Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Not much attention has been given to the representation of women, both as artists and models, during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, but an exhibition taking place in Poitiers, France, aims to rectify this oversight.

Tamara de Lempicka
 Kizette en Rose 1927
Coll. Musee des Beaux Arts de Nantes
©RMN-Grand Palais / Gerard Blot
 ©Tamara Art Heritage/ADAGP
Running until Oct. 9, Belles de jour: femmes artistes, femmes modèles (Beauties of the Day: Women Artists, Women Models”) shows a view of women in “full evolution”, according to the curator.

The artworks go from exalting women’s beauty, to a portrayal that’s more modern and natural. (The exhibition's title is a take on the 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel, which was made into a film in 1967, starring French actress Catherine Deneuve. Many of Deneuve's costumes were created by Yves Saint Laurent.)

“Women have always influenced art,” says curator Raphaële Martin Pigalle. “Personalities such as designer Coco Chanel, for instance, led to certain representations. But we’re also looking at women artists, many of whom don’t get the attention that they merit, and at male artists who used the feminine presence to convey certain things.”

The exhibition includes works by Tamara de Lempicka, Kees Van Dongen, Félix Vallotton, Suzanne Valadon, Sigmar Polke, Camille Claudel and many other artists of the time.

From courtesans to muse to mothers, the characters depicted show women’s historical roles as well as the artists’ imaginings of them. Women are seen as a “symbol of truth, of fantasy and of freedom,” says the curator.

She adds that the show is aimed at starting a “dialogue” between viewers and the works, and also at examining gender inequities in the art world. Women were not allowed to be students at Paris’ prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts until 1897, for example.

The exhibition takes place at Poitier’s Musée Sainte-Croix, in partnership with the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes and the Palais Lumière d’Évian. Located in a historic neighbourhood, the Musée Sainte-Croix was built by architect Jean Monge en 1974, and last year was awarded a heritage label (“Patrimoine du XXe siècle”).