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.

Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of Artist Mary Lawrence Tonetti


Demeter's Choice

Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of My Grandmother as a Young Artist is the story of a young American sculptor named Mary Lawrence Tonetti who began studying under Augustus Saint-Gaudens at a very young age. She came of age in the art studios of New York and Paris in the late 19th century, and is most famous for her sculpture of Christopher Columbus for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

The author is the sculptor’s own granddaughter, Mary Tonetti Dorra, who had access to wonderful personal information to make the story rich with detail and insight. There are even copies of some of Mary Lawrence’s original pen and ink sketches and travel notes.

Demeter’s Choice tells the story of one woman’s choice between art and love. Mary Lawrence led a remarkable, artistic life both before and after her big choice. It’s a life worth knowing more about. And for the followers of this blog who like to hear about art history in Paris, I’ll point out all of the Paris sites and scenes of interest.

Mary Lawrence Tonetti (1868-1945). Source: sgnhs.org.

Mary Lawrence Tonetti (1868-1945). Source: sgnhs.org.

Mary Lawrence was a privileged young woman (her ancestors included a mayor of New York and Captain James Lawrence, a famous patriot famous for his wartime utterance: “Don’t give up the ship!”) who began a pampered life in Cliffside, her family’s large estate overlooking the Hudson River in Sneden’s Landing, New York. Mary was known to have grown up with a “robust temperament” and a taste for the outdoors. (Which to me is the Gilded Age way of saying she was a handful, a tomboy, a bit of a rebel. Funny how many of those kinds of Gilded Age girls turned out to be artists, especially sculptors….)

Mary enjoyed art from a very young age. When she was only seven years old, her family arranged for the up-and-coming Augustus Saint-Gaudens to come up to Sneden’s Landing to teach drawing and sculpture to Mary a group of other children. (Not a bad start for a kid!) When she was older, Mary continued art lessons at Saint-Gauden’s Fourteenth Street Studio in the German Savings Bank in New York City. Saint-Gaudens would have a huge influence on Mary’s life and career in art.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, mentor and friend of Mary Lawrence

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, mentor and friend of Mary Lawrence

German Savings Bank around 1872, site of Augustus St. Gaudens studio. Source: Office for Metropolitan HIstory NYC

The German Savings Bank around 1872, the site of Augustus Saint-Gaudens 14th Street studio. Source: Office for Metropolitan History NYC.

By the time Mary was twenty years old, she was personal friends with Saint-Gaudens’ whole crowd, including the architects Charles McKim and Stanford White. Demeter’s Choice has a lovely scene where Saint-Gaudens, McKim and White joined Mary for a picnic at Sneden’s Landing before she set sail on her first Grand Tour of Europe in 1886. There were hints that Charles McKim, a married man of nearly forty, was already falling in love with her despite their vast difference in age.

Accompanied by a supportive aunt and her more conventional sister Edith, Mary Lawrence made the Grand Tour of Europe, including a summer of sightseeing through Belguim and Germany before she would settle in Paris and begin her art studies it the women’s atelier of the Académie Julian.

Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian's atelier for women

Passage des Panoramas, just off of boulevard Montmartre in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian’s atelier for women. The studio is no longer there, but a stroll through the arcade will still give you a sense of the time and place.

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian.

Marie Bashkirtseff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian by a Russian student famous for her memoir, The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff.

Being a friend and an assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens opened many doors upon Mary’s arrival in Paris. He introduced her to many of the American artists who worked or studied there, including Mary Louise Fairchild from St. Louis, who was studying with Carolus-Duran and the Académie Julian on a prestigious fellowship. In Demeter’s Choice, the two Marys meet at the opening night of the Paris Salon of 1886, where Mary Fairchild’s portrait of Sara Hallowell was on display. Sara Hallowell was an American art agent for wealthy American art collectors such as Bertha Palmer of Chicago. Sara lived part of the year in Paris developing close relationships with Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin. Mary Lawrence was making all the right connections too, a rare opportunity for such a young artist.

Mlle S. H. (Sara Tyson Hollowell) by Mary Fairchild (1886). Source: www.pubhist.com)

Mlle S. H. (Sara Tyson Hollowell) oil on canvas by Mary Fairchild (1886). Property of The Warden and Fellows of Robinson College, University of Cambridge. This is the portrait that was exhibited in the 1886 Paris Salon where Mary Lawrence met Mary Fairchild and Sara Hallowell. Source: http://www.pubhist.com

Within a week of her arrival in Paris, Mary Lawrence was invited to Auguste Rodin’s art studio which he shared with his student and young mistress Camille Claudel. Together they strolled through the studio where Mary got to see the models for The Burghers of Calais and some of the figures from The Gates of Hell. Today you can see these works for yourself at the Musée Rodin, one of my favorite museums in Paris. Inside you can even see some of Camille Claudel’s sculptures as well.

Mary and her sister settled into their apartment at 56 rue Notre Dame des Champs in the heart of the Left Bank of Paris, within a few blocks of some of the biggest names in the art world, such as John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran, James Whistler and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Saint-Gaudens and his wife lived nearby, at 3 rue Herschel just on the other side of the Luxembourg Gardens. Like many Americans ever since then, Mary came to adore Paris, from the macaroons at LaDurée, to the baguettes from her local boulangerie to a lovely stroll through the Palais Royal.



Being a young woman of privilege in the Gilded Age meant you had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe instead of having to freeze or starve your way through a miserable winter in Paris. Mary Lawrence left Paris for a few winter months in Italy with her family entourage before she returned to New York in the summer of 1887. By the spring of 1888, she had returned to Paris for another season of classes at the Académie Julian.

Once her second session of Paris art studies were over, Mary returned to New York, where she taught at the Art Students League, served as Saint-Gaudens’ assistant and worked on her own sculpting projects.

In the fall of 1891, Mary learned that she would be awarded a contract to create a statue of Christopher Columbus for the Chicago World’s Fair under the supervision of Saint-Gaudens. It was a huge honor. Most women who received commissions for the fair (such as Mary Cassatt, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies and Sophia Hayden) were contracted through a separate Board of Lady Managers led by the Chicago society queen Bertha Palmer. Mary Lawrence received her commission directly from the Fair Commissioners, who were all male. You can read a fun 1893 New York Times article about Mary’s commission here.

Demeter’s Choice tells the wonderful story of a fight between Mary Lawrence and her supporters versus Frank Millet, a particularly odious fair organizer, who objected to the prominent placement of her Columbus statue because it was made by a “female novice.” Millet actually arranged to have it moved to a spot near the train station. You’ll have to read for yourself to learn what happened next. If you look at the image below, it is amazing what a good job young Mary Lawrence did – she was young, but certainly no novice.

"Columbus Taking Possession." The Administration Building From Columbian Gallery: A Portfolio of Photographs of the World's Fair, The Werner Company. The prominent and handsome figure of Columbus, which stood in the portal, was the work of Miss Mary T. Lawrence, and represented the landing of Columbus, and the planting of the Spanish flag in the colonies of the New World. 1893. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/field_museum_library/3409425513/in/photostream/

“Columbus Taking Possession.”  Mary Lawrence’s statue of Columbus, which stood in the portal of the Administration Building at the Chicago Worlds Fair. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/field_museum_library/3409425513/in/photostream/

After the excitement of the Chicago World’s Fair was over, Mary went back to Paris. She continued her studies at the Académie Julian and renewed her many friendships with the artists of the Left Bank and beyond. Mary was on everyone’s guest list, attending soirées hosted by the likes of Charles Dana Gibson and James Whistler. It was at Gibson’s glamorous ball and then again at Whistler’s home at 110 rue de Bac that Mary Lawrence met François Tonetti, a sculpting assistant to Frederick MacMonnies. The rest, as they say, was history.

The plaque at James Whistler's home in rue de Bac where Mary Lawrence first met François Tonetti in 1893. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/monceau/7759948652/

The plaque at James Whistler’s home on rue de Bac, where Mary Lawrence and François Tonetti met for the second time in 1893. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/monceau/7759948652/

A close-up image of a portrait of François Tonetti by François Flameng. Source: http://palisadesny.com/nature/take-hike/

A close-up image of a portrait of François Tonetti by François Flameng. Source: http://palisadesny.com/nature/take-hike/

Even after she met the charming and passionate François, Mary Lawrence continued to work as a sculptor in her own Twenty-Third Street studio in New York and to teach Saint-Gaudens’ classes at the Art Students League through most of the1890s. Charles McKim continued to pursue her, as did François, her favorite Frenchman.

Saint-Gaudens didn’t want his protégée to marry, worried that she would give up her art for a house full of “festive children.” He asked: “wIll she just die and fade into the wife of François Tonetti…?” Others objected because François wasn’t from the “same stock” as the Lawrences. Mary’s own sister pressed her to choose Charles McKim, who offered a more proper and promising future than a bohemian artist could.

No matter what choice Mary Lawrence would make, it was clear that she wouldn’t die and fade away. She would always live in a world of art. Mary Lawrence lived the rest of her life surrounded by artists, founding and developing an artist’s colony in Sneden’s Landing. Generations of artists and actors have enjoyed living there, including Gerald and Sara Murphy, Orson Wells, Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie, Bill Murray and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Just for fun, you can check out this recent gossip article about Tom Cruise checking out the real estate in Sneden’s Landing.

Quite a story and quite a legacy. We are so lucky that Mary Lawrence’s granddaughter wrote it all down. 

Mary Tonetti Dorra. Source: www.marytonettidora.com.

Mary Tonetti Dorra. Source: http://www.marytonettidorra.com.

Author Mary Tonetti Dorra has a list of appearances scheduled in early 2014. You can check them out for yourself on her website.

Review and Recommendation by Margie White of the American Girls Art Club in Paris

Where the Light Falls: An American Artist in Paris


Where The Light Falls by Katherine Keenum is a lovely painterly novel set in late 19th century Paris. What a perfect book for a review and literary tour by The American Girls Art Club in Paris.

You can find various sites in the book on Where the Light Falls Literary Tour in Google Maps.

The story begins when a young artist named Jeannette Palmer gets expelled from Vassar College for helping her roommate elope.  Despite her public shaming, Jeannette talks her prominent Ohio family into supporting further art studies in Paris.

Jeannette and her chaperone, a “spinster” cousin, find lodging in a pension on rue Jacob on the Left Bank, while Jeannette enrolls in the women’s drawing class at the Académie Julian. Had Jeannette arrived in Paris a decade or so later, she could have easily been one of the lodgers at The American Girls Art Club in Paris, which opened its doors in 1893. Instead, Jeannette would be one of the first-wave  trailblazers of American women artists to journey to France.

Jeannette’s story is loosely based on the life of the author’s own great-grandmother, who was indeed expelled from Vassar College and who traveled to Paris to study art with Carolus-Duran. Because no journals, letters or memoirs survived, Katherine Keenum had to rely on her imagination to tell her great-grandmother’s story.

Keenum’s research is considerable, but it feels like a natural part of the story. When Jeannette is learning from such famous masters as William-Adolphe Bouguereau or Carolus-Duran, you feel like you’re there too. Keenum places Jeannette in Paris at a turning point in the history of art; it is remarkable how much Jeannette and her cousin Effie get to witness in just two years.

One of Keenum’s primary sources for the life and times of an American art student abroad  was Abigail May Alcott Nieriker’s guidebook for women artists called Studying Art Abroad and How to Do it Cheaply (1879), which describes May’s studies at Académie Julian, her approach to life in Paris, and her travels throughout France. (In a previous blog post here called Little Women in Dinan, France, I wrote about May and her famous sister’s travels abroad.) 

Jeannette begins her studies at the Académie Julian, a private art school which welcomed women into segregated studios, unlike L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. The first women’s atelier at Académie Julian was located in the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. This Paris Passage still stands today – it it a lovely historic covered mall at 11 Boulevard Montmartre.

In Chapter 8, Jeannette has a hard time finding the stairs that led to the second floor studio of the Académie Julian. Keenum describes a set of service stairs along one of the transverse passages, but on my various visits to the Passage des Panoramas during my year in Paris, I was never able to find them. I could see a second floor under the peaked glass ceiling, I just couldn’t get there. I’d love to hear from any of my followers to see if they’ve ever managed to gain access to the second floor of the Passage des Panormas, or if it’s a place that belongs only to the past.

Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian's atelier for women

An old sign inside the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of Académie Julian’s first atelier for women in the 1870s. You can still walk through the Passage today for a sense of the 19th century.

An interior view of the Passage des Panoramas in which a second floor is visible. I just couldn't figure out how to get up there.

An interior view of the Passage des Panoramas. In Chapter 8, Keenum describes it like this: “Inside, restaurants and small specialty shops crowded both sides of an arcade. Painted signs hung out at right angles overhead like banners; a tiled mosaic floor ran for two blocks. Above a second story of shops, the whole length was roofed with a peaked ceiling of glass.”

Passage des Panoramas

Passage des Panoramas entrance at 11 Boulevard Montmartre

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian.

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian by one of its most famous students. Although the women were allowed to paint from live nude models, this painting avoids controversy and shows a draped figure of a young boy. Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, Ukraine. In Chapter 8, one of Jeanette’s classmates points out their fellow student “The Countess,” [Countess Marie Bashkirtseff] “a star student in the class for the full nude.” The Countess is supposedly picture in the center of this painting with the palette in her lap.

Atelier Julian, undated, so it is possible it is from the other women's atelier on rue de Berri. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photo of one of the women’s classes a Académie Julian. It is undated, so it is possible it is from the other women’s atelier which opened in the 1880s on rue de Berri near the Champs Elysée. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photography of some of the female messiers (studio assistants) of the Académie Julian. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photograph of some of the female messiers (studio assistants) of the Académie Julian. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

William-Adolphe Bougeureau, Self-Portrait (1879)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Self-Portrait (1879). Bouguereau was a famous 19th century Salon artist who provided private instruction for both men and women at the Académie Julian. He would be engaged to one of his American students, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, for 17 years. They would finally marry in 1896 after the death of his mother, who strongly disapproved of the match.

The Académie Julian still stands today on the rue du Dragon.

The Académie Julian still stands today on the rue du Dragon in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This was originally one of the men’s ateliers, but has long accepted both men and women.

Jeannette enjoys her studies at the Académie Julian under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, but really, Bouguereau only passes through the class a couple of times a week with a few comments like pas mal, pas mal. Although she’s making friends with her fellow art students from around the world and learning all about the Paris art world, Jeannette couldn’t help but aspire for better art instruction.

Jeannette gets her big break when she makes the acquaintance of Carolus-Duran through   a wealthy friend of the family who is having her portrait done. Duran invites Jeannette for a studio visit at 58 rue Notre Dame des Champs. When Jeannette and Effie arrive at his address, they quickly realize what a celebrity painter he is. There are three carriages at the curb and a servant to greet the guests. Effie gushes: “Why, it’s as elegant as a hotel lobby or a fashion house!”

A photo of Carolu-Duran playing the organ in his art studio (1885). From the image gallery at the American Archives of Art. Keenum gets it right when she describes the studio as being "strewn with thick Persian rugs and hung with tapestries and pictures."

A photo of Carolus-Duran playing the organ in his art studio (1885). From the digital image gallery at the American Archives of Art called “Photographs of Artists in their Paris Studios (1880-1890).” Keenum gets it right when she describes the studio as being “strewn with thick Persian rugs and hung with tapestries and pictures.”

rue Notre Dame des Champs, a narrow winding road through Montparnasse which earned its title as "the royal road of painting" because of all the famous French artists who lived there, including Bouguereau,  Courbet and Carolus-Duran.

Rue Notre Dame des Champs, a narrow winding road through Montparnasse which earned the title “the royal road of painting” because of all the famous French artists who lived there, including Bouguereau, Courbet and Carolus-Duran.

Carolus-Duran invites Jeannette to join his women’s painting classes at 11 Passage Stanislaus in Montparnasse. Passage Stanislaus is now known as rue Jules Chaplain, a small street just off of rue Notre Dame des Champs.

Rue Jules Chaplain, once Passage Stanislaus and the home of Carolus-Duran's atelier for women.

Rue Jules Chaplain, once Passage Stanislaus and the home of Carolus-Duran’s atelier for women.

Jeannete struggles to find the extra money to enroll in Carolus-Duran’s classes, but once she does, she gets to observe one of the true masters of the art. One of my favorite scenes in the book is in Chapter 30, when Carolus-Duran pulls Jeannette right up next to him to demonstrate the essence of portrait painting:

Study where the light falls and where the shadows lie. We commence by indicating the darkest masses. . . .

Either way, what is most important now is to find the demi-teinte generale. Half close your eyes, mademoiselle; regard the model.

It’s enough to make you want to find a model and set up and easel right nowisn’t it?

Jeannette is in the perfect place and time to witness art history. She meets a young John Singer Sargent, a fellow student in Carolus-Duran’s men’s atelier who would have been only 23 years old at the time. Jeannette and her classmates celebrate when Sargent’s portrait of Carolus-Duran wins an Honorable Mention at the Paris Salon of 1879.

John Singer Sargent's portrait of Carolus- Duran (1879), Clark Art Institute, Williamston, Massachusetts. When Jeanette meets JOhn Singer Sargent at a garden party, she says: "I hear your portrait of Carolus is wonderful."

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Carolus- Duran (1879), Clark Art Institute, Williamston, Massachusetts. When Jeanette meets John Singer Sargent at a garden party, she says: “I hear your portrait of Carolus is wonderful.”

There are plenty of other moments in art history that Jeannette gets to be a part of, including the Fourth Impressionist Exhibit of 1879, where she sees and critiques Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Arm Chair (1878):

That grumpy little girl sprawled on the aqua-blue chair – well, she’s vivid, but all that other aqua furniture climbing to the ceiling, . . . it’s hideous!

Don’t blame Jeannette. Most of the world wasn’t yet ready for the Impressionists either.

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), National Museum of Art.

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), National Museum of Art.

It is an incredible time in the history of art, and Jeannette is it the middle of it all. What a wonderful way for Katherine Keenum to honor the memory of her great-grandmother, who really did have a chance to be a part of history. In ways we can only imagine.

Where the Light Falls by Katherine Keenum: Highly recommended.

Where the Light Falls Literary Tour: As created by The American Girls Art Club in Paris.

Visiting Rosa’s Studio

There’s just something about standing in another artist’s art studio. The north-facing windows, the easels, the containers full of brushes. If you’re lucky, there might be a painting in progress, a smock or two hanging nearby, or other signs of the artist’s work and passion.

You can see all this and much, much more at Rosa Bonheur’s studio in Thoméry, France, just an hour’s drive south of Paris near Fountainbleu. Rosa Bonheur was a famous 19th century French painter known for her realistic portrayal of horses and animals, particularly Horse Fair (1853-55), Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair (1853-55)

Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair (1853-55)

Not surprisingly, Rosa had an unusual and fascinating life. She was born in Bordeaux in 1822 but was raised in Paris. Her father was a painter and her mother was a piano teacher who died at a young age. Rosa was “a spirited child” who had trouble sitting still in school. The only way her mother could teach her how to read was by having her draw an animal that matched each letter of the alphabet. Rosa’s father allowed her to drop out of school at the age of twelve to focus on her independent art studies. She copied at the Louvre, but also studied animal science with veterinarians and drew animals from life in the pastures of the Bois de Boulogne. She often visited the slaughterhouses on the outskirts of Paris.

Rosa’s father belonged to an unusual religious sect called Saint-Simonianism, a kind of utopian-pre-feminist socialism that believed in a female Messiah. Can you imagine what it would be like growing up with a father like that in the middle of the 19th century? (For that matter, can you imagine having a father like that now? Pretty cool.) Anyway, Rosa lived freely and equally, often wearing pants, which wasn’t allowed at the time in France unless you obtained a permit from the prefect of police. She had two female partners the majority of her life: first, her friend from childhood, Nathalie Micas, and then in her last ten years, the American artist Anna Klumpke.

Rosa Bonheur in the garden of Chateau de By

Rosa Bonheur in the garden of Chateau de By


In 1859, after Rosa was already enjoying success as an internationally celebrated painter, she purchased a Gothic-looking chateau near the Fountainbleu Forest and built her own art studio on the second floor. Rosa lived and worked there for 40 years, surrounded by basset hounds and her beloved St. Bernard  until her death in 1899. She left her entire estate to Anna Klumpke.




Anna Klumke's Study of Rosa Bonheur (1898)

Anna Klumke’s Portrait of Rosa Bonheur (1898)


Anna Klumpke was a California-born artist who had admired Rosa Bonheur ever since she was given a “Rosa doll” as a little girl (such was Rosa’s Bonheur’s fame). Anna came to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian in 1883, and was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon. Anna sought out Rosa at Chateau de By in order to paint her portrait, and the two fell in love and lived together for the rest of Rosa’s life. After Rosa died, Anna auctioned off many of her paintings and then divided her time between France, San Francisco and Boston.


Barbara Remond (fellow artist and founder of A Woman’s Paris) and I toured Rosa Bonheur’s home on a rainy Saturday in October. The home and studio are open to the public between 2-5pm on Wednesdays to Saturdays from April 1 through November 30th. A guided tour is included with the price of admission, although the tour guide may not speak English. Our tour guide was a very good sport, and managed to share the spirit and history of the place despite our bad French.

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Chateau de By, Thomery, France (showing north-facing studio window)

Chateau de By, Thomery, France (showing north-facing studio window)


The courtyard of Chateau de By


Rosa Bonheur’s Studio from 1859-1899


That would be me. The tour guide was so charmed by my enthusiastic Franglais that he let me pick up one of Rosa’s brushes and pose for this photo with this unfinished painting.


Rosa Bonheur’s own brushes and palettes.


Rosa Bonheur’s art studio


Sorry for the bad quality of this photo. I still wanted to share this scene of Rosa’s jacket, hat and boots.


Rosa Bonheur’s Exhibitor’s Card for the Paris Salon


The guest room/office next to Rosa’s art studio.


Inside Rosa Bonheur’s closet. Her clothes still remain stacked on the shelves – check out her distinctive jackets!


My friend Barbara Redmond (founder of A Woman’s Paris) in one of Rosa’s hats, with full and cheerful permission from our tour guide!


Rosa’s Legion of Honor Medal is still pinned to one of her jackets draped over the back of a chair. Empress Eugenie came to Chateau de By to present the medal to Rosa.


The view of Chateau de By from the garden at nightfall


The view of Chateau de By from the street

Rosa Bonheur’s studio is a remarkable sight. There is dusty memorabilia and the simple remains of a real life, but there are also unique treasures, like her Legion of Honor Medal she received from Empress Eugenie and the Indian costume from Buffalo Bill Cody. It’s all testimony to a life well lived and a talent well used. A must see for art lovers, and only an hour’s drive from Paris.

Atelier de Rosa Bonheur, Château de By, 12 rue Rosa Bonheur, Thomery, France

Tel.:01 64 70 80 14

Sources and Recommended Reads:

Rosa Bonheur: The Artist’s (Auto)biography by Anna Klumpke

Rosa Bonheur: A Life and a Legend by Dore Ashton and Denise Browne Hare

rosa bonheur a life and a legend