The new exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, Painting Women: Works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, tells a powerful story of the development of women artists during an era when they were yet to be fully recognized. The exhibit showcases 34 paintings arranged thematically from the 1870s through the mid-20th century including female artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, and examples of artistic partnerships between men and women.
In honor of Painting Women, the writing women of Vegas.com each picked their favorite piece from the exhibit and offered up their own interpretation.
Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (American, 1844–1926)
Oil on panel, 1876
Impressionism is my favorite art style so this is the painting I enjoyed the most. The artist, Mary Stevenson Cassatt, was the only American invited to join the French Impressionist group in Paris. One of my favorite artists is Edgar Degas and Cassatt befriended him and studied with him. I can see his influence in her style, subject matter and use of colors in this piece. I also like that Cassatt often chose to paint women engaged in simple, everyday activities, like reading, which is depicted in this painting.
Ellen Day Hale (American, 1855–1940)
Oil on canvas, 1885
If a painting could have attitude, this one certainly does. With just a tilt of the head and her frank appraisal, I felt like Hale was thumbing her nose at turn of the century society saying, “Yeah, I’m an artist and a woman – deal with it.” I love the strength of this portrait. Hale has been favorably compared to Édouard Manet whom she admired, and I definitely see echoes of Manet’s “Olympia” in this painting. There’s this streak of rebelliousness in Hale and this self portrait captured it. Hale has just one picture in the exhibit but a lifetime of amazing work (she kept painting into her 80s). This one painting inspired me to find out more about a woman who travelled through Europe, exhibited in Paris, London, Boston and world’s fairs and had a “Boston marriage” with fellow artist and lifelong companion Gabrielle DeVeaux Clements.
— Jennifer Whitehair
Fannie Louise Hillsmith (American, 1911–2007)
Oil, egg tempera and granular material on canvas, 1954
To me this painting is methodical yet chaotic, fragmented yet focused, dreamy yet realistic. Is find many layers between the verticle lines, sharp edges and rounded objects. There’s a hint of romance in the red and pink roses, a creative spirit in the piano and sheet music, and an overall feeling from the obstructed clock that time is fleeting. Between the clock and the piano, I see a woman rushing from the room perhaps to clean the house, cook for her family, get ready for an appointment or accomplish her endless list of to-dos before nightfall. She would much prefer to be swept up in practicing her music, she’s turning her back on the piano for now. I think the blue shades in this painting speak to her sadness, the reds to her passionate nature, the gold to her experience, the pink to her desire for innocence and the silver to a repressive society.
The Open Window
Elizabeth Vaughan Okie Paxton (American, 1877–1971)
Oil on canvas, 1921
I’m a daydreamer, so my favorite painting is “The Open Window” by American artist Elizabeth Vaughn Okie Paxton. I like to imagine that something splendid is just within her view. Although the painting doesn’t depict what lies outside the window of this woman’s sewing room, the longing for it is evident on her face. Plus, the sunlight streaming in and the gentle breeze blowing the curtains add to the dreamlike feeling in her dark room. Perhaps she desires an entirely different life from the one she is leading? Perhaps she yearns for more opportunities than those available to women in the 1920s? Or perhaps she’s just looking forward to taking a turn in the garden while wearing the colorful dress at her fingertips? It’s impossible to know, but I think I experience the same longing when I’ve been sitting at the computer for hours. Everything outside takes on a more magical look – as if there is something new, different and more interesting just waiting to come into my everyday existence.
The New Necklace
William McGregor Paxton (American, 1869–1941)
Oil on canvas, 1910
I was drawn to this painting because it reminds me of my sisters. The women appear to be sharing the necklace – something I’ve done with each of mine own — for an evening out where the one wants to look her best. My sisters are highly drawn to Asian culture and the Japanese doll on the desk is something they would have coveted. I wonder if the women are expats living abroad. Also, I like the artist’s technique with the oil paints. If you look closely at the face of the woman who is standing, you can’t detect any brushstrokes. Her skin appears flawless.