The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant

Samantha Vérant has the recipe for the perfect book: a wealthy French grandmother, her country chateau and an ambitious young chef on the run from recent disgrace at a top-tier restaurant in New York.

As one of my own favorite chefs says, you need a combination of tastes and textures to satisfy the palette: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, smooth. The chef strives to strike the right balance. That’s just what Samantha Vérant has done with this book — it’s a bit sweet, a bit salty, leading off with a sense of loss and bitterness that needs to be brought back into balance. As Jacques Pépin said, “cooking is the art of adjustment.” What better place for Sophie to do that than a beautiful sun-drenched town in Southwestern France?

Sophie’s favorite memories were the summers she spent with her Grandmère Odette at her crumbling old chateau along the Tarn River. Sophie spent her idyllic time outdoors, chasing geese and rabbits, catching frogs, picking cherries, climbing trees and enjoying Sunday picnics with local villagers. And then, of course, there were Grandmère’s mouthwatering recipes, kept in her secret notebook: from clafoutis (a Provençal cherry tart) to duck fat french fries (a standard in Southwest France) to duck à l’orange and boeuf bourguignon.

Sophie returns to her grandmother’s chateau years later, emotionally shattered after a colleague’s betrayal destroys her career as an up-and-coming New York chef. Sophie is surprised to see that her Grandmère has renovated the chateau and transformed it into an award-winning restaurant and inn. Grandmère’s health is fading and she hopes that her granddaughter will carry on her legacy in France, but Sophie can’t let go of her ambition to seek redemption in New York. Sophie and Grandmère have a lot of work to do to make up for years of misunderstanding caused by Sophie’s troubled mother. But most of all, Sophie’s got to get her groove back. And not just in the kitchen (wink, wink.)

This book is a delight for foodies, Francophiles and dreamy travelers. Try out some of the recipes in the back and picture yourself tasting some of those sweet and tart black cherries on the terrace of Grandmère’s lovely chateau.

You can follow Samantha Vérant on Twitter and Instagram as @samantha_verant, where she posts lovely photos of her life and her cooking adventures as am American living in Southwestern France.

The Stories Behind Our Sculptures: Florida’s Confederate General Soon to be Homeless

I just happened to stumble into this incredible story about a Confederate General statue in Florida. Talk about timely.

Recent events have brought much needed attention to public statues in our country. We need to be thoughtful about who and what our statues honor. Does it honor one side of history at the expense of another? Does it hurt or disrespect a group of people who deserve better? It is a good time to reflect on our history and the stories behind the creation of our public statues.

We can’t just walk past them anymore. What to do about them is a conversation we need to have. Should they be contextualized with up-to-date labels? Moved to a museum? Defaced with graffiti by an angry mob? There are many options, and like most issues in the U.S. right now, it’s politicized and divisive. (We’re not alone. Germany and many former Soviet-bloc countries have faced this issue before, and have come up with a variety of solutions, such as Grutas Park in Lithuania.)

The United States Capitol has a National Statuary Collection in which each state donates two statues for display at the Capitol. Some are standing in Statuary Hall, whereas others are in “the crypt” and others at the Capitol Visitors Center. We should be asking ourselves, which two statues represent our state?

You can check this website to see who is representing your state. You might be surprised.

Just the other day, I was shocked to see that my adopted home state of Florida has a statue commemorating Confederate General Kirby Smith, “her most distinguished soldier.”

How did I not know this? Why isn’t this an outrage?

Well, actually it is. I did a little more digging and discovered that plans are already underway to replace it. They started back in 2016, after the white-supremacist murders in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Many concerned citizens began looking at the legacy of Confederate statues in the South. In 2016, the Florida legislature began to think about replacing their Confederate General.

There were two questions: where would the Confederate General go, and who would replace him? Confederate statues an be a bit of a hot potato, and this one is no exception. General Smith’s home was located in St. Augustine, Florida, but St. Augustine museums had no interest. The Lake County Historical Society won a bid for it, even if the general had few if any historical connections to the area. Lake County is located near Orlando in the center of Florida, and St. Augustine is in the far northeast corner of the state.

Despite the interest of the Lake County Historical Society, at least seven different municipalities within Lake County passed resolutions against it, and Rev. Michael Watkins, a local Lake County Pastor, led a movement to prevent it. Lake County Historical Museum representative Bob Grenier claimed he would put the statue in historical context. Watkins led a rally of 250 peaceful protestors in 2019. Here’s a local television news report about the controversy in 2019.

Efforts to block the relocation of the statue became a hot issue again in connection with the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in May-June, 2020. On Tuesday June 16, 2020, the Lake County Commission reversed its decision to accept the Confederate General. A “Unite for What’s Right” march in support of this decision will be held in Tavares in Lake County on Saturday, June 20th as part of a Juneteenth Day celebration. Security is being tightened as counter-protestors are expected as well.

So this half of the story still lingers. What will happen to the Confederate General now?

In the meantime, there is good news about its replacement. In 2016, the Florida legislature took on the question: which accomplished Floridian deserved the honor of having a statue in the U.S. Capitol? Three individuals made the shortlist, including African-American civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the founder of Publix grocery stores, George Jenkins.

I can’t imagine the tone-deaf debate in favor of Jenkins, although in their defense, Florida’s other statue in Statuary Hall is of a physician-inventor named John Gorrie, whose claim to fame was the invention of air-conditioning back in the 1800s. Floridians do love their a/c and their cold cut sandwiches from Publix.

Bethune’s inspiring life story is hard to match. The daughter of former slaves, Bethune grew up in South Carolina and was the only child in her family to go to school. She earned a scholarship to a female seminary in North Carolina and then to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. She returned to to the South to become a teacher and settled in Daytona, Florida, where she founded a school for African-American girls. She advised several U.S. Presidents from Coolidge to Truman, serving as FDR’s advisor on minority affairs. A friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, she founded the National Council of Negro Women and served as the president of the National Association of Colored Women. I could go on. She’s amazing.

Mary MacLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

In any event, the stalemate in the Florida legislature was broken in 2018, when the legislature finally passed a law authorizing the change from Smith to Bethune. Still, the law didn’t take effect until July 10, 2019, when Republican Governor Ron DeSantis finally sent an official letter to the U.S. Capitol Architect.

As far as I have been able to tell, the sculpture of Bethune is not yet complete. The Florida Department of State – Division of Cultural Affairs coordinated a national competition and selected Nilda Comas, a leading Fort Lauderdale sculptor to complete the project. A not-for-profit organization called The Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund raised about $400,000 in private funds to pay for the commission, many of which came from Daytona business and organizations.

At last word, Nilda Comas was still in Italy working on the statue, which is being made out of marble from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s “David.” It was scheduled to be delivered to Washington, D.C. the summer of 2020, but it is likely that COVID-19 has disrupted the intended schedule.

Stay tuned for an update. In the meantime, who represents your state in the Statuary Hall of Congress?

Anna Ancher: Danish Artist

 Anna Ancher (1859-1935) is a hugely popular artist within Denmark, but she and her paintings are much lesser known beyond Scandinavia. Thankfully that is beginning to change.

Anna Ancher, Self-Portrait (1877), completed when she was just 18 years old

The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. hosted an exhibit in 2013 called A World Apart: Anna Ancher and the Skagen Art Colony, bringing a comprehensive collection of Anna Ancher’s work to the United States for the first time. I first encountered her art more recently, when I saw two of her paintings in a traveling exhibit sponsored by the American Federation of the Arts entitled Women Artists in Paris 1850-1900 (previously written about here). As wonderful as those two exhibits were, it is a rare event to witness Anna Ancher’s work outside of Denmark.

Anna Ancher, The Harvesters (1902), one of Anna Ancher’s paintings that traveled to the Women Artists in Paris 1850-1900 exhibit in the U.S.

Anna Ancher deserves wider recognition because her work in oil and pastel is truly remarkable. Given the fact that she was born and raised in a small village at the northernmost tip of Denmark and received little formal training, her understanding of form, color, light and shadow is exceptional. She deserves to be ranked among the best 19th century artists, including Degas, Cassatt and Morisot.

In addition to her surprising talent, her story is inspiring and instructional for anyone interested in the gender struggle of women artists in the late 19th century. While American and French women artists fought to be taken seriously during this time period, Anna Ancher received great encouragement and recognition from her family, fellow artists and the official art world in Denmark. She didn’t have to forsake marriage and family for her career. According to our 21st century vocabulary, here was a woman who seems to have had it all. So what was her secret? What was the difference? My curiosity took me all the way to Copenhagen.

The Hirschsprung Collection in Copenhagen hosted a 2018-19 exhibition called Michael Ancher and the Women of Skagen. At the same time, the museum hosted an exhibit called the Allure of Color: Pastels from Anna Archer to P.S. KroyerWhat an opportunity to get acquainted with this exceptional woman.

The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen


Exhibit Catalog, Michael Ancher and the Women of Skagen (2018)

 Anna Ancher, (sounds like “anchor” in Danish) née Brøndum, was born in Skagen, a small little fishing village on the northernmost point of Denmark. Her parents ran an inn, where she was lucky to meet visiting artists who came to paint the raw coastal scenery in the summer. Inspired by these visiting artists, she began to draw at an early age.

The painter Michael Ancher arrived in Skagen the summer of 1874, when Anna was 16 years old and he was 10 years her senior. Michael had received academic art training at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in the 1870s, and was drawn to the seaside to capture large-scale scenes of fisherman and their nets. The village became widely known in artist circles when Michael exhibited in Copenhagen. The next summer Michael Ancher was joined by his artist friends Karl Madsen and Viggo Johansen. The artists stayed at the Brøndum family inn and they encouraged Anna to take professional training to develop her talents.

Anna’s mother, Ane Møller Brøndum, was a strong intellectual woman who ruled the family inn while pursuing an independent study of literature and history. Although she joined a very strict evangelical religion, she still allowed her daughters to pursue an education and associate with the visiting artists who were considered radicals.

As progressive as Denmark is supposed to have been, women were still not allowed to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Art until 1888. So instead, Anna’s parents sent her to Vilhelm Kyhn’s private art school for women (Tegneskolen til Kvinder) in Copenhagen. Vilhelm Kyhn was a highly talented landscape painter in the naturalist tradition. He had been trained at the Royal Academy, but after a series of quarrelsome spats with the Danish art establishment, he broke off and started an alternative studio for other dissatisfied artists, including women. Thus, Anna received traditional instruction in painting and drawing, with an emphasis on the Golden Age of Danish painting (1800-1850). Luckily, her training was more rigorous than one would expect from a women’s art school at the time.

Anna Ancher, Portrait of Vilhelm Kyhn (1903)

Anna spent three winters studying in Copenhagen, with summers in Skagen. The visiting artists continued to gather at her parents’ inn in the summer, where she must have benefited from their advice, demonstrations and no doubt some of their casual artistic banter.

Anna and Michael Ancher developed a romance and announced their engagement in 1877. Perhaps her parents insisted on a delayed wedding date, or perhaps the pair just didn’t feel as if they had enough financial security to tie the knot at the time. When Michael achieved a significant degree of artistic success in 1881, they married.

During their long engagement, Anna and Michael welcomed new international artists to Skagen, including Karl Madsen, who had studied in France and Germany. Anna was exposed to new ideas by leading European artists in a relaxed and nurturing setting. Perhaps it also helped Anna to have a fiancée and parents nearby  to prevent unwanted attention or gendered ridicule from other male artists. She had allies.

Anna’s painting and pastel skills developed quickly, from both her formal education in Copenhagen and the informal lessons in a thriving art colony. In 1880, she made her début as a professional artist in the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition in Copenhagen. She sold a pastel and received good reviews. The painting below, part of her début exhibit, shows her sophistication and talent at the young age of 20.

Anna Archer, An Old Man Whittling Sticks (1880), Skagens Museum, Copenhagen. First exhibited at the Charlottenborn Spring Exhibition in 1880.

Anna Archer, A Young Girl, Tine Normand (1880), pastel on paper, private collection. Sold at the 1881 Charlottenborg Spring Exhibit.

After Anna married Michael Ancher in 1881, her dedication to art intensified. Michael considered his wife an equal partner and supported her artistic ambitions. Together with her artist husband, Anna had more artistic opportunities than she might have had on her own. In 1882, the couple received government funding to travel to art centers in Berlin, Dresden, Vienna and Munich. Although she may have lived on an isolated tip of Denmark, Anna was able to travel to see major art exhibitions in leading art centers of the world.

Anna had two major accomplishments in 1883: first, her painting The Maid in the Kitchen, shown below, an exquisite painting that displays a sophisticated use of color and light, and second, the birth of her daughter Helga, a golden-haired girl who would remain their only child.

Anna Ancher, The Maid in the Kitchen (1883). Oil on canvas, Den Hirschsprungke Samling, Copenhagen

Michael Ancher’s portrait of Anna while she was pregnant that reveals a deep respect and admiration for his wife. At the time, however, it was controversial. This was considered a pose appropriate only for royalty, and with the dog’s nose so close to her pregnant stomach, it would have been considered immodest. What woman wouldn’t want a husband who values her more than he values tradition and modesty?

File:Michael Ancher - Portrait of my wife. The painter Anna Ancher - Google Art Project.jpg
Michael Ancher, Portrait of My Wife, 1883
Anna and Michael Ancher, Judgment of a Day’s Work (1883), Art Museums of Skagen, on deposit from Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK), Denmark.

Anna and Michael enjoyed collaborating on their art. So much so that in 1883, they created a joint painting, where each painted the portrait of the other. Quite an amazing project, as I wrote about here.

In 1884, Anna, Michael and Helga moved into a small house a few minutes away from her parents’ inn. The Anchers were able to pop down the street to join the Brøndums for dinner, sparing Anna from having to prepare family meals. Anna also enjoyed the double benefit of having her own maid: not only was she spared many domestic and child-rearing chores, she also had an artist’s model at her disposal all day long. That is why The Maid in the Kitchen (above) should be appreciated as a decidedly feminist statement. The artist is behind the easel, and not behind the sink.

Even after the birth of their child, Anna continued to travel to European art destinations from Amsterdam to Paris. Perhaps her parents helped out with child care, or perhaps they brought their young daughter along on their travels. In 1889 she and Michael visited Paris for six months, where they both exhibited and won prizes in the Paris World’s Fair. In addition, Anna took instruction from the famous French artist Puvis de Chavannes.

In 1891, Anna executed an ambitious work called A Funeral, an impressively large 48′ x 57″ piece, featuring multiple subjects in a serious setting, not unlike a previous work of her husband’s, The Christening. This painting reveals a mastery of color, while at the same time conveying a distinct impression of calm and control. Purchased by the Statens Musem for Kunst in 1891, this painting elevated Anna’s status as an artist even further.

Anna Ancher, A Funeral (1891), Statens Musem for Kunst (SMK), Denmark.

Anna often painted their daughter Helga, as well as light-dappled interiors. She was known for her observation of light as it fell across a room, creating patterns of its own.

Anna Ancher, Sunlight in the Blue Room (1891), picturing Helga at work on a crochet project.
Anna Ancher, Two Girls, Sewing Lessons (1910)

In 1893, Anna’s work was represented in the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1894 she was a member of a committee of Danish women who organized a Women’s Exhibition in Copenhagen. From 1900 on, Anna received many medals and honors, elevating her to a membership in the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

Interestingly, Michael and Anna’s daughter Helga grew up to be an artist as well. She was admitted to the Danish Royal Academy of Art School for Women in 1901, and studied art in Paris in 1909-1910. The pastel below reveals her mother’s strong influence.

Helga Ancher, Anna Ancher Reading in the Drawing Room, undated pastel

Michael Ancher died in 1927, Anna in 1935. Their memory lives on at the Skagen Museum, first founded in the dining room of the Brøndum Inn in 1908. Today the museum includes the historic Ancher Hus, the home of Anna, Michael and Helga Ancher. After Helga’s death in 1964, their home was restored and turned into a museum.

Such a fascinating woman, especially for her time and place. The fact that she lived in such an isolated and beautiful spot might have actually been the secret to her success. In contrast to many other women artists of the 19th century, who struggled against a family and culture that valued modesty, propriety and conformity, Anna was lucky to grow up in an art colony that encouraged her talent and stoked her ambition. Artistic expression was her birthright.

What a difference.


Women Artists in Paris 1850-1900

Women Artists in Paris 1850-1900, Laurence Madeline, American Federation of Arts and Yale University Press (2017), catalogue published for the traveling exhibition by the same name organized by the American Federation of Arts.

From October, 2017 to September, 2018, The American Federation of Arts gifted us with a traveling exhibit that focused on nothing but women artists who studied or worked in Paris in the second half of the 19th century. It was an astonishing effort that succeeded on all counts.

You would think that by now women wouldn’t be as thirsty as we are for a reflection of ourselves  in history. After all, we have come so far since the 19th century. However, when the backlash against women feels like it is at an all-time high, when powerful white men refuse to listen to women’s voices, it is more necessary than ever that both women and men see and listen to women from history.

As Laurence Madeline says himself in the catalogue’s introductory essay Into the Light: Women Artists, 1850-1900, we must remain vigilant and we must honor those who have paved the way:

Institutional prejudices and limitations on women’s achievements continue to be increasingly challenged, and we have seem female artists conquer, one after another, formerly male-dominated bastions: they are now routinely represented in international contemporary art exhibitions and biennials, and are the beneficiaries of major commissions and sales.

Yet we must remain vigilant. Even in the twenty-first century we find art historians who, though they may acknowledge the growing recognition of contemporary women artists, continue to underestimate the importance of women artists during the second half of the nineteenth century, and ignore the ideological conditioning that holds women as secondary to men. Recent gains in women’s participation in the arts now demands an assessment of those who have paved the way – both the women artists who struggled to establish careers in art and the art historians who reinvented the circle language to accommodate them.

I saw the exhibit at the Clark Institute of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts in August, 2018. Due to the complications of modern life, travel schedules and the short period of time the exhibit was up, I went alone. Sometimes that’s good, when friends or family just don’t share your fascination for the art, when they’re more interested in rushing through to lunch than examining each painting’s brushstrokes. But this time, I wish I had gone with a group of women artist friends so we could have connected over how much it meant to us. To be seen, to be honored, and to stand alone with our complicated history. To listen to our own voices without getting drowned out by men.

The author in front of a giant life-sized photograph of the women in the 1885 class of Académie Julian. At the entrance to the exhibit at the Clark Institute.

Imagine seeing paintings you’ve heard about, read about and studied for years, but have never seen before. By women you deeply admire. It would take years and countless trips all over the western world to track down each of these paintings one at a time. And of course some are in private collections and may never be shown again.

The sheer depth of the roster was mind-boggling: from the Americans (Mary Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux, Elizabeth Nourse, Lilla Cabot Perry, Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau and Anna Klumpke), the French (Berthe Morisot and her sister Marie Edma Morisot Pontillon, Rosa Bonheur, Marie Bracquemond and Eva Gonzales), the Scandinavians (Anna Ancher, Harriet Backer, Mina Carlson-Bremberg, Kitty Kielland, Emma Lowstadt-Chadwick, Asta Norregaard, Hanna Pauli and Ellen Thesleff) and more, such as Marie Bashkirtseff from Russia and Paula Modersohn-Becker from Germany.

The quality of the pieces from each member of the roster was just as impressive. I saw key paintings that changed the trajectory of these women’s lives. Here is the painting that got Cecilia Beaux, an unknown American without any French connections into her first Paris salon in 1885. (Read my previous post about Beaux’s art studies and her work on this painting here.)

Cecilia Beaux, Les Derniers Jour D’Enfance (1883-85), Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia

And then here is a rare treasure by Mary Cassatt, painted in 1873, when she was just in her twenties. It was  her second painting ever accepted into the Paris Salon, before she became an impressionist, and one of the very few of her paintings that ever included a man as a subject.

Mary Cassatt, Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter, 1873, Clark Art Institute

And then there were the paintings of women painting. Self-portraits are as old as time, but these self-portraits of women feel daring and fresh. As if there is an urgent message to the world. But again, it is just the story of women asking to be seen. The paintings bear witness to their desires, their struggles, their sheer happiness.

Here, for example, is a painting by the Russian Marie Bashkirtseff of herself and other women painters at the Académie Julian in Paris, where she studied from 1877 to 1884.

Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881, Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum

Here is the Swedish artist, Mina Carlson-Bremberg, with an enviable glow of satisfaction.

Mina Carlson- Bredberg, Self-Portrait, 1889, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Stockholm

And just take in the look that American Elizabeth Nourse wanted to present to the world. She moved to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian in 1887 and after just three months her teacher told her she required no further instruction. You can see it in her face.

Elizabeth Nourse, Self-Portrait, 1892, Private collection

But there was one painting I lingered over the longest. It was an ambitious self-portrait that included not only the painter, but also her husband. Anna and Michael Ancher were Danish painters from Skagen, a seaside fishing village that became an art colony in the late 19th century. The painting, a true collaboration by the two of them, shows them sitting quietly in a dark room, critiquing a painting together. We don’t know whose painting it is, but my guess is that it’s Anna’s. She looks the most comfortable; he has perhaps gotten up from his papers and his cup of coffee at the other end of the table to come and join in, to see over Anna’s shoulder exactly what Anna sees.

Anna and Michael Ancher, Judgement of a Day’s Work, 1883, Art Museum of Skagen, on deposit 1991 from the National Gallery of Denmark

And quietly, collegially, they sit and look. And listen. Anna Ancher is seen and heard, and she knows it. Who knew, that in 2018, such a quiet, virtually unknown painting could convey such a powerfully emotional message?

The same goes for all of the paintings in this exhibit. It was an honor to bear witness.


Highly recommended: Because there are so many more fabulous paintings to see and stories to be heard, even if it’s not in person.

Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900

Authors: Laurence Madeline

With Bridget Alsdorf, Richard Kendall, Jane R. Becker, Vibeke Waallann Hansen, Joëlle Bolloch

Publishers: American Federation of Arts & Yale University Press (2017)

Dimensions: 9 ½ x 11 in.

Format: Softcover, 288 pp

ISBN: 978-1-885-444-45-5

Price: $40


In the second half of the nineteenth century, Paris attracted an international gathering of women artists, drawn to the French capital by its academies and museums, studios and salons. Featuring 37 women from 11 different countries, this sumptuously illustrated book explores the strength of these artists’ creative achievements, through paintings by acclaimed Impressionists such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, and exceptional lesser-known artists such as Anna Ancher, Marie Bashkirtseff, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Hanna Pauli, and Lilla Cabot Perry. It examines their work against the sociopolitical background of the period, when women were mostly barred from formal artistic education but skillfully navigated the city’s network of private studio schools, salons, and galleries. Essays consider the powerfully influential work of women Impressionists, representations of the female artist in portraiture, the unique experiences of Nordic women artists, and the significant presence of women artists throughout the history of the Paris Salon. By addressing the long-undervalued contributions of women to the art of the later nineteenth century, Women Artists in Parispays tribute to pioneers who not only created remarkable paintings but also generated momentum toward a more egalitarian art world.

Seven Novels Featuring Women Artists

It’s been a wonderful year for historical fiction about female artists! Check out this post by Jeaninne Atkins, the author of Little Woman in Blue.

Views from a Window Seat

Many of us enjoyed crayons or paint as children, but artistic confidence often falls away as we grow. Women who continue to pursue art through high school, college, and grad school find themselves ever-increasingly among male colleagues and instructors. According to the fabulous researchers who go by the name Guerrilla Girls, art made by women makes up less than five percent of the holdings of most major museums and most galleries aren’t much better.

If it’s tough for women artists to find respect now, how did they deal with obstacles decades ago? Using fictional devices to develop scenes rich with dialogue and detail, each of the following novels published in 2015 features a real woman who was well known at the time, then mostly forgotten.


In The House of Hawthorne, we meet Sophia Peabody as a young woman with artistic talent that her mother considered a holy gift she…

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Mary Cassatt’s Chateau de Beaufresne

Mary Cassatt was an American painter who lived in  most of her life in France. If you’re curious about Mary Cassatt’s years in Paris during the 1870s and 80s, and would like to see photos of the different Paris apartments in which she and her family lived, click here for a prior post.

Mary Cassatt in 1907

Mary Cassatt in 1907

But it turns out there is much more to Cassatt’s story than Paris. Cassatt led a long productive life, and spent much of her time in summer homes in the country. In fact, from 1894 until her death in 1926 Cassatt lived in a summer home in Le Mesnil-Theribus, France, a country village north of Paris. Her home was called Chateau de Beaufresne (“Beautiful Ash”) named for the large ash trees that grow in the area. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful old chateau, which is currently owned by Le Moulin Vert, a group that provides horticultural education for troubled teens.



At the time of my visit, efforts were underway by a group called Les Amis de Mary Cassatt to purchase the chateau and turn it into a museum. I think it’s a spectacular idea. The home and grounds could be as popular as Monet’s in Giverny and the Van Gogh sites in Auvers-sur-Oise. Le Mesnil-Theribus is located about an hour north of Paris on the way to Beauvais, several miles west of A16.

I made arrangements to meet with Marianne Caron, a member of Les Amis de Mary Cassatt, who shared with me many local legends and stories of fellow villagers whose ancestors had known Cassatt. She was a wealth of information.


Chateau de Beaufresne, Le Mesnil-Theribus, France. Currently home to Le Moulin Vert, a horticultural program for troubled teens.

In 1893, Mary Cassatt learned that Chateau Beaufresne was for sale. She had been renting another beautiful country home in nearby Bachivillers during the summers of 1891 and 1892, when the owner told her he wouldn’t be renting it out anymore. Cassatt was determined to stay in the area, and made the impulsive decision to buy the Chateau Beaufresne, despite the fact that it needed many repairs.

Chateau Beaufresne (source:

Chateau Beaufresne (source:









The back of Chateau Beaufresne, then.

The back of Chateau Beaufresne, then.

Cassatt spent most of the summer of 1894 renovating the old chateau. In a letter to  Paul Durand-Ruel, she expressed her frustration and told him she intended to sell the house, that it was just too much trouble:

We are finally settled here and, even before we came, I had had enough of my role as landlord; I have given nearly three months of my time and I know that I still have a part of the summer to devote to giving orders, and I ask myself when will I find the time to do a bit of painting! Madame Aude [Durand-Ruel’s daughter and Cassatt’s neighbor in the Chaumont-en-Vexin area] knows the landowners of Trie, would she be so kind as to tell them I am putting Mesnil-Beaufresne up for sale?

The house is very good, very sound. I had water &c put in, Indeed I cannot say that everything is not well, but I do not want to give any more orders to workmen, who don’t follow them anyway.

. . .

What I want is the freedom to work. My mother is no longer of the age or the strength to concern herself with the outdoors, and I don’t have the interest.

My brothers will surely laugh at me, but I won’t say anything until I have sold it and won back my freedom. Certainly it is the best thing in the world.

I am completely fed up with the trouble I had to get a bit of work done (Mary Cassatt to Paul Durand-Ruel, Summer 1894).


What emerges so strongly from that letter is Cassatt’s burning desire to get back to work on her painting. Doesn’t she sound like a 21st century woman, frustrated with all of the distractions and obstacles that stand in the way of our freedom? In any event, Cassatt changed her mind about selling the house. Soon she is working away at her painting and pastels. In another letter to Durand-Ruel, Cassatt says:

I am now settled here for the summer and working hard. I hope to submit to you some pastels before long; if I were a landscape painter, I would [have] no trouble in seeking beautiful subjects – The country looks lovely not withstanding the drought – . . . (Mary Cassatt to Paul Durand-Ruel, May 19, 1896).


Indeed, the property is very lovely, and would be the ideal setting for a landscape painter.

The back of Chateau Beaufresne,  (2014)

The back of Chateau Beaufresne (2014)

The view of Chateau Beaufresne from the back of the property, across a lovely little lilly pond.

The view of Chateau Beaufresne from the back of the property, across a lovely little pond full of cat tails and lily pads.



The grounds of the chateau including a brook and acres of weeping willow and pond vegetation.

The grounds of the chateau include a brook and acres of weeping willows and pond vegetation. It was hard to get the lighting right for a photograph, but it would have been a picturesque place to set up an easel for some plein air painting.






At the back of the property there still stands the small building that Cassatt used as her printing studio. She used the mill to provide electricity, and strung electrical lines to the very back of the property. She would spend as much as 8 hours a day in her little printing shed.

At the back of the property there still stands the small mill that Cassatt used as her printing studio. She would spend as much as 8 hours a day working here.


The back entrance to the chateau

The back entrance to the chateau


The sunny room at the back of the chateau that was known as the gallery. It is supposedly where Cassatt used to paint. Imagine that.

The sunny room at the back of the chateau that was known as the gallery. It is supposedly where Cassatt used to paint. Imagine that.


A framed photo on display in the chateau shows a car parked outside the back door in front of the gallery.

A framed photo on display in the chateau shows a car and a donkey cart parked outside the back door in front of the gallery. Note the window treatments that Cassatt used to control the amount of light entering her gallery.


A view of an interior room of the chateau with curved walls and a fireplace.

A view of an interior room of the chateau with curved walls and a fireplace. Various old photographs of Mary Cassatt are displayed on the walls. The room is currently used for meetings and conferences.


The main stairwell of the chateau

The main stairwell of the chateau


An exterior spiral stairway around the back of one of the chateau's two turrets.

An exterior spiral stairway around the back of one of the chateau’s two turrets.


A commemorative plaque that has been placed along a walk leading from the parking lot up to the front entrance of the chateau.

A commemorative plaque that has been placed along a walk leading from the parking lot up to the front entrance of the chateau.


This sign appears at the entrance of the chateau, placed there by Les Amis de Mary Cassatt.

This sign appears at the entrance of the chateau, placed there by Les Amis de Mary Cassatt.


Chateau de Beaufresne is now located on rue Mary Cassatt.

Chateau de Beaufresne is now located on rue Mary Cassatt.

After Cassatt’s death in 1926, Cassatt’s niece Ellen Mary Cassatt Hare (daughter of Cassatt’s brother Joseph) and her family continued to use the home for summer visits from Pennsylvania, and they continued to employ a small staff to tend to the home in their absence. At sometime toward the end of World War II, General DeGaulle spent one night at the chateau on his way from London to Paris (Encyclopedia Picardie). The chateau fell into disrepair and in 1961 was donated to Le Moulin Vert, a social service agency of L’Oise region.

Ever since my visit to the chateau, I have enjoyed checking out Cassatt’s paintings to detect a hint of the chateau or its grounds in her work. Check out the beautiful window scene in the background of this one, Children Playing with a Dog (1907). Perhaps?

Cassatt, Children Playing with a Dog (1907)

Cassatt, Children Playing with a Dog (1907)


















For further reading: Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews

cassatt letters


Edith Wharton Visits Her Dressmaker

Edith Wharton, 1905

Edith Wharton, 1905

August 1-2, 1914: World War I Breaks Out and Wharton Visits her Dressmaker 

One hundred years ago today, American novelist Edith Wharton was living in Paris, and like all Parisians, was waiting for news of war. Germany and Russia had declared war on each other only the day before. Everyone in Paris held their breath.

Edith Wharton visited her dressmaker.

I’m not making light of the tragedy of war, and neither was Wharton. I remember studying history in college and thinking to myself, there has to be more to history than the story of men marching into battle. What did the women do? How were the families affected? What did the women whisper among themselves?

Imagine yourself a woman in Paris on the eve of war. It’s the beginning of August. Everyone knows that Paris empties out for an entire month at the end of summer. Who knows what businesses would stay open if war came. If Edith Wharton needed to get fitted for new dresses, time was of the essence.

Wharton couldn’t just run into Galleries Lafayette, recently opened in 1912, because that kind of place provided fast fashion for the masses. Wharton was a high-society woman, and had been a long-time client of the fashionable couture dress designers of rue de la Paix in Paris, such as the House of Worth and Droucet.

In Fighting France (Scribner’s 1915), Wharton reports that she visited her dressmaker’s, but is discreet enough not to drop a name. We don’t know if she went to Worth, Droucet, or someone else’s shop, but it was likely on the rue de la Paix, just a short walk from the Hôtel de Crillon where she was staying. She later stated in an article for Scribner’s Magazine that she interacted with the seamstresses who were anxious about the prospect of war.

At the dressmaker’s, the next morning, the tired fitters were preparing to leave for their usual holiday. They looked pale and anxious – decidedly, there was a new air of apprehension in the air.


Seamstresses at the atelier de couture chez Worth, Paris 1907

Seamstresses at the atelier de couture chez Worth, Paris 1907. Source:


House of Worth Salon, 1907. Source:

House of Worth Draping blouses, 1907. Source:



After visiting the dressmaker, Edith Wharton returned to La Place de la Concorde, where she observed people standing on the street corner, reading a newly posted notice on the French Naval Headquarters. It was the French mobilization notice.

And in the rue Royale, at the corner of the Place de la Concorde, a few people had stopped to look at a little white piece of paper against the wall of the Ministère de Marine. “General mobilization” they read – and an armed nation knows what that means. But the group about the paper was small and quiet. Passers by read the notice and went on. There were no cheers, no gesticulations: the dramatic sense of the race had told them that the event was too great to be dramatized. Like a monstrous landslide it had fallen across the path of an orderly laborious nation, disrupting its routine, annihilating its industries, rending families apart, and burying under a heap of senseless ruin the patiently and painfully wrought machinery of civilization. . . .



Later that night, Wharton dined at a restaurant on rue Royale, not far at all from the Crillon. It could have been Maxim’s, which was certainly a popular dining destination at the time. Wharton could see that the mobilization order was already being obeyed.

That evening, in a restaurant of the rule Royale, we sat at a table in one of the open windows, abreast with the street, and saw the strange new crowds stream by. In an instant we were being shown what mobilization was – a huge break in the normal flow of traffic, like the sudden rupture of a dike. The street was flooded by the torrent of people flowing past us to the various railway stations. All were on foot, and carrying their luggage; for since dawn, every cab and taxi and motor-omnibus has disappeared. The War Office had thrown out its drag-net and caught them all in. The crowd that passed out window was chiefly composed of conscripts, the mobilisables of the first day, who were on their way to the station accompanied by their families and friends; but among them were little clusters of bewildered tourists, laboring along with bags and bundles, and watching their luggage pushed before them with hand-carts – puzzled inarticulate waifs caught in the cross-tides racing to a maelstrom (Fighting France, Scribner’s 1915).



Inside the rue Royal restaurant a loud patriotic mood prevailed.

In the restaurant, the befrogged and red-coated band poured out patriotic music, and the intervals between the courses that so few waiters were left to serve were broken by the ever-recurring obligation to stand up for the Marseillaise, and to stand up for God Save the King, to stand up for the Russian National Anthem, to stand up again for the Marseillaise. “Et dire que ce sont des Hongrois qui jouent tout cela!” a humorist remarked from the pavement. [And to say that they are all Hungarians who play here!]

As the evening wore on and the crowd about our window thickened, the loiterers outside began to join in the war-songs. “Allons, debout!” and the loyal round begins again. “La chanson du départ” is a frequent demand; and the chorus of spectators chimes in roundly. A sort of quiet humor was the note of the street. Down the rue Royale, toward the Madeleine, the bands of other restaurants were attracting other throngs, and martial refrains were stru ng along the Boulevard like its garland of arc-lights. It was a night of singing and acclamations, not boistrous, but gallant and determined. It was Paris badauderie at its best

(Fighting France, Scribner’s 1915).


Families accompanying their soon-to-be French soldiers to the train station, August 1914. Source:

Families accompanying their soon-to-be French soldiers to the train station, August 1914. Source:


Mobilization in Paris, August 4, 1914. Source:

Mobilization in Paris, August 4, 1914.


Lines form for French mobilization at Gare de Lyon train station in Paris. The official order was given at 4 pm on Saturday, August 1st, beginning the initial call-up of a million men for the French Army. Source:

Lines form for French mobilization at Gare de Lyon train station in Paris. The official order was given at 4 pm on Saturday, August 1st, beginning the initial call-up of a million men for the French Army. Source:









*A note about dates: Edith Wharton’s exact dates get confusing in Fighting France, The Look of Paris. She often repeats herself by saying, “the next day.” The reader is left to wonder, the next day, or the same day as the last time you said the next day? For example, it appears the French mobilization order was issued at 4pm on August 1st, but it was dated August 2nd. So did Edith Wharton see the posted notice late in the day on the first or mid-day on the 2nd? Sorry to confuse you even further. My point is, I’m trying to get the dates right but I could be off a day or two. Let’s just all stipulate that it’s definitely early August? Good. Then I’m done worrying about it.

Recommended Reading:

Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort by Edith Wharton is available as a free ebook.

Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort by Edith Wharton is available as a free ebook.




Paris, August 1,1914: Edith Wharton Waits for War

August 1, 1914: Edith Wharton Wakes Up at the Hôtel de Crillon; Russia and Germany Declare War

Edith Wharton had been living in Paris for over seven years by the time World War I started. She first arrived in 1907 at the age of 45, along with her then-husband Teddy Wharton. She settled in along the rue de Varenne in the fashionable 7th arrondissement.

age of desire 1


For an enjoyable read about Edith Wharton’s early years in Paris, her surprising mid-life affair with Morton Fullerton, and her divorce from her American husband, you should definitely check out Jennie Fields’ 2012 novel, Age of Desire. (And follow along on my Edith Wharton Paris Literary Tour here.)

By the time war came in 1914, Wharton was a seasoned American in Paris. She knew Paris and Parisians well, and had claimed the city as her own.



On July 30, 1914, Wharton had just returned to Paris from a “motorflight” to Spain with her friend Walter Berry. She checked into her favorite suite at Hôtel de Crillon, her favorite Paris hotel on the Place de la Concorde. It was her habit to check into the Crillon to get settled back into town, even if she had owned her own home at 53 rue de Varenne since 1910.

Hôtel Crillon, Paris

Hôtel Crillon, Paris

The view of the back of Edith Wharton’s apartment at 53 rue de Varenne, which overlooked beautiful private gardens.

The view of the back of Edith Wharton’s apartment at 53 rue de Varenne, which overlooked beautiful private gardens.

Wharton woke up at the Crillon on August 1st, observing and listening as she moved through the hotel and the streets of Paris. As Wharton later reported:

The next day, the air was thundery with rumors. Nobody believed them, everyone repeated them. War? Of course there couldn’t be war! The Cabinets, like naughty children, were dangling their feet over the edge; but the whole incalculable weight of things-as-they-were, the daily necessity of living, continued calmly and convincingly to assert itself against the bandying of diplomatic words. Paris went on steadily with its mid-summer business of feeding, dressing and amusing the great army of tourists who were the only invaders she had seen in nearly half a century.


All the while, everyone knew that other work was going on also. The whole fabric of the country’s seemingly undisturbed routine was threaded with noiseless invisible currents of preparation, the sense of them was in the calm air as the sense of changing weather is in the balminess of a perfect afternoon. Paris counted the minutes until the evening papers came.


They said little or nothing except what everyone was already declaring all over the country. “We don’t want war – maid il faut que cell finesse!” “This thing has got to stop”: that was the only phrase one heard. If diplomacy could still arrest the war, so much the better – no one in France wanted it. All who spent the first days of August in Paris will testify to the agreement of feeling on that point. But if war had to come, the country, and every heart in it, was ready (Fighting France, 1915).


What Wharton does not say is exactly what the papers had reported. In fact, on August 1, 1914, Russia and Germany declared war on each other, just four days after Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia. France was not yet at war, but all of Paris waited the news that was likely to come.

Coming Next: August 2, 1914 – Edith Wharton Visits Her Dressmaker; France Issues a Mobilization Order


Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort by Edith Wharton is available as a free ebook.

Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort by Edith Wharton is available as a free ebook.



Back to Sarah’s Key

The original US cover of Sarah's Key. (In which the Eiffel Tower strangely appears on the wrong side of Luxembourg Palace?)

The original US cover of Sarah’s Key. (In which the Eiffel Tower strangely appears on the wrong side of Luxembourg Palace. Anyone else notice that or is it just me?)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was one of the first books I wanted to map out during my year in Paris. I read this book with my Chicago-based book club and never forgot it. I was determined to find the sites from the book and take some photos for my blog. My original post, with photos of the commemorative plaques and statues near the Eiffel Tower can be found right here.

I’ve been meaning to update that post for awhile now. Back in 2012, I made some new discoveries and went back to take some more photographs. How it happened is kind of cool.

I noticed that one of my favorite Paris bloggers (Richard Nahem of Eye Prefer Paris) had posted photos of the courtyard of the fictional apartment from Sarah’s Key. But wait! His photos were of 26, rue Saintonge in the Marais, and mine were from 32, rue Saintonge. Whoops!

I tweeted out to Richard (I’m @parisartclub, he’s @eyepreferparis) wondering about the mix-up, when who should tweet us back? Tatiana de Rosnay herself (what a treat!), explaining the reason for our confusion. Apparently, in the book Sarah’s address is 26, rue de Saintonge and in the movie it’s 32.

So then of course I had to go see the address from the book for myself. I good friend and fellow reader from Chicago was visiting and was game for a literary trek. We headed into the Marais (she had a recent travel article in hand about the hopping Haut-Marais) and we found ourselves near rue de Saintonge. “This way to Sarah’s house!” I pointed. Obviously, book lovers like me have a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction.

I found the bright blue doors at #26, just like Eye Prefer Paris had earlier. My friend and I also got the chance to peek in the courtyard, and we had a little “book club moment.” We looked up at the open windows, picturing Sarah’s old neighbor the music teacher, playing the violin as he sat in his window. Seriously, I think I wiped away a tear or two.

Here is the passage from Sarah’s Key that we recalled:

     Outside, the girl saw a neighbor wearing pajamas leaning out his window. He was a nice man, a music teacher. He liked playing the violin, and she liked listening to him. He often played for her and her brother from across the courtyard. Old French songs like “Sur le pont d’Avignon” and `A la claire fontaine,” and also songs from her parents’ country, songs that always got her mother and father dancing gaily, her mother’s slippers sliding across the floorboards, her father twirling her round and round, round and round until they all felt dizzy.

“What are you doing? Where are you taking them?” he called out.

His voice ran across the courtyard, covering the baby’s yells. The man in the raincoat did not answer him.

“But you can’t do this,” said the neighbor. “They’re honest good people! You can’t do this!”

At the sound of his voice, shutters began to open, faces peered out from behind curtains.

But the girl noticed that nobody moved, nobody said anything. They simply watched.



The bright blue doorway to 26 rue de Saintonge

The bright blue doorway to 26 rue de Saintonge


The fictional courtyard from the book Sarah's Key at 36 rue de Saintonge, Paris

The fictional courtyard from the book Sarah’s Key at 26 rue de Saintonge, Paris. Can’t you just picture the nice man and his violin leaning out the window?


photo 3



photo 2-3


The plaque on a nearby school. It says: "From 1942 to 1944, more than 11,000 children were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the Vichy government of France and assassinated in death camps because they were Jews. MOre than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement. A number of them went to the elementary schools in this quarter. Let's Never Forget Them.

The plaque on a nearby school on rue des Quatre-Fils in the 3rd.  It says: “From 1942 to 1944, more than 11,000 children were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the Vichy government of France and assassinated in death camps because they were born Jewish. More than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement. A number of them went to the Ecoles Elementaires Filles et Garcons des Quatre-Fils.  Never Forget Them.














This is all probably a good reminder as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris on August 25, 2014. Ne les oublions jamais.