Paris continues offer me great surprises…
On a rainy Tuesday, I made my way to the private museum of Jacquemart-André. It had been recommended to me as one of those spots you don’t really hear much about because it is overshadowed by the global giants like Musée du Louvre, d’Orsay and the Pompidou.
The museum is named for Nélie Jacquemart and Édouard André a husband and wife pair who were great patrons of the arts. The Édouard had considerable family money from banking wealth and Nélie was a society portrait artist in her own right. Each year they made formal international trips to review and purchase art with the help of their friends at the Louvre. I found it interesting that the Jacquemart-André duo never competed with the Louvre on acquisitions. They knew the museum (at that time) had very limited resources and they did not want to eclipse the curators’ ability to secure masterful works. In fact, some of the Jacquemart-André art purchased was given directly to the museum.
Nélie and André dedicated time to acquiring masterworks, particularly from the Italian renaissance period. Paintings, murals, tapestries, sculpture and furniture pieces are all part of the collection. The second floor of their impressive residence is an “Italian Museum”. Many religious works and multiple depictions of Virgin and Child are on display. There is an early Virgin and Child from Botticelli in the collection.
As I was digesting the impressive house with its lofty painted ceilings, decorative wooden floors, twisting marble staircases and light filled atrium I stumbled right into the Mary Cassatt, An American Impressionist in Paris, exhibition (March 9 – July 23, 2018).
I knew little of Mary Cassatt, just a few of her paintings/portraits (Little Girl in a Blue Armchair). I’m sure I would have never been able to come up with her name if someone had previously asked me who painted one of her portraits. I was overwhelmingly impressed.
The art was wonderful, yes, but Mary Cassatt was a modern woman. She was a feminist. She spoke her mind and painted “rebelliously” in an art-world dominated by male tradition. The Cassat family are Pennsylvania natives. She was trained academically in the United States at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in Paris. The Parisian art school in which she hoped to gain entrance would not permit women as students. Nonetheless, Mary continued her training in Paris and started to gain recognition.
Here is the Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878. I do not have the knowledge to critique art, but I am more than happy to talk about rebellious women. In this painting there are noticeable deviations from what society accepted as art at the time. The loose lines of the brushstrokes (what we now call impressionism), the informality of the arrangement/setting (no balance or symmetry), a large portion of the painting dedicated to the background (rather than the subject) and my personal favorite, the disinterested, relaxed, unlady-like arrangement of the little girl as a subject.
While none of these items individually may have raised eyebrows, all together this painting defied convention. On top of that, Mary Cassatt decided to submit it to a prestigious Paris exhibition in 1879. It was rejected. As the story goes, Mary may have submitted the painting knowing it would be rejected by the conservative review panel. She was ready to make a political statement about women in the arts once the rejection was received. I love the passion!