Exhibitions exclusively devoted to women artists are increasingly common (“Amazons of the avant-garde” at the Royal Academy in London or “Magna Brava” at Scotland’s National Portrait Gallery are two recent examples). Such exclusivity may not please everybody, but in the case of the exhibition, “Overcoming all obstacles: The women of the Académie Julian”, at the Dahesh Museum in New York until 13 May, it is justified by the important role that the Académie Julian played in training women to compete in the art market.
The Académie was founded in 1868 by the artist Rodolphe Julian, and was the only art school in Paris to offer women the same training as men. Other art schools for women existed but were largely limited to instruction in the industrial and decorative arts. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts only opened its doors to women in 1897.“In the Studio”, painted by Marie Bashkirtseff in 1881, shows women engaged in life drawing, a practice considered to be unsuitable for women at the time.
This display of sixty paintings, drawings and photographs is the first museum exhibition devoted to the Académie Julian. Many of the paintings are from the collection of the successor to the academy, the Académie Julian-Del Bobbio, and are being exhibited for the first time. Works from public collections in France, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine and the US, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, will also be on display. Caricatures and diary entries will recreate the studio life shared by such artists as the German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz, and the Americans Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau and Anna Klumpke, companion of the celebrated Rosa Bonheur.
Originally the concept of Dr Catherine Fehrer, the exhibition is curated by Dr Gabriel Weisberg, in conjunction with Dr Jane Becker. Although the Académie Julian is renowned for its role in training women artists, the men who studied or taught there - Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse and Bouguereau - remain far better-known. Dr Weisberg hopes this exhibition will redress the balance: “This show is important because it will inevitably lead us to other women artists who have not yet been studied.”