The Impressionists Female Artists Join the Paris Cafe Group

Women Impressionists joined the Paris Cafe Group later than male artists. They were not exposed to the changing world of art because of the restrictions placed on them.

When the discussion turns to Impressionist painters, women artists are rarely mentioned. In nineteenth century Paris there was little education of any kind available to women when it came to progressive art styles, let alone anything else. Women were quite restricted and seldom came into contact with new ideas.

It was not until 1897 that free education in art became available to women and they were introduced to the changes in style and art technique being brought about by the Impressionists, unless they came from wealthy families and could afford expensive tuition fees.

There were also strict restrictions on what women could choose as a subject to paint. Certain subjects were designated as ’respectable’ subjects for a ’certain class of lady’ to paint. The male artists met in cafes to talk about their ideas and learn from each other, but it was not considered the appropriate thing for women of the upper classes to do so. The subjects of many of their painting were confined to the domestic area, children at play and drawing room scenes.

Marie Braquemond chose domestic subjects, as was expected of her, but often painted the family having tea outside so that she could experiment with painting things like trees, plants, the sky and grass, without having to leave home. She developed her own technique for painting the effects of dappled, moving sunlight across her paintings. Her painting ‘Afternoon Tea’ demonstrates how the quick broken brush strokes gave the whole canvas the feeling of vibrating light.

Marie Braquemond Afternoon Tea   Source: Creative Commons

At this time it was considered a refinement for an upper class woman to be able to paint but to become a professional artist was totally unacceptable. If a woman learned intellectual subjects, she was regarded as being masculine and something of an outsider.

Berthe Morisot was introduced to the Impressionist group by Manet and she was married to his brother in 1874. Her work too was restricted by the confines of her environment. ‘Summer’s Day’ was exhibited in 1880 at the Fifth Impressionist Exhibition. It shows two women in a boat and the painting of the whole scene is much more impressionistic in style than Morisot’s ‘Summer’s Day’.

Morisot Summers Day  Source: Creative Commons

Mary Cassatt who was unmarried was introduced to the Impressionist Group by Degas and she produced a series of works depicting mothers and children which was a subject suggested by Degas as a good modern-life exercise. In 1866 Cassatt had moved from Pittsburgh to Paris in the belief that women had more opportunities in art there than they did in America. She first exhibited with the Impressionists in 1879.

Progress was slow and it was not until women started to go to the theatre that the scope of their subject matter really started to expand. As women got more freedom, their art became more adventurous and experimental but it was not until 1897 that women artists were first admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where they could receive free artistic training.


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