Over Christmas break, I had the the opportunity to go with a group of friends to the Her Paris exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. This exhibition explores the often overlooked yet important artists of the Impressionist age—women artists. Most of these women moved to Paris and mingled with the big names we know and love from the time: Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cézanne. However, unlike their male contemporaries, these women had to push beyond the boundaries society placed upon the idea of a “woman artist”.
“Even though Paris was known as a cosmopolitan city, Parisian society was still very restrictive for women,” says The Denver Art Museum on their website. “They were not allowed to attend to the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts)—the country’s most important art academy—until 1897, and it was not socially acceptable to frequent public spaces, such as cafes, to work on their art and mingle with their peers without a male companion.”
However, even though restrictions were placed upon these creative and talented women, they pushed forward to create a different system for themselves. They attended private academies, exhibited independently, and formed their own organizations. It’s this rebellious and powerful spirit that made these women some of the most honored artists of their time.
A piece that stays in my mind is In the Studio by Ukrainian artist Marie Bashkirtseff, who attended the prominent private art academy Académie Julian. The immersive painting tells the story of women artists of the time. They are all diligently focused on painting a model at the Académie Julian. For me, this iconic painting gives me a feeling of what these women had to go through to be successful. Each had to pursue art and get into a private academy in order to study. It’s evident by their faces that they’re fully aware of the position they’re in. Their energy is professional and each woman has a pin-point focus in their eyes. They know what they want––to hone their skills in art.
Each artist dove into their art in new and unique ways. Mary Cassatt would paint domestic scenes in a way that none of her male contemporaries could quite capture. Her scenes of women intently reading captures the feeling of intense and deep thought, contrary to the societal belief that women were incapable of such things. Only a woman artist would know exactly how to prove those ideals wrong on canvas. She knew the narrative of her subjects because she, herself, was apart of that very same narrative society placed upon her.
These female artists were ahead of their time. They not only fought against the societal ideal that women couldn’t be professional artists, but earned the title of artistic heroes of their time. These women created pieces that truly affected me. Their sheer technical skills combined with their drive to prove themselves as artists is evident and powerful. It was as if they said, “Here’s our world, come on in and experience it for yourself. Then, you will understand what we went though.”
Cameron Cizek is a junior studying computing.