Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 3

The last of Alumnae Theatre Company member Diane Forrest’s series of blog posts on some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period.  Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism (which is set in an art gallery) runs to April 27. Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.


Eva Gonzalès

“Woman Awakening” (1876) by Eva Gonzalès

Gonzalès was a protege of Édouard Manet, his only official student (and also a handy pawn in his on-again, off-again relationship with Berthe Morisot), and her work showed his influence. The daughter of a well-known writer, Gonzalès actually studied with several artists. While she exhibited at the Salon, and her technique and approach were admired, she never quite distinguished herself from the influence of her mentors – perhaps because she didn’t live long enough. She died at 34 from complications from childbirth, just five days after Manet expired.


Victorine Meurent

Born into a family of working-class artisans, Meurent became infamous as the model for Manet’s most scandalous paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass” and “Olympia,” along with a few other more sedate works. Until recently she’s been popularly dismissed as a loose woman who turned to alcohol and died young.

“Palm Sunday” (1880s ) by Victorine Meurent – her only surviving painting.


Perhaps that’s because the real woman was confused with the role she played on canvas. Because the shocking truth is that she was an accomplished artist and musician who died a respectable home owner at 83.

 It seems she fell out with Manet when she decided to pursue a more traditional style of painting. Soon after, she began exhibiting at the Salon and was later inducted into the Société des Artistes Français, with the support of the organization’s founder.

 Those who bothered to discover Meurent’s true story thought that her work had been lost. But in the early 2000s her painting “Palm Sunday” was discovered and now hangs in a local museum.


Suzanne Valadon

While Valadon started out as a model, she became a famous and controversial artist in her own right and was the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. While Valadon was, uhm, casual about her personal life, she was extremely serious about her art. The many men in her life stood in her way at their peril. In fact, most recognized her talent and helped advance her career.

“Self-portrait” (1898) by Suzanne Valadon

Born poor and illegitimate, Valadon started work at 11 and would have continued with her first love, the circus, but for a trapeze accident. Working as a model for a wide variety of artists, including Renoir, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne learned her art from observation. She also became close friends with Degas, who helped her develop her technique and range. Breaking the current taboo – you will find no naked women in Morisot or Cassatt’s work – she became famous for her female nudes, including self-portraits.

As if to cap off her career, Valadon also gave birth to the hero of postcard and hotel room art, Maurice Utrillo (whose father may have been Renoir – or any one of half a dozen others in Suzanne’s circle). Strictly speaking, her style was probably more post-Impressionist than Impressionist, and she would outlive most of the group. But it was the support of male artists from those circles that helped her break through as a heroic female artist.



For more information on the artists:


This is the final week of Impressionism at Alumnae Theatre – the play close on Saturday April 27, with performances Wed – Sat at 8pm.  Tickets on Wed are 2-for-1; $25 for rest of week.  See website or Facebook event  for details.


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