Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Fiction Friday

1936. Dawn came later with each class, tinting the tall studio windows a reddish-gold that put Tessa in mind of a ripe persimmon. The light touched the bare arms and legs of the dancers seated on the floor, listening.

After the demanding paces their instructor had put them through, some dancers lay flat on their backs; others cradled their heads in their arms. Most of them worked as waitresses or in factories to make a living. Martha struggled to pay them ten dollars a performance, but they rehearsed on their own time.

Tessa was bone tired. Her mother’s sleep-talking had…

The Nazi regime applauded her, but she clapped back. Graham’s stylish refusal to conform resonates today.

Martha Graham in “Serenata Morisca,” Greenwich Village Follies, June 1924, Library of Congress, Music Division

Martha Graham (1894–1991) created modern dance in the hot forge of her own rebellious spirit. At a time when our nation was blind to Adolf Hitler’s in-our-faces atrocities, she refused to hop to the organ grinder’s polka.

Invitation from the Third Reich

In 1936, the Third Reich sought credibility by ginning up a so-called international dance festival, part of the Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Nazi minister of culture rushed out breathless invitation letters.

One “lucky” invitee was Martha Graham. A performance at the event could boost her visibility at a time when many critics discounted her as eccentric or worse. …

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

May you leave dry land behind and plunge…

“Dans le bleu” by Amélie Beaury-Saurel (1894)

Her work was tough and bold, and so was she

Barred from Paris’s top art academy because of her sex, Barcelona-born French painter Amélie Beaury-Saurel (1848–1924) joined the Académie Julian as a student and ended up running the place. A talent called manly by male judges, she embodied women’s strength in her art and example.

Photo by Cristina Manzaneque on Unsplash

Two transplanted Americans in Paris knock at the door of Moulin Rouge.

It wasn’t the turning blades of the big red windmill above the nightclub entrance that made Mimi’s head spin. It was the surprising sight of the towering stucco elephant’s backside, each buttock inset with a paned window, that convinced her she must be dreaming while awake.

Moulin Rouge was newly opened and already all the rage of Montmartre, the bohemian Paris neighborhood where day laborers, shop girls, starving artists, and rich folk tumbled together. A party every night, with all comers aiming for pleasure.

On the Lap of a Casanova

For some players in this nightly game, the attraction was alcohol or opium; others were drawn…

“Under the Lamp / Sous la Lampe,” by Marie Bracquemond, 1877, public domain

A Painter of Searchers and Speculators Who Gave in Too Soon

Fruit and flowers were all very charming, but Marie Bracquemond (born Marie Quivoron in France’s Brittany in 1840) didn’t want to paint them. Instead, she populated her outdoor scenes with individuals.

Their searching, speculative expressions betray far more sophistication than she got credit for from the art establishment, then and now.

In 1860, Marie Bracquemond, a promising young student of the celebrated painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, noted, “The severity of Monsieur Ingres frightened me… because he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting… He would assign to them only the painting of flowers…

“Christmas on Fifth Avenue” by Alice Barber Stephens, 1896, public domain

Her illustrations highlighted class distinctions between women

The illustrations of painter and engraver Alice Barber Stephens (1858–1932) featured women who stepped outside the domestic sphere at their peril. Creating from the traditionally male business sphere, she helped other women artists thrive.

“Stephens [has]been marginalized in scholarly texts and museum exhibitions…which tend to centralize the contributions of male illustrators at the expense of the women who comprised at least one-third of the artists whose work was regularly published in the illustrated press.” —Kelsey Frady Malone, “Sisterhood as Strategy: The Collaborations of American Women Artists in the Gilded Age.”

Women Artists and Nude Models

Stephens joined the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then…

A Bold Painter and Outspoken Diarist Who Left Her Mark

The Umbrella (1883) by Marie Bashkirtseff | Wikimedia Commons

“I know that I should become somebody; but with skirts — what can one do?” Plenty, as it turned out. Marie Bashkirtseff (1858–1884) made her bold voice heard during her short lifetime.

Art … is as much a source of happiness for the beginner as for the master. One forgets everything in one’s work. — Marie Bashkirtseff

They Censored the Scandalous Bits

Her outspoken diary entries, published after her death at 25 from tuberculosis, were as sharply observed as her paintings. So much so that her aristocratic Russian family tried to cut out the scandalous bits.

To a woman who knows her own mind men…

Her Women Evade the Male Gaze, Find Their Own Viewpoints

Morning Awakening (1876) by Eva Gonzalès

French painter Eva Gonzalès (1849–1883) spent her artistic career shrugging off the male gaze. In her work, she expressed her own outlook.

Early on, exposure to a certain manly stare nearly derailed her career. Édouard Manet, perhaps to please her literary father, painted the young artist’s portrait.

Awkwardly posed at an easel in impractical formal dress, she dabs at a bland composition. The popular painting kept contemporaries from taking her as the serious artist she was—most mistook her for a charmingly inept artists’ model.

The Slant of a Woman’s Gaze

Acclaimed during her short lifetime, Gonzalès used Manet’s realist focus on everyday life as a springboard…

Paula Sue Bryant

Follow your art! I write about artists, rebels and outcasts at flash points in history.

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