Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, which takes place in an art gallery, opened April 12. Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks. Alumnae member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period – here’s the second of her blog posts. Impressionism runs to April 27.
Cassatt was the only U.S. painter to exhibit with the Impressionist group. As with Morisot, she came from a wealthy family who stood behind her work – sort of. Her father supported her personally, but not her art career, and Cassatt was determined to make a living as an artist. After several false starts, she decided to move permanently to Paris.
She achieved some success, exhibiting at the Salon for seven straight years. But as a dedicated feminist, she was appalled by the expectation that women artists would cater to the egos of the male jurists. In 1877 the Salon rejected her work – had Cassatt been a little too outspoken? — and her friend Edgar Degas invited her to join an Impressionist exhibition. Cassatt delightedly threw herself into this new alliance: “We are carrying on a despairing fight & need all our forces,” she declared.
Cassatt and Degas became allies, combining to tackle technical challenges and marketing issues — until Degas proved capricious. But Cassatt had already acquired considerable skill in pastels and printmaking from her friend. In later years, Cassatt opened up to other influences, including Japanese art, and focused on intimate portraits of women, particularly mothers and children. But she remained close to Degas and the other Impressionists throughout her life. She was also instrumental in helping to develop large Impressionist collections in the U.S.
With Cassatt and Morisot, Bracquemond was named one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism. Unlike the other two, however, her family was neither well-to-do nor artistically connected.
Nevertheless, she managed to have a painting accepted at the studio when she was only 17, attracting the attention of the great master, Ingres. She did not remain long with him, however: “…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 — including the Empress Eugénie – and appearing at the Salon. She came under the influence of the Impressionists – Monet and Degas in particular, and later Gauguin – adopting many of their approaches, but retaining her tendency to plan her paintings carefully. Her artist husband, an engraver and ceramicist, was part of the Impressionist circle, but disapproved of his wife taking up the style. Worn down by ill-health and her husband’s carping, Bracquemond stopped painting for public viewing.
Impressionism (and its on-stage art gallery!) runs to Saturday April 27 at Alumnae Theatre. See website or Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/2535468519867588/ for details.