The artist I am looking at today, born Lilla Cabot, comes from a long line of powerful and wealthy descendants. The Cabot family was part of the Boston Brahmin, also known as the “first families of Boston. It all goes back to John Cabot, who was born on the Isle of Jersey on April 7th 1680. At the age of twenty he set sail for America and settled in Salem, Massachusetts in 1700. John was not part of the first community to have arrived in the New World but by the end of the eighteenth century, the Cabots were the pre-eminent family of New England. By 1800 John and his son Joseph Cabot were extremely wealthy, largely because of their privateering during the American Revolution, smuggling, and trading in slaves and opium. Shipping during the eighteenth century was the lifeblood of most of Boston’s first families. In the nineteenth century, the Cabot enterprises multiplied and took in oil and gas production, railroads, and chemicals. The Cabots maintained their wealth and social status into the twentieth century, in the main, by educating most of their sons at Harvard and carefully arranging their marriages and the marriages of their daughters.
Lilla Cabot was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 13th, 1848. She was the eldest of eight children of Doctor Samuel Cabot III and her mother, Hannah Lowell Jackson. She had six brothers and one sister. Her family was one of the most important in Boston society, and the family were on friendly terms with such literary luminaries as Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Child in Window by Lilla Cabot Perry (1891)
Lilla had a good and fulfilling childhood and was given the freedom to think for herself by her parents. She was an avid reader and liked taking part in outdoor sports. During her school years she studied literature, language, poetry, and music but during her early teenage years there she had no great interest in painting and drawing except that occasionally she would take part in sketching sessions with her friends. As a child and teenager she never received any formal art training, This would not happen until she was thirty-six years of age !
The Cabots played an active role in Boston society and through that young Lila came into contact with many people who would congregate at the Cabot residence. On April 12th, 1861, when Lila was just thirteen years old, the American Civil War began. Her parents, coming from the North, were passionate abolitionists and they took a hands-on role in the war effort by offering care to wounded soldiers and helping to safeguard runaway slaves. Lilla Cabot was seventeen when the Civil War finally ended and it was around this time that her father moved his family out of the city and relocated them to farmstead in Canton, Massachusetts, a small rural town about 15 miles southwest of downtown Boston. It was probably here that Lilla Cabot became interested in landscapes and rural life.
Thomas Sergeant Perry was an American editor, academic, literary critic, literary translator, and literary historian. From his early childhood days, he was a close friend and associate of Henry James who would become one of Americas greatest novelists. Perry was a member of the faculty at Harvard University and after graduating in 1866, went to study in Germany. He returned to America and in 1872 worked for the literary magazine, North American Review. He was the grandnephew of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry and a Harvard professor who was once described as ‘the best-read man in Boston’. He and Lilla Cabot became friends and the relationship turned into love and on April 9th, 1874, twenty-six-year-old Lilla Cabot married twenty-nine-year-old Thomas Sergeant Perry. The couple went on to have three daughters, Margaret born in 1876, Edith in 1880, and Alice in 1884.
The answer to why Lilla became interested in art is thought to be due to the encouragement to take up painting by her husband’s brother in-law John LaFarge, an artist famous for his stained-glass windows, and the husband of Thomas Sergeant Perry’s sister Margaret. One of Lilla’s first works was that of her infant daughter Margaret.
In the same year that Lilla’s youngest daughter was born she enrolled on her first artistic course. She began with private lessons in 1885, with the portrait painter Alfred Quentin Collins and one of the first works she completed under the tutelage of Collins was the 1885 work entitled The Beginner which depicts her ten-year-old daughter Margaret playing the violin.
Looking at this portrait of her daughter playing the violin, it can be seen the input Collins must have had on Lilla as seen in Collins’ Portrait of Alexander Stewart Wetherill. The depiction has the same dark background and the sitter has the same serious facial expression.
In 1885, Lilla’s father died and left her an inheritance and this financial backing gave her the chance to enrol at art institutions which would afford her the chance to study art more earnestly. In January 1886, she began to study with Robert Vonnoh, an American Impressionist painter known for his portraits and landscapes. At the time, Vonnoh taught at both the Cowles Art School in Boston and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Lilla was inspired with Vonnoh’s more unorthodox work which was very different to that of Alfred Collins and it was to be the beginning of her artistic journey and lifelong commitment to Impressionism. Another tutor she worked under at Cowles School was Dennis Miller Bunker, a leading American Impressionist, who was the Cowles School chief instructor of figure and cast drawing, artistic anatomy, and composition.
The Red Hat,” or “Edith,” by Lilla Cabot Perry
In 1887 Lilla Cabot Perry received a commission to paint the portraits of the three daughters of Aaron Lufkin Dennison, one of the founders of the Waltham Watch Company. It was a valuable assignment and covered the cost of first-class sea voyage to Europe in June 1887 for her and her husband. Upon arriving in France, Perry enrolled in the Académie Colarossi where she worked with Gustave Courtois and Joseph Blanc. She also studied with Felix Borchardt, a German painter. In addition to receiving formal academic training, Perry spent much of her time studying the old masters at the Louvre in Paris. She also travelled to Madrid and spent time copying works at the Museo del Prado. Her 1888 painting The Red Hat, is testament to her previous formal training she had received back in America as well as the time she spent in Europe studying the works of the old Masters, especially the work of Sandro Botticelli.
Fritz von Udhe in his studio
In 1888 Perry travelled to Munich where she studied with the German painter Fritz von Uhde, who mainly worked with genre painting and religious motifs . Over the years, his colour palette became stronger and more colourful, similar to those of his impressionist artist colleagues. His painting style could be described as being between Realism and Impressionism, and he was once known as “Germany’s outstanding impressionist” Fritz von Udhe became one of the first painters to introduce plein-air painting in Germany.
Lilla Cabot Perry left Germany in the Autumn of 1888 and returned to Paris where she enrolled in art classes at Académie Julian under the tutelage of Tony Robert-Fleury, a French painter, known primarily for historical scenes.
Le Grand Salon, Musée Jacquemart-André, by Walter Gay (1913)
One of Lilla’s fellow artist friends was Walter Gay, the Massachusetts born painter who was residing in Paris. Many young American artists who arrived in Paris in the late 19th-century became Gay’s pupils so much so that the New York Times labelled him the “Dean of American Artists in Paris”. At the start of his career he would often depict realist scenes of French peasantry but later in life he began to depict stylish interiors with exquisite furnishings. It was Walter Gay, in 1889, who persuaded Lilla to put forward two of her paintings for inclusion at an exhibition held by the Société des Artistes Indépendants.
The paintings were portraits of her husband, Thomas Sergeant Perry, (seen earlier on) and one of her middle child, nine year old daughter, Edith, also known as The Red Tunic. They were accepted into the exhibition and that success marked the start of Lilla Cabot Perry’s artistic career.
The success of her paintings also enhanced her reputation as an artist, so much so that she was admitted as a student at one of Belgium artist’s Alfred Stevens’ class in Paris. Stevens like Walter Gay depicted opulent French interiors but in his case he added genteel ladies to his depictions.
In the summer of 1889 Lilla and her husband met Claude Monet…………………
……………….Cecilia Beaux finally returned to Paris in December 1888 after her summer in Concarneau and her six week European journey and the first thing she had to contend with was to find some new accommodation. Her one priority was that her new “home” had to be better than the dismal and dire Pension Villeneuve which she and her cousin May Whitlock had had to put up with on their arrival from America in January. They eventually settled for a “room-only” fifth-floor attic apartment in a Latin Quarter maison meuble (furnished house) at 30 rue Vaugirard, situated in the 6th arondissement across the road from the Luxembourg Gardens. Cecilia was delighted with her new home, writing:
“…There were five flights for us, but easy, broad, spotless, and without taint of late decades. I would like to boast openly that I have lived in an attic in Paris, a tiny chamber in the mansard, with a dormer window opening its croissee eastward and sunward. The window would hold a plant or two, and outside was the leaden ledge that took the rain on stormy days. Leaning out one could look down upon the Senate, grey and dignified, and the Luxembourg Gallery was very near. The iron railing of the garden was across the way…”
However, it was still winter, still cold and the accommodation was still damp so one of her first purchases was a stove, for which she paid four francs.
Cecilia returned to the Académie Julian to study art but this time she attended the original branch of the academy which was at the Passage des Panoramas, which meant she had to make the two-mile journey crossing the Seine each day. It is interesting to read in her 1930 autobiography, Background with Figures, that she was less than enamoured with the teaching at the academy and although she could have attached herself to an atelier headed up by a well-known artist she was not convinced of the benefit of such a move. She wrote:
“…I might have delivered myself, of course, to an individual master. There were several of high repute who admitted disciples. By an instinct I could not resist, I shrank from the committal, although there would have been contacts resulting from it of high value and interest. I saw no special direction in any exhibited work (I fear to say it), among the living, that I felt like joining…”
Cecilia was also unhappy that there were few critiques by the tutors which would have given her some constructive criticism. All the tutors would tell her that she should just “keep on as I was going”. It was not that she was simply negative about the teaching at the Julian for she had definite ideas of how art should be taught and how the tutors should act:
“…What the student above all needs is to have his resources increased by the presence of a master whom he believes in, not perhaps as a prophet or adopted divinity, but one who is in unison with a living world, of various views, all of whose roots are deep, tried, and nourished by the truth, or rather the truths that Nature will reveal to the seeker. He is the present embodiment of performance in art, better called the one sent, representing all. He is serious, quiet, a personality that has striven…”
Cecilia’s room in rue Vaugirard was too small for it to be used as a studio and for her a studio was a primary requisite not just to carry out painting but it was a place for quiet contemplation. With that in mind she managed to secure a nearby small ground-floor working place at 15 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs which was situated at the southern end of the Luxembourg Gardens. Later Cecilia and her cousin and companion, May Whitlock would give up their room at the rue Vaugirard house and move their belongings into the studio.
In May 1889 Cecilia made a solo trip to England. She had been invited by her one-time Philadelphia friend Martha Haskins “Maud” du Puy, now Mrs Maud Darwin, to come up to Cambridge and stay with her, her husband George Darwin, who was the eldest son of the naturalist, Charles Darwin, and their four children. George Darwin was the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and the family lived at Newnham Grange, which was situated in an idyllic location perched on the banks of the River Cam. Cecilia had to endure a very rough Channel crossing from Dieppe to Newhaven and then a long train journey through London to Cambridge. However, despite the inauspicious start to her English adventure, her short stay at Newnham was all she could have hoped for. Beautiful house to stay in with a comfortable bed, a completely different scenario in comparison to her room in Paris. In her autobiography she remembered her first morning at Newnham Grange:
“…My first waking in the big, chintz-hung guest-room at Newnham Grange is one of the jewel-set markers of memory………… The sun poured in, and through its beams I could see across a meadow and under huge trees. Another window was hung, without, by a rich drapery of lilac wistaria, in full bloom, and when I sprang from my bed and put my head out, there was a cherry tree full of ‘ripe ones,’ just outside, also bird song; and a robin, making the best of the feast, superseded the cuckoo, and children of English voice and speech were in the garden below…”
She also had a taste of university and English countryside life with an invite to dinner at the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge, Sunday morning service at King’s Chapel and even a visit to Charles Darwin’s eighty-one-year-old widow, Emma, who was Cecilia’s friend’s mother-in-law. She even was invited to the hallowed Master of Trinity College Cambridge’s garden party, remembering the event well:
“…An English garden-party differs from all others especially in the domain of the University. The Master of Trinity, who is the King of Cambridge, has a garden which occupies one bank of the river for a long distance. Acacias in full bloom hang over the wall during May week, tall dark yews associating as background. The Master himself, large, brown-bearded, and urbane, looked his part to perfection, and I was proud to have a share of his gracious attention…”
Such was the frequency of invitations to lunches and dinners that Cecilia hardly had time to think about sketching and painting but she did complete one work, a pastel portrait of her host Maud. Maud’s husband George was made Knight Commander of the Bath in 1905, and so the title of this portrait is now known as Lady George Darwin.
Cecilia and May Whitlock cancelled their plans to return to America and instead went to Cambridge in June, where they were to have stayed as guests of George and Maud Darwin, not in the main house but in The Mill, a small residence at the end of the garden of Newnham Grange. However Cecilia decided as it may not have been big enough for two ladies Cecilia and Maud took lodgings, at Ashton House, a small brick dwelling in a shady street, only a stone’s throw from Newnham and used The Mill as her artistic studio.
After that second visit to Cambridge, Cecilia left the comfort of Newnham Grange and returned to Paris only to find that her cousin had vacated their fifth-floor attic room and moved all their possessions and clothes into Cecilia’s small one-room studio with skylight. This was now to be their living quarters, their bedroom, as well as Cecilia’s studio. It was a terrible shock to the system for Cecilia who had just sampled the height of comfort in Cambridge. To make things worse for her and May, as summer approached, the once cool room had become a “hot-house” as the intense sunlight streamed through the skylight. Reading a passage in her biography, one can be in no doubt as to how Cecilia regarded her new “home”:
“…The circumstances of my return to Paris should be mentioned only by way of warning and contrast, and I shall always regret that I returned to the adored place, by way of my own blunder and a very squalid experiment. When I entered the shaky door of the studio, I found it filled with a helter-skelter collection of our belongings. There had been no preparatory cleaning or arranging. A bed had been put in. The toilet arrangements were simple, but for use required a complicated process. A tin basin, which I had used for washing brushes, was uncertainly disposed on the corner of the bookshelf, the soap saucer scarcely holding beside it. A chair-back was all there was for towels, and, if one wished to sit down, books and dresses had to be put somewhere else. It had become scorching hot. I insisted in rigging up some sort of Screen under the skylight for decency’s sake. Squalor, wretchedness, into which no gleam of fun entered; I sympathized with royalty and was ‘not amused.’…”
Cecilia and May’s time in Paris and England had come to an end in August 1889 and the pair boarded the steamship Anchoria at the Scottish port of Greenock Harbour on the River Clyde. On the twenty-second of August, the pair set sail ploughing their way through rough seas and a blanket fog. The intrepid pair finally arrived back in Philadelphia at the beginning of September 1889 after almost nineteen months away from home. Once home, her family bombarded Cecilia with questions about her European adventure and her plans for the future. Cecilia was unequivocal about her future life. It would be dedicated to her art and from the sale of her paintings she would shore up the family finances. She was also equally definite that her future life and plans would not be hampered by relationships with possible suitors. The family accepted her views and her plans for the future and set about trying to help her.
Her uncle, William Biddle, found a new studio for her at 1710 Chestnut Street, and then helped her arrange it so that she could set herself up as a professional artist. She and her cousin Emma shared the studio. At the same time her family relieved her of all household duties. The sense of family loss was two-sided, for not only did her sister and aunts miss Cecilia, but she also missed her family despite the good times she experienced in Europe. Maybe it was the happiness of being back, once again, in the family fold that enticed her to complete many portraits of her sister’s family and other relatives. She also received many portraiture commissions from the Philadelphia “elite”. In the five years after her return home she completed over forty portraits.
Probably her most famous family portrait was completed in 1894 and was entitled Sita and Sarita (Jeune Fille au Chat). It is a depiction of her cousin, Charles W. Leavitt’s wife Sarah (Allibone) Leavitt and the mysterious title of the painting comes from Beaux’s use of Spanish diminutives, Sarita for Sarah and Sita, meaning “little one,” for the cat. Sarah is dressed in white, with a small black cat perched precariously on her shoulder. The eyes of both the woman and the cat are green and almost lined up horizontally in the depiction. The combination of the whiteness of her dress and the palid complexion of her face are in direct contrast to the black furry animal standing on her shoulder. Both human and animal stare out enigmatically. Cecilia Beaux donated this painting to the Musée de Luxembourg and it is presently housed in the Musée d’Orsay. Twenty-seven years later she painted another version of the painting which is now housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, part of the Corcoran Collection.
Another of her well-known portraits, Dorothea and Francesca, was that of the two eldest daughters of Helena de Kay and Richard Watson Gilder. Richard Watson Gilder was a poet and editor of the periodicals Scribner’s Monthly and The Century Magazine, and his wife Helena, who was artistically trained at The Cooper Union in Manhattan, was a portrait, still-life, and flower painter, and also a writer. The Gilders, who were very good friends of Cecilia, were leading lights of an artistic literary and music circle in New York and they played a central role in the founding of the Society of American Artists in 1877. Cecilia recalled in her biography the setting for the painting which took place in the Gilder’s Four Brooks Farm in Tyringham, Massachussets:
“…The big and little sisters, Dorothea and Francesca, used to execute a dance of the simplest and all too circumscribed design, invented by themselves, and adorned by their unconscious beauty alone. This was the subject. I built a platform with my own hands, as the girls could not move easily on the bare earth. When it rained hard, in September, the orchard let its surplus water run down the hill and under the barn-sill, so that, as my corner was rather low, I put on rubber boots and splashed in and out of my puddle, four inches deep. October was difficult, for it grew bitterly cold. But valiant posing went on, though the scenic effect of the group was changed by wraps. Summer, indeed, was over, when on a dark autumnal night, in the freezing barn, the picture was packed by the light of one or two candles and a lantern…”
Cecilia Beaux’s cousin, Charles Wellford Leavitt, featured in another of her works. She completed the painting, Charles Welford Leavitt, the Artist’s Cousin in 1911. The sitter, who was forty at the time of the sitting, was a successful engineer and pioneer in the field of city planning. To acknowledge his profession Cecilia has added some of the tools of his trade on a table next to him. She has portrayed him with his arms crossed in front of him and his demeanour oozes a sense of importance and confidence.
In my final blog about the life of Cecilia Beaux I will look at her later years and the many portraits she did of the rich and famous.
…………………………………to be concluded.
Most of the information for the blogs featuring Cecilia Beaux came from two books:
Background with Figures, the autobiography of Cecilia Beaux
Family Portrait by Catherine Drinker Bowen
and the e-book: Out of the Background: Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture by Tara Leigh Tappert.
Extracts from letters to and from Cecilia Beaux came from The Beaux Papersheld at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art
Photograph from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts archive
Anna Elizabeth Klumpke was born in San Francisco on October 28th 1856. She was the elderst daughter of a German-born father, John Gerald Klumpke and his American wife Dorothea Matilda Klumpke (née Tolle). Her father was born in February 1825 in Suttrup, a small north-west German town in the state of Lower Saxony. Anna’s father was hard-working German immigrant who was raised in New Orleans where he attended college and spent some time studying medicine and other professional courses. In August 1850 with news of the Californian Gold Rush he left Louisiana and headed for California where he was registered as one of the early territorial pioneers.
With the discovery of gold the population in 1848 of San Francisco which had started off as a small Spanish mission nestled in the coastal dunes, was less than one thousand but the following year it had soared to twenty-five thousand. San Francisco boomed and law and order became a serious problem, so much so that the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance was formed in 1851 in response to widespread crime and corruption in the municipal government. This vigilante organisation, which John Klumpke joined, provided an extra layer of legal intervention to counteract the rising wave of crime. John Klumpke’s life as a prospector didn’t last long and the money he made prospecting was sank into real estate which he bought and sold and soon became a very well respected and very wealthy San Francisco citizen.
Dorothea Mathilde Tolle was born in New York on March 21, 1835. In 1853, at the age of eighteen, she accompanied her older sister who travelled to San Francisco to be reunited with her husband who had set up a gunsmith business in the town. Shortly after arriving in San Francisco, Dorothea met her future husband John Klumpke and the couple were married on October 28th 1855. The couple went on to have seven children. There were five daughters, Anna Elizabeth was born in 1856, followed by Augusta Maria in 1859, Dorothea in 1861, Mathilde in 1863 and Julia in 1870 and two sons John Wilhelm and George Frederick in 1868.
Before I look closer at the life of the painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke it is interesting to note that all her siblings were great achievers. Augusta Maria, the second born child, formerly a science student in Lausanne, went to Paris in 1877 to study medicine, and in 1882 became an extern and in 1887 became the first woman in France to be appointed interne des hôpitaux. She studied under Jules Déjerine, a celebrated French neurologist and later in 1888 the two married and had a daughter Yvonne. In 1914, Augusta was elected the first female president of the French Neurological Society.
Dorothea Klumpke was the youngest child of John and Dorothea Klumpke. She initially studied music at the University of Paris but later became interested in astronomy. In 1886, she received her bachelor’s degree and seven years later, in 1893, she was awarded her doctorate and in between she took up a post at the Paris Observatory. Her work consisted of measuring star positions, astrophotography, which is a specialized type of photography for recording photos of astronomical objects and large areas of the night sky. She eventually became Director of the Bureau of Measurements at the Paris Observatory and was elected a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. She married the Welsh astronomer and astrophysicist, Dr. Isaac Roberts.
Both the fourth-born child, Mathilda Klumpke, and the youngest child Julia, took music lessons at the Paris conservatory. Mathilda became a talented pianist who married Harry Milton Dalton, an American lawyer from Cincinnati, and they had three children. Sadly Mathilda died young in 1893, from diphteria while caring for her sick children. She was just thirty years of age.
Julia Klumpke, the youngest family member who was born in 1870, was a student at Lycée Fénelon, which in 1883 became the first high school of young girls of Paris. Julia studied the violin and subsequently taught the violin to students at the Spartanbourg Girls College, South Carolina.
The fifth child, and the only son to survive infancy, John William Klumpke, was mostly educated in Paris in the heart of the Quartier Latin just across from the Sorbonne at Lycée Louis-le-Grand which was a prestigious secondary school founded in 1563 as the Collège de Clermont, but was renamed in King Louis XIV of France’s honour after he extended his direct patronage to it in 1682. Later John returned to America where he became an engineer.
Having said all that, this blog is all about the eldest daughter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke but I thought it would be of interest for you to see what a set of very gifted siblings she had and one wonders whether that pressurised her to succeed.
Anna Elizabeth Klumpke was the eldest of John Dorothea’s children, born on August 22nd 1856. Her early life proved traumatic as in the early months of 1860 when she was three and a half years old she had a fall and fractured her femur. Less than eighteen months after this accident she fell again and this resulted in osteomyelitis with purulent knee arthritis and this condition would leave her with a limp for the rest of her life. Her parents sought medical help in America but to no avail and they decided that the best course of treatment was to be found in Europe and so, in 1886, her mother and aunt took Anna Elizabeth and her three sisters and travelled by boat to a specialist, Professor Néalton, in Paris and later to Berlin to consult with Professor Langenbeck where she would remain at his clinic for eighteen months with much time spent taking the healing waters of the local thermal baths.
Anna’s three sisters went to school in Berlin whilst she, due to her physical condition and medical treatment, received private lessons. She thrived educationally taking lessons in German, French and music. Eventually Anna’s mother and her sisters returned to San Francisco somewhat disappointed that Anna’s hoped-for cure never materialised. Back in California, Anna and her siblings attended the local school but because of their father’s wealth also had home tutoring in music, dance and German.
The disappointment of Anna’s mother over the failure to cure her daughter’s physical disability was not the only complication which arose from her long stay in Europe separated from her husband. Despite the birth of two further children, John and George Frederick in 1868, although the latter died before his first birthday, and Julia in 1870, the estrangement of husband and wife led to the break-up of the marriage and she requested and won legal separation and later a divorce, along with custody of all the children. Anna’s mother decided on a clean break from both her husband and America and in April 1871 took all the children, including eight month-old Julia, to Germany to live with her cousin in the town of Gottingen where Anna, who at the time was fifteen years old and thirteen year old Augusta, enrolled at a boarding school in Bad Canstatt, a town close to Stuttgart. In 1873 after the legal ramifications of the separation were concluded and divorce granted, Dorothea took her six children and went to live in Lausanne.
All the children, with the exception of Anna, attended various schools in Lausanne but Anna studied at home, and as she showed an interest in painting she was enrolled in a course of drawing lessons. In 1876 Anna’s mother was faced with the prospect of losing her two eldest children to further education colleges away from Lausanne but a friend advised her that Paris would be an ideal place to live as it would offer Anna a chance to further her career as an artist in a well-respected atelier de peinture and at the same time offer Augusta the chance to continue her interest in medicine at the prestigious medical faculty of the Sorbonne. There would also be numerous good Parisian schools for the other children and so with her decision made to relocate to the French capital Dorothea Klumpke went to Paris and met with the secretary of the Faculty of Medicine and the secretary of the Faculty of Sciences at the Sorbonne to assess the colleges for Augusta and had a meeting with the artistic director of Académie Julian with regards to enrolling Anna. Dorothea also met with heads of various secondary schools to discuss the schooling of her other children and by October 1876 an apartment had been rented and all the children were attending various schools and colleges.
Anna Klumpke enrolled at the Académie Julian in 1883 and was the pupil of Tony Robert Fleury, Felix de Vuillefroy, William Adolphe Bouguereau and Jules Lefebvre. In 1884, whilst still at the Academy, she exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon. She excelled at the academy and won a number of awards including one for the outstanding student of the year with her painting entitled An Eccentric. She also won the silver medal at the Versailles Exhibition. She became the first woman to win the Temple gold medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This prestigious art prize was awarded for the best oil painting by an American artist shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’s annual exhibition. She also won the bronze medal at the 1889 Universal Exhibition. She was a regular contributor to the exhibitions at the Salon des Artistes Français.
One of her well known painting is a large one entitled Catinou Knitting which she exhibited at the Salon of 1887 and is now housed at the Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. Anna returned to the United States and taught in Boston for a few years.
One of the greatest influences on Anna Klumpke’s was the French artist Rosa Bonheur, an animalière, (painter of animals) known for her artistic realism. Anna’s interest in Bonheur probably goes back to her childhood when as a young girl she was given a doll, known as a “Rosa” Doll. Rosa Dolls were made in the image of Rosa Bonheur, who had become a famous artist and from early childhood Anna was fascinated with the career of this French painter. She first met Rosa in 1887 when she was employed as a translator by an American art collector who was interested in buying some of Bonheur’s artwork.
Ten years later, in 1897 Anna wrote to Rosa Bonheur asking permission to paint her portrait. The two women met for the second time on June 16, 1898 at Rosa’s residence, the Chateau de By at Thomery on the edge of Fontainebleau Forest, which the artist had bought for herself in 1859 when she was at the height of her popularity. Despite the thirty-four year difference in age between Rosa and Anna, they soon became great friends. While Klumpke worked on her first portrait of Bonheur, the two women became close friends and one month later Bonheur asked Anna to join her in both a personal and professional partnership, Anna agreed and the two women signed a formal arrangement to cement their working and personal arrangement in August 1898. Bonheur agreed to build a studio for Anna at By and in return Anna agreed to paint portraits of Bonheur and to write Rosa’s biography. Controversially, as far as her relatives were concerned, Bonheur changed her will and made Klumpke her sole heir. Bonheur used her last will and testament to force legal recognition of her right to transfer her property to another woman. Anna, I am sure, brought a great deal of happiness to Rosa who had been devastated by the death of her lover and long-time companion Nathalie Micas in 1895. Nine months after Anna and Rosa formalised their arrangement Rosa Bonheur died on May 25, 1899, aged seventy-seven.
Klumpke painted three important portraits of Bonheur. The first, from 1898, depicted the artist at an easel wearing the men’s clothes for which she had secured a license from the French government. The second portrait, from 1899, depicted Bonheur seated, holding her dog on her lap. Klumpke kept the third portrait of Bonheur, painted posthumously in 1902, for the Musée de l’Atelier de Rosa Bonheur that she established at By, near Fountainebleau, in 1904.
After Bonheur’s death, Klumpke devoted herself to researching the biography Bonheur had asked her to write. It was published in 1908 with the title Rosa Bonheur, sa vie et son oeuvre. It is a merger of biography and autobiography. Anna Klumpke combined her own memories with Bonheur’s first-person account. In the book Anna, Bonheur’s lover and chosen portraitist, tells how she came to meet and fall in love with Bonheur but of course it is Bonheur’s account of her own life story, and delves into such subjects as gender formation, institutional changes in the art world, governmental intervention in the arts, the social and legal regulation of dress codes, and the perceived transgressive nature of female sexual companionship in a repressive society.
Klumpke continued to paint and exhibit her works in both Paris and the United States, and set up many projects in the name of Rosa Bonheur. In 1914, she established l’Hôpital de Rosa Bonheur at By, where she nursed wounded soldiers until World War I and sometime later, she established the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Art School for Women Painters and Sculptors at By and continued to exhibit both her work as well as Bonheur’s on both continents.
Anna Klumpke was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1936. During the 1930s, she returned to San Francisco where she painted landscapes and portraits. She died in 1942 at the age of 86 and her ashes were entombed alongside Bonheur’s and those of Nathalie Micas in Père Lachaise cemetery three years later.
Anna Elizabeth Klumpke never married, maybe because her career meant everything to her but also because she chose a committed relationship with another woman, and by doing so she defied all the late Victorian expectation of women. Her artistic work was a visual testament of her life and times, and included the joyous but brief time she loved and lived with Rosa Bonheur.
The artist whose paintings I am looking at in this blog is the Swiss-born artist and printmaker Félix Edouard Vallotton.
Vallatton was born in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in December 1865, three days before the New Year. His parents and grandparents hailed from the little town of Vallorbe in the Swiss canton of Vaud. His family’s social status was given as conservative middle class. Félix’s father, Adrien owned a chandlery and grocery shop and would later branch out as a chocolatier and own and run a chocolate factory. Félix and his older brother Paul lived at the family’s home in Lausanne, situated in the centre of town in the small town hall square, the Place de la Pelouse. Family memories of the young Félix Vallatton told of him being a very delicate and sensitive child and because of this and the presence of the smallpox epidemics, which had ravaged Europe, he was probably cosseted by his family. Félix, as a young boy enjoyed to draw and paint and besides his normal scholastic subjects, he attended evening classes for drawing.
In 1882, at the age of sixteen, having completed his school education, he persuaded his father to take him to Paris so that he could learn more about painting and drawing. He had passed the entrance exam to the École des Beaux Arts but decided that he would prefer to attend the Académie Julian because of its teaching of real art and naturalism. His father managed to have his son enrol at the prestigious academy, which at the time had the most respected art tutors. Félix was to study under three great French figure painters, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Guillaume Bougereau and Gustave Boulanger. As a student he was known to be hard working but very reclusive. His tutors looked upon him as a model student and had great hopes that he would win the Prix de Rome prize as the outstanding student of the year. For young Vallotton life was not all fun and games and monotony had begun to set in, even at this early stage. He wrote to his brother Paul;
“…So far I have not seen much apart from some museums. The botanical gardens, which did not make much impression on me, one or two theatres, which I visited with father, the Pantheon, which is magnificent and which affords a marvellous view on a fine day. Every day I follow the very same route and see the very same things…”
In an early letter to his brother there is a hint of lack of self-confidence when he tells his brother how things are developing academically. He wrote:
“…The professor is pleased with me, but I am not pleased with myself and sometimes feel sad……My heart sinks when I think of what I am about to study and realise that I am nothing compared with the great artists who startled the world at the age of fifteen…”
Vallotton may not be confident in his own ability but one of his tutor’s assessment of him was quite different. Lefebvre told Vallotton’s father that:
‘…Monsieur, I hold your son in high esteem, and have only had occasion to compliment him up to now. I think that, if I had such a son, I would not be worried about his future at all and would unhesitatingly be prepared, with the bounds of possibility, To make sacrifices over and over again, in order to help him…”
Lefebvre ended the conversation with a prediction:
“…I am so interested now in those who are prepared to work – your son is one of those and I repeat he will bring you fame…”
People who suffer from lack of self confidence, often need somebody to be there to boost their morale and Vallotton had that in the person of Charles Maurin, a fellow student at the Académie Julian, albeit eight years his senior. Vallotton and Maurin became friends and part of a letter from Maurin to the younger Vallotton highlights the elder artist’s moral support. He wrote to Vallotton:
“…Whatever you lack it is certainly not artistic flair. It is rather some quality of character (please allow me to mention this to you). (I would like you to be as open with me). From your last letter it emerges that you lack strong will and you are creating difficulties for yourself. But that is not the case. You do have willpower but it does not manifest itself…”
Life as an art student in the big city was a struggle for Vallotton. He had constantly to turn to his father for money to pay for lodgings, to buy food and pay for models. He tried to find some work to help his financial situation but it was never enough. In 1888 Felix wrote to his parents bemoaning his lot in life and one can sense an air of depression
“…I practically never go out. I work from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. This has not produced any great results so far, everything must work out soon…”
In 1885, at the age of nineteen, Vallotton’s luck changed. It was due to his portrait of one of his neighbours, Monsieur Ursenbach, a mathematician and Mormon. That year, he submitted the Portrait of Mr Ursenbach to the Salon jury and with his former tutor, Jules Lefebvre, one of the jurists, the work was accepted and subsequently displayed. It is an interesting work. The setting for the portrait is the sitter’s colourless and featureless room. Ursenbach can be seen sitting in his armchair in a stiffly upright pose, looking uncomfortable with a stern expression on his face. His hands rest steadily upon his knees as he stares off to the left of the painting. It is this unusual demeanour of Ursenbach which probably caught the eye of visitors to the Salon exhibition. Critics were divided on its merits but for Vallatton himself when he later listed all his paintings in chronological order, this was the first on the list.
Like many portrait artists before him, the young artist completed many portraits of his own family members. His family portraits, such as the 1886 one of his parents, The Artist`s Parents, featuring Alexis and Mathilde, were tender and showed the closeness he was to his parents.
In the same year that he completed the portrait of his parents he completed a portrait of his brother Paul.
Over the years, he also painted many self portraits and one of my favourites is his 1891 painting, Mon portrait. Portraiture was a way Vallotton began to earn money and he completed many commissions in Paris and back in his home town of Lausanne. Many of his Paris commissions were attained through his Swiss ex-patriot friends who were living in the French capital. One such friend and fellow student was the Swiss artist, Ernest Bieler and it was he who persuaded the artist and close acquaintance, Auguste de Molins, to write a letter of introduction on behalf of Vallotton to Renoir and Degas. De Molins had known the Impressionists as he had exhibited works at the First Impressionist Exhibition. In his letter to Degas, de Molins wrote:
“…My protégé is absolutely alone in Paris without any connections at all apart from his contacts at the studio, which is far from enough to satisfy his intellectual needs. The studio is all very well, but there comes a time when close relations with a master are somewhat more important even far more important…”
Vallotton never used the letters of introduction.
In 1886 Vallotton met Felix Jasinski, an engraver and painted his portrait, entitled Felix Jasinski in His Printmaking Studio. Jasinski went on to teach Vallotton all about the art of engraving and the two would work together on many projects. Vallotton’s own catalogue of works began to list his engravings from 1887 and according to a letter to his parents in late 1889 he told them that he had begun to work on commissions for a publisher. Money was to be made through his engraving work and by 1891 the amount of wood engravings completed by Vallatton was almost more that the number of paintings he had completed.
His early works were not restricted to portraiture. Vallotton, being Swiss-born, loved to paint landscapes featuring the mountains and views of his homeland, especially around Lausanne and Lake Geneva. Often they were for commissions given to him by Swiss people but often he would keep them for himself. In 1891 he completed a painting, Port of Pully, one of the eastern suburbs of the city of Lausanne. The painting depicts the lake front located on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Another beautiful landscape work by Vallotton was completed in 1893 and was entitled Outskirts of Lausanne. In the painting we view Lake Geneva from a meadow. The yellow and greens of the foreground are in contrast to the still blue water of the lake in the background. There is an air of tranquillity about this depiction. One can imagine sitting in the meadow, which is bathed in sunlight, and just relaxing and leaving the cares of the world behind.
The reason for me writing a couple of blogs about Félix Vallotton was that I was fascinated by the heading of a 2007 article in The Guardian newspaper by Julian Barnes which shouted out:
Better with their clothes on
The neglected, enigmatic Swiss artist Félix Vallotton was a fine painter of still lifes, landscapes and portraits. Shame about his dreadful nudes, writes Julian Barnes.
and so in my next blog I will continue with Vallotton’s life story and look at more of his paintings including some of his “dreadful nudes” !!!
Much of the material I have used for this blog came from an excellent book entitled Félix Vallotton by Nathalia Brodskia, an art historian attached to the hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
In my recent blogs looking at the life of Marie Bashkirtseff, I talked about the time she spent studying art at the Académie Julian in Paris and her rivalry with her fellow artist Louise Breslau. Despite the wealthy lifestyle of Bashkirtseff she was still constantly jealous of Breslau, who she perceived as her rival at the academy. She was also very jealous of Breslau’s friendship with contemporary artists such as Edgar Degas. So today, I thought I should dedicate this blog to her rival, and look at the life and works of the German-born artist, Louise Breslau.
Maria Luise Katharina Breslau, who would later be known simply as Louise Catherine Breslau, was born in Munich in December 1856 but spent much of her early life in Zurich. She was born into a prosperous middle-class family. Louise had three younger sisters Marie-Henrietta, Emma and Bernadette. Her father was an eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist and in 1858 he and his family moved to Zurich where he took up a position as head physician in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University Hospital of Zurich.
Louise suffered badly from asthma when she was young and was often confined to her bed and it was due to this enforced confinement, that to pass the time and counter loneliness, she immersed herself in reading and also developed a love of sketching.
In 1866, When Louise was nine years old, her father died of staph infection which he contracted during the execution of a postmortem examination. Louise, even though still very young, was tasked with helping her mother to bring up her three younger sisters. When her health worsened, she spent some time in a convent near to Lake Constance where with its warmer climate it was hoped that her health would improve. It was during her stay at the convent that she became more interested in art and she continued to sketch and paint during her teenage years. Her love of art and her artistic ability became apparent to her mother who persuaded Louise to attend the drawing classes of the local Swiss portrait painter, Eduard Pfyffer. She excelled under his tuition but after a while she believed that she had learnt all she could from Pfyffer and she wanted her art to be more than just a pleasing hobby. All young ladies of a certain class, besides learning about domestic skills, were also encouraged to be able to play a musical instrument and be able to paint or sketch. However, Louise wanted art not to be just a pleasant pastime, she wanted to become a professional artist and to achieve this she knew she had to leave Switzerland, move to the European capital of art, Paris, and enrol at a specialist art academy. In 1876 she went to Paris but like many other female artists who wanted the best art training that Paris could offer, she was disappointed with the ruling of the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts that only male artists would be allowed to enter their hallowed establishment. This sexist ruling did not change until 1897. So, like Bashkirtseff, she enrolled at the Académie Julian who catered for aspiring female painters.
Her fellow students at the Académie Julian included the Ukrainian artist, Marie Bashkirtseff, Madeleine Zillhardt, the French painter, Sophie Schäppi who, like Louise, had come to Paris from Switzerland and the Irish painter, Sarah Purser. Louise excelled at the academy and was looked upon by her tutors as one of their best students and this fact did not lie well with Marie Bashkirtseff who was inordinately jealous of her fellow student. In 1879, Louise Breslau, Sophie Schäppi and the singer Maria Fuller moved into a large apartment in the Avenue des Thermes and that same year Breslau had her painting entitled Tout passé accepted at the Paris Salon. This was a great achievement not only for Louise but also for the female atelier of Académie Julian.
Two years later, in 1881, she received an honourable mention at that year’s Salon for her triple portrait entitled, Les amies (Portrait of Friends). In it we see her friends Maria Feller on the left, Sophie Schäppi in the centre and Louise on the right, with a white dog sitting on top of the scarlet tablecloth. It is a painting in which we see the three females in a reflective mood. The painting is now housed in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva. Louise Breslau was now acknowledged as an up-and-coming artist. She opened her own studio and soon started to receive numerous commissions for her work from the wealthy of Paris society.
In 1883 she was commissioned by the owner of the French newspaper Le Figaro to paint a portrait of his daughter. She completed the commission and exhibited the painting entitled Isabelle de Rodays at the 1883 Salon. She also exhibited another of her works, Five O’clock Tea at that year’s Salon and this can now be found at the Berne Kunstmuseum.
In 1885 Louis Breslau completed another great work entitled Chez Soi which is a portrayal of her mother and sister in an interior setting. The dog sits at the feet of her mother and this genre piece exudes an air of silent contemplation. The painting resides in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
The friendship between Breslau and Madeleine Zillhardt would last a lifetime and she would appear in many of her paintings. After a brief affair in 1886 with the sculptor Jean Carriès, whom she met through Jules Breton, Louise Breslau chose to share her life with Madeleine Zillhardt and in 1902 the two women moved to a studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine where they set up home.
She eventually became the third woman artist, and the first foreign woman artist to be bestowed France’s Legion of Honour award. During World War I Breslau, although by this time a naturalised Swiss citizen, and Zillhardt, remained at their home at Neuilly. Breslau showed her patriotism towards her new country, France, by drawing numerous portraits of French soldiers and nurses on their way to the Front. Louise was sixty-two years of age when the war ended and she began to withdraw from public view and was contented to stay at home and sit in her garden, painting flowers but she still loved to entertain her friends.
Louise Catherine Breslau died in May 1927, aged 70 after suffering from a long and debilitating illness. Most of her estate went to her good friend and long-time companion Madeleine Zillhardt. As per her wishes Louise Breslau’s body was taken to the small Swiss town of Baden where she was buried next to her mother.
Unlike Bashkirtseff, who died at the age of 25, Breslau had many years to forge her artistic reputation. Bashkirtseff sadly knew, when she was told that she was dying, that she would never have the time to be able to build up such an artistic reputation as Breslau but of course Bashkirtseff will always be remembered for her diaries. The works of art of Louise Breslau were very popular when she was alive but sadly, after she died, she was almost forgotten.
The artist I am looking at today is the American, Elizabeth Jane Gardner. If you read my last blog, which was the conclusion of the life of the French Academic painter William Bouguerau, you will know that Gardner was his second wife. This is not a story about the wife of a famous painter dabbling with art. This is a story about the fighting spirit of an acclaimed painter – a great artist in her own right, although it has to be said that she was often criticised because much of her work resembled her husband’s genre pieces.
Elizabeth Jane Gardner was born in October 1837. Her birthplace was the town of Exeter in the American state of New Hampshire. It was here that she attended junior school. After completing her regular school education in 1853, she attended the Lasell Female Seminary at Auburndale Massachusetts. The college, which was founded in 1851, was named after its founder Edward Lasell, who was a great believer in female education. It was at this college that Elizabeth studied languages and art. She graduated in 1856 and for the next few years was a teacher of French at the newly opened Worcester School of Design and Fine Arts in Massachusetts.
Whilst she had been studying art at the Lasell Seminary she would often question the teaching she received but it dawned on her that the foundation of all good painting stemmed from the ability to master the art of drawing. It was probably during the time spent in her art classes there that she nurtured the desire to one day, go to Europe and live and study art in Paris, which was then, the capital of the art world and the Mecca for all European and American artists. This artistic ambition to savour French life and its art was probably delayed by the American Civil War and her dream was not realised until 1864, when she and her former art teacher at the Lasell Seminary, Imogene Robinson, set sail for France. They got themselves a flat in Paris and that summer obtained licenses as copyists at the Louvre and the Musée du Luxembourg. For the duration of that summer they fulfilled artistic commissions from America by copying paintings in the collection of the prestigious galleries which they also sold to the locals. However Elizabeth’s main reason for coming to Paris was to receive further artistic tuition at one of the prestigious art academies and so in the autumn she applied to enter L’École des Beaux-Arts, the foremost art institution. She was horrified that her application was rejected, not on the grounds of her ability but on the grounds of her sex. L’École des Beaux-Arts, like many art establishments at the time, had a male-only admissions policy and refused to admit females into their hallowed corridors. The banning of women from the L’École des Beaux-Arts was not lifted for another thirty-five years, in 1897.
Whether it was her and her American companion Imogene’s need to fulfil their initial aim for coming to France, to receive tuition from an established artist or whether it was the simple fact that the public art galleries were not heated and copying works of art in the cold establishments became less pleasant, the women gave up their commissioning work and in the winter of 1864 they looked for an artist who would provide them with some tuition. Established artists were happy to nurture and teach aspiring artists provided they could pay. The more the student was willing to pay the better the class of artist who would become their tutor. Elizabeth’s companion Imogene was in a much better financial situation than Elizabeth and was able to secure Thomas Couture as her mentor and tutor whereas Elizabeth who was not as well off settled for a lesser-known painter Jean-Baptiste-Ange Tissier, whose students were mostly women.
Elizabeth Gardner was a resolute and determined character and was not going to be put off by red tape and sexist bureaucracy of the art academies and so devised a plan on how she would gain admission to one of the Parisian art schools. Before she had left the shores of America, she had been ill and had lost a lot of weight and had had to have her hair cropped short. Her figure had taken on a boyish appearance which part facilitated her ingenious plan. She decided to pose as a young lad but for a woman to walk the streets of Paris dressed as a male she had to have permission from the Paris Police Department! The law was passed on November 17th 1800 when Paris city chiefs had placed the order on the statute books that required women to seek permission from the police if they wanted to “dress like a man.” The order was issued at the end of the French Revolution when working-class Parisian women were demanding the right to wear pants in their fight for equal rights. Parisian women activists, during the Revolution, had also requested the right to wear trousers as a political gesture and like their male working-class revolutionaries became known as “sans-culottes” for wearing trousers instead of the silk-knee breeches preferred by the bourgeoisie. It was modified in 1892 and 1909 to allow women to wear trousers if they were “holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse”. Such an old fashioned law! Actually not, for it was only in January 2013 that the French Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said that the ban was incompatible with modern French values and laws and although it had been ignored for many years it was only right that the law was officially repealed and so French officials invalidated the 213-year-old order that forbade women in Paris to dress like men and wear trousers. The French government had been opposed to women wearing trousers for it was a simple method of preventing women, who dressed as men, from gaining access to certain offices or occupations which were male-only domains.
Elizabeth’s plan worked, for in 1865, she successfully applied to the drawing school of the prestigious Gobelin Tapestry factory which was best known as a royal factory supplying the court of Louis XIV and later monarchs. At the beginning she was accepted as a young lad but after a while her fellow students and instructors realised that she was actually a young woman. Whether it was because of her outstanding drawing ability or her determined personality, one may never know, but despite the discovery of her sex, she was allowed to stay.
One person, who was also impressed with her ability and strength of mind, was Rodolphe Julian. He had established the Académie Julian in 1868 as a private studio, a school for art students. The Académie Julian was a kind of feeder school for art students who wanted to later gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts as well as offering independent training in arts. At that time, women were not allowed to enrol for study at the École des Beaux-Arts, but this new Académie Julian accepted both men and women, albeit they were trained separately, but most importantly, women participated in the same studies as men, which included access to classes which taught the basis of art – drawing and painting of nude models. The Académie Julian was particularly popular with aspiring American artists for it did not have an admission’s precursor of having to be able to speak French.
Whether it was beginners luck or just the fact that she had become a successful and talented artist but in 1868 she had two of her painting accepted by the Salon jury. To have a painting exhibited at the Salon was a great moment in the life of an aspiring painter. It was not just in recognition of their talent but it enhanced the value of their future works. Elizabeth was delighted and wrote home to her parents:
“…when the ex’n opened both of mine were hung in full view among foreign artists and raises the value of what I paint…”
Elizabeth Gardner’s works were often found in the annual Salon exhibitions and in the exhibition catalogues she, like many other artists whose works were on show, would often name the well know artists who had taught them. This was an attempt by artists to boost their status and their “artistic bloodline”. It is by looking at these catalogue entries that we know that Elizabeth received tuition from Hugues Merle, a contemporary and friend of Bouguereau from 1868 to 1874. The name of the artist, Jules-Joseph Lefebvre was added in catalogues in 1875 as was the name of William Bouguereau from 1877 onwards.
In 1878 Elizabeth Gardner put forward a religious painting for inclusion at that year’s Salon. It was entitled Moses in the Bulrushes. She had started the work the previous year and was pleased with its progress. In December 1877, she wrote about her progress with the work to her brother, John, who was back home in Exeter, New Hampshire:
“… I have advanced my picture of little Moses a good bit this month. The canvas is now covered and now comes what is to me the hardest part. I have always ideas enough for nice subjects but it is so hard to make the reality come up to the dream. I get sometimes quite frantic over it…”
The work was accepted by the Salon jurists and exhibited in 1878. The Arts critic of the American Register, a newspaper for expatriate Americans living in Paris wrote in the April 6th edition:
“…‘Miss E. J. Gardner has just completed her picture for the Salon, Moses in the Bulrushes. The subject is taken at the moment when Moses has just been placed amongst them, and his sister has parted the bulrushes to watch the approach of Pharaoh’s daughter, who is seen in the distance. The expression of anguish in the mother’s face is especially well rendered, and the coloring is remarkably fine…”
The fact that she had put forward a religious painting for inclusion at the Salon was a brave move as history and religious paintings were looked upon as the highest form of art genre. It was a genre that was also looked upon as being artistically, a male-only domain and female artists were often discouraged from attempting such works. However as we know, Elizabeth Gardner was a strong-minded person and never shied away from controversy if she believed her course of action was right. Her submission of this religious work entitled Moses in the Bullrushes, put her in direct competition with her male counterparts. It was also interesting to note that her take on the event portrayed was from a female perspective. She had depicted the two women, the mother of the baby and the Pharaoh’s daughter, as courageous women who were saving the life of the baby, Moses.
As the sale of her paintings increased with her popularity, so her financial situation improved. Things got even better in the late 1870’s when the renowned Paris art dealer Goupil began purchasing her work and in the 1880’s her work was so much in demand that the prestigious Knoedler art dealership of New York, was buying her Salon paintings, sight unseen. This art dealership had formerly been a subsidiary of the Parisian art dealers, Goupil & Cie.
Elizabeth had reached one of her most sought-after ambitions in 1868 – to have one of her paintings exhibited at the Paris Salon. However Elizabeth was not one to rest on her laurels and her next ambition was not only to have her work hung at the Salon exhibition but that it was deemed worthy of an award. She had to wait another nine years for that happening.
One of Elizabeth Gardner’s artistic mentors was William Bouguereau. Elizabeth and her companion Imogene were living in a flat in rue Nôtre-Dame des Champs in the Montparnasse district of Paris, the same street in which Bouguereau and his family resided. Elizabeth became known to the family and was on friendly terms with Bouguereau’s wife, Marie-Nelly. William Bouguereau and Elizabeth Gardner must have become quite close during this time as, eight months after the tragic death in childbirth of Bouguereau’s wife in April 1877, the grieving widower proposed marriage to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was happy to accept but Bouguereau’s mother and daughter Henriette were horrified. The daughter threatened to leave home and join a convent if a marriage took place but this threat was never tested as Bouguereau’s of the vociferous, sustained and obdurate opposition from his mother to the formalising of the partnership was enough to halt any proposed wedding plans. However the couple became engaged in 1879 and Elizabeth wrote about Bouguereau, their betrothal and her thoughts about his mother. In a letter she wrote:
“…And now about my engagement…. I am very fond of Mr Bougereau and he has given me every proof of his devotion to me. We neither of us wish to be married at present. I have long been accustomed to my freedom. I am beginning to attain a part of the success for which I have been struggling so long. He is ambitious for me as well as I for myself. As it is I can’t help working very much like him. I wish to paint by myself a while longer. He has a fretful mother who is now not young, 78 I think. She is of a peevish, tyrannical disposition and I know she made his first wife much trouble…”
Elizabeth and Bouguereau continued to work together and seemed happy or maybe just resigned, to accept a long drawn out courtship.
The realisation of Elizabeth’s ambition to be awarded a medal at the Salon came in 1887. By this time, the popularity of her work had surged and she had been inundated with commissions but her mind was focused on her Salon entries and in December 1886, she wrote to her brother John of her desire to achieve that ultimate success:
“…I must work to get a medal in Paris and not for money a while longer. All will come right in time I am confident if I work hard and am patient…”
In a letter to her sister Maria in January 1887, she again sounded both resolute and optimistic about her award prospects:
“…I am bound to get a medal some year…”
Finally in 1887 the Salon awarded her a medal (third class) for her work entitled The Farmer’s Daughter. The idea for the painting came to Elizabeth whilst she was on a painting trip in the countryside. Whilst out, the weather turned nasty and a downpour ensued. She took refuge from the rain by sheltering in a farmer’s barn and it was whilst there that she saw the farmer’s daughter feeding the hens and ducks. So impressed by what she saw, she decided to make a quick sketch of the scene which led to the finished prize-winning work. The painting is a depiction of unspoiled rural living and must have been seen as a breath of fresh air in comparison to paintings by the up-and-coming Impressionists depicting city scenes and the onset of modernity. Gardner’s tranquil scene would probably have made many people want to exit the city and sample the peacefulness and serenity of the countryside and was for the owner of such a painting, it was a reminder of how life was in simpler days.
The award she received for her work was the first and only medal that was ever bestowed on an American woman painter at the Paris Salon. She was ecstatic and on May 30th 1887, she wrote to her brother John back in America:
“…My pictures at this year’s Salon have just received the medal which I have waited for so many years. I hasten to write you by the first mail for I know you will All sympathize with me in my happiness. The jury voted me the honor by a very flattering majority – 30 voices out of 40 ….No American woman has ever received a medal here before. You will perhaps think I attach more importance than is reasonable to so small a thing, but it makes such a difference in my position here, all the difference between that of an officer and a private, and I hope it will be a good thing for the sale of my paintings. I made an extravagant risk in my large one this year. Monsieur Bouguereau is very happy at my success. He is as usual President of the Jury, it is his great impartiality which has so long kept him in office. He has always said that I must succeed through my own merit and not by his influence. I hope to send some photos soon….I have nearly a hundred letters of congratulation and dispatches to acknowledge today. I have begun by the dear ones at home…”
This work by Elizabeth was to receive further awards when it was exhibited in the Gallery of the United States at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889 where it was awarded a bronze medal. To understand how great an achievement this was, one has to remember she was up against some of the finest American painters such as Thomas Eakins, William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent.
The work was exhibited along with another of her works, the somewhat controversial, L’imprudente (The Imprudent Girl).
Elizabeth and William Bouguereau had been courting for seventeen years, unable to marry for fear of crossing Bouguereau’s mother who was adamant that the couple should not marry. However in 1896 his mother died aged 91 and the couple wasted no time in getting married. The colour of Elizabeth’s bridal gown was black and white because, as she explained, although it was her wedding day, she was still in mourning for Bouguereau’s mother. The groom was 71, and the bride 59 years of age. Elizabeth wrote home about their change in circumstances:
“… The old lady died on February 18th at the age of 91. Her devoted son who had borne with such affectionate patience all her peculiarities was quite afflicted by the change [in her health]. He had so long had the habit of subordinating every detail of his life to her desires, of which the first was to rule without opposition in his house…”
After marrying Bouguereau, Elizabeth almost stopped painting altogether and spent most of her time looking after her husband and his studio. When asked why she stopped painting she simply replied:
“…He was alone and needed me. I abandoned the brush…”
She did not resume her painting career until after his death nine years later and it was then that she signed all her works in her married name.
One other of Elizabeth Gardner’s painting of note was completed just before she married William. It was another religious painting entitled The Shepherd David and was based on a passage from the Old Testament story (1 Samuel 17:34):
“…And David said unto Saul, “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion and a bear and took a lamb out of the flock…”
The work depicts David demonstrating his worthiness to fight Goliath when he tells the tale of how he, as a shepherd, battled with wild beasts which were menacing his flock. In the painting Elizabeth has shown the young David kneeling in triumph on a dead lion while at the same time grasping a lamb under his right arm. He looks upward towards the heavens, with his left arm raised in recognition that God had given him the strength to fight off the wild animals. Elizabeth was proud of the painting and wrote to her sister Maria in America that she full expected to see her painting receive full-page coverage as one of the best works of art in 1895 in Goupil’s, the esteemed Parisian art dealers, art directory.
Elizabeth and William worked happily together from their studio in rue Nôtre Dame des Champs and, even at the age of 78, Bouguereau took his new wife to Italy a country he hadn’t visited since 1850 when he had won the Prix de Rome prize and the stay at the Villa Medici. The couple would spend their summers away from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the French capital and return to the calming ambience of his birthplace, La Rochelle. It was here that William Bouguereau died of a heart attack on August 19th 1905, three months short of his eightieth birthday. His body was transported back to Paris and he was buried in the Cimetière de Montparnasse.
Art critics of the time often disapproved of Elizabeth’s painting style, saying that it copied too closely the style of her husband. However Elizabeth was unrepentant and was very proud of her work and in a 1910 interview stated:
“I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!”
The similarity in style between works painted by her and her husband was probably a financially astute decision as she was well aware that this genre of art, the sentimental secular works, was very popular with the public both in France and even more so in America where clients could not get enough of her and her husband’s art.
Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau, a native of New Hampshire will be remembered as the feisty young woman who challenged the French art establishment. She was proud to be different and by so doing, signposted the way for many other women to challenge the stranglehold that males had on the world of art. Elizabeth died at her summer residence in St. Cloud, a western suburb of Paris in January 1922 aged 84 and was buried, like her husband William, in the Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris.
If you are interested in the life and work of Bouguereau and Elizabeth Gardner I do suggest you buy the excellent book, Bouguereau by Fronia E. Wissman, an author who has written or contributed to a number of books about French artists.