Sunday, November 6, 2016

1840-1916: Marie Bracquemond, French

Self-portrait, 1870
At the height of her career, Marie Bracquemond was considered one of the four great ladies of Impressionism, along with Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzalès. She mainly painted figurative work, either portraits or small groups, often in outdoor settings. She had particular skill in rendering night lighting indoors.

Marie was trained in academic realism, in the manner of Ingres, but little of her early work is known. She began to realize her personal style when she discovered Impressionism.

Marie's reputation is limited by her relatively small output. Although she showed talent early, she spent a great portion of her early career producing more commercial forms of art, namely engravings and design of ceramic decoration. It seems her true love was painting, but she had to fit it in around more lucrative activities.

Marie's productivity and success as a painter was hindered by her husband, Felix Bracquemond, a well-known engraver and designer at the time. He diverted her talent from painting to other art forms, he was dismissive of her work, and he discouraged her from exhibiting, which she finally gave up at the age of 50. Felix is remembered as one of the bad guys of art history.

Background: Marie Quivoron came from a difficult background. Her father, a sea captain, died shortly after her birth. Her mother quickly remarried. Marie was born in Brittany, but the family moved around several times before settling in a small town south of Paris. Marie had one sister.

Training: Marie began lessons in painting in her teens under the instruction of an elder painter who  gave lessons to the young women of the town. She was so talented that her first painting was accepted to the Salon in 1857 when she was only 17; it showed her mother, sister, and an old teacher.

This earned her an invitation to work Ingres' private studio in Paris. Jean Ingres was one of the foremost Neoclassical painters, and Marie studied with him for awhile, but she complained that his teaching style was severe, and he had sexist assumptions about what women could paint.

Career: Marie left Ingres' studio and began receiving commissions on her own from royalty and aristocrats. Very few of her early canvases may be seen on the internet, but it is said she started as an academic realist, in the manner of Ingres.

Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, commissioned a depiction of Cervantes in prison that was considered a great success. After that, the director of the French Museums commissioned copies of some of the famous paintings in the Louvre.

While copying a painting in the Louvre in 1867, Marie met Félix Bracquemond, a well-known engraver at the time; she was 17.  Félix is generally considered one of the bad guys of art history because he ultimately suppressed Marie's creativity.

The relationship was useful to Marie at first. During their 2-year courtship, Félix introduced Marie to many important painters and art critics. But Félix was reputed to have a brusque manner and to be self-opinionated, and Marie's mother was concerned about the prospect of their marriage.

Nevertheless, Marie married Félix in 1869, and they lived Paris. In 1870, Marie gave birth to their only child, Pierre. Much of what is known of Marie's personal life comes from an unpublished short biography Pierre wrote entitled La Vie de Félix et Marie Bracquemond.

In her mid-30s, Marie exhibited at the official Salons of 1874 and 1875.

In 1878 Félix, who was known as a great decorator of ceramics, was employed as artistic director by the Haviland China factory, and Marie worked there as well. She attained some reputation for her designs in this field. The two artists had a good relationship at first and worked as collaborators.

As Félix expanded his social circle, he introduced Marie to prominent Impressionists such as Monet and Degas. Marie began to adopt an Impressionist style in her painting and exhibited with them in 1879, 1880 and 1886. Many of her best-known works were painted outdoors, following the Impressionist plein air movement, especially in her own garden.

This is where the story goes sour and Félix becomes the villain. Félix was jealous of Marie's achievements, hated Impressionism, and resented her friendships with painters from that group. In his short biography of his parents, Pierre said Felix was critical of Marie’s work, hid her paintings from guests, and actively barred her from showing her work publicly.

In 1886 Marie met Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, then an impoverished, budding artist. Gauguin encouraged Marie to enhance her palette, and showed her how to do the underpainting required to achieve more intense colors.

In 1890, worn out from poor health and from the struggle with her husband, Marie gave up painting at the age of 50. The fact that she had less output than her contemporaries has limited her place in history.

She died in Paris at the age of 76.

Examples of Marie's work:

Melancholy, undated

Woman in the Garden, 1877

Pierre Bracquemond as a Child, 1878

Afternoon Tea, 1880
On the Terrace with Fantin-Latour, 1880

Felix Bracquemond in his Studio, 1886

Pierre Bracquemond painting a bouquet of flowers, 1887

Under the Lamp, 1887

Under the Lamp, 1887
On exhibit at Legion of Honor / photo by Jan, 2010