My friend Linda says she isn’t making any plans to visit the show on “Women Impressionists” at
Linda might want to think again. Granted, this is not the greatest impressionist show you’ll ever see, still there is plenty of stuff here worthy of the attention of a great mind. Granted also that there is a bit of side-play about the special problems of women doing art-they couldn’t knock around in the countryside on their own, for example, and they sometimes met resistance from powerful men. But none of this is overdone and most of it is, in any event, true.
There are four artists on display here. A dismissive critic might say: of four, really two and of two, one. It’s an exaggeration; still, clearly the hit of the show is Berthe Morisot, painter of perhaps half the works on display and thereby available in a full-fledged lifetime oeuvre. She certainly is varied and one can’t escape the notion that there is a fair amount of pastiche in her work as she echoes at one time Monet, at another Renoir and so forth. Yet she puts her own stamp on things: one can’t imagine any of the male impressionists doing so many and so sympathetic studies of children, and of women and children, particularly her daughter Julie. One oddity: she seems far more interested in figure than in background: the individual subjects are developed with care and patience, the background can seem almost slapdash.
Aside from Morisot, next most numerous is the work of the American, Mary Cassatt. As a name, my guess is that Cassatt might be the best known of the four, Unluckily for her, the fullscale display does not work to her advantage. She comes across as earnest and devoted to her work, but as seeming to lack the depth or flexibility of Morisot.
The other two women in the show get a lot less wall space. One of them, Eva Gonzalès, , seems to me scarcely an impressionist at all. Perhaps her most notable work, a “nanny” puts one in mind not so much of Monet or Renoir as of Velázquez or Goya.
Marie Bracquemond, rounding off the show, is a name hitherto unknown to me. The commentary reports that she had no formal training. Her large paintings strike me as lurid and discomfiting, but in drawings, she shows remarkable skill at draftsmanship. And one small watercolor is priceless. The commentary also suggests that she quit painting at the behest of her husband. Sad if true, but she would have been 50, which would mean that she had many more years than many artists had in their entire lives.
"Women Impressionists" is at the Palace of the Legion of Honor through September 21, and admit it: even though you have lived in the Bay Area all your life, you really aren't sure you knolw where the Place of the Legion of Honor is.