I was reading the other day about the short list for the National Portrait Gallery – 2014 BP Award. Apparently the judges, who decide on which works should be shortlisted, are not aware of the names of the artists when they make their selections. For the first time in the twenty-five years of the competition, two of the portraits selected for the exhibition were works by a husband and wife, Henrietta Graham and Tim Hall and it made me wonder how well husband and wife artists co-exist and whether they were supportive of each other’s artistic efforts and style or were they occasionally critical and somewhat jealous of each other’s success. My featured artist today was one half of a husband and wife duo but it is thought that the husband became so critical of his wife’s works and her style of painting that she eventually gave up art altogether.
The lady in question was born Marie Anne Caroline Quivoron in December 1840 in the small picturesque coastal village of Argenton-en-Landunvez, on the Brittany coast. She was of the same era as her female Impressionist contemporaries, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Eva Gonzalez but her background was very unlike their more privileged and cultured upbringing. Her mother’s first marriage was an arranged one to a sea captain. It was neither a successful nor happy union. However, it did not last long as he died shortly after the birth of his daughter, Marie Anne. Her mother was only a widow for a short period before marrying for a second time. Her husband was a Monsieur Pasquiou. Shortly after this second marriage, Marie, her mother and her mother’s new husband moved away from Britanny and went to live in the Jura, a mountainous region in the east of the country. Then, soon after, they crossed over the border to take up residence in Switzerland. Again their stay was short-lived and before long they moved back to central France and settled in Corrèze in the Auvergne, where Marie’s sister, Louise, was born. According to what she told her son in later life, this was the happiest time of her childhood. They lived in a area surrounded by mysterious forests, fast-flowing streams and ancient ruined abbeys. Living there was a truly magical time for her. The family finally moved north and settled in Paris but later because of Marie’s health problems they were advised by the family physician, Doctor Hache, to move out of the polluted atmosphere of the city and settle in Étampes, a small town south-west of the capital where the air would be purer.
Now a teenager, Marie developed a love for art and it was whilst living in Étampes that she received her first artistic tuition. Her teacher was a Monsieur Wassor, an elderly man who gave art lessons to the young women of Étampes as well as earning money as an art restorer. He got Marie to make copies of reliefs and plaster casts which he had scattered around his studio and he also got her to make copies of paintings he had accumulated. When the summer came and the weather improved he would take Marie and other students outside to paint en plein air. Her progress as an accomplished artist was swift and a measure of that is the fact at the age of seventeen she submitted a family portrait, which included her mother, her sister Louise and one of her elderly teachers, for inclusion at the 1857 Salon and it was accepted.
Fate now took a hand in Marie’s future as the sister-in-law of the family doctor, Doctor Hache, was married to the Neoclassical painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and she arranged for Marie to meet her husband. Ingres arranged for her to work with two of his students, Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and Émile Signol and she learnt much from them. Although grateful for Ingres’ help she was unhappy with the elderly artist’s disdain with regard female artists. In a letter she wrote about Ingres’ contempt:
“…The severity of Monsieur Ingres frightened me. I tell you, because he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting. He wished to impose limits. He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”
For Marie, Ingres view on female artists was unacceptable. Her determination to rail against Ingres’ criticism of female artists and his compartmentalising of the artistic genres suitable for female artists, materialised when she wrote of her split with the elderly painter:
“…There is in me a strong determination to overcome all obstacles. I wish to work at painting, not to paint some flowers, but to express those feelings that art inspires in me…..All this will not come to pass in a year, but in any event, I do not wish to return to Monsieur Ingres…”
Her artistic ability must have been well known as she soon received commissions including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III, which commissioned a depiction Cervantes in prison. Following the successful conclusion of this commission she was approached by the Director-General of French Museums, Count de Nieuwerkerke, to work at the Louvre, making copies of the most famous paintings in the collection. It was in 1867, whilst Marie was working in the Louvre copying a painting by Rembrandt, that a young man, Félix Bracquemond, an engraver and etcher, first caught sight and fell in love with this dark-haired beauty. Félix, through his friend, Eugène Montrosier, was introduced to Marie. A two-year courtship followed during which time Félix introduced Marie to all his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, Rodin and Fantin-Latour and art critics and writers such as Edmond de Goncourt and Gustave Geffroy, and through them she received more and more commissions. Unfortunately for Marie there was a problematic downside to this relationship. Félix was not a particularly nice man. He had a very off-hand brusque demeanour. He was self-opinionated and later became über-critical of Marie’s artistic talent but despite Marie’s mother’s voiced concern over the relationship between Félix and her daughter, the couple were married in August 1869 and went to live in the rue de l’Université in Paris. Marie was well aware of her husband’s unacceptable characteristics but presumably believed that all that would change when they were married. It didn’t! In 1870 Marie gave birth to their only child, Pierre. Despite his uncompromising and offhand attitude Marie learnt a great deal from her husband and she exhibited works at the 1874 and 1875 Salon.
Haviland China was a factory set up in Limoges, France, by the American entrepreneur David Haviland and later was aided by his sons, Charles and Theodore. The factory produced the finest china tableware. In 1872 David’s son Charles, opened the Auteuil Studio in Paris, which attracted many of the great artists of the day, including Manet, Monet, and the Damousse brothers, all of whom greatly influenced Haviland’s floral designs. It became known as the “French School”. Félix Bracquemond, who had a reputation as a great ceramics decorator, was, in 1878, employed in the studio as the artistic director and Marie also worked there designing plates for dinner services. In an article in the 1904 magazine Women in the Fine Arts, the writer, Clara Erskine Clement who was the author of Women in the Fine Arts from the Seventh Century to the Twentieth Century AD,wrote about Marie Bracquemond’s amazing ability:
“…Madame Bracquemond had the facility of employing the faience colours so well that she produced a clearness and richness not achieved by other artists. The progress made in the Haviland faience in the 70’s was very largely due to Madame Bracquemond, whose pieces were almost always sold from the atelier before being fired, so great was her success…”
Faience is the conventional name in English for a tin-glazed earthenware.
One of Marie’s great accomplishments was to design and produce several dishes and a wide Faience panel of ceramic tiles entitled the Muses, all of which were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878; the preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 and among its greatest admirers was Edgar Degas.
It was around 1880 that there was a change in Marie’s artistic style. Gone were the small muted works of art and in their place came larger works with a greater intensity of colour and more of her paintings were carried out en plein air allowing her to catch the nuances of the daylight which constantly changed.. This was the era of the Impressionists and Marie Bracquemond had become great friends of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Renoir and Gaugin these artists had become her artistic mentors. She had been welcomed into the Impressionists’ fold and she exhibited works at three of their annual exhibitions, in 1879, 1880 and the final Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. Three of her works completed in 1880 which clearly demonstrate her alteration of style to a noticeable Impressionist style, were The Lady in White, On the Terrace at Sèvres and Le Gouter (Afternoon Tea).
She was delighted with her art and its popularity but this delight was not shared by her husband, Félix, who resented her success and her close liaison with the Impressionists. Their son Pierre, who loved his mother and was the No.1 fan of her work, later wrote about his father’s resentment. According to Pierre, Félix was jealous of her achievement and rarely showed her works to visiting artists and friends. He said that Félix now resented any criticisms Marie might venture about his paintings. It appeared that the once close artistic relationship between Marie and Félix, with each offering constructive critiques regarding their works, was over. Félix would often hide his new works from his wife but at the same time was openly critical with regards to her artistic efforts. This uncomfortable atmosphere in the marital home and the constant friction between her and Félix finally took its toll in 1890 when Marie could not stand her husband’s attitude to her work any longer and except for a few examples completely gave up her painting. One of her last works was the Impressionist-style work entitled The Artist’s Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres which she completed in 1890. At the time of this painting the constant battle with her husband had made her become introverted and she became a virtual recluse, rarely leaving their Sèvres home. Her sister Louise did not like her brother-in-law finding him overbearing and boorish in the way he treated her sister.
Pierre Bracquemond who was taught by his father later became involved in works for Gobelin, a Parisian tapestry factory. He then worked at a career as an interior decorator specialising in the designs of carpets and tapestries. He also carried on his love of art concentrating on seascapes and nudes, chiefly employing the technique of encaustic paintiing, which was also known as hot wax painting, as it involved using heated beeswax to which colored pigments were added. He also wrote many critiques with regards art and the teachings of his father on the subject. There were also many manuscripts he had written about his parents Marie and Félix, some of which were never published.
Marie Bracquemond died in Paris on January 17, 1916.