federation of Arts, and featured thirty-seven female painters from eleven countries in the West.
Guest curator Laurence Madeline was formerly chief curator of the Fine Arts Division of the Musee d’art et d’Histoire in Geneva and curator at the Musée d’Orsay. In her introductory text, she stresses that art historians have not given due consideration to female artists in the second half of the nineteenth century. This fruitful period saw bourgeois women artists flocking to Paris. They sought increased professionalism through studio training even though women were not admitted to the Academy, which had been established by the State, for much of the century. Following the logic of the late Linda Nochlin, who identified systemic bias against women in the art world, Madeline argues that it was disadvantageous to cling to a male-oriented system. Tenacious female artists pursued alternatives. For example, they attended private academies like the Académie Julian, and formed the Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs, an alternate exhibition venue to the Academy’s esteemed Salon, which—confusingly—accepted entries from women. Though perceived as blindly obedient, women artists defied expectations in terms of style and subject matter, bewildering critics who inevitably saw their work through a gendered lens. Madeline’s quotation of their shockingly mysognistic comments supports her labelling of the situation as a comedy.
The themes Madeline addresses surface in the other four scholarly texts by Bridget Alsdorf, Richard Kendall, Jane R. Becker, and Vibeke Waallann Hansen. They are inspiring—from Nordic women founding their own schools, to Impressionist artist Marie Bracquemond becoming a master ceramicist, to Rosa Bonheur collaborating with portraitists depicting her as a way of controlling branding. It is also refreshing to read about supportive men, like Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Other features include artist biographies, a multilingual bibliography, and an index. Also noteworthy is Joëlle Bolloch’s study of Salon catalogs. She provides a concise history of the Salon, demonstrating that women’s intermittent eligibility for academic study was tied to ongoing political upheaval. They were undeterred, instead employing strategies like studying in artists’ studios and learning from male family members. As was the case with men, women’s pursuit of Salon showings was driven by the desire for financial security and exposure. Ultimately women fared well at the Salon, based on awards, sales, and inclusion in catalogs.
This well-written, illustrated catalog is recommended highly for museum libraries and academic libraries serving art history or gender studies programs at the undergraduate level or higher.