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…
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.
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. …
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.
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.
For some players in this nightly game, the attraction was alcohol or opium; others were drawn…
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…
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.”
Stephens joined the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then…
“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
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…
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.
Acclaimed during her short lifetime, Gonzalès used Manet’s realist focus on everyday life as a springboard…
Follow your art! I write about artists, rebels and outcasts at flash points in history.