Nineteenth century Paris was not a place that fostered a woman’s pursuits outside the home. Rather, life in France in the late 1800s, like in many nations at that time, was mostly binary: men worked while women maintained the household. Artistic avocations were out of the reach of the bourgeois, especially women, and France’s esteemed, state-sponsored art school—École des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts)—did not accept female students until 1897. If a woman could afford to study art, she faced a number of restrictions. Women in France could not paint religious or historical works, or (sadly) works that portrayed any nudity.
“Paris was becoming a modern city,” says DAM curator Angelica Daneo. “The city was bustling. It was the art capital of the world. They built the Eiffel Tower. Yet within this modernity there was such a backwards view on women, and it restricted what a woman could do.”
This is precisely why art-lovers should be excited about the museum’s new exhibit, Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism. The collection of more than 80 paintings was organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA), and features work by 37 women who were forced to choose between pursuing their passion or abiding by social norms. Daneo, who curated the exhibit, says the result is an intimate look at how these women lived—all while highlighting art that belongs among the finest to come out of its era.
“We know all about the boys—Monet, Manet, and the rest,” Daneo says. “This exhibit is meant to deepen our understanding of what the experience of Paris was for these women.”
The impressionistic era in Paris, says Daneo, is a popular period and as such it has been covered extensively. Even some bigger names such as Mary Cassatt or Berthe Morisot have had their own exhibits. Her Paris is unique in that it’s bringing to light the work from female artists who have gone largely unnoticed in the history books and museums. The artists range from Ukrainian, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, English, American, and, of course, French, but all of them came to Paris to paint professionally.
The exhibit, which is making its American debut in Denver, isn’t only highlighting impressionistic art. Realist and symbolist artists are both featured and add to this exhibit’s diversity. The common theme—shown through the artists’ quotes or a collection of videos that provide background on select artists—is how all of these women hoped to show their peers that they were artists capable of producing work that rivaled the best that anyone could do. As their work is presented through one cohesive exhibit, what shines through is a story of Paris that went untold in the work of their male peers.
If you go: DAM will show “Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism” from October 22 to January 18, 2018. Tickets can be purchased at the museum or online.