Important Art by Marie Bracquemond
Bracquemond's Woman in the Garden reveals her roots in academic painting. In 1859, she was accepted as a pupil to the legendary painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Despite learning a great deal from the French master, she reflected later that she had feared his stern nature and observed that Ingres treated his female students differently in some ways than his male students. She wrote: "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, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes." That aside, the important art critic, Philippe Burty, referred to Bracquemond as "one of the most intelligent pupils in Ingres's studio."
Bracquemond's early portraits are examples of academic Realism. Here, a female sitter, the artist's sister, Louise, who modeled frequently for her, is perched on a garden chair. The ruffled train of her white gown spills into the space between the prim young woman and the viewer. Her delicate hands, which rest on the back of the chair, are perhaps those most emphatic references to Bracquemond's teacher, Ingres. The tips of her graceful fingers are refined nearly to points, as was the practice of Ingres, famous for his usually fairly subtle, elegant distortions of the human figure.
Louise is framed by the deep green of the lush garden setting behind her. In this painting, probably produced at least half a decade after Bracquemond left Ingres's studio, the artist is still using the somewhat refined brushwork of her early, pre-Impressionist career. Another painting, The Woman in White, closely resembles this painting both in style and subject matter. In fact, the "Lady in White" or "Woman in White" became a popular theme for the Impressionist painters.
Throughout her career, Bracquemond continued to produce works of art, from drawings and prints to finished paintings, within a somewhat restricted range of subject matter: domestic scenes, portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. These were standard themes for the women Impressionists, whom, because of their gender and class - all of them middle- or upper-class women - were restricted in terms of what and where they could paint. For instance, it would not have been appropriate for a woman artist in the 19th century to paint a nude, whether male or female. "Proper" women could not move about the modern city unaccompanied, so the women Impressionists were unable to produce the kind of genre scenes that became common fare with many of their male colleagues such as lively scenes at bars and dances.
By the 1880s, Bracquemond had met Monet and Degas and had begun to incorporate the loose brushwork and wistful, muted, light-infused palette of Impressionism - much to the dismay of her printmaker husband, Félix, who was famously contemptuous of the Impressionist style.
Here, Bracquemond has once again represented her sister, Louise. Attired in white once more, the young woman no longer looks directly at the viewer but is instead absorbed in reading a book. Seated at a table on the garden terrace of the artist's home, Villa Brancas in Sèvres, Louise reads while taking a cup of tea and a plate of grapes.
While the theme is typical, the style marks a dramatic departure from Bracquemond's academic treatment of such a scene. Less a portrait than a genre image, the feathery brushwork and sunlight-dappled surface of the picture, situates Afternoon Tea soundly in the Impressionist style for which she is best known. This painting is, incidentally, one of the rare ones that is in a public collection.
Just as her husband, Félix, had drawn Bracquemond into the decorative arts via his role as art director at the Haviland porcelain shop, so he apparently strongly encouraged her to apply her talent as an accomplished draftsperson to printmaking. In particular, etching was his favored form of printmaking and, under his instruction, she excelled. According to her son, Pierre, however, Bracquemond found printmaking far too restrained both because of its typically small format and also because she preferred working with color.
The Umbrellas is one of Bracquemond's most successful etchings, clearly demonstrating her skill at drawing as well as at conceiving of successful compositions that exploited the range of gray tones that etching could produce. Here a young woman attempts to sell flowers to a well-to-do, top-hatted gentlemen who apparently scurries past her in an attempt to escape the rain and wind, which is described by the light diagonal lines sweeping across the image. He holds onto his hat and the viewer is left to wonder why he hasn't raised his umbrella like the other pedestrians in the image.
Bracquemond, like many of her Impressionist colleagues, cropped her images so that they resembled photographs, lending them a spur-of-the-moment sense of immediacy. Because of the cropping of the man in the foreground, there is an added urgency: the viewer feels crowded, compelled to step aside and allow him to pass.
The lively composition pulls the viewer in, past the fleeing man to the cluster of umbrellas, up the stairs, and into the excitement of the modern city.