It’s no secret that the world admires French fine art. Over the centuries, the French have been masters of painting, sculpture, drawing, and watercolor. Museums showcasing this work, such as the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin, and Musée de l’Orangerie, are some of the most visited in the world. It’s an even worst-kept secret that the FCC’s members and students love French fine art! This winter the Center held two events celebrating and highlighting works by French artists, particularly women artists: the member workshop on March 8 and our art talk on February 24. Below are the profiles of some of the women artists that we featured. We hope you are inspired to learn more!

Regarding female art education, two main fine art académies appeared specifically for women in the 19th century: Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi. There were a few reasons women were kept out of the other academies originally. One was modesty; the men didn’t think that women should see male models déshabillés. A second was that the men didn’t want the women to distract them at their jobs while painting.The third reason is that the women were seen as weak.

Here are a few French women artists you should know about.

Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel was a sculptor in the late 19th/early 20th century whose works can be found around the world but also in a dedicated room in the Musée Rodin. While her mother did not support her work, Claudel’s father showed her work to other artists and encouraged her to study at the Académie Colarossi. Claudel had a complicated relationship with the sculptor Rodin. While she never lived with him, the two were very close and it is said she depended on him to get funding for her risqué work. While she died without her work being widely recognized, the art world came around to acknowledge and appreciate her work years later. If you want to learn more about Claudel, check out the film Camille Claudel by Bruno Nuytten or Camille Claudel 1915 in our Center’s collection!

Berthe Morisot

Berthe was a member of the famous group of painters known as the Impressionists. In fact, she was considered one of the “trois grandes dames” of Impressionism, along with Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt. Her style was considered elegant and her brushstrokes light. Many of her paintings contained domestic scenes.

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Le Brun started painting portraits while a young teen in the late 1700s. During this time, Vigée Le Brun was admitted as a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, one of only 15 women to be granted full membership in the Académie from the mid 1600s to the late 1700s. She is mainly known for this portrait work, especially those of Marie Antoinette which you have likely seen before and currently reside in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fleeing France after the French Revolution, she lived in Italy, Austria, Russia, and Germany before returning to France in 1802. When she was in her 80s, she published her memoir, Souvenirs.

Rosa Bonheur

Rosa mainly painted animals but was also a sculptor. Considered to be one of the most famous women painters of the 19th century, she was born in Bordeaux and came from a large family of artists (although Rosa seems to have achieved the greatest longevity of success). Bonheur was awarded the French Legion of Honour by the Empress Eugénie in 1865, the first female artist to be given this award.

Mary Cassat

Although not French (she is American), Mary Cassat, like Berthe Morisot, was a female member of the Impressionists who lived and worked in Paris during her adult life. She was invited to show her work in the Salon by Edgar Degas and was influenced by his use of pastels and etchings throughout her career. While Cassat is known for her many paintings of mothers and their children, she herself never married nor had children. Bostonians may be familiar with those of her paintings that are hung in the Museum of Fine Arts, including The Tea/ le thé (1880), In the Loge/At the Opera (1878), and several others.

Who is your favorite French woman artist?

Camille Claudel by César. Public Domain.
Claudel, Camille. « La Valse » 1893. Vassil. Wikimedia Commons. 24 March 2021.
Berthe Morisot. Public Doman.
Morisot, Berthe. « Jeune fille en blanc » 1891. Wikimedia Commons. 24 March 2021.
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Public Domain.
Vigée Le Brun, Èlisabeth. "Marie Antoinette in a muslin dress" 1783. Wikimedia Commons. 24 March 2021.
Rosa Bonheur. Public Domain.
Bonheur, Rosa. "The Horse Fair” 1852-1855. Wikimedia Commons. 24 March 2021.
Mary Cassat. Public Domain.
Cassat Mary. "The Tea" 1880. Wikimedia Commons. 24 March 2021.

Natalie Collet

Former Membership Manager

From the Midwest, Natalie is a Francophile at heart. Her interest in French started when studying ballet and​ the language and culture entranced her through her student years.​ She became involved with the - Alliance - in the suburbs of Chicago after she spent an unforgettable year teaching English in a French high school near Bordeaux. She is happy to join the team in Boston and work with the members to provide them with unique opportunities​, ​quality programming​, and a community through French!

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