WOMEN IMPRESSIONISTS – At San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

A first of its kind exhibition, now through September 21st

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Over 140 works by four leading women artists of the Impressionist movement are now on display at the LEGION OF HONOR. It is the largest such exhibition ever assembled. Represented in this most rare of opportunities are Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond, and Berthe Morisot. The exhibit continues through September 21, 2008.

Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), Eva Gonzalès (1849–1883), Marie Bracquemond (1840–1916), and Berthe Morisot (1841–1895) were all members of the Impressionist circle. The four women – three of them French, Mary Cassatt being the one American artist living in Paris – exhibited works as innovative as those of their male counterparts. While independently developing their separate styles, each of the women dealt with prevailing social restrictions and critical taunts as the style of painting referred to as “Impressionism” developed. With so many taboos as to where a woman might traverse without a male escort, much less be seen frequenting the same lively environments where male artists fed their imagination and schmoozed with the elite – the women instead turned to portraiture, capturing their family and friends in simple acts and mundane situations. Even so – the women met and magnified the emerging style which included pronounced play upon contrasting degrees of light and shadow, bold displays of brush work, tensions between contemplation and movement, and unconventional composition.

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A Loge in the Théâtre des Italiens, 1874.
Eva Gonzalès, French (1849–1883).
Oil on canvas.
Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

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A Loge in the Théâtre des Italiens, Details.

Although Eva Gonzalès’ career was cut short by her sudden death at the age of 34, she became known for her characteristic style for portraiture. She included subtle emotion and richness of detail in her works, such as A Loge in the Théàtre des Italiens (1874), described as one of the most provocative paintings of its day and featured in this exhibition. Manet chose Gonzalès as his only formal pupil. Like her teacher, she never exhibited with the Impressionists but was considered a member of their circle. Approximately 15 works by Gonzalès, including the finest examples of her oil paintings and pastels, are included in WOMEN IMPRESSIONISTS.

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Interior, 1872.
Berthe Morisot, French (1841–1895).
From the collection of Mrs. Diane B. Wilsey.

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INTERIOR, Details

One of the best-known women Impressionists, Berthe Morisot devoted herself to the painting of modern life. As one critic noted at the time, “Her painting has all the frankness of improvisation; it truly is the impression caught by a sincere eye and accurately rendered by a hand that does not cheat.” Morisot distinguished herself as the only woman to exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition, and continued to show in the next seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions. Married to the brother of Manet and close friends with Renoir, Morisot became one of the most prolific members of the Impressionist circle. Her love for painting outdoors continued throughout her career, and her daughter Julie remained her favorite model. WOMEN IMPRESSIONISTS presents over 60 examples of Morisot’s works, including drawings, pastels, and oil paintings.

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Summertime, ca. 1894.
Mary Cassatt, American (1844–1926).
The Armand Hammer Foundation.

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SUMMERTIME, Detail

Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1844, Mary Cassatt stands out as the only American member of the Impressionist circle. After studying painting both at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and throughout Europe, she settled permanently in Paris in 1875, where she became close friends with Degas and exhibited in four of the Impressionist exhibitions. Cassatt rejected the idea of becoming a wife and mother and embraced her independence as she forged a profitable and successful career painting women as “Subjects, not objects.” Best known for portraits of mother and child, her work first focused on an intimate world of social interactions and later turned to the close relationships between adults and children. WOMEN IMPRESSIONISTS features more than 35 works by Cassatt, including examples of her oil paintings, pastels, and prints.

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On the Terrace at Sèvres, 1880.
Marie Bracquemond, French (1840–1916).
Oil on canvas.
From the collection of Mrs. Diane B. Wilsey.

The greatest challenge in Marie Bracquemond’s career proved to be the discouragement of her husband, the artist Felix Bracquemond. Unlike the other women, Bracquemond did not enjoy the opportunities of privilege, and she was largely self-taught. She became acquainted with members of the Impressionist circle, including Degas, Renoir, and Monet, after her designs for porcelain attracted Degas’ attention. Bracquemond exhibited in three of the Impressionist exhibitions. Felix Bracquemond’s disapproval of Impressionism and his discouragement of his wife’s career led her to stop painting by 1890. WOMEN IMPRESSIONISTS marks the most comprehensive exhibition of Marie Bracquemond’s work since a 1919 retrospective organized by her son Pierre at a Paris gallery. The exhibition at the Legion of Honor features approximately 40 works by Bracquemond, including watercolors, drawings, oil paintings, and porcelain.

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ON THE TERRACE AT SÈVRES, Details.

To purchase tickets on-line: WOMEN IMPRESSIONISTS
For more information about: THE LEGION OF HONOR

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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