Interview

with Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer

Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer

Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer, curator of the Female Impressionists exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

Books related to this subject

Impressionistinnen

Impressionistinnen
Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2078-6
» More information

Meisterinnen des Lichts

Meisterinnen des Lichts
Vier Erzählungen zu den Impressionistinnen Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2076-2
» More information

"We're giving them the recognition they deserve."

The arts journalist Anke Manigold interviews Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer, curator of theWomen Impressionists exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

I think it's fair to say that you have been behind this exhibition. You both came up with the idea and saw it through to completion. Why a show of exclusively female painters?

Because they represent an unknown chapter in art history, both of the nineteenth century and of Impressionism itself. Anyone studying female artists finds themselves constantly coming across names that the wider public has never heard of, but who nevertheless existed.

What prompted you to organize this exhibition?

Well, after having done a series of shows on the work of individual male artists - Henri Matisse, Yves Klein and James Ensor - I wanted to give female artists some proper exposure and came across this group of women. They offered four very different styles, careers and life stories with all their successes and failures. I found it very interesting.

We're talking about Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassat, Eva Gonzalès and Marie Braquemond. Could you say whether you have a favorite among these painters?

I think I feel closest to Morisot. She is the central figure in this group; without her the exhibition would not have been possible. She has the largest number of works in the show. Cassat is also a marvellous, powerful figure. Her pictures of mothers and children never fall into sentimentality or kitsch.

Does the sensuality and joy of living in the works of the female Impressionists bear any relation to the artists' own attitudes towards life? Or was it rather the subject matter that fascinated them?

It's hard to say whether the works express the artists' own attitudes or are the results of their artistic decisions. They largely painted their own private lives. As women of the haute bourgeoisie, they weren't allowed to go out alone without chaperones and couldn't visit restaurants, cafes and theaters, not to mention bars. They painted their own families, their interiors, gardens and still lifes - things that were important to them. But each of them had a particular area of artistic interest. Each of them had also been well educated.

Were any of them trained at art school?

From 1874 there was the Academie Julian in Paris, which offered painting classes for women. But all the women in this show come from the generation before then. They were generally taught by private tutors such as Charles Chaplin, who specialised in female pupils. He gave lessons to both Cassat and Gonzalès. Morisot's parents were very progressive: they arranged drawing lessons for their daughter and had a studio built for her in their garden.

What did their families think of their work? Marie Braquemond gave up painting, Mary Cassat was so devoted to art that she never married, Morisot was both artist, wife and mother.

Morisot was lucky enough to marry Manet's younger brother, Eugene, who - very unusually for the time - supported her. Cassat was American, and quite distinct from all the others. She had had an more independent upbringing. Braquemond suffered criticism from her husband, who was also an artist and in competition with her; this later caused her to give up painting entirely.

Were these artists appreciated during their lifetime by critics and colleagues?

Braquemond was described as one of the "grandes dames" of Impressionism. Morisot always received good reviews, and was always favorably spoken of. It was said of Cassat that no one could portray mothers and children as well as she. Even Gonzales won the attention of important artists and critics, despite dying so young.

...so the reception was generally positive. Did they make any money with their pictures?

There was the famous auction at Drouhot's in 1875, where Morisot made more money than anyone else, more even than Manet. Otherwise they didn't sell much. Their art was considered so scandalous, and the market as we know it today was just beginning to develop.

What do you hope visitors will bring away from this exhibition?

I just hope they'll find some wonderful works here. And I hope they'll realise that we are giving these four artists their proper place in the history of Impressionism. We are giving them the recognition they deserve.

December 11, 2007

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